Demonstrations in Diyarbakır, Qamişlo, Slêmanî…and now…Fairfax, Virginia. Students at George Mason University’s Kurdistan Student Organisation (KSO) are organising a protest tomorrow to voice their displeasure at being denied the opportunity to display the Kurdish flag during GMU’s International Week celebrations. Students have created a FB page, Mason bans flags representing recognized student organizations, and another page about the protest, Protest at GMU against banning of Kurdish flag.
The protest will take place tomorrow, 05 April, at Freedom Square by the Clock Tower from 1.30-4.00pm. According to the FB pages, this event will be covered by major news outlets including ABC, FOX, NBC, as well as Voice of America (VOA).
Below is a statement sent to Kurdistan Commentary by the Kurdistan Student Organisation at GMU. If you’re in the area, grab a Kurdish flag and head to the Clock Tower to show your support!
Every year the Office of International Programs and Services (OIPS) makes an issue out of the displaying of certain flags during International Week, and we as students with active, dedicated and recognized student organizations are tired of meeting, begging, and fighting every single year to have our flags flown because an oppressive government on the other end of the globe would be offended by American freedom. We are Americans and we are good law abiding students and citizens that demand that GMU behave the way George Mason himself would have behaved.
We have been told by staff members themselves, point blank, that it IS about the money (The Chinese government has many international Chinese students on campus and has threatened to withdraw them and their funding if their demands for only nation-state flags to be displayed are not met. This is because of the HUGE problem they have with East Turkmenistan, a region in China whose inhabitants are viewed by the Chinese as being terrorists and separatists. In a meeting with Chinese students in 2008, one Chinese student spoke up and said, “They are all Muslims so we all know they’re terrorists!”
The evidence is clear: this was never an issue before the Chinese embassy, and by extension the Chinese government, made an issue out of it in 2008. Since then, it has been one battle after another with false promises being made to students–such as in 2009 when they were told that all flags not “randomly selected” to fly in the JC would fly in Mason Hall instead, only to find a completely bare Mason Hall when I-Week began. Random students all over campus were at one point asked by KSO members to sign a petition to see if students would support all groups being represented on campus and within two hours they had over 500 signatures (this was in 2009) But OIPS didn’t take those signatures into account at the various meetings that were held.
Recently, in an email released to the KSO, Judith Green, the director of the office of international programs and services (OIPS), stated that it was impossible to have all flags displayed, as that there is only room for 81 flags to be displayed in the JC atrium, but regardless, the flag of Kurdistan would not be displayed because on the I-20 form, no international students are listed as being from Kurdistan. The I-20 form, she states, is what will be used to determine which country flags are flown. The form is a supporting document that goes along with the awarding of a student visa for international students wanting to study in the US. So all non-international students would not be represented, according to her argument.
According to mason’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE): “George Mason University draws students from all over the world, but its student body is dominated by residents of northern Virginia.” A student body that, according to OIPS, would not have the luxury of being represented, regardless of whether or not they make up one of the most active student organizations on campus.
Since when are international students the only students recognized during International Week?! And what about 1st generation Americans who were born here but are proud to have both an American and an additional ethnic/national background? And what about the fact that the MAJORITY of participants in international week via their student organizations are active AMERICAN students with additional ethnic or national backgrounds and thus would not be included on the I-20 forms because they never had to fill one out? Or better yet, what about students who came to the US as REFUGEES and thus came to the US under a different set of pretenses and would have fill out a completely different form–like the majority of Kurds who fled here during the years of Saddam Hussein’s brutal Anfal campaign?
Moreover, while Kurdistan is not listed on the I-20, the Kurdistan Regional Government IS a legitimate government entity, recognized in the Iraqi Constitution as well as by all of her neighbors, members of the G-20, the EU, and NATO. Why then does GMU deny our existence? The sad thing is, even if Kurdistan was on the I-20 form, we still wouldn’t be represented because we are all either American citizens that were born and raised here or we came here seeking political asylum. Unfortuantely, not all of us have the luxury of coming here as international students. Many of us were actually fleeing for our lives and came to the States hoping for a better future–like many Americans have throughout our vibrant history.
Finally, while the official statement from OIPS is that their decision was based on three workshops that asked students to fill out surveys and questionnaires about their attitudes toward the issue, KSO members attended all three of those sessions and not a single student from any other student organization attended. In fact, during the last session the only other representative there was a representative of the Confucius Institute who was not a student.
At the last official meeting with OIPS, we were told that it was decided that countries that were recognized by the UN would be able to fly their flags. Then, in a separate email correspondence with Judith Green we were told that it had nothing to do with UN recognition but rather census information gathered from the I-20. At the last meeting that was held when an OIPS representative agreed to simply meet with us when we were told nothing could be changed because the guidelines had been made official, they’d admitted that the newly drafted guidelines were based on discussions that were had at the workshop—discussions that only the KSO as a student org attended along with a representative of the Confucius Institute–and yet the report came out in favor of the latter. We were also told at that meeting that there had indeed been fears that the Chinese embassy may in fact remove Chinese students from campus and that, of course, the presence of international Chinese students on campus was highly valued. So valued in fact, that they opened the opening ceremony in 2010 during I-week and had a “passport to China” event, complete with games, prizes, information booths, etc. focusing solely on China-something that, in our 6 years of I-week experience at mason–is a privilege that has not been afforded to any other international student org.
When we asked OIPS if there had EVER been ANY complaint against the display of the Kurdish flag in recent years by ANY student OR organization, the answer was “no”.