culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Friday, August 20, 2004
Free Ibrahim! Berrien County in southwestern Michigan is an area of farms, orchards and beaches, just a jog around the south end of Lake Michigan, making it a recreational haunt for Chicagoans in search of respite from city life.

Ten years ago a Kurd named Ibrahim Parlak opened a Middle Eastern restaurant called Café Gulistan in the town of Harbert, and quickly earned the admiration of locals and visiting Chicagoans alike.

All that changed on July 29, 2004, when Ibrahim Parlak, owner of Café Gulistan in Harbert, Michigan, was taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security on the grounds that his activism for Kurdish rights in Turkey in the 1980s make him a threat to national security.

From Café Gulistan's website:
He was detained based on charges from a Turkish military court, for which he already served his sentence in Turkey in the late 1980s. He came to the U.S. 13 years ago and was granted political asylum based on the fact that he was persecuted and tortured in Turkey, but now the DHS is calling him a threat to national security for the very same reasons he was previously granted asylum.  No circumstances have changed nor has new information surfaced since the US gave Parlak asylum, and he has no criminal record or violations during his time in the U.S.

Parlak possibly faces deportation to Turkey, where he will be at risk of harm or even death.  He is an active contributing member of our society, who brings employment and culture to our community and donates time and money to local causes.  He holds pacifist beliefs and does not support or endorse violent means to any political ends.

Ibrahim Parlak ibrahim
Ibrahim Parlak and his daughter

was born a Kurd in Turkey a country with numerous human rights violations against the Kurdish people.  In his homeland, Parlak experienced punishment and torture from the Turkish government - he was living a life of fear and persecution.  Parlak was not permitted to speak his own language, observe his own culture or determine the path of his own life.  He became involved in the Kurdish freedom movement, where his actions included writing for a newspaper, educating Kurds in Europe about their heritage, and raising awareness in the Kurdish community about their culture, which was being eradicated.  His work was also aimed at gaining political recognition of the Kurds as a legitimate political group, free to speak their language openly, and entitled to representation in the Turkish parliament.

He opened Café Gulistan in 1994, and worked extremely hard to make it a successful establishment and community focal point.  He has a daughter, Livia, age 7, who is a U.S. citizen by birth.  Parlak is a member of the Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce, and owns a home and restaurant in Harbert.
A local story about Ibrahim adds this: "This man has always been responsible," [Parlak's lawyer, Noel] Saleh said, adding he will appeal the detention order. "He's never fled from anything, except the persecution of the Kurdish people in Turkey."

Here are a number of additional local stories about Ibrahim.

Throughout Berrien County, local homes and merchants have posted "Free Ibrahim!" placards in their windows. This gentle man, whose restaurant's delicious food and adjoining garden of hollyhocks is legendary in these parts, has become ensnared in the house of mirrors known as the Department of Homeland Security, where he has been named as "a threat to national security for the very same reasons he was previously granted asylum."

For nearly a decade, I have eaten Ibrahim's food. I have admired his garden. I have met his family. So have thousands of local customers and visiting Chicagoans like Roger Ebert and Rev. Andrew Greeley, who also support him because they too know him.

In this situation, he is not the one behaving like a terrorist.

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