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Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 97 13:26:25 CDT
From: Arm The Spirit <ats@locust.etext.org>
Subject: Interview With Kani Xulam, American Kurdish Info Network
Article: 19847

Amy Goodman Interview With Kani Xulam, Director Of The American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN)

Pacifica Radio, Democracy Now, 6 October 1997

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of Turkish soldiers continued their intervention in northern Iraq this weekend as part of a massive two-week military assault on Kurdish rebel forces. The Turkish army claims that 415 rebels have been killed and says only 6 soldiers have died. For the last 13 years Kurdish rebels have been fighting for an autonomous homeland in southeastern Turkey, in a war that has cost some 28,000 lives. Apart from repeated invasions of northern Iraq, the Turkish government has in recent years evacuated and shut down 2,500 villages to cut off potential guerrilla support. Meanwhile, internationally renowned Kurdish activists have been given harsh prison sentences inside Turkey. One such case is that of Leyla Zana, a journalist and parliamentarian who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the European Parliament. She is currently in the fourth year of a 15-year prison sentence in Turkey.

We're joined right now by Kani Xulam. He's the director of the American Kurdish Information Network, a group that aims to foster Kurdish-American friendship and understanding. He's based in Washington DC. Welcome to Democracy Now.

KANI XULAM: Thank-you. I'm happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Kani, can you tell us first, what is happening in the U.S. Congress around Leyla Zana, the only Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish Parliament, and who actually spoke before Congress?

KANI XULAM: Since May 6, 1997, a Dear Colleague letter has been circulating in the House [of Representatives] every Tuesday, and to date 136 members of Congress have agreed to sign it. The letter will be sent to President Clinton on October 30, 1997 and we hope to have more signatures by then. To get the numbers [of signatures] higher, a group of Kurds and their American friends in Washington will be launching a fast on October 20, the day that Leyla Zana was elected to Parliament in Turkey. It has been six years [since her election]. The Kurdish people elected her to the Parliament; the government of Turkey took away that mandate from her. So we want to undertake the fast to honor the Kurdish people's will and to honor her election to the Parliament.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it true that the reason that she got the 15-year sentence is that the State Security Court of Turkey cited her testimony before [the U.S.] Congress as an act of treason?

KANI XULAM: Yes, it is. The indictment reads, a speech here, a speech there; an appearance here, an appearance there. On May 17, 1993 she appeared before the Helsinki Commission in the United States Congress. The lawmakers in this country invited her to come and testify about the situation, the ongoing conflict that you referred to earlier. At that time, when she testified, she was talking about the destruction of 300 villages. Earlier you pointed out that 2,500 villages had been destroyed. She called on the lawmakers to intervene; she called on the U.S. government to intervene, to be a voice of peace and to change the debate on the Kurdish question from war to peace, from violence to non-violence. Unfortunately, her plea fell on deaf ears and the conflict has gotten worse. Death is a common occurrence in Kurdistan and she is now serving the fourth year of a 15-year sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: You, yourself, Kani Xulam, are Kurdish. What is your story? How did you end up in the United States?

KANI XULAM: I left the oppression that is ongoing in Kurdistan in 1980. Its roots go back to 1924 when the Turkish Republic was founded by the then-leader of Turkey, [Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk. He, unfortunately, adopted an ideology from Europe, the concept of the nation-state, and implemented it as such that it turned [Turkey] into a racist state, a chauvinistic state, where the Kurdish language was banned overnight. The names of Kurdish towns were changed. All Kurdish names became illegal.

I left for Canada. I stayed there for a while and then I came here. In the late 80s and early 90s the news would come in and it was ugly. My own village was destroyed. The loved ones that I knew would disappear. We diaspora Kurds in America got together and decided that I should be here in Washington. It was 1993. As you pointed out in your opening statement, we're hoping to change the policy on the Kurdish question from war to peace. We're also trying to foster Kurdish-American friendship and understanding.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how it is that over the last two weeks the Turkish military has resumed the bombardment of northern Iraq? Now, hasn't the UN declared this a no-fly zone and if Iraq ever goes up into this area and bombs they're seriously internationally denounced? How is it that the Turkish military can go in and bomb this area?

KANI XULAM: Very good point. Last year on August 31 when Saddam [Hussein] moved a couple thousand of his troops to intervene, U.S. missiles were fired. It became the CNN, Washington Post, New York Times news. Whereas now, and last May, Turkish troops moved in, bombed the place, and nothing was done. Literally, green lights were given to the Turks. It's a double standard. Because Turkey is a U.S. ally and a NATO member, and a friend, Turkey gets away with murder. It does everything with impunity. If Saddam, as you said, goes in there, then the UN mechanism is implemented and he is chased out. We believe neither Saddam nor Turks should be there. The Kurds should be allowed to go on with their lives, if possible, free.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did the Turkish military get the planes used to bomb northern Iraqi Kurdistan?

KANI XULAM: You know, there is a book that just came out by John Tirman called The Spoils of War. I haven't had a chance to read the whole book, but I looked through a couple of chapters. Most of the weapons that Turkey uses against the Kurds in this war come from the U.S., [for example] F-16 fighter planes, Scorsky helicopters. John Tirman talks about the Connecticut helicopter factories that are literally supplying Turkey with the deadly birds that have decimated the Kurdish lands. The destruction that goes on, the free fire zones...entire regions in northern Kurdistan (in southeast Turkey) have been turned into free fire zones. They literally go in and shot at anything that moves. It's an environmental disaster as well as a humanitarian disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking with Kani Xulam, the director of the American Kurdish Information Network, which is based in Washington DC. This, in light of what's been happening in Kurdistan over the last two weeks, the thousands of Turkish soldiers who are continuing their intervention into northern Iraq, and also in light of the 136 U.S. Congress members who have signed a petition calling for the unconditional release of Leyla Zana, the only Kurdish woman elected to the Turkish Parliament, where her protest began as a housewife, then as a journalist, and later as a parliamentarian, and then she was put in jail as a result of testifying before the U.S. Congress...Now, we had a chance over the past few days to talk to Leyla Zana's husband, Mehdi Zana. Can you tell us a little about him before we play the tape of his plea for his country?

KANI XULAM: Mehdi Zana is a very well known figure in Kurdish politics. He was the mayor of Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in southeast Turkey, northern Kurdistan. In 1980, a military coup took over the civilian authority in Turkey. He was arrested immediately and put in jail, the Diyarbakir military prison. That prison has a very somber, a very sad place in the history of the Kurdish struggle for civil rights, for political rights. Mehdi chronicled some of those tortures in his book called Journal of Barbarity. It's now translated into English as Prison Number Five. So he was very well known. He was arrested and given [the sentence of] life in prison, and later because of the pressure by Amnesty [International], because of the pressure by the Western mayors...he was released. Today, he is living in exile. Just two or three months ago the government of Turkey handed him another sentence of one year in prison for writing poetry, basically for violating the so-called freedom of expression laws in Turkey. Now he's living in exile in Sweden. He cannot go back and see his wife.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we recorded a statement that was translated into English that Mehdi Zana had written a few years ago and we asked him to read it himself...but we really wanted to play it in his own words, since our philosophy at Democracy Now is for people to speak for themselves...

[Note: Amy Goodman spoke over the statement in places, but to conserve space and to facilitate reading of this passage, the following is a direct transcription of Mehdi Zana's statement.]

MEHDI ZANA: My name is Mehdi Zana. I am 57 years old. For the last 35 years, I have fought for the Kurdish rights in Turkey. Never a violent person, I have spent 16 years of my life in Turkish prisons because of opinions and pacifist struggle for my people. I am one of the few miraculous survivors of the sinister Diyarbakir prison, where so many of my companions died under torture. My eyewitness account of the unspeakably brutal and sadistic torture proceedings is included in the publication Journal of Barbarity currently being translated from Turkish to French. I owe my survival to the mobilization of public opinion in the West, to NGOs and to the Western mayor colleagues who never left me alone in my darkest hours.

I say colleagues because I was the mayor of Diyarbakir, the politico-cultural capitol of Turkish Kurdistan. The population of the city, which amounted to 400,000 inhabitants in 1977, had elected me mayor by direct universal suffrage. The military coup of September 12, 1980 dissolved my municipal council. I was subsequently jailed, to be released years later in 1991. Since then, I have been jailed again, twice, and have also been barred from politics for the rest of my life.

I am an independent Kurdish activist. I have a Kurdish message for you. The Kurds are in danger. They are being slaughtered. Many are evicted from their homes. Kurdish women are insulted and raped by Turkish soldiers. Kurdish intellectuals are assassinated. It is a tale of sorrow and anguish. One that is in search of the advocates of humanity for the Kurds. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: ...and that is Mehdi Zana speaking to us this weekend. He is in exile after being imprisoned in Turkey. If he were to return he is threatened with a jail sentence, although he has been in jail many times in Turkey...Mehdi Zana, a Kurdish activist, poet, and writer. His wife is Leyla Zana who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Turkey. And our guest has been Kani Xulam, the director of the American Kurdish Information Network. I want to thank you for making the connection for us to get this statement from Mehdi Zana. Let me ask, if people are interested in the Kurdish cause, where can they call? How can they get information?

KANI XULAM: We have a website as well. It is at http://www.kurdistan.org. We have an office in Washington and an office in Los Angeles. [We are] the American Kurdish Information Network. The acronym is AKIN. If they call Washington for information our number is (202) 483-6444...

AMY GOODMAN: ...(202) 483-6444. And one final question: If you had an independent Kurdistan, where would it be geographically?

KANI XULAM: It would be in the heart of the Middle East. The rivers Tigris and Euphrates would go through it and it would cross them as well. It would be as large as the states of California and New York together. It would be a viable state if it were ever allowed to get on its feet.

AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam, of the American Kurdish Information Network, thank you very much for being with us.