Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Letter from a Kurdish Writer-in-Exile to Canada

PEN Writers Deliver 'Letters to Canada' on eve of National election

Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Wrecking Ball 12 in Toronto marked the first time The Wrecking Ball had the fortune to collaborate with PEN Canada to present the works of Writers in Exile as part of the evening.
It was an honour to hear these letters read in the native tongue of the authors at a Wrecking Ball dedicated to questions of Leadership and Democracy on the eve of a historic election. They are presented in full, in English below:

Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
A Letter from a Kurdish Writer-in-Exile to Canada
by Ava Homa
“The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves.” Plato
Why vote? Why take time out of one’s busy schedule to study the candidates, make decisions and leave the comfort of home on a cold day to vote? Listen to my story. See if it helps find the answers.
I am in exile, 12 thousand kilometres away from my family and friends, from people whom I deeply love and miss, with little hope of ever being able to visit them. My name is Ava Homa and I have published a collection of short fiction called Echoes from the Other Land. The Other Land is where people are routinely denied and many of the rights you in Canada enjoy.
I speak the same language as Ayub and we belong to the same ethnicity but absurd, man-made borders have divided us between two different countries. I am Kurdish like Ayub but unlike him I was never taught to read or write in my mother-tongue. In my country, ethnic identities are suppressed and the punishment for protestors like my father is intimidation, violence or execution.
When my father was magically released from prison, nobody could bear to look at the scars on his back, neck and head. But the wounds, bruises and blisters were nothing compared to what the government had done to him psychologically. Up to the very moment that I am reading this letter, my father carries around the invisible injuries of torture. We’re not the only family suffering persecution. Talk to any Kurd and they’ll have at least one family member or a loved one who has been executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
My Canadian friend, you are free to openly criticize your government. This is something people in many countries in the world, not just Iran, can only dream about. We have spent centuries fighting, dying to get where you are today and it makes me sad when I see that some Canadians are reluctant to participate in the elections.
In the Other Land, an election is only a game. In 2009, however, millions of Iranians voted for mainly one thing: to get rid of Ahmadinejad. The few other candidates also had a lot in common with the government so we had choose between bad and worse. Nonetheless, we did vote, because we were fed up with cannibals governing us and constantly damaging our country’s international reputation. In July 2009, many Iranian-Canadians took a Friday off and travelled to Ottawa to vote in the Iranian embassy. When our votes were shamelessly stolen, the protestors in Iran took to the streets in millions, asking one peaceful question: “Where is my vote?”
To respond to our question, the Islamic government shut down city lights, blocked the Internet, brought down mobile networks, and issued a curfew. They did not hesitate to shoot at peaceful protesters, or to use illegal force against the demonstrators, such as running them over with cars. Thousands of protesters were detained and tortured; hundreds were executed or placed on death row. Many who did manage to return home were depressed or suicidal, filled with shame and guilt for having been raped.
My friends, you can participate in genuine elections and see the results. Do you understand what that means? You have the power to change and strengthen your government. We are dying in thousands to gain a small portion of that power. To me, refusing to participate in the future of one’s nation is a betrayal of freedom. How can any human being ever undervalue freedom?

Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Letter to Canada
by Ayub Nuri
For almost half of my life I have had the right to vote, but I haven’t taken part in any elections and I have never voted. I know this is a great right and I should practice it, but in a country where your vote has no value it is better to relinquish and forget about it.
For many years people in my country dreamed of a day when there is no more dictatorship and they can cast their votes freely. That dream came true and in the past eight years there have been elections in Iraq where all kinds of parties and groups participate. But I am still not convinced that those elections are free and fair.
I see so many Iraqis dress up on that day and line up outside the polling stations all smiles and happy. I understand their happiness, but when I see someone like the young man who had voted ten times in one of the elections because the observer at the box was a member of his party, I lose all faith in the process and thank myself for not mixing my vote with those false ones.
Perhaps Iraq will have clean elections in the future and I hope that is the case, but at this time the country’s history of dictatorship is too long and the political, ethnic and religious rivalry is too deep and dirty and unless all that has faded I will refrain from voting.
Now I am in Canada and I see that everywhere the talk is about elections. Wherever I look I see the faces of the candidates. I am unable to vote because I am not a citizen, but I have faith in their elections. I am not sure what the winning party can do and how much of its promises it will keep, but I admire the way they campaign.
Unlike Iraq, the candidates here do not renew old wounds and do not try to turn the elections into a weapon to settle old scores and avenge personal feuds.
I see the candidates here focus more on the future and the fulfilment what the previous government has failed to do. The talk here is about the environment, peace and Canada’s role on the international stage.
Because Canada’s past is not stained with sectarian wars and decades of tyranny, torture and persecution, it is easy for its citizens not to fall victim of emotions and use their vote to punish this party or that.
I am sure Canadians appreciate the democracy that they have and for those of you who take this great achievement for granted, I tell you that millions of people in other countries such as mine, live day and night with the hope of having a democracy like yours.
For the sake of democracy we have paid heavy prices in the past and thousands of people on the streets of Middle Eastern capitals are there to one day have free and fair elections like the one you are having in just a few days.

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