City Paper - June 30, 2000
Flicker of Recognition
by Mark Jenkins
KURDS, BAD KURDS
Turkey, you could be arrested for serving the vegetable
chips that were available at a June 22 Rayburn House
Office Building reception. That's because they were green,
red, and yellow, the colors of the Kurdish flag. The
culture and language of the Kurds, a stateless ethnic
group whose members live in contiguous areas of Turkey,
Iraq, Iran, and Syria, are illegal in Turkey.
traffic lights in southeastern Turkey have changed," reports
Kurdish activist Kani Xulam with a broad grin. "Green
has become blue."
who runs the American Kurdish Information Network from
a small office in Woodley Park, doesn't seem a bitter
man. Yet he has every reason to be. The United States
has betrayed the Kurds on numerous occasions, and for
the past four years, the Clinton Administration has been
trying to deport Xulam to Turkey. If that were to happen,
Xulam reports simply, "I would be tortured. I would be
plight is one of the narrative threads in Kevin McKiernan's
Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains,
the documentary whose screening is the occasion for the
Rayburn reception. The California journalist's film has
been shown as a part of the Human Rights Watch International
Film Festival, recently at New York's Lincoln Center.
That documentary fest, however, has been unable to find
a regular home in Washington; it was hosted last year
by Georgetown University Law Center but found no local
venue this year. Thus Good Kurds, Bad Kurds local premiere
is the invitation-only screening, sponsored by Illinois
Republican John Edward Porter, a member of the House
Human Rights Caucus.
official U.S. position is that the Kurdish faction that's
at war with Turkey, known by its Kurdish abbreviation,
PKK, is a terrorist organization. Yet the U.S. has encouraged
similar groups to defy the government in Iraq, which,
unlike Turkey, is not a U.S. ally or a member of NATO.
As McKiernan's film explains, the Iraqi Kurds are the "good" ones
and the Turkish Kurds are "bad." So bad, in fact, that
the Immigration and Naturalization Service overruled
its own case officers' original decision that Xulam should
be granted political asylum--even though it has never
been alleged that Xulam is connected to the PKK or any
other "terrorist" group.
made his film in part because he couldn't get any major
news organization interested in his reports from Turkish
Kurdistan. He traveled to Iraq in 1991, after the Gulf
War, when the Bush Administration encouraged Kurds to
rebel against Saddam Hussein but then abandoned them
to be slaughtered by Iraq's Republican Guard. That was
a story for a week or two, but the fate of Turkey's Kurds
was still ignored by American journalists.
anti-Kurd campaign is fought mostly with U.S.-made weapons,
notes McKiernan. "It's the greatest use of our weaponry
anywhere in the world," he says, yet thanks to the media
blackout it's "kind of a stealth war."
blackout continues with Good Kurds, Bad Kurds, the filmmaker
adds: "Public TV has passed on it. It's extremely hard
to get any film on a foreign subject or a political subject
on public TV."
Turkey may have to moderate its treatment of the Kurds
not because of the United States but because of Europe.
The country hopes to join the European Union; to meet
that organization's requirements, it will have to ban
the death penalty and cease persecution of ethnic minorities.
will have to loosen up," say Xulam of Turkey's possible
admission to the European Union. But, he adds, "I believe
this country can help, too."