From Hell to Where?
Suleyman Govan is a Kurd from Dersim who arrives in Canada in 1991. Dersim is the region of Seyit Riza, the Kurdish leader who in 1937 took the noose from his executioners and placed it on his own neck, denying the Turks the final act of control—the leader who confidently announced: “The Kurdish youth will revenge.” In Dersim more than 70,000 Kurds were massacred, justified by Turkey as the quelling of a rebellion of Kurdish “terrorists.”
Suleyman is a relative of Seyit Riza, an Alevi Kurd, one of the youth Riza hoped would rise and claim justice. After being imprisoned and tortured in Turkish prisons, Suleyman gives up on receiving justice in Turkey and migrates to Canada, to a promised land of peace and prosperity.
Upon his arrival, hunger, homelessness and loneliness are his companions. An engineer, Suleyman receives admission from McGill University to pursue his studies, to get his Canadian education, as if he is only eighteen. He has to start from zero.
Sometimes, a person gets fed up with their situation. Dismayed by its future and too restless to stay, they condense their lives into one or two suitcases and bid farewell to their land and people. On departure, they leave behind a part of them, a small but significant part of their being and their identity. They do this to find a better life, in the hope of discovering happiness. Is it the same for a Kurd? What can this stateless group expect, people who have such a bitter history, who have been betrayed by themselves and by others?
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service one day calls Suleyman in. At this point Goven’s request for permanent residency at Canada is pending and thus he cannot attend school. CSIS tells him he has to co-operate. They tell him he is a terrorist unless he agrees to spy on other Kurds.
“Now, Mr. Goven, you realise that if we find you credible and if you co-operate with us, we will recommend you for landed status.”
“Yes. I would like to be landed. I hope to get my engineering degree in Canada so I can work. I have been accepted to go to McGill but I must be landed.”
“We’ll see about that.”
The security officer took off his glasses and squinted. His mouth was tight and he spoke with a discernible French accent. “You are an engineer, Mr. Goven. Now that would qualify you to make bombs, wouldn’t it?”
Our Friendly Local Terrorist recounts Suleyman Goven’s fourteen years of struggle, his torments and his resilience. It is a rare insight into the dark side of the Canadian Government. Canada has become the second home for many immigrants and refugees, but at what price?
The book also sheds light on the Turkish government’s brutality and its ability to hide and deny its crimes. The government influences numerous European and North American countries, to the point that they can continue harassing Kurds long after their physical escape from hell.
The author of this courageous book is a Canadian woman, Mary Jo Leddy, professor of Theology at the University of Toronto and the founder and director of Romero House, a haven for refugees. She is also the author of eight other books. She has sent copies of her exposé to Members of Parliament because she loves Canada too much to stay silent when its leaders give in to power and the politics of injustice.
The narrator’s reasonable, honest and compassionate voice makes the bitter facts of Goven’s life more digestible and less painful. The book is filled with religious allusions. Goven’s tormentors are “The Nameless One,” “The Faceless One,” a reference to Genesis 32:24-27.
Even though Suleyman Goven’s life is saved and he can eventually, after a decade and half of struggle, prove his innocence, Leddy writes this book to raise awareness and prevent others from suffering.
The very title of the book is a smart irony. The dread of “terrorist” is contrasted with the words “local” and “friendly.” Leddy criticizes the arbitrary labelling of innocents as “terrorists,” the profiling, the unfounded accusation that creates tension rather than being a move towards peace.
Leddy sees Suleyman Goven and his persecutors as representatives of different aspects of human existence. She tries to remain what she describes as “life-size.” “To remain life-size in a time of being diminished by terror… is the moral struggle of our era and our world.”
Our Friendly Local Terrorist offers a rare insight into the dark side of the Canadian government and is a recommended read.