The Kurds, the Turks, the Europeans and the Americans

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Feb 14 17:07:35 UTC 2006

2/13/2006 - By Kani Xulam

The Kurds, the Turks, the Europeans and the Americans: Do They Mean the
Same Thing When They Say Freedom?

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

In societies that have been deprived of the lights of freedom, you have to
excuse people for expressing their true feelings through jests to avoid a
one-way trip to jail. One such place is Turkish occupied Kurdistan and one
such jest that has been making rounds in the teahouses across my homeland
goes something like this: two prisoners, one Turkish and the other
Kurdish, are about to be hanged in Ankara, Turkey. As it is the custom
with the death row inmates the world over, the prisoners are asked for
their last wishes and parting words. The Kurd goes first. He says, I have
not had a visitor for eight months and I would like to see my mom. Then it
is the Turkish prisoners turn. He says, I dont want the Kurd to see his

I dont know about you but I can easily see this very joke being duplicated
in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, South Africa when it was
misruled by Apartheid, Germany when the Nazis were calling the shots, and
this country when slavery and segregation were the laws of the land and
killing the Natives was, for a while at least, considered a rite of
passage for the White man. Thank God, those days of blood and gore are
behind you. Today, to my knowledge, no one questions the genocide of the
children of these shores, the evil nature of slavery and its half-brother
Jim Crow, the monstrosity that was Nazi Germany, the abomination that was
Apartheid, and the domination of one race over the other in spite of the
elections that have taken place in the West Bank and Gaza. Our experience
in the occupied Kurdistan isnt that much different, but this world, or
this generation if you will, is too tired, too jaded, too preoccupied,
perhaps you could tell me, which one is it, to bother with the struggle of
the Kurds. But our adversaries are exempt from this blasphemous
indifference on the part of the International Community. They have been
welcomed into your capitals and supported in their homes to continue with
their unholy war against our children. Why is that?

Humanity in its endless wonderings on earth has authored many brilliant
accomplishments, but immunity from moral lapses has not been one of its
characteristics. All the way through to the beginnings of Industrial
Revolution, all the peoples of the earth could not have done much damage
to the family of Polar bears; today our kind is about to consign them to
the museums as artifacts. Our over-civilized generation has, it looks to
this activist at least, lost some of its bearings. As Kurds, we can be
exempt from this charge of waging a merciless war on our planet. But that
hasnt stopped this Kurd, much like Cassandra, the Trojan princess with
mythical powers, to warn you that you cant wallow in your freedom while
others are reeling in their bondage. Cassandra, as those of you who are
fond of the Classics know, lost her freedom for questioning that of Gods.
I have racked my brains, talked to all kinds of Kurds and non-Kurds alike
for clues, and burned many midnight candles so to speak, to see if we have
done something similar to deserve our fate. Yes, there was a time when
some of our fathers became the stooges of the Turks, the way some Poles
allowed themselves to be of Nazis in the occupied Poland, and like them
gave a helping hand to the destroyers of humanity, the Turks, as the Poles
did with the Germans. Could that be the reason why God has forsaken us?
How many Kurdish generations will have to bear this burden? Will this
hapless Kurd ever see the light of freedom, the sight of liberty, a
liberated Kurdistan?

I am, as usual, getting ahead of myself here. I should stick to the terms
of our agreement and tell you of our predicament, the ill-fated journey of
my people on this merciless and tortured world. I have been asked to tell
you of our sufferings the way a terminally ill patient is expected to
share her condition with a physician. I cant help it, but to carry on with
my conversation with God, with you as my interlocutors, so to speak. How
come, it has allowed other sinners, monsters if you compare their crimes
with ours, to bask in the sunshine of liberty and disregarded our
stupendous sacrifices and prayers as well for the same? I am, to
paraphrase the inimitable Kurdish poet, Ehmede Xani, confused about his
wisdom in this age of world states. I find it puzzling that your president
can subscribe loudly and proudly to the notion that, America was a
slave-owning society that became a servant of freedom, and yet refuse to
hear the Kurdish cry of liberty not only in Arab Iraq, where he calls the
shots, but also Syria, Turkey and Iran. One man who knew his Almighty well
was your third president, Thomas Jefferson, who noted, and it must have
been with great pain, I tremble for my country, when I think that God is
just; and then added, Gods justice can not sleep forever.

Well, it did sleep for four score and seven years as Abraham Lincoln so
aptly reminded a crippled nation in his Gettysburg Address. Four score and
three years have passed since Kurdistan was erased off of the map of the
modern Middle East and its children were slated for extirpation. Up until
then, we had survived a slew of benign masters, with occasional spells of
freedom, but none had banned our language, our culture, and our way of
life that had been preserved and handed over to us for generations. When
Rudyard Kiplings infamous White Man showed up on our doorsteps, not with a
burden but with a sinister design called predatory nationalism in his
head, a dark age, unlike anything we had ever seen, descended on us
forthwith. It would be a lie to say that we simply turned the other cheek.
Yes, our own John Browns have responded to a higher law and have continued
to wage a holy war on these derelicts of humanity ever since. No, our
adversaries have not given birth to a Harriet Beecher Stowe to help us
rouse morally bankrupt nations to their feet. Degeneration has reached new
heights where cultural genocide is now viewed as affection. It is a
slippery slope with deadly consequences for the cursed as well as the
misguided. It is not something that one should associate with the children
of Lincoln, and I do so with a heavy heart, breaking the rules of
hospitality that you have so graciously extended to me tonight. But I will
seek shelter in the words of Martin Luther and say, Here I stand, I can do
no other.

I dont know how to put this for you, but to state it the way it is: this
world is a scary place if you are a free Kurd. I have been wondering about
the Turkish prisoner, believing as I do in the observation that truth is
often stated through jests, and why he would deny the Kurdish inmate his
wish to see his mother even at deaths door. I have been asking myself, in
the trains, on the busses, and sometimes during my sleepless nights, what
would it take to have the Turkish inmate say, I want my Kurdish friend to
see not just his mother but also his father. Historians tell us that John
Brown, the American abolitionist, refused to call Black slaves, niggers,
and addressed them as misters and misses. It was a revolutionary act that
helped catapult this nation out of the cesspool of evil. Will there ever
be Turks, save the likes of Ismail Besikci, who had to spend 18 years in
jail for saying that there are Kurds in Turkey, who could call us humans?
If they do, will they also say we can sing in our language, including the
revolutionary tunes? When we do, will we be guaranteed that a knock will
not be on our doors in the dead of the night to steal our sons to be
tortured and our daughters to be ravished?

Perhaps I should ask you a couple of questions to better help us
understand the Kurdish predicament. How come there was commerce in human
cargo in 1820s on these shores and not so in 1920s? Why did the Ottomans,
the fathers of the modern Turks, allow Kurds to speak their language in
1823, but their children banned it altogether, in the name of civilization
no less, in 1923? In the 1860s, the European nations reduced their
commerce with the recalcitrant South, did not extend to it the recognition
it sought, and helped America, thank you Europe, walk away from its evil
past. And yet the same Europe, on October 3, 2005, welcomed, yes welcomed,
an unrepentant Turkey, an evil state, if ever there is one, into its
waiting arms. What was that about? Who do you think was cheering for
Turkey in the front row as it were, with tears of joy in his eyes so to
speak, jumping up and down as the expression goes, to celebrate the news?
Dont look at me for the answer, but at yourselves, or the fictional entity
that has come to be associated with your name, Uncle Sam. I couldnt
believe my eyes. Is this still the country of Tom Paine? All I could do
was wonder and murmur, what would Homer make of the ghastly scene? Since
he was blind, what would Euripides say of your unconditional, and are you
ready for this, unrequited love for Turkey? Has anyone checked on the
moral compass of this nation of late? You dont need an immigrant telling
you all of this, do you?

Coming back to our Greek thinkers, both would be aghast with the news.
Both knew a thing or two about freedom. Both had insights into the human
nature that you and your European cousins seem to have lost, or should I
say replaced, with a voracious appetite for the material riches of this
tired world. Is this too harsh of a rebuke? Dont believe a word of what I
say, take a trip, save Iraq, to the various capitals of the Middle East.
Ask them a simple question, save Iran, who is your most reliable ally in
the world? Dont blame me, if every despot you talk to, cites you, Uncle
Sam, as his most beloved and dependable friend in the world! But to
revisit our poet and playwright, it was Homer who once said, When a people
lose their freedom, male members of that society lose half of their
manhood. It was Euripides, who once noted, But this is slavery, not to
speak ones thought. 15 to 20 million Kurds live in an open-air prison
called Turkey and cannot speak their God given language, let alone express
their thoughts in an alien one! Is this what Europe wants on its resume
when it incorporates Turkey into its body politic? If not, I am just a tad
curious, what has happened to its tongue, to stay so calm in the face of
this ongoing legalized Turkish genocide against the culture of the Kurds?
The Taliban became famous the world over for their brutality against
women. Is the Turkish treatment of the Kurds any different? How come one
is abhorred and reviled and the other is excused and accommodated all over
the world? If Freud were alive, what kind of envy would he say this is, to
embrace a state with such a long laundry list of brutalities? Alas, I have
no answers. Like you, I have a lot of questions.

One of those questions has to do with my new status as a European. I dont
know why, but I keep repeating the word to myself to see if what my tongue
says is indeed what my ears hear. Does that mean I will not be tortured
anymore? Will I be able to speak Kurdish in school? How about furling a
Kurdish flag from a Kurdish building? Can I just have the Turks as my
neighbors, as opposed to my masters? I have gotten a headache from
thinking about all these things. I thought Europe was about rights,
respect for languages, cultures, and the freedom to do good so long as it
did not infringe on the rights of others, and others did not include
racists, bigots, and hypocrites. As I was looking for an aspirin, a friend
recommended that I take a look at Moliere and his play, The Bourgeois
Gentleman. It proved to be the medicine I needed. In Monsieur Jourdan, the
main character of the play, I saw a European who actually becomes a Turk.
Yes, you heard me right; a European becomes a Turk, not by force, like the
hapless Kurds, but by choice with the nodding of an authority like
Moliere. So, this is what it is all about. Monsieur Jourdan, for those of
you who havent seen the play or read it, is a nouveau rich who wants to
buy his way into nobility. It would have been easier for a cat to say I am
a dog than for Monsieur Jourdan to say he is a gentleman. But as Moliere
would have it, Monsieur Jourdan is a man on a mission. He hires all kinds
of teachers to make up, quick, for his lack of manners. In his first
lesson with a philosophy instructor, to his utter surprise, he discovers
that he has been speaking prose all his life, some forty years to be
exact, and without even knowing it.

But this comedy, as most art should, is interlaced with truth. Moliere
unpacks it with one layer at a time. For example, a neighbor wants to
marry Monsieur Jourdans daughter. He is of humble origins. Monsieur
Jourdan will hear none of it. He wants nobility for himself and a noble
husband for his daughter. His wife pleads with him, but to no avail.
Perhaps all those Americans as well as Europeans who like Pavlovs dogs are
championing this odd Turkish matrimony with Europe should pay some
attention to her reasoning. It is full of wit as well as wisdom. Like a
good French wine, 336 years has only made it better. In her words,

Marrying above ones station leads to double trouble. I dont want a
son-in-law who criticizes my daughter for her parents, and I dont want her
children to be ashamed to call me grandma. If she should come to visit me
in her fancy carriage and, by mistake, doesnt say hello to one of our
neighbors, you can imagine what they would say: Look at that show-off.
Shes Monsieur Jourdans daughter, when she was little we were good enough
for her. She wasnt so high and mighty then. Both her grandfathers were in
dry-goods business. They piled up a lot of money for their children. But
you dont get so rich by being honest. Well, I dont want this cackling. I
want a man who will be grateful to me for my daughter, to whom I can say,
Sit down there, son-in-law, and have dinner with me.

Monsieur Jourdan is not moved. What moves him is the sudden appearance of
a Turk, the suitor-neighbor masquerading as an Asiatic, claiming to be a
son of the Turkish Sultan who is on a visit to France and in love with his
daughter. As the Turkish custom would have it, he declares Monsieur
Jourdan a noble -- in Turkish, a Mamamouchi -- who apparently, instantly,
becomes blessed with the strength of a lion and the cunning of a serpent.
The play ends with the French bourgeois as a Turkish noble, his daughter
as the wife of a Turkish prince, and audiences that has been laughing at
the turn of events ever since.

I have one more thing to say about Molieres play, and then a short story
about Karen Hughes, and then my parting words. You and I can laugh at
Monsieur Jourdan, but who will at laugh at a Kurd who might just one day
tell a Turk, I am the real European; I speak Kurdish, which belongs to the
Indo-European language family, while you speak Turkish, which is related
to Mongolian and Korean? Can someone contradict, linguistically speaking,
this point of view? Europe has twenty official languages. Article three of
the Turkish constitution states, the language of the country is Turkish
and there can be no changes made to this article. What does that mean in
plain English? Imagine Turkey has a majority in the European Parliament.
Is it going to dictate to Europe one language policy, that is to say,
Turkish? It was John Stuart Mill who said, There is no tyranny worse than
the tyranny of majority over minority. Try saying, Happy is he who calls
himself a Turk, in French, as all Kurds do in Turkish, not by choice, but
by force! It will be comic for sure, should I or should you say, it will
also be tragic? The Jews have a saying, Man makes plans, but God laughs.
Are we capable of creating a world where God is content? What do you

I am now ready to tell you about Karen Hughes. She is your public face to
the world. Her job title reads, Under Secretary of State for Public
Diplomacy and Public Affairs. A writer as well, she is the author of an
easy to read book called, Ten Minutes to Normal. It is full of enthusiasm,
plenty of idealism, short on reflection and shorter still, unfortunately,
on analysis. My favorite line in it is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. who says, Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. She speaks
of it approvingly. She thinks, as I do, everyone should try to test its
efficacy. So when this woman who is often cited as a close confidante of
President Bush decided to visit Turkey last year, I became all ears about
her trip and wondered if her service, the type that she had imbibed from
Dr. King, would extend to the politically impoverished Kurds in what we
call northern Kurdistan, but a callous world has come to call it,
following the Turkish lead, southeast Turkey. Call me an optimist if you
will, but I had this vision of her donning the traditional Kurdish colors
-- the combination of red, green and yellow -- and walking down the
streets of Amed, my hometown, the largest Kurdish metropolis in the world.
It would have been an unforgettable sight, one that would have definitely
made her famous with 40 million Kurds overnight, and might have even
started a fashion craze, Karen Hughes clothing line, that could have
guaranteed her a comfortable retirement. None of that happened; okay, I
take it back, an unscheduled stroll did take place in Ankara, the Turkish

I dont know if anyone has told Karen, but that short stroll of hers was
one of the bravest ever undertaken by an American woman in a country with
the highest anti-American hysteria in the world. A BBC published poll had
noted, prior to her visit, an 82 percent Turkish disapproval rating for
America and its policies, the highest in the world, in the Middle East. A
dictatorship had been toppled next door, Thank you America in spite of
your difficulties, and the others were becoming nervous churning out all
kinds of conspiracy theories very, very popular in Turkey, one becoming
the subject of a bestselling book, The Storm of Metal, competing with
Adolf Hitlers Mein Kampf, a frightening development, characteristics of
societies on the verge of implosion. In the first book, written by two
upstart Turkish writers, you have American soldiers invading Turkey, its
Black Marines raping Turkish maidens, while an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type
of a Turk blows up Washington, DC with a single nuclear bomb, putting the
likes of Osama Bin Laden out of work. But I am digressing here and I
should get back to Karen. In the very streets that she was taking her
stroll, shops were displaying signs on their windows, some in bright
colors, some in black and white, this is a charmer, okay in quotation
marks, Amerikalilar Giremez! These signs didnt exactly say, Yankees Go
Home, but their Turkish equivalent, Americans cant enter! I like Karen. I
am, for a change, happy that she didnt know Turkish. If she did, not only
her stroll, but also her health might have been ruined.

I hope you and Karen will forgive me if I say that what could have
possibly ruined her health, and on the face of it spoiled your evening as
well, is the beginning of the good news for us Kurds. Evil ones, as
Winston Churchill once noted, referring to Nazi Germany, will eventually
make mistakes, as the Fuehrer did with his attack on the Soviet Union. The
Turkish attack on Washington will not happen, but that cesspool of evil
will not sit still either, as the death of one dictatorship in Iraq has
exposed its soft underbelly to the world. As it stands, the Turks
blasphemous reason for existence amounts to, give us death and not liberty
to the Kurds. They will get their death, I am sad to note, but sure of it,
for when it comes our children will taste their emancipation and theirs,
the remaining ones, just like the Germans who survived Adolf Hitler, will
feel their humanity.

But this rank hypocrisy, although in a class of its own, is not just a
Turkish trait. The world has come to be treated to a smorgasbord of
veritable double standards across the board in recent weeks. When
Palestinians elected Hamas over Fatah, the United States, the European
Union, the United Nations and Russia urged it to renounce violence and
accept Israel as a state worthy of neighborly relations. Hamas has not
said much, or done anything, but the volume of music has gone up in the
region. Teheran has stepped up to the plate demanding Israel be relocated
to Europe with Germany and Austria making room for its children. I dont
know about you, but I sometimes pinch myself to make sure that what I am
seeing and hearing these days are real and not just my hallucinations. To
me, it all amounts to pots calling kettles, you are very, very black. If
Americans and Europeans had asked the Turks to respect and accept the
Kurds and Kurdistan; today, they might have had a better chance with
Hamas. If Iran is serious about helping the Palestinians achieve their
self-determination; why doesnt it respect the Kurdish cry of freedom,
inside its borders, eight to 10 million strong, for independence?

But our times, it should be clear to all by now, are not ordinary times.
This world of ours will soon file for Chapter Eleven for lack of morality
bringing about a realignment of forces and a redrawing of the map of the
Middle East, this time, by the children of the region. As Kurds, we will
continue sweating for liberty. We will also not be shy, quoting Homer,
Modesty is not good for a needy [people], and ask for help as well as your
prayers to outfox and outlast the despots of the Middle East. It goes
without saying that independence remains our sacred goal because we wish
to be full men and women not just in your sight but also that of God. When
that day comes, you will all be invited to our birthday party, and I hope
you will come, if for nothing else, to renew your faith in liberty,
civility, beauty, and yes, love of humanity, the loadstar of them all, if
we wish to be remembered fondly by our posterity.

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