The America-Kurdistan Friendship League (AKFL) was formed today at a press conference held at 11 AM, in Room 2261 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The conference was sponsored by Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI).
Opening the conference, Rep. Rob Andrews stated, “The formation of the America-Kurdistan Friendship League (AKFL) is an important step in building a stronger relationship between our two countries. There has been a long and solid friendship between the Kurdish and American people based on the belief in fundamental principles such as democracy, freedom, and acceptance of different religions.
Andrews added “Kurdistan is one key area of hope in an otherwise chaotic Iraq. Through the work of the America-Kurdistan Friendship League, it is our hope that positive signs of stability will spread throughout the rest of Iraq.”
Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan national Assembly-Syria (KNA-S) and a Michigan resident spearheaded the effort to establish the AKFL together with Joseph Puder and Lance Silver, both of New Jersey. The AKFL is a non-profit Non-Governmental Organization.
Following Congressman Andrews’s introductory words, Abbas stressed the important role the AKFL could play in representing American interests in the Middle East region. “The Kurds,” he said, “are much better equipped than the 160,000 American G.I.’s to be the engines of change in advancing American values and interests. Kurds understand the culture and speak the language (Arabic).”
Pointing out that the AKFL would ideally serve as a bridge for promoting trade and commerce between America and Kurdistan in all areas (Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq) Abbas said, ”Saddam Hussein destroyed 4500 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan, and today a great deal of rebuilding has to be done. American construction companies should enjoy preference in receiving contracts from the Kurdish Regional government in Erbil.”
Abbas went on to say, “For over 100 years, 50 million Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq have been denied self-determination, independence, cultural autonomy, and even the most basic human rights. Kurds fell victim to Saddam Hussein’s sadistic bloodletting, to fanatical Iranian mullahs, Turkish governments hostility, and Assad’s ethnic cleansing in Syria.”
“The Kurdish cultural heritage extends over a 4000-year history,” Abbas said, “to the ancient Medes that ruled Persia.” Abbas went on to say that, “Saddam Hussein suppressed the Kurdish language, religion, history and way of life. The demise of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and the regional autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan, has created a Kurdish cultural renaissance in Iraqi Kurdistan. In Syria, Turkey and Iran however, the condition of Kurdish minorities is still deplorable, and most basic human rights, not to speak of cultural autonomy, have been denied. The regimes in Damascus, Tehran, and Ankara continue to oppress the Kurds.”
Lance Silver, a Philadelphia businessman added, “The U.S. and the West have a golden opportunity to embrace 50 million Kurds who are secular Muslims. The Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, desire a true democracy, trade with the U.S. and normal relations with Israel. They treat women as equals and respect other religions. It would be a mistake on the part of America not to embrace the Kurds as fast as possible as both friends and allies.”
Joseph Puder, the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI) executive director, summed up the mission of the organization by stating, “The AKFL will seek to acquaint Americans with all aspects of Kurdish life, including Kurdish Islam, the role women play in Kurdish society, Kurdish history, its expressive arts, and current politics. Similarly, the AKFL will promote American values such as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, individual and property rights, and a free market economy.”
Puder added, “The AKFL will organize symposiums and conferences that will bring American and Kurdish leaders together both in the U.S. in Iraqi Kurdistan. The AKFL will seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East as well as religious tolerance and friendship among Arabs, (Israeli) Jews, Kurds, Persians, and Turks.”
Ostensibly, the AKFL aims to initiate trade and commerce contacts between American and Kurdish businesses and individuals. The AKFL will also encourage American investments in Kurdistan, as well as educational exchanges.
In concluding the press conference, and before taking questions, Abbas summarized AKFL objectives; “Our principle goal is to provide Americans with a deeper understanding of Kurdish life and living, and to develop personal relationships and long-term cultural cross-fertilization between the two societies. Our hope is to provide Kurds with the best of American values, and enhance democratic and civil institutions that would bring Kurdistan in closer partnership with the West.”