Yassin Aref We usually do not post stories and articles that are of a political nature on the Albany Poets blog, but we thought that this was an important issue since it took place right in our backyard.  The following is the press release regarding a press conference marking the publication of the memoir of Yassin Aref, one of the two men convicted an FBI sting operation in Albany.

Albany, New York. –– “My dear friends––I would like to remind you about a few things, which I believe it is my duty to say from the deepest part of my heart and from the love and respect and concern that I hold for you and for all the people in this country. As God is my witness, I assure you and all of the American people that I did nothing against them, and I had no will or intention to harm them in any way. I came to this country only for my children’s future…God bless you all, and God bless this country.”

With these words, Yassin Aref, a Muslim imam and one of the two men convicted in the FBI’s 2006 “sting” operation in Albany, ends his compelling new memoir, Son of Mountains, My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect. To mark its publication, the Muslim Solidarity Committee will hold a press conference on Monday, March 10 at 1:30 p.m. in the Masjid As-Salam mosque, 278 Central Ave., Albany, to answer questions about the book and its author, who is currently incarcerated in the Communication Management Unit of the federal prison at Terre Haute, Indiana. Brief excerpts from Son of Mountains will be read at the press conference.

Son of Mountains
will be available for sale, or can be ordered online, after March 10 at Book House in Albany; Market Block Books in Troy; The Book Loft in Great Barrington, MA; and Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady (in-store sales only). It can also be ordered online through The Troy Book Makers, the on-demand printing company in Troy that designed and printed it.

Publication of Son of Mountains is a non-profit venture. After expenses, all proceeds from sales will go to the Aref Children’s Fund to benefit Yassin Aref’s four young children.

Aref wrote Son of Mountains in five months in the Rensselaer County Jail in Troy, between his conviction in October 2006 and his sentencing one year ago, on March 8, 2007. Because English is his third language, two members of his legal team, Stephen Downs and Kathy Manley, and a professional editor, Jeanne Finley, worked with Aref over the past year to edit and assemble the book.

It tells a story in prose and poetry that is much more than just “his side” of his arrest and conviction. It’s the story of a UN refugee who sought peace and freedom for himself and his family in America, and found just the opposite. It’s the story of a two-time immigrant who has struggled all his life just to survive. And it’s the autobiography of an Iraqi Kurd –– a “son of mountains” –– from a well-known religious family who grew up in poverty under the rule of Saddam Hussein, and who writes that “I have the whole of Kurdistan and all of my people with me in my tiny cell at the jail.”

The narrative, divided into five parts, begins in Iraqi Kurdistan, and recounts Aref’s family, childhood, young adulthood, and marriage against the backdrop of the oppression of the dictator’s regime. Aref describes surviving the Anfal operation (the Kurdish genocide) in 1988–1989; fleeing with other Kurds to Iran in 1991 when the Iraqi army once again pursued them; and witnessing Kurdistan’s subsequent economic, political, and social ruin.

The story then moves to Syria, where Aref immigrated and subsequently worked, went to college, and began a family; to America and Albany, where the Aref family was sent as refugees by the UN in 1999 and where, after 9/11, “the walls could see and hear”; to the Rensselaer County Jail, where Aref lived for eighteen months and wrote “Jail Stories” about his experiences and his fellow inmates; to “Beyond the Walls,” a short compilation on such topics as the teachings of Islam, human rights, Martin Luther King, social justice, the tragedy of Iraq, the dream of Kurdish independence, and the rule of law in America.

The book ends with an outspoken essay by volunteer lawyer Stephen Downs that details how the government’s case against Aref was not a sting but a frame-up, with lives, families, and Constitutional rights sacrificed to America’s post-9/11 climate of fear.

Coincidentally, the United States will mark the fifth anniversary of its invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2008.

Aref, 37, was the imam (prayer leader) at the Masjid As-Salam in Albany from 2000 until the FBI executed its “sting” in 2004, raided and ransacked the mosque, and arrested both Aref and Mohammed Hossain, a pizza store owner and mosque member, on charges of aiding terrorism and money laundering. The fictional sting operation was designed to entrap the two Muslims by means of a paid informant/convicted felon and an imaginary plot to assassinate the Pakistani ambassador in New York City. At the end of the controversial 2006 trial in Albany, in which illegal and still-secret NSA wiretapping cast a penumbra of doubt on the evidence, the verdicts, and the constitutionality of the entire trial, Aref and Hossain were sentenced to fifteen years each in federal prison. Their sentences were reduced from the recommended thirty years by the trial judge because of the outpouring of community support for both men.

Aref’s appeal will be heard by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City on March 24.

The Muslim Solidarity Committee was formed in October 2006 to help support the two defendants and their families and the Muslim community in the Capital District. The committee and supporters maintain two websites for public information on the cases:
nepajac.org/Aref&Hossain.htm , which features news of committee activities and efforts on behalf of Yassin Aref, Mohammed Hossain, and their families; and
www.yassinaref.com , “Justice for Yassin,” which features updated information on Aref’s case and a growing online collection of his new writing from prison.

Son of Mountains, My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect by Yassin Aref
ISBN: 978-1-933994-30-7
$27.  2008, paperback, 544 pages, photographs and photo insert.  First edition of 750 copies printed by The Troy Book Makers

A review copy is available to media that can promise publication of a review or an article.   Contact Kathy Manley, (518) 434-1493, e-mail: mkathy1@hotmail.com

For more information on the press conference please contact: Maureen Aumand, cell (518) 301-9065, (518) 462-4531 x 301, (518) 869-6674 or Cathy Callan, cell (518) 577-6436, e-mail: callanca@gmail.com