Ladies and Gentleman,
Like the Jews of old who sat down by the rivers of Babylon and
remembered Zion, the Tamils Diaspora, in this week in July will be
gathering in all of the capitals of the modern world to remember our
homeland and the event that drove us out of it-Black July.
Twenty-three years ago, in late July 1983, we were terrorised by
angry mobs murdering, maiming and burning our homes in an orgy of
violence unparalleled in our history and proving the Germen Poet
Heinrich Heine's prediction that people who burn books do indeed
Two years prior to the genocidal violence that was unleashed against
us in the South , the man responsible for coordinating these events,
the Sri Lankan Minister for Industries, the Hon Cyril Matthew, a
senior member of the Government was in Jaffna in the North, in the
very heart of our homeland, leading his private army in an act of
cultural genocide by
burning down the Jaffna Public Library.
In July 1983, it was the same minister who supplied electoral lists
and transport to carry out the carnage that was meant to 'teach the
Tamils a lesson'. Months prior to the massacres, the President, JR
Jayewardene had set the tone by publicly declaring that he no longer
cared about the lives or the opinion of the Tamil people.
Minister Mathew ever ready to please his master acted promptly. The
result was formidable; Over 3,000 Tamils killed, thousands of Tamil
homes torched, hundreds of thousands of Tamils rendered refugees-all
within a space of 10 days!
The lesson learnt by the Tamils, however, was not what the minister
Faced with the stark choice of fight or flight many took flight but
much to the surprise of the Minister and the Sinhala political
establishment, several thousands of Tamils decided 'enough is
enough' and stayed on to fight the Sinhala Government.
Throughout the previous 25 years Sinhala Governments had succeeded
in beating the Tamils into submission by unleashing similar bouts of
violence. This time it was different!
What was surprising was not that the Tamils had decided to fight for
their lives and dignity, but that it had taken them this long. In
1958, Tazie Vittachi,a Sinhala journalist of international repute
ended his ground breaking book
'Emergency 58' with the question 'have that Tamils and Sinhalese
come to the parting of their ways?'.
It had taken the Tamils 25 years to decide that it was indeed time
No doubt, the severity and intensity of Black July had something to
do with it. But more importantly it was something else. It touched
us in ways that the previous pogroms had not. Many who had escaped
death either had a close brush with it or had seen it happen to kith
an kin at close quarters in the hands of the mobs.
Many had escaped from homes only moments before the gangs arrived
armed with the precise details of the owners and transported by
Government vehicles, others had watched while loved ones were
maimed, tortured and killed. I myself having fled our home minutes
before it was burnt down; experienced the anger on hearing how my 85
year old grandmother was driven to the streets and my parents forced
to seek refuge in a church .Having found refuge in the same church
hours later, I was privy to stories of death, destruction and acts
of murder carried out in broad daylight watched by hundreds. At the
same camp while hundreds were clamoring to escape abroad or to reach
our Homeland in the North East, I also heard several young men
deciding stay onto fight.Black July was no doubt the turning
point-the watershed. The Tamil worm had finally turned!
To paraphrase the words of Nelson Mandela, it was the Sinhalese
oppressor who had decided the means of Tamil resistance. And today,
that resistance has resulted in a de facto state comprising well
over 70 % of the Tamil homeland in which Tamils are able to live
with dignity and freedom if not in prosperity.
But in areas outside the
facto state, in our homeland still under the iron boot of the
Sri Lankan state, the terror continues notwithstanding the
cease-fire or the presence of the International Peace Monitors. Just
this year alone over 300 people were killed ; in
Allipiddy and Mannar entire families were brutally wiped out ;
in Trincomalee and in Batticaloa murders continue unabated. But as
always, the silence of the international community is deafening. Our
message to the world at large is simple.
Death shall not deter us
Enough is enough.
Our people have endured persecution and oppression far too long.
To conclude in the words of Moses, addressed to the Egyptian Pharaoh
who had oppressed and persecuted the Hebrew People "Let my people