Sunday, July 15, 2001;
Page B08

Today marks the 133rd day of our vigil at Sheridan Circle in Northwest Washington. Our group of mostly Kurds along with some Americans has kept an around-the-clock watch to protest the imprisonment of four Kurdish parliamentarians. Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selirn Sadak were elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991. Three years later, they were arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Amnesty International has declared them prisoners of conscience.

For 133 days, members of our group have taken turns sitting in a replica of a Turkish prison cell across from the Turkish ambassador’s residence. We hope our presence will pressure Turkey into releasing these nonviolent Kurdish parliamentarians.

The Kurds have been denied their most basic human rights as an indifferent world has stood by. Unless we make a clamor, nothing will be done to help our compatriots. At issue is not just the freedom of four parliamentarians but the right of an entire people to hold onto their past and future without persecution. Eleven-thousand Kurds are behind Turkish bars for political reasons, and Turkey, which controls more than half of the world’s 30 million Kurds, holds the key to their freedom.

Nations always have sought help in critical hours to preserve themselves or improve their lots. France aided America in its struggle for independence. Russia helped Greece win its freedom. Britain, the one-time foe of the United States, withstood the Nazis in World War II with the aid of the Americans.

But the Kurds have had no friends but their mountains. Although human rights activists have given their time and skills to help us, our collective effort so far has not moved America to our side.

Zana and her friends have been in prison for seven years and 133 days now. Our vigil to free them will continue for as long as our love of freedom sustains us. We endured the cold of March and are prepared for summer’s heat. Our demonstration for freedom has been an incredible experience. We just hope our adopted country never will need to do the same.

Kani Xulam is director of the American Kurdish Information Network.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company