The Santa Barbara Independent
By Kani Xulam, a UCSB graduate, and an ethnic Kurd from Turkey whose residency status in this country is on appeal.
November 9, 2000

It is not easy to be a Kurd these days. The choice is denied to me as well as to my compatriots who find themselves in the present day states that make up the Middle East. For the most part, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have divided Kurdistan, the land of our ancestors. At present, our adversaries are intent on changing us into Turks, Persians and Arabs. They will not admit to it, but there is a name for their sinister plan: it is called cultural genocide.

I am part of the effort to stop the genocide of the Kurds. Because I fight countries that oppress the Kurds, I have ruffled some feathers and displeased some foes. I knew that much would happen before I even started to work as a Kurdish activist. What I did not know was that in trying to expand the boundaries of freedom and liberty, I would come face to face with losing my own, here in the land of free. It has been a humbling experience.

This is not supposed to be an article to self-promote. It is more about how fleeting freedom can be for the Kurds. My journey to the abyss is a part of it. So is my struggle to get myself out of it. The road up has not been easy. While adversity has had its toll on me, the sight of freedom remains as distant as it could ever be.

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you,” says John Paul Sartre. Mine was taken away from me at birth. The moment I opened my eyes to this world, I was forced to assume the identity of an oppressor nation. I learned its language, read its literature and learned its history. Because I am a Kurd from Turkey, Turkish became my identity. In America, I found out that other Kurds were forced to learn Persian in Iran and those in Syria and Iraq went through similar social experiments to become Arabs.

The situation, indeed, is untenable. We are caught in a cartoon. Some Kurds fight for freedom. Some have sided with our oppressors and fight us as mercenaries. Our oppressors who call our land theirs and consider us as nothing more than a source of cheap labor, beasts of burden, and lately subjects for chemical and biological weapons have put the pursuit of liberty beyond our reach. God and history know, we have tried hard to acquire it. Thus far, we have failed.

Even with our tormented souls and broken spirits, we are plotting onward and forward to the dawn of freedom. We have discovered that our immediate foes are third world powers, miserable wretches whose oppression of us is directly related to their access to weapons that are produced abroad. Turkey, for example, boasts of having % 84 of its weapons from these shores including some from your own Raytheon here in Santa Barbara.

How is it that the Colonies, which fought on the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ and adopted the pursuit of liberty as a corner stone of their identity and became the United States of America now back Turkey that has an open cultural genocide policy in its books? If you think you know the answer, perhaps you should come to the film Good Kurds Bad Kurds — showing at Campbell Hall on Sunday — to cross-reference your facts with the reality that is Turkey today.

Out of that reality has emerged my own story to remain in this country, to be a monkey wrench if you will, in Washington’s decision to aid and abet the cause of genocide in Turkey.

Desperate for freedom, I have made my own share of mistakes to find my way to the realm called liberty. I think I have atoned for my transgressions. At least, that is the judgement of the Judge who presided over my case four years ago and recommended that I not be deported to Turkey for my youthful lapses in this country. Over 20 members of the United States Congress, including Santa Barbara’s late Walter Capps, felt the same and urged the INS to grant me political asylum. The government is still deliberating. In the mean time, I cherish my freedom like air. I pray that America will not condemn me to a life with no liberty in Turkey.

On Sunday, November 12, 2000, my alma mater UCSB, with the help of The Fund for Santa Barbara, will show Kevin McKiernan’s documentary, Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends but the Mountains. The film, as some critics have put it, is about squandering America’s goodwill abroad. Some also make the claims that the squandering goes on here just the same. The prospects of my deportation, mentioned in the film, may be cited as an example of the latter contention.