Wednesday, May 28, 1997
Washington, DC

Jose Ramos Horta
1996 Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate
Free Leyla Zana Reception

The honor is mine to be here, to try to lend my humble
and faint voice to a cause, a people , the Kurdish people, in
one of the most critical strategic regions of the world, a
people who have been betrayed by almost every major power in
the world, a people who have been one of the greatest
inspirations to all of us.

You may have read a story in The Washington Post today
which refers to a refusal on the part of the White House to
meet with me. I can only say that my ambition in life is not
to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. It is not my ambition
either to walk through the gates of the White House, as it
was not my ambition in life to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Back in October, when I got the news, my plan was to
have a full weekend. I was playing with one of the loveliest
creatures in the world, a 2 year-old girl, a niece of mine,
when the news came that I had been selected along with Bishop
[Carlos Filipe Ximenes] Belo for the Nobel Peace Prize. I
was surprised for many reasons. One reason was that I always
thought Leyla Zana had a very strong chance, and deserved it
more than the person speaking here today, for the Nobel Peace
Prize. I have read and heard about the Kurdish struggle and
about her work over the years through many Kurdish friends,
through European Union Parliamentarians in Brussels, through
Norwegian Parliamentarians. Everyone in Oslo, in all of the
political parties, endorsed her for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And I was very happy that she won the European Parliament
award, the [1995] Sakharov [Freedom] Award, which is second
only to the Nobel Peace Prize. That remains my belief: that
people like Leyla Zana and Wei Xhing Jeng in China are a real
inspiration to all of us.

Before I speak, I would like to express my sincere
gratitude to Kani [Xulam] and the American Kurdish
Information Network, and to Ms. Kathryn Porter for her kind
words, and also I would like to express many, many thanks to
Karen [Grisez] and to the law firm of Fried, Frank, [Harris,
Shriver & Jacobson] for hosting tonight’s event.

I have been very frustrated reading what has happened in
the past few days, the past few weeks: the deployment of
Turkish troops in northern Iraq. What is going on in
northern Iraq, what has happened to the Kurdish people, is to
a large extent similar to what happened to the Jews in the
1930s and 1940s that led to the Holocaust. It is similar to
what has happened to the Tibetans and to the East Timorese,
and to so many other peoples who fought policy-makers, who
fought practitioners of realpolitik, or pragmatism.

Why [did] the genocide of the Jews happen in the 1930s
and 1940s? Was it because there was no information about the
unfolding persecution and discrimination of the Jews? There
was information; there was information in Washington, in
London, in Paris. But everybody decided to be silent, to
ignore it because to accept that information meant
confronting Hitler; and the politics of the time was the
appeasement of Hitler. In 1939, a refugee boat with 900 Jews
was anchoring off Florida waiting to be admitted into the
United States, the ship was called The St. Louis. After two
weeks of waiting, they were turned back. Many of them found
their deaths in Hitler’s camps. The reason: it would be too
inconvenient for Hitler, too embarrassing if the U.S. were to
admit them as refugees. It was appeasement, it was
realpolitik. Sixty years later, the persecution of the
Kurdish [people], the appeasement of China over Tibet, and of
Indonesia over East Timor remain the policies of today. I
don’t want to point fingers at any particular country.
Unfortunately, there are too many crooks and the list is too

In the case of the Kurdish situation, here you have a
woman, Leyla Zana, who has fought for her people, for
cultural rights, for the language, for the right to preserve
what is thousands of years old — culture and civilization —
through peaceful means. The Turkish government, like the
Chinese government, like the Indonesian government, refuses
dialogue with people who want peaceful means. In Indonesia,
the Indonesian government refused dialogue with Xanana
Gusmao, refused dialogue with Bishop Belo, the other Nobel
Laureate. In Turkey, it’s the same; in Tibet, it’s the same,
refusing dialogue with the Dalai Lama in spite of his very
modest proposals. And this is largely because regimes like
these, that use brute force, who suppress people who want
peaceful dialogue to resolve a conflict, are able to do so
because time and again, decade after decade, the powers that
be — the United States, France, Germany and others — that
could exert a concerted effort to bring about a negotiated
settlement to this conflict go for the easier approach; the
easier approach is realpolitik, pragmatism. But what does
pragmatism mean? Is pragmatism a reflection of [the] real
national and security interests of a country? Is the
national interest and security interest of the United States
really served by introducing more weapons into the hands of a
regime that is unaccountable to anyone?

Well, in the 1980s, you might recall, in the conflict
between Iran and Iraq, Iraq was the aggressor; it invaded
Iran in the aftermath of the collapse of the Shah. Every
Western country provided weapons to Saddam Hussein under the
assumption that Saddam Hussein was a moderating force in the
Gulf region. When Kurdish women and children were gassed to
death inside Iraq by [the] Iraqi Air Force, it was the first
time since W.W.I. that chemical gases were actually used;
they were forbidden in W.W.I. At least 4,000 children and
women were killed; we saw it on television, on the cover of
Newsweek. In spite of that, Saddam Hussein, the aggressor
against Iran, user of chemical weapons, was still viewed as
the moderating influence in the Gulf region. They were
surprised only when Saddam Hussein used the same guns, the
same weapons provided by the liberators — by the U.S., by
the French, by the Germans — and, armed with the mistaken
assumption that the U.S. would not do anything, went into

The cases go back [further]. In 1982, [Gen. Leopold
Fortunado] Galtieri of Argentina sent his forces to reoccupy
— that was their allegation — Maldines, the Fauklands.
Galtieri and the generals proceeding him were some of the
worst human rights offenders in Latin America. Tens of
thousands of Argentineans disappeared. Even today, there are
still thousands of Argentineans still unaccounted for; yet
weapons were provided to Galtieri by the French, the
Americans and the British. I don’t want to criticize the
U.S. because, after all, I come from a place that’s not even
called a country; we are called a territory. Under UN
language, East Timor is a non-self-governing territory. I’m
not criticizing the U.S., I’m not criticizing any big
power…I’m just saying that we fail to understand why the
U.S. continued to provide weapons to Indonesia as it did to
Iran, to Iraq, to Mobutu in Zaire. And, we think this is

But asking forgiveness for my own indulgence, allow me
to say only a few points. Introducing weapons to that region
of the world, is morally indefensible not only for what is
happening to Kurdish women and children but also for what is
happening to Turkish people, themselves, who also want a more
open and democratic society. It is morally indefensible to
provide weapons to any brutal regime in the world, but, in my
humble view, introducing weapons to Turkey today, to the
region, is extraordinarily dangerous for its relations with
its neighbors, with Greece, with Cyprus, in the entire
region. Turkey does not face any external threat. Quite the
contrary, it is the one potential threat to each of its
neighbors. Introducing more weapons to Turkey, at this time
when the regime is under challenge by its own people, is
morally indefensible and strategically unsound.

The examples of the past are there. I certainly
applaud, and, I should say if you don’t do anything on East
Timor but you do a lot on Leyla Zana for the Kurdish people,
I’m already very happy. If you don’t do anything on East
Timor but you do a lot on Aung San Suu Kyi, on the Burmese
struggle, I’m very grateful. If you don’t do anything on
East Timor but you do a lot on the Tibetan people, you have
my profound praise. Because the struggle of the Kurdish
people, of Leyla Zana, what she represents, what Aung San Suu
Kyi represents, represents all of us.

Therefore, my warmest applause to the Members of
Congress who have signed the letter calling for the release
of Leyla Zana. That’s the minimum the U.S. can do, to demand
her release and of other political prisoners in Turkey. And
it would be for the benefit of the Turkish government, for
it’s own image, for pragmatic reasons maybe, they would be
persuaded to release her.

In the case of additional initiatives that should be
taken in the case of the Kurdish people not only in Turkey
but other regions of the world, particularly in the three
other countries where they are — in Syria, in Iraq, in Iran
— I believe that the Kurdish people in all four regions
deserve better. There have been no other people in human
history that have been so persecuted, so humiliated, so
robbed like the Kurds, like the Tibetans, like the Jews, like
the East Timorese, the people in West Papua, in Indonesia and
so many other people around the world. Unfortunately, the
list is too long.

Last but not least, I remember not long ago, I saw the
film Schindler’s List. At least he, Schindler, tried to do
something. Fighting the powerful German Nazi machine, he
saved some lives. And I also remember the story of a
Portuguese consul, Mr. Mendes, a Portuguese consul in
Bordeaux, occupied France. In spite of the fact that the
Portuguese fascist state at the time was neutral but allied
with Hitler behind the scenes, he issued false passports to
30,000 Jews and saved them. These people did a lot under
extraordinary difficulties. We, those who are abroad, I
think we owe those who are in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, in
Turkey, much, much, much more. And we can do much, much
more. Thank you.

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