Raising a Kurdish palm for freedom in
By Kani Xulam - Special to Ekurd.net
September 10, 2012
Kani Xulam, an ethnic Kurd living in America,
founder of the American Kurdish Information Network
(AKIN) Kani is a native of Kurdistan. He has studied
international relations at the University of Toronto
and holds a BA in history from the University of
California, Santa Barbara.
Read more by
Kennesaw State University
Center for Conflict Management
International Conference on Indigenous Conflict
“Conscience does make cowards of us all…”
April 20-21, 2012
I join my colleagues in welcoming you to our
roundtable discussion on the Kurds and Kurdistan. I
also want to thank the Center for Conflict
Management (CCM) of Kennesaw State University (KSU)
for making the Kurdish struggle part of this
Please allow me to first commend Kennesaw—and your
spectacular growth since opening in 1966—practically
day before yesterday, the way time flies—with only
Today, you have more than that in your successful
administrative staff alone—some 1,400 plus.
You also have more than twice as many post-graduate
students, alone, as your original enrollment—nearly
2,300—and a total enrollment approaching an
Along the way, Kennesaw has highly distinguished
itself by winning prestigious national championships
in baseball, softball, soccer and basketball in NCAA
Division II. Please accept my hearty
Kennesaw was recognized by the Department of
Homeland Security and the National Security Agency
in 2004 as a National Center of Academic Excellence
in Information Assurance Education.
Your well-deserved accolades, in such a short time,
just keep mushrooming as Kennesaw has impressively
flourished into the powerful institution it truly
I want to talk about how your tremendous power can
be channeled into a productive use to benefit all
mankind—because power alone, without a useful
harness, is not at all productive…. in fact useless.
A racehorse, running wildly in an open field,
produces nothing—but in the hands of a good jockey,
at the Kentucky Derby, it can win millions, and
perhaps even the much-sought-after Triple Crown.
A powerful river, merely running through a gorge,
does no one any good—but when channeled through
large turbines, it produces enough electricity to
enrich the lives of millions of people.
Power, which is at the heart of many world
conflicts, like water, possesses certain
characteristics that are immutable all over the
What may be local, traditional or indigenous is also
transnational, modern and universal. The Kurdish
Question touches on many of these cited
classifications, and remains stuck in a quagmire.
I want to tell you a few stories from complicated
past of the Kurds by way of opening our discussion
for a meaningful debate. Maybe, in the give-and-take
that follows our presentations, we will reach a
point of clarity for a solution to the Kurdish
I say this by way asking you to be your brother’s
keeper, as it were. It will lead to a gentler and
kinder world for all the children of God.
May we always remember the powerful warning that
Marley’s Ghost strikingly gave to Scrouge: “Mankind
was my business.”
Yes, mankind is truly our business—all of us.
Even the lowly, often forgotten, continually
But: Before revealing my Kurdish tales, let’s take a
brief detour through your Great State of Georgia—two
detours, in fact—one real, one fabricated.
You can judge.
In 1732, King George the Second of England granted
James Edward Oglethorpe a charter to establish a
colony in the New World. The bequeathed land became
what is now your Great State of Georgia.
Oglethorpe got the idea, while in the British
Parliament, campaigning for improved conditions in
English debtor prisons. Back then, if you didn’t pay
your debts, you could be sent to prison—and many
Eventually, Oglethorpe argued for release of
prisoners, to be sent to his new colony of Georgia.
South Carolina welcomed the plan for a new colony,
because they desired a buffer settlement between
them and the Spanish in what is now Florida.
Oglethorpe persuaded the Crown that shipping poor
prisoners to Georgia would rid England of its
undesirable elements. In reality, however, that was
just to sweeten the idea, and get things going.
What Oglethorpe really wanted for his new colony
were the country’s “worthy poor,” such as English
tradesmen and artisans, plus skilled Scottish
workers with a pioneering spirit, to make his colony
Oglethorpe originally banned slavery, desiring a
system of “agrarian equality.” But politics forced
that to change. Slavery was soon in full swing
throughout Georgia, and the colony prospered with
abundant crops of corn, rice, silk and wine.
Georgia exported over 1,000 bushels of corn to
England in its first year of 1732. Only three years
later, Queen Caroline of England wore a dress made
of imported Georgia silk to celebrate her 52nd
Today, Georgia is well known as “The Peach State.”
Now, those are all actual historical Georgia facts
But let’s look at that “second” Georgia detour I
mentioned—to illustrate my main point today—but this
time without historical fact.
I have no idea whether Oglethorpe actually planted
any peaches in what is now “The Peach State.”
But, for the sake of my story, let’s assume that he
did, and that peaches were in high demand—especially
for their brandy, fetching a handsome profit in the
colonies as well as the mother country.
Again, in our fictional story, think of Mr.
Oglethorpe as a hard taskmaster, miser, shrewd in
business, and ambitious like Horatio Alger. After
clearing his fields of trees, he planted orchards
all over his domain.
As he got ready for the maiden crop, he worried
about the yield of his harvesting technique—so, let’
suppose that he invented a muzzle to prevent his
field slaves from eating his peaches.
In time, when his produce was ripe, it was
collected, washed, peeled, sliced, mixed with sugar
and stored and distilled as brandy for the markets.
Homes and watering holes on both sides of the
Atlantic couldn’t get enough of it.
The investment in the spirits had done well.
Mr. Oglethorpe was happy. And so was the king.
A taxable income had been created from a land that
had previously been differently utilized. Happier
still were his majesty’s subjects, who drank away
their sorrows, together with their alcohol, and
remained loyal to the mother country for another 44
Please remember, in our story, that the thousands of
slaves who worked in the orchards for Mr. Oglethorpe
never got a chance to eat any peaches and were not
allowed to taste their fine brandy.
But they knew—and knew all too agonizingly
well—about the back-breaking labor required in
planting those saplings, fertilizing their soil,
pruning the trees, collecting the crop when it was
ripe and turning it into distilled brandy for the
profit of their master.
Now, you can probably guess where I’m going…without
my saying it.
Please allow me to make a few observations on the
current state of Ph.D programs in the world.
From Oxford to Yale, from Tokyo to Moscow, thousands
of students each year are granted Ph.D’s in
humanities. Some, I’m sorry to say—like the actual
slaves of the real world today, and in my fictional
tale—are not fully aware of the wider importance of
If their Ph.D’s are on the Kurds, they know how to
do the field work, learn the language of our people,
count us for their quantitative analysis,
distinguish the role of women in our society, speak
of our diets, and don our clothes for the loved ones
back home as mementos.
But—and I hate to be utterly blunt—I doubt if they
ever truly, deep-down think about a key missing
ingredient in the lives of Kurds.
And that is this: Freedom!
The profound lack of freedom in the tortured lives
of the tyrannized Kurds!
We are often like those imaginary workers picking
peaches in Oglethorpe’s Georgia that I spoke about.
But our famine of freedom is not imaginary.
It is real!
All too real—and real all the time!
It has been said that people don’t really appreciate
their freedom until they lose it.
Think for a moment, if you can, what it would be
like to never have had freedom at all!
That’s what the life of a Kurd is like!
I know I am in a room with many Ph.D people—and all
of you are far more intelligent than I am.
So I apologize in advance if my frank comments
exceed the kind hospitality you have graciously
I just want to humbly encourage you to gather more
than routine and otherwise dull facts about Kurds,
such as numbers, location, food and clothing.
I urge you—indeed entreat you, like the slaves we
Kurds are in our terrorized home countries—to look
deeper than mere exterior facts when you examine our
Please breathe some living,
deeply-yearning-to-breathe-free flesh and blood
spirit into that lifeless Kurdish picture.
Please examine carefully that evil whip griped in
the brutal hands of our cruel masters—then caringly
flinch as that vicious lash spitefully slashes
across the bruised and bleeding backs of heartbroken
Abraham Lincoln put it well: “Few people can feel
the lash on another man’s back.”
I hope you can.
I hope you can feel the all-too-real lash on the
bloody backs of Kurds.
I encourage you to try and visualize the enslaved
Kurds today being able to eat the peaches and sip
the brandy that was denied the imaginary colonists I
mentioned in early Georgia—those muzzled as they
cultivated and harvested the peaches of their
My peach story was not real—just my way of vividly
illustrating man’s unquenchable thirst for freedom
throughout the world.
Despite my fictitious story, however, the lack of
freedom for Kurds is very real—and is continually an
everyday, nightmarish terror!
It’s hard for you to imagine it in America, with
your First-Amendment free-speech rights. But even
speaking—or especially writing—about the Kurdish
language or lifestyle can be fatal over there.
Turkish jails are jam-packed with those who dared to
speak openly of Kurds—including the well-known
author Ismail Besikci, who was sentenced to more
than 100 years for simply writing about Kurds. He
was released, fortunately, after only 17 years, due
to international pressure. Many more, however, still
languish in sordid prisons.
Turkey has left a clear warning what would happen to
people who dared treat Kurds as human beings, due
any sort of rights. Many have rotted in jail, or
suffered torture and death at the ruthless hands of
other “modern” Middle Eastern states like Iraq,
Syria and Iran.
I was denied my citizenship—in effect branded a
traitor—because the elite ruling class in Ankara, in
their infinite wisdom, thinks I have committed a
sinto forego my compulsory Turkish citizenship and
accept my Kurdish identity as God had ordained
it—and I gladly accept as a proud badge of honor.
Speaking of what God has ordained, please allow me
to borrow from one of your most famous Americans,
who spoke so eloquently on that subject.
It may seem trite to some of you—because you take it
for granted as part of your wonderful heritage of
Unfortunately, we freedom-starved Kurds don’t enjoy
So we liberty-craving Kurds still cling tightly to
Thomas Jefferson’s stirring words in your
magnificent Declaration of Independence: his
“self-evident” truth that “all men are created
We oppressed Kurds firmly believe, as your Jefferson
forcefully said, that these “equal” men are “endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,”
and that among these are “Life, Liberty and the
pursuit and happiness.”
Unfortunately, Kurds have no real life, no real
liberty, and no real right to pursue happiness as
Jefferson said these grand rights came from the
“Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Sadly, these God-given rights are cruelly denied to
Kurds by their master tyrants in Turkey, Iran, Iraq
In those places, things Kurdish remain toxic—but the
countries that enforce these laws against the Kurds
enjoy privileges of a world body called the United
Nations as members. It is, alas, a biased bundle of
hypocritical contradictions, but that is another
topic for another day.
Now, I want switch from freedom to food—as I dangle
a Kurdish sandwich before your eyes.
It is of a traditional kind, made of two slices of
bread, one black and the other white. Since I am a
vegetarian, you are not going to get meat as a
choice for the toppings--our Kurdish goats or sheep
have served our invaders without a respite, but on
my watch they are getting a break.
Their dairy products are on the menu, though. So
cheese is an option. Sautéed eggplants are another.
And you also get fried onions.
Black bread is courtesy of Malcolm X. As you may
know from your reading of the black revolutionary,
he liked his things fresh, plain and organic. Your
taste buds may not be titillated by his fare, but
your brain cells will never forget the experience.
Here is one serving of his incisive mind that has
stayed with me ever since I came across it: “If you
are not careful,” said Malcolm X, “the newspapers
will have you hating the people who are being
oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the
This is not just a practice in Turkey, Syria, Iraq
and Iran, but also a policy. Hitler’s Germany used
to openly say: “Germany free of Jews.”
One of the best-selling Turkish newspapers, Hurriyet,
which incidentally means freedom, isn’t shy to
proclaim, every day, on its front page, “Turkey
belong to the Turks!”
Now let’s put some cheese on that bread, and it
comes from another American, Christiane Bird, who in
2002 visited Kurdistan and wrote a book titled, A
Thousand Sighs, A thousand Revolts: Journeys in
Kurdistan. It is a light read, but has its profound
moments as well.
My story from its pages is about a girl and her
beloved, a Turkish boy. She recounts the tale this
way: “There was a boy I liked very much and finally
one day I told him I was a Kurd. But he didn’t
believe me. He said, ‘don’t talk about yourself this
way! It’s like swearing! Kurds are ugly and stupid.
You are too beautiful and smart to be Kurd’.”
Asking that Turkish boy to describe a good Kurd is
like asking a Taliban to let girls go to school. He
would not do it. The present Turkish ruling faction
and many of its offspring, I’m sorry to say, is too
bigoted to see the humanity of the Kurds.
The story of sautéed eggplants I mentioned is the
story of a Kurdish woman who was condemned to be
machine-gunned on the border of Iraq with Saudi
Arabia. Thousands like her had met violent deaths
during Saddam Hussein’s campaign of extermination
against the Kurds in 1980s.
Some were taken to the border for an elaborate
ritual that included being targeted by machine guns
at sunset while blindfolded. This particular woman,www.ekurd.net
somehow, miraculously, survived. Not knowing where
she was, she ran away from her killers and threw
herself on the mercy of the first stranger that
crossed her path. He was a Saudi man —she was in
Saudi Arabia. Eventually, she would marry him.
Years later, her husband approached a Kurdish man in
Mecca and invited him to his house for some tea. In
the course of the get together, the Kurdish woman
told the Kurdish man her story of abduction and the
subsequent marriage with her husband. When he
reported the incident in Iraqi Kurdistan, it became
On May 4, 2004, it showed up on the pages of St.
Petersburg Times in Florida, as well.
Fried onions are the last topping that I am going to
serve you today. They mean to address the subject of
music, as it remains problematic in the Turkish
Mihemedo is the name of a Kurdish song. It came into
existence in 1915. A Kurdish soldier had fallen in
the battle of Gallipoli to stop the Allies from
taking over Istanbul. His betrothed was devastated.
She mourned him and composed a song.
For ten years, the song had a normal life, becoming
popular throughout Kurdistan through the oral
culture of the Kurds.
But in 1925, it was banned together with the Kurdish
language. Ataturk, the father of Turks, developed a
severe reaction to anything that had the word Kurd
in it. His children followed suit.
That respect for the prejudices of the old man is
still the law of the land in Turkey. Freeing the
Turks from their racism and intolerance has become
the badge of honor for successive generations of the
We cannot declare a victory party yet, of course.
But our aspirations remain high, and we are
preparing for it with every passing day and night.
I want to now cover this concoction of cheese,
eggplants, and onions with a slice of white bread.
It comes from the Greek bard, Homer, the blind man
who had something that most people with both of
their eyes would die to have: Wisdom.
In one of his observations, and I am now quoting it
from memory, courtesy of my education at the
University of California Santa Barbara, he says the
following: “When a people lose their freedom, male
members of that society lose half of their manhood.”
I know it is hard to tell a half-man from a
full-man, especially when they are physically
intact, but perhaps we should listen to the wise old
bard carefully. He didn’t have a Ph.D, but his
enduring wisdom has undyingly transcended the
approximately 3,000 years since his birth.
The brandy came to you courtesy of enforced labor
that had the sanctity of the law for centuries. The
Kurdish fare is a newer phenomenon and may take
decades to make it legal or to untie it for the good
of the oppressed as well as oppressor.
People of good will know that America is a better
place for delegating slavery to its past. That was
not the case when thousand were willing to die for
The same arguments are passionately argued and on
display between the Kurds and their adversaries. As
thing stand, the farsighted are few and far
in-between. To quote Yeats, “… the worst are full of
Since the theme of this conference is to explore the
prospects of indigenous solutions, I will end on a
slightly positive note. In Turkey, where half of the
Kurdish population of the Middle East lives, about
20 million, a Muslim, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now runs
Although Turkish ruling circles remain opposed to
resolving the Kurdish Question, there are slight
cracks in their armor, so to speak.
On January 1, 2009, the Turkish government allowed
broadcasting in Kurdish based on a law that was
passed to ease Turkey’s entry into the European
Union. That 2002 law states that local languages
other than Turkish can now be taught in private
It’s a tiny step—and honesty compels me to make you
privy to it.
We Kurds are not allowed to make use of this law
that now defines us as a people who speak a language
that is not Turkish, but the Turkish government has
begun to test it, as it were. Although the so-called
Kurdish television starts with the Turkish National
Anthem and says things that make this activist
wince, it has also adopted Mihemedo, the banned
Kurdish song, as its theme song.
I suspect somebody whispered into the prime
minister’s ear, and told him the song’s origin—how a
Kurdish man nobly laid down his life for the freedom
of the Turks. Those Kurds willing to lay down their
lives for the independence of the Turks are now,
finally, honored in Turkey.
But if you want to die for the equally-precious
Kurdish freedom, you are branded a terrorist.
Flashing the sunshine of freedom to the
Turks,Persians and Arabs has not been easy. I hope
you will help us light a candle—rather than curse
the darkness—not just for our shared humanity, but
for all mankind, as Marley’s rousing ghost told us.
Let me leave you with these inspiring words from
Thomas Jefferson: “I have never been able to
conceive how any rational being could propose
happiness to himself from the exercise of power over
others…No man has a right to commit aggression on
the equal rights of another.”
Like Mr. Jefferson: “I have sworn on the altar of
God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny
over the mind of man.”
Thank you for your kind attention—and may God always
bless America’s great and wonderful freedoms and one
day make them the heritage of the Kurds and
Kurdistan as well.
(This statement originally was a set of talking
points. After the conference, I was asked to provide
an expanded written version. I did, which is what
you just read.)
* Kani Xulam is a political activist based in
Washington D.C. He is the founder of the American
Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) www.kurdistan.org.
Kani is a native of Kurdistan. He has studied
international relations at the University of Toronto
and holds a BA in history from the University of
California, Santa Barbara. He was recently awarded
an MA by the International Service Program at
American University. At the University of Toronto,
he represented Kurdistan at the Model United
Nations. In 1993, at the urging of Kurdish community
leaders in America, he left his family business in
California to establish the American Kurdish
Information Network in the nation’s capital. He is
the founder of the American Kurdish Information
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