November 2, 2000
By Nicholas Powers

Photo caption: A woman walks past a U.S.-made M-60 tank in a Kurdish region of Turkey. A film on the plight of the Kurds will screen at

Boston College on Nov. 8.

Photo credit: COURTESY PHOTO

“I changed my name to avoid being at the receiving end of a bullet,” says Kani Xulam, head of the American Kurdish Information Network. “I cherish my freedom like air. I pray that America will not condemn me to a life with no liberty in Turkey.”

Arriving at Boston College on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Cushing Hall, Xulam will help present investigative journalist Kevin McKiernan’s documentary “Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friend but the Mountains.” As one of the subjects of the film, Xulam hopes the screening will raise public awareness of what he calls the cultural genocide of Kurds in Turkey and his own impending deportation trial.

Having already won titles for best documentary in both the Atlanta and Rhode Island film festivals, “Good Kurds, Bad Kurds” has yet to receive mainstream media attention. McKiernan told the Baltimore City Paper that when he tried to interest ABC’s Nightline in the story, “They took me to lunch, patted me on the back, and told me the Turkish-Kurd war just wasn’t on the radar.”

He believes it is because of such neglect by major news networks that a popular outcry has not been heard.

Human rights advocate groups such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Association have monitored Turkey’s policies toward its Kurdish minority. In a report, Amnesty stated, “Torture persists as a major concern for Amnesty International in Turkey. There has been documented hundreds of cases of torture over many years and has campaigned urgently against the risk of torture when people are detained by security forces.” The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in the world without their own nation. They live in a sprawling mountainous region divided by the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Soviet Union. Ever since modern Turkey was created from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, it has not been legal for Kurds to speak their own language, play Kurdish music, associate in organized groups or own radio and TV stations.

Since then, uprising after uprising has come and gone, and with it torture and village burning. In 1984 a Marxist-led group named the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, began an armed rebellion. During the past 15 years of conflict, at least 40,000 Kurds have died and up to 2 million have become refugees, wandering homeless through the hills. “Helicopters have proved essential in the Turkish army’s scorched-earth campaign,” wroteMcKiernan in the L.A. Times.

More military machinery could arrive in the war torn region as $4 billion dollars worth of King Cobra attack helicopters are scheduled be sold to Turkey. Currently, 84 percent of Turkey’s military equipment is U.S. made. Diane Edgecomb, an activist from Jamaica Plain traveled to Italy and spoke with a young Kurd, she said that American attack helicopters are a familiar sight to Kurdish villages.

“I was trying to talk to a Kurdish man, but the language barrier was hard to get past. Finally, he drew a helicopter shooting at a village. On the side he painted an American flag,” she remembers.

McKiernan echoes her statement in a commentary he wrote for the L.A. Times where he says, “I have often encountered refugees from destroyed villages in southeast Turkey whose only English – delivered in thick Kurdish accent – were the words ‘Sikorsky’ and ‘Cobra.’ Villagers know that the soldiers who burn their houses land in Blackhawk helicopters, the troop transports made by the Connecticut-based Sikorsky Co. They also recognize the rocket equipped Cobras, manufactured at the Bell Textron plant in Fort Worth, Texas.”

Bob Lider, the spokesperson for the Texas-based company Textron that makes the King Cobra military helicopters had no comment when asked what the company’s stance was toward human rights violations in Turkey.

Namik Tan, spokesman for the Turkish Consulate, says the stories of human right violations to in the country are largely exaggerated.

“These are fantastic stories, these allegations of cultural genocide. Turkey is NATO member surrounded by three nations suspected of sponsoring terrorism by your very own state department. So there is no question why we are buying those helicopters,” he says. “As far as we are concerned, Amnesty International has lost all credibility. It will never again be a source of credible information. We also know of Kani [Xulam], and we don’t take him seriously. He only wants to tarnish our image to the world.”

“They can often get away with lying,” says Xulam. “It is so hard to get information out of there because foreign reporters aren’t allowed in. Turkey also has millions of dollars while I am one person working out of a small office. Still, as a Kurd, I am duty-bound to do my share. It just seems that here in Washington, it doesn’t matter if you are right, but only how strong you are.”