For many years I have heard the stories about Ibrahim Parlak, the Kurdish man who came to the US over 20 years ago to start a new life in the land of freedom. I live in a small community in Southwestern Michigan where ethnicity is never an issue. Most people here hardly know of their ancestry and consider themselves to be just Americans.
So, it is unusual to hear about a person from a Middle Eastern country so far away who is accused of being a terrorist and a threat to his community, right here in this mostly rural area, where vineyards, orchards, organic farms and beachfront lake communities are peaceful, law-abiding and where crime is a rarity.
In 2004 this gentle man, the owner of the only Kurdish restaurant I never heard of, was arrested, accused of entering the US under false pretenses, and threatened with deportation to Turkey, where he was accused of terrorism and being involved in the murder of two Turkish soldiers.
The details are long and much has been written about it over the years. Ibrahim was involved with the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey, known as the PKK, when he was a young man. He grew up in a country where his language, heritage and culture were forbidden. Anyone practicing Kurdish ways were ridiculed, punished, arrested and tortured. Life for Kurds in Turkey was, and still is, restricted and harsh.
This is why Ibrahim left his homeland and moved to Germany for seven years. He needed to be who he was and have room to learn, grow and create a life for himself.
However, one cannot be a rose where you are asked to be a cabbage. Ibrahim left Europe, went to Lebanon, and lived in a PKK camp. It was from here that he crossed from Syria into Turkey illegally with a PKK group that became involved in a firefight with Turkish soldiers. Two Turks were killed and Parlak escaped.
Eventually he crossed into Turkey where he was ultimately captured and imprisoned. He was tortured and threatened in heinous ways. He revealed the location of a hidden cache of PKK weapons and was set free. However, now he was the target of not only the Turkish government, but of the PKK itself. He was considered to be a traitor.
He left Turkey for the US on a false passport with papers carried by a second person traveling with him to help establish his identity. Ibrahim applied for and received asylum in Chicago. He started his new life in America.
Ibrahim married an American woman and had a daughter. He opened a restaurant in Harbert, Michigan called, "Gulistan" which means "land of the rose". Life was good and free. The American dream was becoming real. Then 911 happened.
Ibrahim was called into the I.N.S. office and his background was questioned. He was accused of lying and misleading the immigration officer who granted him asylum. The legal person who came with Ibrahim to the asylum interview translated documents since at the time Ibrahim did not speak English well. Information was omitted and certain facts were distorted.
After 911, the PKK was listed as a terrorist organization by the American government, which was more interested in keeping Turkey as a close friend in the Middle East. Turkey revoked Ibrahim's citizenship. The US revoked his Green Card and placed him in prison, pending deportation.
It was only after a long outcry from the family, friends and community in Michigan who were close to Parlak that the US agreed to release him under a strict, supervised status. He cannot go anywhere without permission. He must be on call from immigration service at all times. He cannot leave the country. He must call in whenever asked, no matter what time of the day or night. The American dream has become a nightmare.
There are many more details and articles written about Ibrahim over the past eight years. Local politicians have supported him, but there is a limit as to what they can do. Legislation is introduced in Congress every couple of years to give him citizenship, but it goes nowhere. In effect, Ibrahim Parlak is a stateless person; a man without a country.
Google "Ibrahim Parlak" for the listing of all the articles produced by mainstream media since 2005. You will find pro and con, compassion and prejudice. But you will not find compassion and a solution for Ibrahim.
I went to see Ibrahim at "Gulistan" recently. It is a peaceful place with amazing food. He works hard and has created a wonderful establishment. He is a good neighbor, helping to build schools and churches all across this area. He is a great father, a good businessman and a benefit for this community.
I asked him what the future may hold for his status. He feels that nothing will change. The government has no interest in offending the Turks by granting him legal status here again. The Turks don't even want him back, so he cannot be deported to there. He is in limbo.
Some government officials told him that it was not personal; they were only doing their job. Well, that is what Nazi soldiers said after World War 2. Doing your "official", government-sanctioned job does not make it right. I feel that we all can learn that lesson in what is going on in the world today. As Ibrahim says--where is the humanity? Where is the motivation to do the right thing these days? The America that we all knew, where people could be judged by their current deeds, no longer exists. People are too afraid of being targets for speaking out and wanting to correct what they know to be wrong. Is this the way we want to live now?
Ibrahim states, and I agree, that each person should be valued for who they are now, not what they did long ago. Most people have incidents in their lives that they wish were different. Should they be judged forever for what they did in their youth?
In addition, Americans do not know what it is like to live in a country where you are not allowed to be who you are. What would we do if we had to spend each day of life living in fear because of our ethnicity? What if you were beaten, ridiculed and tortured simply because of your heritage? How long would you tolerate that before you defended yourself? We all need to think about this.
Ibrahim has applied to other countries for residency. They were all denied. Most are worried about offending the Turkish government. Even Muslim countries are not helping the Kurds. Everyone has their own agenda.
Ibrahim told the officer who granted his asylum status 22 years ago about his background. Ibrahim's lawyer takes responsibility for the false information on his application back then. It is time to set things right. Time to do the right thing. It is time for America to be the land of dreams again. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for fighting for the rights of his people. He became the President of his country. The same can be said of Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi and even Jesus.
Let's give Ibrahim citizenship. Let's do the right thing!