The Acceptance Speech of Congressman Bob Filner
At the Second Annual Ahmede Xani Award in the United States Congress
March 24, 2001
Washington, DC

Thank you Kani for your kind introduction.

It is so wonderful to be with you here on Newroz. I hadn’t realized we had not celebrated it before in the capitol. We have celebrated Easter and we have celebrated Passover, so it’s wonderful to also celebrate Newroz here today. I am honored by your friendship, by your and support as we work together. Hopefully, as you peacefully occupy the capitol here this evening, we may have to occupy the capitol more determinedly in support of other things later on. So at least we now know where the doors are and how to get in and you may find that very useful information.

I was in San Diego, California just a week or so ago where I represent, and helped to observe the terrible genocide at Halabja thirteen years ago. Tonight we celebrate a more pleasant Newroz. To sing the praises of Ahmede Xani and to thank you for that award because he spoke in poetry of some of your deepest yearnings for freedom and liberty. It is wonderful to be associated with his words. I too am many times confused, as the saying goes, by what goes on. But I know that we must persevere and I am humbled with this award because he, Ahmede Xani, is a legend in the Middle East and to have my name somehow associated with his is a great honor. Thank you very much for the recognition.

The longings for freedom that Xani expressed have eluded us in this room and the Kurdish people. They were elegant words that inspire us, but you have been treated inelegantly in history. We saw just recently a boat filled with over 900 Kurds as it hit the Shores of France, which reminded us of a similar number of Jews who tried to escape from Germany in 1939. The Jews were fleeing Hitler; the Kurds are fleeing a slew of modern dictators. While we can take some solace in the thought that the Kurds, unlike the Jews, were granted some form of relief in the French Riviera, the larger question of Kurdish independence, of Kurdish self determination, remains un-addressed. I think we could say a dark and sinister cloud hovers over all of your heads in all of the Middle East.

My own experience tells me that when there is a cloud, there is also a blue sky above that cloud. We may only see that in our minds. We may only see it as far away from Kurdistan, but to make that blue sky real and dispel the cloud takes not just poetry, which is very important, and not just celebrations, which are very important, but political organization and struggle. And I will tell you, as my friend Kani Xulam said in his introduction, ordinary people can do extraordinary things when brought together and are organized. We changed the face of American history in the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. We didn’t make this world a perfect place. There is still racism in this country, but we changed the course of history by working together. People sacrificed. I had a friend killed in front of me. And other people died. Dr. King was assassinated. But we persevered and we had progress. I think you will have similar progress as you organize.

You must lay the foundations of institutions that will serve one day your own needs. And you must be involved in that action in all places. We see the pictures here in front of us of Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak, Orhan Dogan. This is a night dedicated to these people and their thirst for freedom and we are all inspired of course by their example as they endure the hardships of prison life.

There is an on going vigil at Sheridan Circle which our modern Xani is leading, and that is across from the Turkish Ambassador’s residence to try to bear witness for the release of the Kurdish Parliamentarians. We hope the Turkish government will heed this call. We are going to try to make a congressional support for that call. We introduced a resolution last year called HR 461, which has not yet been introduced this year. But when we do we will need your help to get the congress to pass that. All of you have friends and associates, relatives in congressional districts all across this country. They all have to personally visit these offices. If they see you in person, if you tell them what Leyla Zana means and what she represents, they will listen. Most will heed the call of their own constituents and get on our legislation. If they don’t, there are ways to reward your friends and punish your enemies in the democratic political system that we have. But you have to get involved politically very personally. Most of them will see you. If they don’t, Kani will come and lead a demonstration outside their office. But we can focus some attention on Leyla Zana and her fellow prisoners with this congressional resolution.

Although your oppressors say you’ll never succeed, we’re gonna show them that we will. We’re gonna show them by taking part in the vigil, getting others involved in other actions, lobbying the United States’ Congress. Some people say we can’t get involved in U.S. politics, but that is your right and that is your responsibility. And that is what drives American politics. So please make sure that our elected representatives know your own thirst for freedom and what you are willing to do for that. So please get involved. If not, you will continue to live oppressed by others and not have the freedom that you deserve. Alone we are all vulnerable and dispensable, but united we are strong and we are invincible. If you free yourself with that kind of attitude, as Dr. Haluk Gerger of Turkey said, you will not only be transform your own country but you will also be transforming the whole Middle East and one day perhaps the world.

I am told that Kawa did that over 2600 years ago and Newroz was his gift to the peoples of the Middle East. As his progeny, you all in this room can do this again and turn the Middle East into a model of civilization.

Thatís a heavy task. Itís a tall order. It may be an unfair assignment because you have been denied the most basic of human rights. But you are all the children and friends of Kawa, Slahaddin Eyyubi, Mazlum Dogan, Amhede Xani and Kani Xulam. You have done this before in your history, you will do so again, now.

Newroz Pirozbe.

Her biji Kurd U Kurdistan