March 13, 2006
The Tibetans have had a hard 50 years. Invaded by the Chinese Communist regime's army in 1949, and then again in 1959, a combined total of over 100,000 Tibetans killed. Bringing the land of approximately 6,000 Buddhist monasteries down to a land of just 6.
In spite of years of years of torture, censure, pervasive and intentional destruction of the cultural monuments and natural ecology of their homeland and a forced exile, the Tibetan people—at the direction of their tireless spiritual leader the Dalai Lama—have sought a non-violent solution with China.
This tradition of non-violent appeal for their basic human and national rights has won them the hearts and resources of much of the Western world. Famous actors like Richard Gere routinely speak out for their freedom, and a drive along most interstates will yield at least a few glimpses of the now familiar "Free Tibet" bumper stickers. But this world outcry has not been enough to budge communist China.
The appeal was alive and well for a crowd of several hundred Tibetans and friends that gathered for a rally at New York's Union Square Park on March 10, to commemorate the anniversary of the resistance of the initial Chinese occupation—where many heroic Tibetan's died in a desperate attempt to keep the Chinese conquerors at bay.
They chanted, "Rangzen"—Tibetan for "independence"—and slogans like, "Shame Shame China, Free Tibet Now!" Old women, the ones who could remember Tibet before it fell to China, wiped away tears as they all joined in the Tibetan national anthem. Keynote speaker Robert A. F. Thurman, professor of Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and long-time friend of the Dalai Lama—also the father of Hollywood actress Uma Thurman—addressed a sea of Tibetan flags that seemed to float against the backdrop of a bustling Manhattan afternoon.
Thurman urged them not to lose hope.
"I'm out here to show my support for the Tibetan independence movement and for their non-violent protest and for their basic human right to have independence from China," said Thurman, explaining that many Tibetans have lost faith in the ability of the democratic West to influence China.
"History knows that Tibet was never part of China, this is a modern occupation and invasion, and sooner or later they will be born out and they will have their independence and their freedom," said Thurman.
Thurman added that the commitment of the Tibetan people to non-violence
should serve as an example to the rest of the world.
"When other peoples have turned to violence and terrorism when their rights and truth were ignored by the world—the fact that the Tibetans have forcefully, but verbally and non-violently defended their freedom is really an inspiration to us all," he said.
The Dalai Lama has proposed a much-lauded "middle way" solution to Tibetan freedom. He has suggested to the Chinese government that Tibetans would settle for a Tibet that is part of China if they were ensured sufficient autonomy and self-rule.
China has scoffed at this compromise, saying that they will not believe the Dalai Lama will settle for anything short of a Tibet completely independent of China.
Wangchuk Shakabpa of the U.S. Tibet Committee is unsure whether all Tibetans would welcome the Dalai Lama's compromise if it were to be accepted by Beijing.
"I would say that it may be a bit of a wait and see, depending on the extent of the autonomy" said Shakabpa, "because in 1951 the Chinese government signed a treaty with Tibet, promising autonomy, and they ended up violating the treaty leading to a major revolt nine years later. So at this point there is very little trust among Tibetans of the promises that the Chinese government may offer. If there were such an agreement signed again, I think Tibetans would be very cautious to make sure that China honors its side of the bargain."
Shakabpa and others are encouraged by the growing pro-democracy movement in China, which coupled with the mass resignations from the Chinese Communist Party are sending up a flare for change that could benefit the Tibetan cause.
"I do sense that with the democratic movement gaining strength in China, there's a greater chance that Tibet will also enjoy the fruits of that," said Shakabpa.
But optimism aside, the mood at Union Square was one of a people used to the long fight—used to enduring in the daily struggle for freedom and the return to their homeland.
Tashi Sharjang, president of the Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey had a message for Chinese President Hu Jintao. He urged him to "be honest and serious about the dialogue that is going on between the Chinese government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and there will be a solution, because the Dalai Lama has sacrificed so much to come to this middle-way approach."
But Sharjang also issued a warning to President Hu: "If you think that you can drag this issue and try to go around it or spin the issue, you will find that Tibet will never go away and we will be a very strong force when it comes to the 2008 Beijing Olympics."
The rally was followed by a march to the United Nations and another gathering in Dag Hammerskold Park.