A PLACE OF COMFORT AND SAFETY

“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty” ~ Samuel Adams, American patriot and Politician of the American Revolution. 1722-1803.

The United States of America is far removed from many troubles of the world, and has historically been so, due to its geographic location. We all know that the sense of isolation which the US enjoyed, and which some factions within the US have actively encouraged ever since George Washington remarked on the dangers of “foreign entanglements” in his Farewell Address to the nation in 1796, ended tragically on September 11, 2001.

As the events of September 11 were a wake-up call to the American people on a national scale, so too, there has been a wake-up call to a much smaller group of Americans, the citizens of Harbert, Michigan. But their wake-up call did not come violently, nor did it unjustly steal the lives of the citizens. These Americans have been awakened gently, by a man who sought asylum from Turkish brutality against Kurds. His story is an important one because it brings the reality of the Kurdish situation to America, makes it tangible, gives it a human face and a name.

Ibrahim Parlak arrived in the United States in 1991. He was twenty-eight years old, but those twenty-eight years were already filled with more experiences than many can claim after having lived twice as long. As the New York Times describes his arrival:

He was on the run, and so was both relieved and tired. He had recently been released from a Turkish prison, and the authorities there had been putting pressure on him to rat out friends. Moreover, his family had received death threats. So he fled. His father sold a tractor and other farm equipment, and his sisters sold some of their jewelry to raise the several thousand dollars needed for plane tickets and a false passport. Parlak remembers clearly something his father told him before he left: ”You’re old enough and have been through enough to know what is right and what is wrong. But no matter what you do, don’t stay in the front or the back, find a place in the middle.”By that he meant find a place of comfort and safety.

So much hard work lay ahead of him. Learning English, learning to adapt to a new culture, finding work and–perhaps the most difficult thing of all–adjusting to the fact that one may never see one’s natural family ever again. If Ibrahim had any black moments at that time, certainly it must have been the knowledge of the loss of family. A gain and a loss; an end and a new beginning. He persevered, and with the words of his father serving as a both a blessing of his new life and guidance for it, Ibrahim found a place of comfort and safety, becoming a respected member of his new, American community.

Life is never so easy, though, is it? Just when it seemed that all was right with the world, when Ibrahim took the final step, that of applying for US citizenship, his new life was abruptly changed:

Applying for citizenship seemed like the natural thing to do. He said he felt that the United States was where he belonged. His friend Goldrick had been nudging him to become a full-fledged American. ”I just thought this guy was the epitome of the immigrant coming to America and making good for himself,” Goldrick told me. ”He needed to be a citizen.” So, on a July afternoon, Parlak drove the 100 miles to Grand Rapids to take his English language and history tests, both of which he passed easily. Afterward, he was interviewed by an I.N.S. worker, and she asked him about his involvement with the P.K.K. She explained that as of 1997, the State Department had listed the P.K.K. as a terrorist group. He testily told her he had detailed his affiliation in his asylum application eight years earlier. ”Didn’t you just ask me about the meaning of Fourth of July?” he asked, referring to the U.S. history test he’d taken. ”The Kurds fight for their freedom, and why do they have to be punished?” She told him that his citizenship application would be delayed.

Eventually, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took over Ibrahim’s case, when the old Immigration and Naturalization Service was integrated into DHS in the aftermath of September 11. Ibrahim’s life in America has brought an immediacy to the realities of being a Kurd under Turkish-occupation. His very person, his very existence as a human being and as a Kurd, is a witness to the brutalities of the Kemalist regime. As a result of the legal battle which began in April, 2002, Ibrahim’s life has been reduced to the following facts :

–born, raised in a Kurdish family in Turkey; active in Kurdish human rights movement in Turkey and in Europe

–arrested and tried in a Turkish Security Court, one of the quasi – military courts finally dissolved by Turkey in 2004 under pressure from the European Union because of their lack of independence from the military and their systematic use of evidence obtained by torture.

–tortured repeatedly while being held incommunicado for more than three weeks in three Turkish police stations following his arrest in October, 1988

–convicted in Turkey of separatist activities under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code

–served a 16-month prison sentence and was released in 1990. Was re-sentenced in 2004 to less than the time already served.

–Turkish citizenship has been revoked

–granted political asylum in the U.S. in 1992 on the grounds that he had “established a well-founded fear of persecution upon return to [his] homeland”

His life as a Kurd in Turkey is not unusual, especially for anyone actively involved with the human rights movement in Turkey or with the Kurdish issue in Turkey. Let Ibrahim serve as a practical example of what happens under the Turkish legal system. At the same time, let the charges of the DHS against Ibrahim serve to illustrate the complexities and misunderstandings of the situation in Turkey, misunderstandings that are purposely manufactured and propogated by Kemalist propaganda:

1. Charge: Fraudulently and willfully misrepresenting facts about events in Turkey in papers requesting permanent residence,

Response: Mr. Parlak was represented by legal counsel throughout his dealings with the Immigration Service since arriving in this country in 1991. His English language skills were virtually non-existent when he arrived and were not much better when he applied for permanent residency in 1993. Nevertheless, when Mr. Parlak applied for asylum in 1991, he was as forthcoming as someone without the ability to speak or understand English could be. The disclosure of his membership in the ERNK and its “close ties to the PKK,” his stay at a PKK camp in Lebanon before entering Turkey illegally in 1988, and his arrest, conviction and imprisonment in Turkey were all well documented in his application and the materials he submitted with it. He even included a Turkish newspaper article that gave a full account of the Turkish government’s charges against him in 1988, which included a discussion of a border incident that claimed the lives of two Turkish soldiers. At most, in light of his extensive disclosures in his 1991 asylum application, Mr. Parlak may have been negligent on his residency application, not the fraud or willful misrepresentation the DHS has alleged.

2. Charge: Engaging in persecution by virtue of his alleged membership in the PKK, an alleged “terrorist organization,”

Response: The recent hearing underscored the cruel irony of the “persecutor” charge. In grade school, Mr. Parlak was constantly told that “Turkish blood is great,” but that Kurds are “like donkeys.” Beatings and torture of Kurds by the Turkish authorities were routine. Kurds were not allowed to sing their songs, dance their dances, or speak their language. According to Prof. Michael Gunter, who testified at the hearing on December 7, the Turkish government framed Kurds for crimes they did not commit. Extrajudicial murders occurred even though Turkey had outlawed the death penalty. In light of this record of abuses by the Turkish Government, DHS’s attempt to brand Mr. Parlak a “persecutor” is a disgrace.

3. Charge: Being convicted of an “aggravated felony” or a “crime of violence” after admission to the U.S.

Response: Mr. Parlak’s conviction of an “aggravated felony” occurred in Turkey, before he arrived in the United States. Moreover, he served his sentence in a Turkish prison and was released in 1990. The Government’s charge in this case is based on a 2004 Security Court re-sentencing decision in Mr. Parlak’s case that reduced his sentence to less than time served. Mr. Parlak paid his “debt” to Turkish society, whose laws he allegedly violated in 1988, before he came to the United States.

4. Charge: Committing a “terrorist act” while in Turkey by using a weapon with “intent… to cause death or seriously bodily injury,”

Response: This charge requires proof of the “use” of a weapon with intent “to cause death or seriously body injury.” The Turkish Security Court opinion on which this charge is based only found Mr. Parlak guilty of “randomly shooting” his weapon – i.e., with no intent to kill. However, the Security Court cited no facts, including Mr. Parlak’s torture-induced “confession,” that would either support its finding or contradict Mr. Parlak’s testimony before the Immigration Court that he did not fire his weapon, randomly or otherwise.

5. Charge: Providing “material support” for “terrorist activity” while in Turkey in 1988,

Response: To the extent this charge relates to Mr. Parlak’s alleged military activities, there is no basis for it other than the Turkish Security Court’s uncorroborated assertions. To the extent it is based on Mr. Parlak’s non-violent activities on behalf of Kurdish rights, DHS’s charge would make “terrorists” out of hundreds of thousands of Kurds, and Kurdish sympathizers who seek to advance human rights through non-violent means, not to mention countless others who similarly support Palestinian rights in the Middle East or Catholic rights in Northern Ireland. It was a crime in Turkey to work for Kurdish rights even by non-violent means. The Government of the United States, where (a) freedom of speech and (b) the right to petition the Government for the redress of grievances are enshrined in the Constitution, should not make itself an accessory to Turkey’s violations of human rights in 1988 by claiming such activities are also illegal under U.S. law.

6. Charge: Soliciting “funds or other things of value” for a “terrorist organization” while in Germany in the mid-1980­s

Response: This charge requires proof that Mr. Parlak solicited “funds or other things of value” for a terrorist organization. DHS relies solely on proof that, while he was in Europe, Mr. Parlak helped arrange Kurdish folklore entertainments as a way of perpetuating Kurdish culture. Mr. Parlak agrees with the government that money raised by ERNK in connection with those entertainments could have gone to the PKK, but he did not know of it happening and he did not solicit anything for that purpose. Furthermore, the U. S, Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has published a list of known sources of terrorist funding since 1993. Over the years, this list has included “front” organizations for Al Qaeda, the IRA and Hamas. The ERNK has never been included in this list.

At this point in time, Ibrahim faces deportation, pending his appeal to the United States to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. At the same time his friends have begun a campaign to secure US citizenship for him through the introduction of a private bill to the US Congress. They are hoping this will be introduced to the Congress when it reconvenes in December of this year. A petition to the members of the US Congress in support of Ibrahim’s citizenship is available online, at Ibrahim for Citizen . Much detailed information on Ibrahim, his life and his fight, as well as resources on the situation of Kurds under Turkish-occupation, is available at the Free Ibrahim website. I urge everyone to support justice for Ibrahim. The entire idea of Rastî, rightness and truth, asks for nothing less.

June 3, 2005

I have only wanted three things in my life: basic human rights for my people, the Kurdish people, the opportunity to raise my daughter, Livia, in this country, and American citizenship. I came to the United States in 1991 seeking refuge from a struggle between the Turkish and Kurdish people, and this country—my adopted homeland—graciously granted it. I have tried to live a peaceful life, because I know that violence is never the answer. I continue to hope that the Turkish and Kurdish peoples can work out their differences peacefully.

These last ten months have been difficult for me. They have tested my patience and my courage, but not my commitment to America. In difficult times, when great caution is necessary, mistakes can be made. But I am thankful that in America we have a justice system to correct these mistakes. I am also thankful that I did not have to face my struggle alone. The many supporters who have rallied to my aid—all of them everyday Americans, from varied backgrounds —have reminded me on a daily basis what this great country is about.

Today is a special day for me, one that I will never forget. Livia and I thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for your generosity, your faith in me, and your love. May God bless you all and may God bless the United States of America.

Ibrahim Parlak

Keep your head up, Ibo. Serkeftin!

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