You may have noticed that we are "fiddling" around with the top page of
ZNet, a bit. 

Think of it as trying to fulfill a New Year's resolution. 

Can we make the top page a bit less imposing, facilitate navigation to
recent material, and yet not sacrifice volume and variety and also not
increase the number of "clicks" or the searching people have to do to
find not only what they want, but what is new since their last visit?

Can we find a mix and balance that is good for new people, first
arriving, and also for old hands who know their way around?

Can we keep things easily and closely at hand, yet be less imposing -
would be one way to put it?

At any rate, there will probably be a number of changes before we settle
on a new shape -- for a few months, anyhow.

And having gotten that bit of explanation out of the way...here is the
main reason for this message...a new essay from Noam Chomsky, on the
Ocassion of Human Rights Week, 2002.


Human Rights Week 2002
By Noam Chomsky

Human Rights Week is not much of an occasion in the US, with some
notable qualifications. But it does receive considerable attention
elsewhere. For me personally, Human Rights Week 2002 was memorable and
poignant. The week opened on the eve of Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, at
St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where thousands of people gathered to
celebrate -- though that may not be quite the right word -- the tenth
anniversary of the Kurdish Human Rights Project KHRP, which has done
outstanding work on some of the most serious human rights issues of the
decade: particularly, but not only, the US-backed terrorist campaigns of
the Turkish state that rank among the most terrible crimes of the grisly
1990s, leaving tens of thousands dead and millions driven from the
devastated countryside, with every imaginable form of barbaric torture.
The week ended for me in Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, the
semi-official capital of the Kurdish region, teeming with refugees
living in squalor, barred from returning to what is left of their
villages, even though new legislation theoretically allows that choice.

I had been invited to Diyarbakir by the Human Rights Association, which
does courageous and impressive work under conditions of constant serious
threat. The preceding days I spent in Istanbul at the invitation of the
Publishers Association, which was holding its annual meeting and an
international book fair, dedicated to peace and freedom; and the public
sector union KESK (not permitted to function as a union under harsh laws
and state practice), which was holding an international symposium on the
same themes. While in Istanbul, I was able to visit the miserable slums
where unknown numbers of Kurdish refugees seek to survive the damp cold
winter months in decaying condemned buildings: large families may be
crammed into a single room with young children virtually imprisoned
unable to venture into the dangerous alleyways outside, and older
children working in illegal factories to help keep the family alive.
They too are effectively barred from returning to the homes from which
they were expelled, despite the new legislation that lifts the state of
emergency in southeastern Turkey -- formally, at least.

The founder and director of the KHRP is also barred from returning to
his country. And just to round out the picture, the US is now refusing
entry to human rights activists recording and protesting these crimes. A
few weeks ago Dr. Haluk Gerger, a leading figure in the Turkish human
rights movement, arrived with his wife at a New York airport. INS
cancelled his 10-year visa, returning him and his wife at once after
fingerprinting and photographing. Dr. Gerger has received awards from
Human Rights Watch and the American Association for the Advancement of
Science for his outstanding contributions to human rights; his
punishment by the Turkish authorities had been singled out by the State
Department as an example of Turkey's failure to protect elementary
rights. In an open letter to the US Ambassador, the spokesperson of the
Freedom of Speech Initiative in Istanbul, protesting this treatment,
writes that Dr. Gerger is "a founding member of the Human Rights
Association of Turkey" and "an ardent defender of Kurdish rights," who
"has written extensively on the issue and has criticized governmental
policies," likening "the Turkish government's treatment of the Kurds to
Serbia's ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia," and suffering
imprisonment and heavy fines as well as loss of his academic position
for his writings on human rights issues.

Colin Powell's State Department has now declared him persona non grata
in the United States, adopting the stand of extremist elements in the
Turkish military and ultranationalist parties.

The Turkish state, with the hand of the military never hidden, remains
harsh and repressive, despite some encouraging changes in recent months.
But even superficial contact reveals that Turkish culture and society
are free and vibrant in ways that should be a model for the West.
Particularly striking is the spirit of resistance that one senses at
once, from the caves outside the city walls of Diyarbakir where refugees
speak eloquently of their yearning to return to their homes to the urban
centers of intellectual life.

The struggle of people of Turkey for freedom and human rights is truly
inspiring, not only because of the depth of commitment but also because
it seems so natural and without pretense, just a normal part of life,
despite the severe threats that are never remote. That includes
courageous writers of international renown like Yashar Kemal; scholars
who have faced and endured severe punishment for their commitment to
tell the truth, like Ismail Besikci, who has spent much of his life in
prison for his writings on state terror in Turkey; parliamentarians like
Layla Zana, still languishing in prison, serving a 15 year sentence for
expressing in her native language her hope that "Kurdish and Turkish
people can live peacefully together in a democratic framework"; and many
others like them, from all walks of life. They are of course unknown in
the US, much like the Latin American intellectuals assassinated by US
proxy forces, not to speak of the hundreds of thousands of usual victims
-- "unworthy victims," in Edward Herman's phrase, because they suffer at
the wrong hands: ours.

Dr. Besikci refused a $10,000 prize from the US Fund for Free Expression
in protest against Washington's decisive contribution to terror in
Turkey, primarily in the Clinton years, when the US provided 80% of
Turkey's arms and Turkey became the leading recipient of US arms
(Israel-Egypt aside) as criminal atrocities escalated. In the single
year 1997 alone, US arms flow to Turkey exceeded the combined total for
the entire Cold War period up to the onset of the state terror campaign;
or as it is called in State Department reports on terror, and in the
press, the "successful counter-terror" campaign for which Turkey is to
be praised and rewarded. That practice accords with the standard
doctrine, by no means unique to the US, that "terror" is what THEY do to
US, and "counter-terror" is what WE do to THEM, commonly much worse, and
only occasionally retaliation, not that it would be tolerable in that

Privileged people in the West should feel humility and shame when
observing the courage and integrity of those who live under draconian
laws and brutal repression and terror, in no small measure thanks to
Western support, and not only condemn the abuses and defend the victims
but regularly carry out acts of civil disobedience in protest, at severe
risk. They should also feel shame that the KHRP operates in London, not
New York, where it belongs, given the locus of responsibility for the
crimes. The British record is not attractive, but the primary
responsibility, by far, lies here. There is in fact a major Kurdish
Center in New York, with many activities and important and highly
informative publications (Center for Research of the Kurdish Library,
Brooklyn, Vera Saaedpour, director). Its anniversary, however, would not
bring together thousands of people in New York. It is known only to
those who are concerned with human rights -- seriously concerned, that
is, as shown by their attitude to their own crimes. It is far more
gratifying to wring one's hands over the crimes of others that we can do
little about, or perhaps to contemplate the strange flaw in our
character that keeps us from responding to the crimes of others in some
proper way (rarely spelled out beyond bold and often mindless
declarations). In sharp contrast, the crimes that we could easily bring
to an end merely by withdrawing our decisive participation must be
buried deep in the memory hole.

Uppermost in everyone's minds from London to Diyarbakir and beyond is
the feverish determination of the Bush administration to find a pretext
for what it believes will be a cheap and politically useful war in Iraq,
with Blair trailing loyally behind. In Turkey, popular opposition to the
coming war is overwhelming. Much the same is true throughout the region,
and in most of Europe and the rest of the world as well. Poll results
for the US look different, but that is misleading. It can hardly escape
notice that although Saddam Hussein is reviled everywhere, it is only in
the US that people are genuinely afraid that if we don't stop him today,
he'll kill us tomorrow.

Engendering such fears is second nature to the re-cycled Reaganites at
the helm in Washington. Throughout the 1980s they were able to ram
through their reactionary agenda, significantly harming the population,
by maintaining a constant state of fear. Twenty years ago Libyan hit-men
were wandering the streets of Washington to assassinate our leader. Then
the Russians were going to bomb us from an air base in Grenada (if they
could find it on a map). Meanwhile the awesome Sandinista army was
poised only two days marching time from Harlingen Texas, a "dagger
pointed at the heart of Texas." And on through the decade. To determine
a meaningful measure of domestic support for the coming war, it would be
necessary to extricate the fear factor, unique to the US. The results
would probably show little difference from the rest of the world.

There is no historical precedent for such enormous popular opposition to
a war, and protest against it, before it is even launched (fully
launched, to be more accurate).

In the Kurdish areas the general opposition to war is heightened by
concern over the consequences for the Kurds. The neighboring countries
are likely to intensify domestic repression in the context of war.
Similar concerns extend to Kurds elsewhere, including the 4 million who,
for the moment, have achieved unusual progress in the northern enclaves
of Iraq under the uneasy alliance of Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.
Apart from their vulnerability to murderous Iraqi assault in the event
of war, and the anticipated Turkish reaction if there is any hint of a
move towards meaningful autonomy, more than half are reported to be
reliant for survival on the UN "Oil for Food" program, likely to be
severely disrupted in the event of war. "Free Kurdistan is like a huge
refugee camp," one Kurdish leader commented, dependent on UN-run
programs for food and on Baghdad for fuel and power. The UN High
Commissioner for Refugees is planning for possible flight of hundreds of
thousands to neighboring countries, where they are not likely to receive
a warm welcome, and where the prospects for the indigenous Kurdish
populations are sufficiently grim even without what might lie ahead --
or perhaps to camps in northern Iraq that are being constructed by the
Turkish army there, according to Turkish sources, a development with
threatening portent.

I mentioned a qualification to the lack of attention to Human Right Week
here: namely, when human rights violations can be exploited as a weapon
against some official enemy, a practice that Amnesty International has
bitterly deplored, again in the past few months. Through the 1980s,
Human Rights Day was the occasion for impassioned denunciations of the
Soviet Union, technically accurate but with extreme cynicism that
utterly resists exposure. Human Rights Day 2002 was the occasion for the
release by the Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, of a Dossier on
Saddam Hussein's crimes -- accelerated by a few days, as part of the
US-UK effort to elicit some hostile Iraqi gesture prior to the crucial
Dec. 8 deadline for Iraq's submission of documents on its weapons of
mass destruction (WMD). The Dossier was authentic, drawn mostly from
reports of human rights organizations on Saddam's horrendous atrocities
through the 1980s. Unmentioned, as usual, was the fact that these
shocking crimes were of no concern to the US or UK, which continued to
provide their friend Saddam with aid, including means to develop WMD at
a time when he was vastly more dangerous than today.

In the US, those responsible are now again in office, and instructions
are that we are to disregard the criminal record for which they show not
the slightest contrition. The current British government was then in
opposition, but as journalist Mark Thomas revealed, parliamentary
protests against Saddam's crimes from 1988 through the 90s are missing a
few names: Blair, Straw, Cook, Hoon,.., that is, the leading figures of
the governing party. Thomas also released a letter demonstrating that
Straw's discovery of Saddam Hussein's evil nature is quite recent. In
January 2001, as Home Secretary, it was his responsibility to rule on
pleas for political asylum. He rejected the appeal of an Iraqi who had
been detained and tortured in Iraq because the "wide range of
information on Iraq" that Straw had at his disposal made it clear that
the Iraqi tyrant's courts would not "convict and sentence a person"
improperly, and "if there are any charges outstanding against you and if
they were to be proceeded with on your return, you could expect to
receive a fair trial under an independent and properly constituted

But something changed since January 2001, and the crimes that were of no
account shock our sensibilities and require war. And we are all supposed
to observe this performance with sober approval, if not awe.

I also mentioned that in 1997, US arms flow to Turkey exceeded the
combined total for the Cold War years as state terror mounted to levels
far beyond anything attributed to Milosevic in Kosovo before the NATO
bombing, which was undertaken, we were solemnly informed, because we are
so high-minded that we cannot tolerate crimes so near the borders of
NATO -- only within NATO, where we must not only tolerate but expedite
them. 1997 was an important year for the human rights movements in other
ways as well. It was the year when the world's leading newspaper
informed its readers that US foreign policy had entered a "noble phase,"
with a "saintly glow." It was also the year when US military aid to
Colombia skyrocketed, increasing from $50 million to $290 million by
1999, then doubling by 2001 and still increasing. In 1999, Turkey
relinquished to Colombia its place as leading recipient of US arms. The
reason is not hard to discern: Turkish state terror was by then a
success, Colombia's was not. Through the 1990s, Colombia had by far the
worst human rights record in the Western hemisphere, and was by far the
leading recipient of US arms and military training, a correlation that
is well-established and would be of no slight concern if it were known
outside of scholarship and dissident circles.

Turkey and Colombia share other common features. Each has several
million people violently displaced; 2.7 million by now in Colombia,
increasing at the rate of 1000 a day, according to the latest reports of
the leading human rights organization. These are the numbers internally
displaced, not counting those who have fled elsewhere. And Colombia,
like Turkey, provides a model of courageous resistance that should be
observed with shame and humility by privileged Westerners --
particularly those who labor to suppress the continuing atrocities and
terror for which we bear responsibility, to efface the disgraceful
record of the past, and to erect firm barriers against the threat of
exposure of crimes that the general population would not tolerate, were
the barriers to be breached. 

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