Deportation Target Has High-Profile Defenders

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

HARBERT, Mich. -- The Department of Homeland Security calls Ibrahim Parlak a terrorist linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and is trying to deport him to his native Turkey.

But to a tightknit group of high-profile supporters across the political spectrum, Parlak is a benevolent community leader and popular restaurateur in this resort in southwest Michigan.

On Sunday, soccer moms, business owners and conservative activists gathered at Parlak's Cafe Gulistan -- the name means "paradise" in Kurdish -- to wish Parlak well in Monday's federal appeals court hearing on his immigration case.

Whatever the specifics of his involvement with the Kurdish independence movement, they said, they see him as a symbol of the American dream. Martin Dzuris, a conservative talk show host who fled communism in Czechoslovakia, said he wondered about his longtime friend's past when the government raised its allegations.

"I thought maybe he didn't tell me everything," said Dzuris, who runs an import-export business in southwest Michigan and coordinates the "Ibrahim for Citizen" grass-roots campaign. "But then I read all the briefs, and I know what kind of person he is."

Dzuris said that even if Parlak, 45, had been involved in violent separatist activity, as the Turkish and U.S. governments allege, he would not hold it against Parlak.

"That would be like my grandfather shooting a few Nazis," Dzuris said.

Parlak has also gained public support from film critic Roger Ebert, a frequent patron of his restaurant; Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin, who called him a "gentle man" who makes "some great hummus"; and novelist Andrew Greeley.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have introduced bills asking that Parlak be granted permanent residency.

And former U.S. attorney John A. Smietanka and Anne L. Buckleitner, a former assistant general counsel for national security for the FBI, offered their legal services after hearing about his case.

"We made sure we weren't getting involved with a person we'd be embarrassed by, and we were very happy because we found him to be an excellent person, which is reflected by his support in the community," Smietanka said.

Parlak gained asylum in the United States in 1992 after serving time in a Turkish prison on a conviction of "separatism," according to Smietanka. Documents from a Turkish military court also allege that he was a PKK member and was present during a border skirmish in which a guard was killed. Parlak maintains that he was involved only with the civil and cultural arm of the Kurdish independence movement.

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