Five members of the Georgetown chapter of Amnesty International spent six hours in front of the Turkish embassy last Friday, where Kurdish protestors have been holding a peaceful vigil for 208 consecutive days.

Georgetown Amnesty president Paul Chang described the Kurds as “really welcoming.”

The five GU students who volunteered to work a shift at the vigil showed their support for the peaceful demonstration by talking and sitting with the protestors and painting signs with slogans of peace. Chang said the students traveled to the embassy to show their support and solidarity with the demonstrators, who have been troubled by intolerance since the recent terrorist attacks on the United States.

A knife-wielding attacker shouted racial slurs, threatened the protestors and tore down signs Sept. 11, following the terrorist attacks. No one was injured and the perpetrator has not yet been caught, though D.C. Metropolitan Police have increased security around the demonstration.

The vigil is to protest the genocide of the Kurdish people who are of Arab descent in Turkey. As the largest ethnic minority without a homeland, the Kurds have been violently persecuted by the Turkish military for decades.

“Not a day passes where people don’t tell us to `go home.’ It unnerves you. It’s like there is a poison in the air,” said Kani Xulam, president of American Kurdish Information Network, the group principally responsible for the vigil.

Xulam said he sometimes held vigil alone, other times there were 30 or more people in attendance. “We’ve had over 120 spend the night,” he said. The Kurds have been holding the vigil 24 hours a day for 208 days. If they leave, they lose their rights to demonstrate and regaining a permit would be nearly impossible.

A six feet by eight feet “Cell of Atonement” has been set up to symbolize the tiny prison cell in Turkey that has held four parliamentary leaders for nearly seven years, Chang said. The men made peaceful statements in the Kurdish language opposing the repression of the Kurds. It is illegal in Turkey to teach Kurdish. “You realize these people are legitimate leaders . we have common criminals who live in better conditions,” Chang said.

“Innocent civilians are killed just for being Kurds,” Chang said, adding that the military uses its military aid from the United States to persecute the Kurds and to pay off the poorer Kurds to attack members of their own race.

Xulam said he hoped the vigil would bring attention to the plight of the Kurds, which he claims has been relatively ignored by the U.S. He said he had been personally successful in his attempts to be a part of the suffering of the Kurds in Turkey, but the demonstration has been only partially successful in its broader goals. “Vigils, fasts and prayers are tools of the non-violent,” said Xulam “They usually don’t bear fruit right away; they take time.”

The Georgetown chapter of Amnesty International plans to bring Xulam to the university to speak on Oct. 15 in Healy Hall. The organization is also planning another trip to the vigil on Friday, Oct. 19, this time in conjunction with students at American University and George Washington University.

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