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Kurds Keeping A Vigil for Human Rights

September 15 marks the 205(th) day of a little-known vigil at Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C. A group of us, mostly Kurds and some Americans, are keeping an around-the-clock protest watch to effect the freedom of four Kurdish parliamentarians imprisoned in Turkey on trumped-up charges linked to their declaration of a Kurdish ethnicity. Their liberty still remains beyond our reach. Who will win? It's hard to tell.

The conflict between liberty and tyranny is an ancient one. In our times, the Kurds can be cited as a prime example of a people denied its most basic human rights. Our adversaries, armed with sophisticated weapons, have denied us a place of our own. An indifferent world, by default, has aided and abetted their cause.

The four incarcerated Kurdish parliamentarians are Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, ethan Dogan, and Selim Sadak. All four were elected to the Turkish parliament in 1991. Three years later, they were arrested and sentenced to 15 years behind bars. Amnesty International has declared them prisoners of conscience. The Turkish government has resorted to a time-old maxim: "Out of sight is out of mind." We want to prove them wrong. We want the plight of the Kurdish representatives to be in your sights and on your minds.

So, we have taken turns sitting in a replica era Turkish prison cell outside the Turkish Ambassador's residence. Our aim is to atone for the political crimes of the Turkish government as well as dramatize the abominable conditions faced by duly-elected Kurdish parliamentarians in an Ankara prison. We want to expose the lie that Turkey is a democracy. We want to reach out to the friends of liberty to help us press for the release of Kurdish parliamentarians.

Washington is a savvy city; nothing is done for its own intrinsic good in D.C. And we Kurds are new to the political scene. We are in desperate need of people of good will. At issue is not only the freedom of four parliamentarians, but also the ability of a people to hold on to its past and its future. Turkey, which controls the lives of more than half of the world's 40 million Kurds, holds the key to our jail cells and to our freedom.

The Kurdish rebels who have fought the state now number in the tens of thousands. Some are behind bars. The parliamentarians and their colleagues who always shunned violence are equally well represented in Turkey's prisons. Free Kurds are the ones who call themselves Turks to "earn" the right to live unmolested lives.

Kurds struggling for their freedom are fighting a lonely battle. Nations often receive help in the critical hours of threat to their existence. Americans saw that happen when France aided their struggle for independence. Russians helped the Greeks win theirs. The British, the one time implacable foes of Americans, withstood the onslaught of Nazism with aid from the United States. Yet the Kurds have thus far found no serious allies.

Liberty, humanity's greatest gift to its children, has a way of giving wings to a society that practices its virtues. Captivity, on the other hand, can debilitate a people beyond recognition. For Kurds, the latter holds true. It is a challenge for us, the free Kurds, to fight for the freedom of all Kurds.

Our vigil is open to all who wish to express their solidarity with our struggle for liberty. Human rights activists in the nation's capital have come forward with their time and skills to help us sustain the watch. Our collective effort so far has not moved your average Mr. and Mrs. America to help us. Please consider visiting and supporting us.

House Resolution 133 demands the immediate and unconditional release from Turkish prisons of Kurdish representatives. It needs a majority vote to have a telling effect on Turkish authorities. Contact your representatives and urge them to co-sponsor H. Res. 133.

Leyla Zana and her friends have been in prison for seven years and 205 days. Our vigil to highlight and effect their freedom will continue for as long as our love of freedom sustains us. We endured the cold of March and the heat of July and August. It has been an incredible experience. We hope you will consider becoming a part of it.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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