On the occasion of Peace March solidarity visit to Sheridan Circle
September 30, 2001
I want to welcome you all to our Cell of Atonement and wish to express the gratitude of not just the Kurds but all the peoples of the Middle East for your solidarity march to this site in these difficult times for all the peoples of world. I am a Kurd, a native of Kurdistan — in the heart of the Middle East — but these days I am a suspect in the eyes of many Americans who associate my place of birth with the monstrous attacks in New York and the Pentagon. I know you are not one of those individuals. And I am happy to see so many of you out here to show the world the beautiful, the peaceful and the hopeful faces of America that, in spite of what happened to this country, stand tall and proud against bigotry, xenophobia and warmongering.
As some of you may know this vigil site was attacked. A man brandishing a knife felt free to touch one of us with his hate. Our vigil keeper, a Kurdish asylum seeker from Turkey, thank God, was untouched but thrown into a tantrum of terror and fear tantamount to what the victims and the loved ones of Tuesday attacks sustained and sustain. He now feels better, in part, because Americans, some in this crowd, have come forward to express their solidarity with him. I would like to acknowledge a few of them by name. Thank you Adam Eidinger. Thank you Aaron Bone. Thank you Nate Osborn. And thank you Dell, Bork, Vicky and Sister Alice. You are the true and gentle face of America. You are the pride and joy of this nation.
Our presence here predates September 11, 2001. Our vigil to atone for the political crimes of Turkey against the Kurds began on March 5. On that day, seven years ago, Leyla Zana and her parliamentarian colleagues were arrested and imprisoned for speaking up for Kurdish rights. They had engaged in hunger strikes, political sit-ins and demonstrations to end the Turkish version of the Apartheid. But the system did not want to change. Instead, it imprisoned them and has kept them in prison ever since.
Henry David Thoreau, a pacifist, a man who went to jail for opposing the war of his times, a role model for many in this crowd, once remarked that, “In times when government imprisons any unjustly, the true place for just man is also prison.” For the past 210 days we have tried to imprison ourselves to these walls to ask for the freedom of the Kurdish representatives. I am grateful to those who have helped. The four walls to my right have interned people from Kurdistan, Canada, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, and the USA. I want to take this opportunity to thank every one of you present and not present. You have helped us to expand the boundaries of freedom and liberty in the most awesome way ever known to humanity, nonviolence. Your sufferings, in the words of poet Tagore, will enable us to open the lids of joy. We will of course celebrate that joyous occasion together and perhaps here and I hope soon.
I would like to indulge in a few other observations about the attacks in this circle. Total strangers have walked to us to congratulate us for our vigilance and wished us good luck as we brace us ourselves for the cold of fall and winter. But too many bigots have offered us their wishes as well, usually, in the form of ugly curses. Some have called us “dirty Arabs”, “towel heads”, and “terrorists”. A few have even said, “Kill the Kurds”. But the phrase that has polluted our ears and resonates almost daily with the grass of this park has been, “Go home”.
We would if we could. I know many Kurds would follow me if we felt safe and secure in our war torn countries. Home, Kurdistan, not much different from Afghanistan, has been a theatre of war for far too many years. Our adversaries, the Turks, the Arabs, and the Persians have made it their occupation to deny us a place of our own. The phrase, “The best Indian is a dead Indian,” may have been coined here — and I am told this general [Sheridan] who sits atop his horse used it often in his fight against the native Americans — but now it echoes, with the word Kurd substituted for Indian, in the hearts and minds of far too many of our adversaries. Today, we Kurds live precarious lives on our own land. Today, we are here as children of war seeking solace and respite on these shores.
There is no need to hide it and let it come from a native of the Middle East that there is a culture of violence in our region. It is kept alive by the Military Industrial Complexes of many of the industrial countries that you call your homelands. The chemical and biological know-how of western countries enabled Saddam Hussein to gas 5,000 civilian Kurds in one morning in the spring of 1988. What hit New York and the Pentagon was in many ways no different. What did America do at the time? It continued with its business as usual with Baghdad. Innocent Americans dulled with O. J. Simpson, Monica Lewinsky and Gary Condit type scandals had no way of knowing about that awful spring in the Middle East. Only now the world is waking up to the awful morning in New York. Only now we are realizing that we have to perfect the art of nonviolence if we want to upstage the warmongers of the world.
The times are indeed troubling. You have seen people with impressive resumes take to the airwaves and offer vistas of war, crusades, and civilizations that should be crushed or exterminated. The zealots who planned and executed the attacks on America probably never thought that they would have it so easy. An indifferent America has become a hotbed of xenophobia culminating with attacks on Arabs, Sikhs, Persians, Afghanis, Kurds, Turks and Yemenis. Today, if we want to have a future of peace in the world we have to all call ourselves Arabs, Sikhs, Persians, Afghanis, Kurds, Turks and Yemenis. Today, we must close ranks to withstand the hate mongers here and everywhere now and forever.
I have one more thing to say to those who are pounding on the drums of war. Your misguided and corroded souls know nothing about its nature. You think it is glorious. It is the farthest thing from it. It is organized crime let loose. If you really want to know the war’s true meaning, just take a walk down the street behind me. Stop at the corner of Q Street and Mass. Avenue. Marvel at the statue of the man who is donned with a dhoti. In case you have never heard of his name, he is Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “I oppose violence. The good it does is temporary; the damage it causes is permanent.” It says it all if you have love left in your heart. You may not have it for the peoples of the Middle East, but at least I hope you have it for your own children. May peace be with you, and America and the world forever. Thank you.