Kurdistan’s brightest flower
Kurdishaspect.copm - By Ali Tawfik-Shukor
I hold my head in my hands, dizzy from the thoughts plaguing my tormented mind. Where do I start? What can I say to express my outrage and unrelenting feeling of sadness?
This is my lone, curtailed attempt at channeling all these overpowering emotions into a coherent wake-up call to all those who cherish freedom – and to bring to light those who strive to extinguish the flame of knowledge, understanding and love – in favor of a world governed by fear, ignorance and hate.
The nightmare all started after May 23rd of last year – the aftermath of a seminar (rather optimistically) entitled ‘the obstacles and options for a political and peaceful solution of the Turkish-Kurdish ethnic conflict’, in London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The seminar, organized by the University of London’s Kurdish society at SOAS and Kurdish Studies and Student Organisation (of which I am a proud member), invited Leyla Zana as a guest speaker. There was understandably huge excitement surrounding this event. Leyla, despite her gentle demeanor and unassuming appearance, is a giant in contemporary Kurdish culture and politics.
It doesn’t take much to realize why Leyla’s persona is so compelling – her story is the stuff of dreams. The first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish parliament in 1991. The woman who was subsequently imprisoned for ten years for a speaking a single line in her native Kurdish: “I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people”. The 49 year old lady from humble village origins, married at the age of fourteen, who has now been recognized on the international stage – as an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience, a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and recipient of the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament – a prize honoring those who dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom.
The human being who’s life has been torn apart by the ruthlessness and cruelty of the Turkish Republic. The woman who’s husband, the first independent mayor of Turkey’s largest Kurdish city, was jailed for 16 years. The husband who, after this, vowed to never speak Turkish again, and conversed only in his native, beloved Kurdish. The mother who’s been torn apart from her two children.
The story is heart-wrenching. Her cause is equally crushing. Over forty million people inheriting the post-colonial White Man’s Burden of being split up by artificial borders – to live the rest of their existence as ‘ethnic minorities’ in countries that openly despise, marginalize and humiliate them – that destroy, crush, rape and murder them. The subjugation, forced displacement, linguistic and cultural genocide of over 20 million Kurds for over ninety years in Turkey is a mere sideline in today’s modern version of Realpolitik, an unimportant footnote countervailing Turkey's overall modern ''success story''.
Today, Kurd’s are the unhappy inheritors of this legacy, and are the world’s largest ethnic and linguistic group with no homeland of their own. The Kurds are the penultimate losers of history – before that of the rest of the world, for their loss of such a beautiful culture and peoples.
In December 2008, Leyla was sentenced to another 10 years in prison by Turkey, mainly for her talk in London. Turkish national newspapers, the mouthpiece of Turkey’s so-called democracy, has also intimidated our students association in publishing negative, and fabricated news coverage. This sets a dangerous precedent to the freedom of education and expression at our beloved academic institutions.
I will not answer to their accusations. Nor do we need to – it would be below our standing as free-minded, reputable academics to descend into a shouting match with common thugs purporting to be journalists. You will not intimidate us. There is an old Kurdish saying: “if you can’t be a rose, don’t be a thorn”.
Leyla could have left Turkey, and made a comfortable home for herself in any liberal European country. She has chosen to stay in her country, and has refused to be intimidated by a regime that still lives under the ghost of a dead cartoonish dictator, a regime that lives in the decayed memories of a long dead Ottoman Empire. A regime that is slowly crumbling as we speak – that has imploded due to its decades of intellectual isolation, racism and arrogance. Her determination in the face of such cruelty is astounding – even after her latest prison sentence, her resilience and hope shines through.
“Despite all this, our people will claim their legitimate rights, and will continue to struggle for this as long as it takes” ~ Leyla Zana, after the 2008 court ruling.
Out of this decay, voices are emerging that were once silenced – Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish, Greek, Azeri and Georgian – voices that may point the future to a Turkey that respects all its inhabitants, a Turkey that doesn’t try to intimidate small British university student associations, or imprison a brave Kurdish lady for speaking her mind.
Perhaps Yasar Kemal, Turkey’s Kurdish venerable writer and Nobel Prize nominee (also prosecuted by the Turkish state) presents this vision best:
“For me the world is a garden of culture where thousand flowers grow. Throughout history all cultures have fed one another, been grafted onto one another, and in the process our world has been enriched. The disappearance of a culture is the loss of a color, a different light, a different source. I am as much on the side of every flower in this thousand flower garden as I am on the side of my own culture” ~ Yasar Kemal
If you’re like to voice out against Leyla’s imprisonment, or the intimidation of UK university students’ associations, please contact the following:
-Taneli.firstname.lastname@example.org (Member of Cabinet responsible for Turkey) Contact your University Student Union, or contact the Kurdish Studies & Students Organization (email@example.com)
And if you’d really like to help, just learn more about the Kurds – education and knowledge is the only way forward. If you go to Turkey on holiday, ask where your tour guide or waiter is from – you might be surprised by the fantastic range of answers.