Portland Press Herald
By Joshua L. Weinstein

Like his people, Kani Xulam is used to not being heard.

Kurds have been deported from their villages. They have been forced to stop speaking their language. They have been tortured. They have been killed en masse.

Yet rarely, Xulam told an audience of about 60 in Portland on Wednesday, has there ever been much notice.

“It is,” he said, “as if the world has gone deaf.”

Xulam, the executive director – and sole staff member – of the American Kurdish Information Network in Washington, D.C., is working to change that.

“Somebody has to tune us up, and that somebody is us,” he said.

In his presentation, he explained that the Kurdish people have historically lived in the mountains of what is now Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and parts of the former Soviet Union. Although they are Muslim, they are not Arabs. They had (sic)[have] their own language, their own culture.

It was the Kurds whom Saddam Hussein killed with chemical weapons before the first Gulf War. Kurds also were expelled from their homes in Turkey and jailed in Syria.

They are, he said, despised by Arabs.

Because of their history, Xulam said, the Kurds in Iraq are wary about what will happen to them if U.S. forces leave that nation.

About 20 percent of Iraq’s population is Kurdish. The other 80 percent, Xulam said, is “virulently anti-Kurdish.”

He compared Arabs’ outlook toward Kurds to Germans’ attitudes toward Jews during the Nazi era.

With that in mind, he said, he fears that if U.S. forces leave Iraq, there could once again be wholesale slaughter of Kurds.

Except this time, he said, Kurds will fight. He said it is likely that if Kurds are again attacked in Iraq, it would spark a civil war and that Kurds across the border in Turkey might join the fight and try to establish a homeland in the mountains.

Xulam said the Bush administration would likely oppose such an effort because of opposition by Turkey, a strong U.S. ally.

“Uncle Sam is calling the shots right now,” he said. “And he’s telling us, ’Freedom is not good for you.’ ”

He said the Kurds generally do not trust the United Nations to keep the peace, because during the UN’s Oil For Food Program, Kurds – who were supposed to receive 13 percent of the proceeds – hardly saw a dollar. There are, in fact, questions of corruption within the program, he said.

Further, he said, UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said he did not think Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, yet never addressed the question of Hussein’s slaughter of the Kurds.

Xulam said that one city in what is referred to as Iraqi Kurdistan, Kirkuk, has 7 percent of the world’s oil.

He said the Americans can have it.

“Saddam Hussein came and stole our oil,” he said. In return, “he gave us gas.”

“I know the Americans will not ban my language,” he said. “I know Americans will not gas me. I know Americans will not torture me.”

If only, he said, Americans would listen to him.

Staff Writer Joshua L. Weinstein can be contacted at 791-6368 or at: jweinstein@pressherald.com