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Speaker Defends Kurdish Freedom

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Students for Justice in Palestine and Israel invited speaker Kani Xulam to address a packed room of students Friday on behalf of Kurdish activism.

Kani Xulam is the founding President of the American Kurdish Information Network. He stood in front of a Kurdish flag and a PowerPoint presentation praising a pro-Kurdish activist and writer named Musa Anter while speaking about atrocities committed against his people and calling on American citizens to take action.

“You don’t have to become a Kurd to join in our struggle for Kurdish freedom,” Xulam said.

Kurdistan is a region covering adjacent parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Those areas are primarily occupied by Kurds, but a national state does not exist.

The result is discrimination against Kurdish people, a struggle Xulam likened to the fight for civil rights by blacks in America.

“The society that killed an innocent patriot promoting freedom isn’t any different from the society that killed your Uncle Tom,” he said.

Kurdish movements have ranged from peaceful protests to guerrilla warfare. Members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have fought for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984, and currently occupy northern parts of Syria left vulnerable by the unstable central government. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.

Xulam spoke about the murder of Musa Anter, an activist and public figure nicknamed “Uncle Moses” by his supporters. Anter was met with considerable opposition that included a 195-day sentence to solitary confinement in an Istanbul prison.

A Kurdish man recruited by the Turkish government carried out the assassination when Anter was 75 years old, according to Xulam. Turkey was ultimately found guilty on three violations of human rights by the European Court of Human Rights in 2006, resulting in a fine of 28,500 euros ($41,000 when adjusted for inflation).

“Their gangster-like response was so malicious that I doubt you can imagine it,” he said.

Turkish and U.S. governments along with the European Union consider the PKK a terrorist organization.  Turkey has invested 450 million dollars into fighting the Kurds, Xulam said, and U.S. drones have destroyed 34 villages, with casualties including 19 children.

Xulam called for Americans to become more aware of the conflict and speak up for the rights of Kurdish people.

“Do you think Obama really cares?” he said. “No disrespect of course, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.”

Xulam hopes to see a world where Kurds don’t pretend to be Turkish or Arabic to avoid oppression, and he believes diplomatic action is more effective than defending freedom through bloodshed.

“I’m convinced the path of freedom for Kurds lies in nonviolence,” he said. “I believe we are on the cusp of this change.”

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