Legalise Kurdistan in the Middle East!

AKIN Director, Kani Xulam: The most frightening thing in the world is to see ignorance in action.

If you happen to be exiting the Foggy Bottom/GWU metro station in DC next week, that’s a sign you may run into…and several blindfolded Kurds too!

This Friday is the kick-off of ‘Silent Theatre for Freedom,’ a series of street performances in Washington DC organised by the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN).

AKIN is a non-profit organisation based in Washington DC and founded in 1993 by Kani Xulam. Xulam is a tireless advocate for Kurdish rights, lobbying, protesting and speaking out whenever he can. He is an activist with solid credentials.

Those who participate in AKIN’s street theatre will blindfold themselves, stuff their ears, and duct tape their mouths and carry signs saying, ‘Thank God You Are Not a Kurd — I am in Turkey!’ Other signs will read ‘…in Syria’ or ‘…in Iran!’ or ‘…in Iraq!’

However, says Xulam, the Kurds representing Iraq will blindfold only one eye, stuff only one ear and only partially tape their mouth. This, he adds, is to show that the Kurds in Iraq have only partially gained their freedoms.

According to a statement on the AKIN website, the idea behind this is ‘to stir the conscience of Americans to side with freedom and the Kurds.’ It’s going to take a lot of stirring as Americans, in my experience at least, don’t really know much at all about the Kurds. Nevertheless, it is a bold idea with some potential to raise awareness of the situation of the Kurds across the Middle East. Students from local universities will be helping distribute AKIN’s Declaration of Conscience at the protest sites. They will also ask interested onlookers to sign up as volunteers to staff the ongoing protests.

AKIN’s street performances are designed to target public buildings that get a lot of foot-traffic. The first ‘performance’ will take place this Friday, 01 October 2010 at the Islamic Center of Washington, DC (2551 Massachusetts Avenue NW) from 12.30 to 2.30pm. They will make an appeal to the faithful who, AKIN says, are woefully ignorant of the deplorable situation of the Kurds in the Islamic world. A banner there will read: Stop Muslim on Muslim Oppression NOW!

On Monday 04 October 2010 (4.30 to 6.30pm) the group will perform at the entrance to the Union Station Metro stop, hoping to target the folks who work for the legislative branch of the US government.

Lastly, they will be at the entrance of the Foggy Bottom/George Washington University metro station. This will take place Wednesday, 06 October 2010 from 4.30 to 6.30pm. At these last two locales, banners will read ‘Legalise Kurdistan in the Middle East!

I wrote to AKIN’s director, Kani Xulam, to get more information about this event. Below are some excerpts:

How did you come up with this idea?

The idea first occurred to me when I saw the picture of a blindfolded Abdullah Öcalan before two large Turkish flags as a trophy of Turkish jingoism. That was sometime in February of 1999. In medical science, students are taught to view poison not just as a dangerous thing, but also as a substance with curative powers. In fact, that is the reason the medical emblem has the pictures of two snakes on it. I thought then that we Kurds should use the hatred of the Turks as a weapon to awaken the Kurds and their friends. I am finally ready to test the efficacy of this idea. I am hopeful about it. If we fail, speaking for myself, I will not begrudge my time or the resources of my office for experimenting on a truth that science takes for granted. If we win, and winning is relative, I will be grateful to my friends for going out on a limb with me.

Tell me more about the Declaration of Conscience. You plan on handing this out to passersby.

The idea for the Declaration of Conscience came to me from the pages of the Washington Post. Apparently South African activists and academics had experimented with it in South Africa. I immediately thought of the Kurds and how we too should duplicate their effort. I did. It took me three months to come up with a working draft. I had to work with some lawyers to put it in legalese, so to speak. I posted it on my website to collect signatures. Turkish thugs managed to sign it with all kinds absurd names, forcing me to abandon it as a signature campaign. It is about 1,000 words long and sums up the story of the Kurds and Kurdistan from the perspective of a Kurdish patriot.

Ideally how many participants would you like to see helping out with this? I mean, the ones who are going to be blindfolded.

I need at least four people for the blindfolding part—each one representing a dismembered part of Kurdistan. But I have prepared 20 blindfolds, just in case our friends would like to try what it means to be a Kurd just for two hours. If any Kurd or a friend of the Kurds happens to live in the DC area, please consider staffing our protests.

You say your goal is ‘to highlight the plight of the Kurds.’ What do you hope that those who see these street performances will take away?

If through our street performances we manage to plant a question mark in the minds of the passersby, I would feel eternally relieved and sleep, again, like a baby if you will. The world is suffering from an abundance of ignorance. It was Goethe who once noted, ‘The most frightening thing in the world is to see ignorance in action.’ There is plenty of it in the Middle East. There is a lot of it here among the PhD types that make up the population of the Washington, DC as well. We at AKIN are trying our hardest to serve the Kurdish truth gratis. Perhaps people of goodwill will try to taste it, and there are no guarantees, but if they do, we think Kurds and Kurdistan will be closer to the dawn of emancipation and liberation.

For more information, visit the AKIN blog.

UPDATE: See photos from the first street theatre protest here.

Ehsan Fattahian and the Treatment of Kurds in Iran

ehsan fattahian

'If the rulers and oppressors think that with my death, the Kurdish question will go away, they are wrong. My death and the death of thousands of others like me will not cure the pain; they will only add to the flames of this fire. There is no doubt that every death is the beginning of new life.'

Ehsan Fattahian was put to death this morning in Iran.  He was hanged in Central Sanandaj Prison for the crime of ‘enmity against God’ or moharebehMoharebeh is the term used in Sharia law to describe a major crime committed against Islam and the state.  It is a charge used frequently against Kurds in Iran (e.g. Farzad Kamangar and Adnan Hassanpour, to name just two) who are deemed to be security threats.

Fattahian, a 27-year-old Kurd from Kermanshah, was arrested on 20 July 2008 in the city of Kamyaran.  Originally he was sentenced to ten years of ‘prison in exile’ by a court in that same city.  Fattahian appealed the sentence, but so did the Kamyaran Revolutionary and General Courts prosecutor.  The prosecutor cited amendment 3 of article 22 of the Revolutionary and General Courts code as well as articles 186, 190, and 191 of the Islamic penal code and demanded the death sentence for Fattahian.  The prosecutor won the appeal, Branch 4 of the Kordestan Appeals Court overturned the initial verdict, and Fattahian’s sentence was changed to death.

This morning chief justice of the Kordestan province, Ali Akbar Gharoussi, said that the death sentence had been carried out (between 6.30am and 7.00am local time) and that Fattahian was ‘found guilty of armed action against national security’ and admitting to being a member of Komeleh.

Ehsan had admitted to being a part of Komeleh, a Kurdish political opposition group fighting to eliminate the national oppression of Kurds in Iran. Fattahian’s lawyer said, however, that no proof was presented in court that Ehsan Fattahian had engaged in any armed operations whatsoever as part of that group.

When asked by Al Arabiya about why he thinks Ehasan was hanged, Komeleh group leader Abdullah Moh’tadi said: ‘the Iranian regime is trying to intimidate ethnic minorities from joining the Green Wave. One of the methods to deter people is stricter sentencing in ethnic provinces such as Kordestan, Baluchistan and Ahwaz.’  The ‘Green Wave’ refers to the movement started in Iran for democracy during the last presidential election.

During Ehsan’s long detention he was routinely beaten and brutally tortured.  During that time he refused to confess to the iran_sanandajallegations against him that he carried arms or that he participated in an armed struggle.  Intelligence Ministry interrogators had wanted to get a taped confession and have him show remorse for his actions.  Ehsan called them ‘illegitimate demands.’

Growing up, as Ehsan’s thoughts were developing about who he was, he came to see and feel the injustices and discrimination against the Kurds in Iran.  He ‘went in a thousand different directions’ to discover the reasons behind the injustice.  One of those directions led him to Komeleh, which he said he joined to find his ‘stolen identity.’

There are more than 10 million ‘stolen identities’ in Iran and those Kurds make up approximately 15 percent of Iran’s population.  Expression of Kurdish culture is somewhat tolerated and the Kurdish language is used in some broadcasts and publications.  However, political activity based on Kurdish identity is banned and linked to separatism.  Kurds, as a result, are disproportionately targeted using security legislation such as the capital offence of moharebeh.  Punishments (article 191) are often entirely at the discretion of the presiding judge.

There are at least twelve Kurdish political prisoners in Iran now facing the death penalty.  Many, many more are imprisoned for their beliefs and activities.


Iran: Halt Execution of Kurdish Activist.  Human Rights Watch, 10 November 2009.

Ehsan Fattahian was Hanged this Morning in Iran. MidEast Youth, 11 November 2009

Iran executes Kurdish Political Prisoner Ehsan Fattahian. Kurdish Alliance for Human Rights, 11 November 2009.

Iran Executes Kurdish Man. Amnesty International, 11 November 2009.

Ehsan Fattahian was executed today morning by the Islamic Republic… Revolutionary Road Blog, 11 November 2009.

Iran authorities hang young Kurdish activist. Al Arabiya, 11 November 2009.

For more information on Kurds in Iran, read:

–The Kurds in Iran: Past, Present and Future. Tanyel B. Taysi and Kerim Yildiz (Pluto Press, 2007).

–KHRP’s Briefing Paper ‘Human Rights and the Kurds in Iran’ from 26 August 2009.  Download here (.pdf, 207kb)

Kurdish sermon at Ulu Mosque in Amed

For the first time ever prayer service at a mosque in Turkey was held in Kurdish.  The  Ulu mosque in Amed (Diyarbakir) held

Courtyard of Ulu Mosque

Courtyard of Ulu Mosque

the sermon in Kurdish after yesterday’s evening prayers.  Mosques in Turkey are run by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, a state body that regulates the role of Islam in the country.  The sermon will be broadcast today on TRT6, marking another first, in which state-run television is broadcasting a religious service in Kurdish.

For more information see:

Li Amedê Mewlûda bi Kurdî (Netewe)

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon (Radio Free Europe)