The Statement of Kani Xulam
At Lucie Stern Community Center Palo Alto, California
April 20, 2002
Late last year, I got an e-mail from a person who said he had seen the documentary, “Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends, But the Mountains” on PBS and wanted to know if I was safe from the threat of deportation from the United States. I wrote him back thanking him for his interest in my case and asked him to share with me his address to send him more information on the Kurds. As it is my custom in situations like this, I wanted to cultivate him as a friend of Kurdistan.
He shared with me his address. I sent him a package. About a week later, he called our office and talked to my assistant in greater detail about our work and expressed a desire to help. I then spoke with him, and gently raised the issue of our acute need for financial support, and urged him to make a tax-deductible donation. He said, he would send us a check shortly. I thanked him for his generosity and returned to my assistant saying, I think, we have a $100.00 check coming. She said, she thought, it would be for $50.00.
Those were the post 9/11 days and the beginning of the Anthrax scare that brought the Washington mail service to a grinding halt. Unknown to the world, we were having our most difficult days in our eight-year existence as a voice for the Kurds and Kurdistan. Our usual donors had joined the national effort trying to heal a gushing wound in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Like any organization that faces declining revenues, we started reducing our costs. We stopped our water service. We disconnected our satellite television. We started reading our dailies online. And to date, we are still anxious about the predicament of our office.
So when someone calls us, these days, to say that they appreciate our work and are ready to give us a helping hand, our morale shoots up into outer space. And if they say that they are going to send us a check, we then engage in these silly predictions, wishing against our better judgements sometimes, that the donor would contribute enough to put a smile on our face. So, when the check from our new friend arrived, my assistant and I were obviously curious about the amount and whether if it would meet or better yet surpass our projections. The latter happened. The good man had sent us a check for $ 250.00!
That good man who had signed the check is a friend of yours. His name is well known to many of you in this room. Some of you have crossed paths with him as a coach of your children. Others have known him as a patron saint of some of the Palestinian soccer teams in the Occupied territories. The newest thing about him is not a SUV, or a boat, or a plane, but his association with us, the Kurds: dispossessed of their lands, treated like orphans, and rejected all over the world. As a Kurd, this discovery of being wanted, let me tell you, feels just great. It is humanizing and I don’t know if I should say the word, intoxicating as well.
It takes courage to stand up for the silenced, abused and neglected in our world. The path is a lonely one and inevitably crosses inhospitable terrain. But your friend, and now our new friend, has what it takes, perhaps from his coaching experience, a love of justice coupled with an involuntary drive to help those who are on stranded roads such as ourselves, to make it to the promised-land. I am touched by his unconditional friendship for the Kurds. I am also pleased that so many of you have responded to his call. As you may surmise by now, our friend needs no introduction. He is Simon Ireland. Please join me in thanking him with a round of heartfelt applause.
There are others in this room who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to give Simon a helping hand to organize this wonderful gathering. I promised Simon that I would recognize them as well, and I ask that you join me in giving them a round of applause, as I call their names: Kim Ireland, Carine Ireland, Gary Ireland, Peter Horvath and all the other associates at World Soccer Inc.
There is one other group in this room that deserves your recognition. The cornucopia of food that you see all around is a gift of Kurdish restaurant owners in the Bay Area. They have, despite the collapse of the .com economy, contributed generously from cheese and wine to Kurdish pizza and Kurdish dewh. Please join me in giving them a round of applause as I ask them to stand up for their service to the assembled crowd. Ayten and Hamdi and their children, Meral and Ismail and their children and Serpil and Mehmet and their children as well as Kemal, Ferit, Mahmut, Aziz, Zubeyr and Bawer.
You have come here to hear of a story that doesn’t enjoy prime time attention on your window to the world, your television stations. Kurds and Kurdistan are forgotten by the powerful, abused by the misguided and divided from within. If you look at the maps of the world, you will not find a homeland for our kind. If you listen to policy makers, no one will talk of us as a people in need of a place under the sun. Now and then, you may find a reference to us and it is usually accompanied with a commentary that brings you face to face with man’s inhumanity to man.
Take for example the March 2, 1999 issue of the Washington Post that had a byline with the title of “Georgetown Magazine Taken From Stands”. A closer look revealed that copies of “Georgetown Voice”, a student magazine of the Georgetown University with a circulation of 8,400, were stolen from the racks. Was it a prank or a serious first amendment violation? I was face to face with one of my sickening experiences as a Kurdish activist in Washington, DC.
That spring morning, for a change, I did not need coffee to awaken me to the ugliness that was staring me in the face. The cause of darkness, in the city that claims to be a beacon of hope for the silenced masses and nations, had scored an impressive victory. 5000 copies of “Georgetown Voice” had met a mysterious end prompting the Washington Post to cover the incident. The problem with the Post was that — as it is with the other sources of the mainstream media — it knew how to cover the event, but did not belabor on the root causes of the problem and their implications not just for the Kurds but also Americans whose magazines were now stolen by people who dared to infringe on their freedom of speech.
Nicole Gesualdo, the Editor in Chief of the magazine, to be sure, did not know who had stolen her magazines from the racks. But she had told the Washington Post reporter enough to alarm the Kurdish Americans as well as their friends all over the world. “The issue,” she said, “contained an editorial criticizing the Turkish government for capturing Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Kurdish [sic] Workers’ Party.” Anti-Kurdish foreign students furious with the expose had gone for something they had learnt from their fathers in the Middle East, cover up the issue, and in this case, steal the magazines.
Sick to my stomach, I didn’t have to guess the real perpetrators of this heinous crime. Three years before, I had gone to the same Georgetown University to protest that school’s decision to honor the Turkish president Suleyman Demirel for an honorary degree, and are you ready for this, in humanities. God bless their hearts over 50 Amnesty International students had joined us, a handful of Kurdish activists, for the same purpose. We shouted our lungs out, “Turkey out of Kurdistan”, “No Honors for Murderers”, and “Demirel Go Home”.
Over 100 Turkish students confronted us. Many held signs that expressed support for the university’s decision to honor their president. One of them had the audacity to walk towards us, pointing to an infamous picture that a Kurdish activist was holding — depicting the decapitated heads of the Kurds with the triumphant Turkish soldiers smirking and posing for the camera — and said, “I am going to do the same to you.” Unbeknown to us, we later found out, a friend had actually filmed this foul and premeditated attack on us.
Here was a beast or pure evil masquerading itself as a student of higher learning in an American university that was honoring his president whose rule towards the Kurds would be termed by one American writer as slow motion genocide. I didn’t know if I should weep or smile at the lot of the Kurds in Turkey who would one day be ruled by the likes of this brute that was now facing us. I did neither; fuming with anger, I found solace in the words of the Kurdish poet Xani, who 300 hundred years earlier had said, “I question God’s Wisdom in an age of Nation States.” Today, he would have expanded on the phrase nation states and perhaps said stateless nations.
So, when I read of the disappearance of the “Georgetown Voice” magazine, I wondered if the student, who had threatened us three years earlier with beheading, had spearheaded the event. I thought of my poor mother who had burned my Kurdish books in Turkey lest the old man might be sent to prison for her son’s love of learning. I was reminded of a quote by a German writer whose name now escapes me, who had said, “When people start burning books in a society, the burning of the people follows suit.”
If this is the nature of freedom that Kurdish Americans enjoy in America, can you imagine what our loved ones endure in the old country? 40 million Kurds are illegal or slaves — choose your pick — in the world, a place you and I share as a home. In that home, on your watch, an abominable and blasphemous crime is being committed against the Kurds. We are overpowered. Brutes walk on our dignity the way you walk on your streets. The Kurdish language is banned, — a nation’s only claim to its heart pulse — condemning a people as old as the dawn of history to live perhaps its last years. Unless something is done and done quickly, our adversaries are intent on eradicating the very name of Kurds and Kurdistan not only from the future of humanity but also its history.
There are things you could do from the comfort of your home to stop this slow motion genocide of a nation. It was one of you, the number one freedom fighter of your country, George Washington, who coined the maxim, “There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate, upon real favors from Nation to Nations.” After seven years of studying the United States government and eight years of knocking on its doors, I have come to the same conclusion as your first president.
But I have learned something else in the process. Not nations but individuals such as you can make a difference in the lot of the Kurds. Simon, just one man, guided by the better angels of his nature reached out to you, in his words, “to do his democratic duty”, to give us a forum to expand the boundaries of freedom and liberty to include the Kurds. I beseech you to do the same, so that, this crime against humanity comes to an immediate halt. It would be my sincerest hope to see written in the annals of our times that the children of these lands who once inflicted genocide on a defenseless people now rose to rescue another one from the brink of extinction because it was the reaffirmation of God’s will and the right thing to do besides.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.