University of Southern California
June 18, 2005
(A slightly altered version of this statement was also delivered at New College of California on June 19, 2005 in San Francisco.)
On May 12, 1780, some 225 years ago, John Adams, the second president of the United States, penned a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams. In it, he confided to her the importance of the art of governance in the following prescient words. “The science of government, it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation, administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy,” and here he couldn’t help but add some other majors to his list, “geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
I don’t know why, but this letter of your second president was the first thing that crossed my mind, as I was getting ready to put my musings into writing over the fate of our first president of Iraq. But the more I thought of the Kurdish president and his wife and their children, the more I felt compelled to compare them with your president, his wife and their children. Both men were lawyers by training. John Adams became one because he had a choice in the matter; Jalal Talabani stumbled into his field, because his first choice, a profession in medicine, was reserved, according to him, for the children of the royalty, the members of the dominant race, the Arabs. Both married strong women. David McCullough, an authority on the second president, speaking of Abigail Smith, says, “She was the ballast he had wanted.” I have never met Hero Khan, the first lady of Iraq, but people who know her personally have confided in me that, “Courage is among her chief attributes.” John Quincy Adams, John Adams’ first son, followed in his father’s footsteps and became the sixth president of the United States, but unlike him, strived mightily to end slavery. Qubad Talabany, President Talabani’s son, who ends the spelling of his last name with the letter “y” as opposed to “i”, a sign, if I read it correctly, speaks of his independence like the junior Adams, is young, articulate, affable, practical and, if I could be so bold to engage in a political prophecy, has the potential to become a president in his own right, and here is the catch, will he be one in Amed, Kurdistan or Baghdad, Iraq?
I don’t know the answer to the question I am posing, but I do know this, Qubad’s father, President Talabani, has no plans to relocate to Amed, a.k.a., Diyarbakir, the de facto capital of Kurdistan. For one thing, it is under the Turkish occupation and, and unlike the American part, off limits to Kurds with presidential aspirations. In fact, the world pretends it never happened, but that doesn’t mean we Kurds should go along with it, not long ago, the supposedly God-fearing Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a move that would have blushed Adolf Hitler, assaulted and insulted, in broad daylight, all the living Kurds, some forty million strong, without even a muttering from any quarter in the world. This devil’s servant on earth did so by saying, he would “pursue the Kurds into Argentina”, if they ever acted on their dream of establishing a New Kurdistan, like New England, say, in the wilds of Patagonia. Stop and think about this nausea for a minute. Compare it with Adolf Hitler’s plan, for a while at least, to relocate all the Jews of Europe to the island of Madagascar for a moment. And then tell me what you think of this supposedly “Muslim” leader’s plans for the Kurds relative to Adolf Hitler’s designs on the Jews? Where is the spineless “Never Again” generation that vowed nothing like it would ever happen again? How come the survivors of Holocaust, in the state of Israel, are some of the most ardent supporters of Turkey in the Middle East? And what can we make of the staggering and mind numbing figure, the 82 % of the Turkish weapons that have the “Made in USA” insignias on them?
These are not healthy signs. The name of the Kurds has not graduated from the class called toil, sweat, tears and blood. Iraq, the subject of my lecture, is another festering wound with a potential to become gangrene with unpredictable consequences for the Kurds and Kurdistan. But perhaps before I share with you my thoughts on the topic, I should be a good guest and pay my dues to the organizers of this event. All of them are well known in the assembled crowd. Two of them have been friends of our people long before I responded to the call of Kurdistan as a full time activist. One of them was a federal judge when I met him and now is a professor at this very institution. Lucky, I say, are his students who are treated to an intellectual feast every time they cross his paths. To the other belongs the immortal name of that great race of people that has given the world shining examples like Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes. He may not be as well known as them, but his commitment to the cause of downtrodden, his faith in the importance of fair play, and his dream of a world, where the weak are supplied with their basic needs, is worthy of emulation by us all inside and outside of this room. The last person is a Kurd. He is a friend as solid as the mountains of Kurdistan, and a fighter as passionate and clearheaded as our immortal bard, Xani. These friends, and I am honored and fortunate to call them as such, respectively, are Ralph Fertig, Aris Anagnos, and Nyma Ardalan. I am, it goes without saying, very grateful to them and ask that you join me in recognizing them with a hearty round of applause.
I started my lecture with a president of your country, compared him with our own and now would like to move to the day, April 7, 2005, when the latter assumed his job. I got at least several congratulatory emails, some phone calls, and even a few personal visits in my office. Someone sharing my nationality had become a president, not like the gibberish in Ankara, like a Turk of Kurdish origins has become the president of Turkey, but a Kurd, the real thing, has become the president of Iraq, period. I tried my best to put myself into a festive mood. I couldn’t. Lady Macbeth’s ghost came to me and whispered, Kani, “To beguile the time, look like the time.” It didn’t work. All I could do was think of Uncle Omar and his wife and their nine children who were gassed to death on March 16, 1988. Imagine telling a Jew, after the collapse of the Nazi war machine, a survivor of his race has become the president of Germany. If the Jew knew of Auschwitz and the Kurd of Halapja, there couldn’t be joy in the news that Germans or Arabs have accepted members of their foes as their leaders. Besides, a society that has been schooled in the tenets of “qawmiye”, meaning a nationality based on people, as opposed to “wataniye”, meaning a nationality based on state, which is still the dominant political discourse in Baghdad, would, when it feels strong, reject the Kurdish president and opt for one of its own kind. But the sound of reason was no match to the sound of Kurdish music that was blaring not only in Ankara and Teheran furtively, but also Baghdad, Damascus, Qamishli, Mahabad, Amed, Berlin, Paris, London and Washington and beyond openly.
But the loud music alone has no chance of bringing peace, stability, security and prosperity to a poisoned land called southern Kurdistan or a tortured land called Arab Iraq. The country, a British deformity if ever there was one, is a state of primarily two peoples, the Arabs and the Kurds. Forcing them to live with one another is like asking two individuals to sit in one chair. The much-touted medicine called democracy, when it was administered faithfully, did indeed show the fault lines between the Arabs and the Kurds along the hilly country of Jebel Hamrin. Arabs voted for the Arab leaders and Kurds followed with their own kind. Besides, of the Kurds who took part in the elections, a whopping 98 % expressed a desire for a civil divorce. In the branch of science called politics, the fancy name for this kind of behavior is called self-determination. It is considered a political axiom in much of the world except in the lands administered by dictatorships. Now that Iraq is a ward of Uncle Sam, you would think that the Kurdish desire to go it alone would have been respected and accepted. But I guess we fall under the Orwellian category of “Some animals are more equal than others.” In other words, the Arab majority can decide for itself, and here is President George W. Bush’s contribution to George Orwell: it can also decide for us, the Kurds. Should we, who are openly praised to the high heavens, as America’s staunchest allies in the forsaken country, accept this dictate of Washington willy-nilly? What will happen if we just declare our independence? Will American Marines fight us on behalf of the Arab world? In politics, stranger things have happened; if this comes to pass, at least, you could say, I was forewarned.
That a profound lack of interest in the Kurdish hopes and aspirations dominates the thinking of the Bush Administration officials is not new in Washington. What is new is to turn Iraq into a mini America in the heart of the Middle East. Let me say it in the plainest language that I can muster, a camel has a better chance of going through the eye of a needle than Iraq transforming itself into a post national state the way we have it here in these United States. Here, lest we forget, the dominant culture did away with its indigenous peoples. That is exactly what the Arab majority would like to do with its Kurdish population over time. All this talk about creating an “Iraqi identity” is a smoke screen to assert the domination of Arab culture over the Kurdish one. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, this time language will be prostituted to accomplish the same goal. Don’t, for example, be surprised if the people in Baghdad toss out the Arabic language in favor of a concoction called the “Iraqi language” from now on. Foreigners will be called in to help and boy what a colorful bunch they make. Last April, Howard Dean, I guess I should be thankful it wasn’t Michael Moore, took to the floor in Minneapolis to say that he opposed the establishment of an independent Kurdistan. I couldn’t help but picture him in 1860s and had a vision of him siding with the White plantation owners against the Abolitionists. Secretary of State Condi Rice followed suit with a visit to Massoud Barzani at his home, delivered a message from her boss, the president of these United States, and would it surprise you if I say it was most likely identical to that of Dean, and since she is a diplomat, in secret! If it were public, what would someone like Frederick Douglas have said about this unholy mission?
While I invite you to consider these ungodly wonders of your public officials, an Arab nationalist committed suicide run a story on the website of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on the eve of Jalal Talabani’s appointment to the office of presidency. No one danced in the streets of Baghdad, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, or even Beirut. President Talabani, my Kurdish friends kept reminding me, as if to assuage my misgivings, is a shrewd and versatile person. True, no one who has witnessed his verbal acrobatics has left his presence without amazement or even entertainment. In Baghdad, on the day of his inauguration, he dazzled his Arab listeners, with a little bit of Kurdish, and, unlike Leyla Zana and her friends who had to spent 10 years, three months and four days in jail for the infraction, received a standing ovation. In Hawler, in the Kurdish Parliament, he performed another miracle, and this time addressed his Kurdish listeners in Arabic. When I expressed my bafflement, the same friends told me that he had done so for the sake of the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs. There is more to these telltale Talabani acts. In an open letter to Tony Blair, he wrote of his profound gratitude to the native of Britain and quoted Churchill, a conservative, to congratulate, Blair, a member of the Labor Party. He said, “Britain should be proud that the liberation of Iraq has, in our eyes, been one of your finest hours.” Churchill had used the famous phrase, “finest hour”, in a defiant mode, against the Nazis, noting, “Let us therefore brace ourselves for our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” I wish President Talabani had indeed imitated Churchill in the same vein and called on my likes to defend all of Kurdistan rather than praising someone whose ancestors had actually subjugated it in the first place. To be charitable to President Talabani, this was not one of his “finest hours.”
I should perhaps go easy on President Talabani and consider his options from his own vantage points. A barrel-chested warrior, at least when he was fighting on the mountains, he has now taken to obesity the way a duck takes to water. A survivor of some of the most unforgivable and unforgettable battles, he must often wonder if it is real or fiction that he is the president of what Kanan Makiya used to call, the “Republic of Fear.” Many other Kurdish personalities with greater ambitions and better means have been trapped and murdered or exiled or locked up and turned into Quislings. Mam Jalal, as he is known in the Kurdish community, has eluded his foes, kept alive his hopes, and may still do some good for the children of Kurdistan, if he braces himself and us for the dream called total and unconditional independence of our homeland. For now, he has decided to adjust himself to the times rather than adjust the times to us, and our aspirations. In the mean time, he continues to confound those who thought they were writing his obituary. Here is an example of it that is both bewildering as well as heartwarming. Towards the end of Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein had unleashed his own brand of the “Final Solution” on the Kurds with the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons at least in 281 places. When he thought he had killed enough Kurds and subdued the rest, he declared an amnesty for the survivors, but excluded Jalal Talabani. In a turn of events worthy of Shakespeare’s pen, Mr. Hussein is now in jail facing the prospects of execution, with an aye or nay from the very Jalal Talabani.
Dramatic are the rise and fall of unscrupulous despots throughout human history and Saddam Hussein has proven himself to be no exception. While he is awaiting his fate in his lonely cell, we can’t help but ponder on the state of Iraq, which the butcher would love to see not survive his banishment. President Talabani may be its titular head now, but the country is infested with the disciples of enforced ignorance who delight in a culture of nihilism and are determined to make others be part of their dance of death. While it is sad and unfortunate that innocents are dying in the land of the two rivers, there is also hope in the very ruins of these car bombs. Iraq is dying not like the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, which would have been my choice, but in the style of Middle East with blood, body parts and beheadings. I can’t wait for the RIP sign to rise over the abomination that cost five million Kurds of Iraq 250.000 deaths in 35 years on the watch of one monster from Tikrit. When that day comes, and if by some magic I were granted a wish, I would have loved nothing better to do than rush the news to the high heavens and inform Winston Churchill, the British Colonial Secretary, that his out of wedlock bastard has, finally, thank God, died. After rejoicing in his heartache, I would have looked up for Uncle Omar of Halapja and cheered him up with the good news that the flag of Kurdistan now flutters over the memorial that honors him and his friends in the city of Halapja.
But that means waiting for things to happen rather than initiating them. It is not the way a nation is built or in our case freed from the clutches of thugs and their beloved friends abroad, people like Victor Chavez, George Galloway, Howard Dean, Condi Rice, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and even the great emancipator wannabe himself, George W. Bush. But in spite of these no friends of the Kurds, the stars are finally aligning themselves in favor of Kurdistan and fortune is preparing itself for one of its grand smiles on our people. To the naysayer who might point to the op-ed piece of President Talabani in the Wall Street Journal, titled, “In Iraqis We Trust”, I would only say that it was meant to please the Neo-cons in Washington, DC. If he really did believe in the “Iraqis”, he would not have surrounded himself with three thousand of his crack Kurdish units to feel safe in Baghdad. The truth of the matter came from his son, not just for me, but millions of other Kurds as well, when he confided in Martin Kady of Congressional Quarterly, “Whenever I walk into the Iraqi Embassy, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.” He could have added ditto for Turkey, Syria and Iran. But help is finally on its way for the terrorized children of Kurdistan, and it is with some sadness that I note, not from the children of Jefferson, but from the disciples of enforced ignorance who have vowed to destroy Iraq. When their work is complete, we will take our place behind East Timor as the newest freed nation in the world. Then, and only then, I will rise for the dance of liberation and emancipation in honor of all those Kurdish patriots who shed their blood so that I could see freedom.
Finally, there is a sequel to John Adams letter to Abigail as well. Since I told you that the Kurdish president had stumbled into his initial profession, you are probably wondering what his son did in college. Last March, running into him in Nashville, Tennessee, I finally asked him the question. His response was not what I had hoped it would be. He had, he said to me, majored in mechanical engineering in the United Kingdom. I didn’t give vent to my surprise, but couldn’t help thinking of another founding father of your country, this time, Benjamin Franklin, who when asked, after the Constitutional Convention of 1787, what kind of government he and his friends had chosen for America, had responded, “A republic,” and then added, “if you can keep it.” This republic, in spite of the curses of slavery, the Civil War, and two world wars, is still on its feet. When ours falls into our laps through an auspicious wind if you will, what will its fate be like? The old man of this republic, John Adams, was right, with all due respect for our Kurdish mechanical engineers, computer scientists, doctors, and even businessmen and businesswomen, Kurdistan will never get on its feet until its children too invest in the fields of “legislation, administration and negotiation”. Nothing else will save us. No one will do it. It is as stark as sink or swim and the floatation device is not a foam but education. This is the time to rise to its challenge as well as urge the true advocates of humanity to show their colors on the side of the Kurds and Kurdistan.