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100 Years of Statelessness: Kurdish Activist Walks 300 Miles from D.C. to U.N. to Demand Kurdish Rights

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Image Credit: AKINinfo/Twitter

Kurdish peace activist Kani Xulam is in New York City after his solo 300-mile, 24-day walk from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to the United Nations headquarters. His arrival Monday coincided with the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, which partitioned Kurdistan into four parts — British Iraq, French Syria, Turkey and Iran — which left the Kurdish people without a recognized sovereign state. “We have been struggling ever since to have a say,” declares Xulam. Kurds have experienced decades of conflict, cultural genocide and a protracted struggle for independence.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show with peace activist Kani Xulam, who’s the director of the American Kurdish Information Network. He has just arrived in New York City after his solo 300-mile, 24-day walk from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to United Nations headquarters here.

Monday marked the 100th anniversary of the partitioning of Kurdistan into four parts: British Iraq and French Syria, Turkey and Iran. All of this was done without the consent of the Kurdish people. They were left without a recognized sovereign state. What’s happened since has been called a cultural genocide.

This comes as the Kurds of Syria face threats from all sides after devastating earthquakes and relentless attacks by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Kani Xulam is joining us here in New York for more.

Kani, welcome back to Democracy Now! The latest news of, globally, around Kurds was Sweden, in order to get into NATO, making a deal with the Turkish president, Erdoğan, around what should happen to the Kurds there, who he so often calls terrorists, those who fled Turkey and now live in Sweden. Your response?

KANI XULAM: When NATO was conceived, it was supposed to be an alliance for freedom. And Kurds don’t have freedom. On top of it, their language is banned. They’re subjected to cultural genocide. If NATO wants to reassess its aims, its future aspirations, it needs to address this issue. It cannot cave in to Erdoğan and his racist policies that are trying to eradicate the name of the Kurds from the geography of the Middle East.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk a little about the history, especially of this treaty a hundred years ago that partitioned the Kurdish people into four different states?

KANI XULAM: You know, when the war started, an imperialist war, when America entered it, at least President Wilson said he wants to make the world safe for democracy. What happened afterwards was anything but to make the world safe for democracy. British, French, France, they joined Turkey and Iran in basically partitioning the land of the Kurds through fraud, through force, without the consent of any of the Kurds on the ground. It was a deal done in Lausanne, in the heart of Europe.

And we have been living with its effects. In Iraq, we have been gassed. In Syria, we have had three different laws applying to our citizenship rights. In Turkey, our very name has been eradicated from the land, if you will. Our mountains have acquired Turkish names. Our rivers have acquired Turkish names. Our villages have acquired Turkish names. And we have been struggling ever since to have a say.

And I walked from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations to say that we exist, we have a voice, we have a history, we have a culture, we are no different than our neighbors, and we need to solve this issue through peaceful means, through civil discourse. In the heart of the Middle East, we have the presence of the Kurds. It’s like, you know, the presence of Alps in Europe or the presence of Zagros Mountains in the Middle East, and it’s an objective fact. And yet our neighbors are saying that there are no Kurds, and they’re trying to pretend that the Kurds don’t exist, and they’re trying to assimilate every single Kurd on the ground as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam, in 1997, you were one of two Americans and four Kurds who fasted for peace in Kurdistan and for the freedom of Kurdish parliamentarians who had been arrested by Turkey and imprisoned. This is you speaking while fasting on the steps of Capitol Hill. Again, this is Washington, D.C., 1997.

KANI XULAM: Today, with some guarded optimism, we can report to you that our fast did have its intended effect on the policymakers in Washington. We also wanted to reach out to the mainstream media. Although The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune did pay some homage to our fast, much of the rest of the mainstream media kept their distance from us. They failed to validate our nonviolent message for peace and freedom. They did a disservice to our people’s longing for peace and to their people’s longing for the truth. It is unfortunate that Saddam and war sell better than Ferda and peace. Frankly, we are not disappointed. We are committed to our cause more than ever before.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Kani Xulam in 1997. Kani, has there been progress made? And what do you think needs to happen now?

KANI XULAM: The progress has been slow. We are trying to make America Kurdish-friendly, D.C. Kurdish-fairly. I’m reminded of a quote by Dr. King, who said the whites need the Blacks to come clean, to get rid of their guilt; the Blacks need the whites to heal, to lose their fear. The British, the French, the Turks, the Persians partitioned our homeland. They need to come clean, and they need to — they need to reach out to us, so that they could live in conscience, in good faith with their children. And we need them to help us lose our fear and lose our hurt, the pain and the suffering that has been inflicted on us for the last 100 years since the treaty.

And the future is really, we have to respect the Kurds and accept the Kurds. They deserve a seat at the United Nations, too. To pretend that the Kurds don’t exist is to pretend that the world is flat.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kani Xulam, could you talk about the role of the United States, for instance, during the invasion of Iraq and the Iraq War? The U.S. backed autonomy for the Kurds as a means of achieving its own — the White House’s own goals in the Middle East, but, of course, has said nothing about the Kurds in Turkey or in the other Middle East states.

KANI XULAM: You know, in the course of my walk, long walk for freedom across the founding heartland of America, I came across a sign saying “Americans who had died for the cause of Iraqi freedom.” Many died, that’s true, but the Kurds really didn’t want to have anything to do with the Arab majority in Iraq. They desperately wanted to be on their own. In 2017, they voted to be on their own, and yet neither the United Nations nor the U.S. honored them, in spite of their support of the allied effort to topple Saddam.

In Syria, 11,000 Kurds have died, together with their Arab comrades, to get rid of ISIS threat, not just in the Middle East but also from Europe and the world. The relationship between the United States and the Kurds in Syria is still a military one. The Kurds desperately want that relationship to be a political one. We need political status. We cannot depend on our neighbors, who are bent on our destruction. This is a crime against humanity, and it needs to be stated. And I appreciate Democracy Now! for allowing me to say this on the air.

AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam, we want to thank you for being with us, director of the American Kurdish Information Network, has just completed a solo walk from Washington, D.C., to the United Nations.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for paid internships in our archive and development departments. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude and Dennis McCormick.

If you want to see transcripts of our shows or video or audio podcasts or sign up for our daily news digest, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman in New York. Juan González is in Chicago. Thanks so much for joining us.

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