Kurdish Arts Festival

The Kurdish Arts Festival will be the premier annual Kurdish artistic and cultural networking event in the United States and one of the most exciting Kurdish showcases in North America, with performances by Kurdish artists and creative talents from the United States and around the world. The aim of this annual festival is to present the rich history of the Kurdish heritage and encourage students to study, develop their talents, intellectual interests, and creative abilities. Most importantly it will assist in building a scholarship foundation for Kurdish students both in the United States and abroad who are in need of financial assistance and to give them a chance to study and further their education in the areas of arts and music at Tennessee State University. For more information, see: http://kurdishartsfestival.org/

Geoaktif Kültür ve Aktivizm Merkezi

The following article was sent to Kurdistan Commentary by a reader who frequently travels to Turkey and is interested in the question of language and identity.  Thank you, Annaliesa, for your contribution!

Geoaktif Kültür ve Aktivizm Merkezi

The territories that nowadays comprise the Republic of Turkey have always been a mosaic of languages and a crossroad of cultures, but it is only recently that the diversity within its boundaries is flourishing again in the form of music, books – from learning materials to dictionaries-, ethnic dances and other cultural expressions that formerly where frowned upon or simply not very well-known outside their natural regions.

One of the many faces of this revived interest for local cultures is the Geoaktif Kültür ve Aktivizm Merkezi, located near Istanbul’s popular Taksim square. This cultural centre promotes and encourages not only language learning and traditional dances, but also a new look at the world through different thought-provoking speeches and activities.

Cemal Atila

Its founder, Cemal Atila, a publisher, translator, dancer and teacher all in one, is definitely the kind of person who could make such a ground-breaking cultural centre like this come into being, an institution which combines not only his passion for dance and languages, but also his own living experiences. He was born in 1968 in the village of Qeracêre (Seki in Turkish), and he moved to Istanbul, then to Fethiye to work in the tourism industry, only to come back to Istanbul, where he now resides, later in life. His mother tongue is Zaza, but soon learnt Kurmanji informally, and Turkish at school. He dearly remembers the two hour-long broadcasts in Kurdish from Radio Yerevan, and how important it was for them at a time in which Kurdish could not be used in public broadcasts in Turkey.

Passionate about languages and already fluent in the three aforementioned ones, he learnt English after taking a course in Istanbul and working on yachts in Southern Turkey, where he had all kind of jobs during the Özal years. During this period, the country lived a tourism boom and worked in the industry as tour-guide. Soon afterwards, he would become a professional translator, translating 20 books from English into Turkish, publisher and amateur dancer.

Precisely from his passion for ethnic dances and the cultures around them would blossom the idea of this particular multicultural centre. Its purpose is not only to be a place of learning, but also to be a meeting point for people of different backgrounds, as Atila puts it: ‘When the topic of Turkey’s ethnic questions is brought up, the “We have been living side by side for thousands of years” cliché always comes up. Yes, it’s true, but we live together not knowing anything about each other. We have lived in these lands “side by side for thousands of years” but if we do not know even two words of Laz, Kurmanji, Zaza or Armenian it means that “we live together but alone”. We invite everybody, but specially Turks, to learn the languages and cultures of their Kurdish, Armenian, Laz and Zaza brothers with whom have always lived together’.

Recently opened, it already offers courses of several minority languages spoken inside – some of them also outside – Turkey, like Kurmanji, Zaza, Armenian, and Laz. Learning Persian, a language which contributed greatly to the totality of the Middle East, and Greek, the language of the “Rum” (or Greek Orthodox Christians living in Istanbul), is also possible, and classes of Azerbaijani are scheduled to start very soon. And although Atila’s invitation is directed mainly to Turks, the public of the centre is very diverse, there are Turks, but also people who want to learn more about the culture and languages of their forefathers.

The project has stirred an unusual amount of attention from the Turkish media and there have been several articles published about it in many important newspapers and websites, including Hürriyet and Taraf. Since then, Atila has given a number of interviews and has seen a reaction from the public, for instance, in an interview he said that he received a message from an Assyrian asking him why Aramaic was not included among the offered courses, to which Atila replied that if they find a professor for it, definitely it will be offered.

Hopefully, the centre will continue evolving and including more languages, dances and activities as time passes by and will continue working as meeting point of cultures and celebrating the diversity of Anatolia. Geoaktif Kültür Merkezi constitutes the living proof of the change the Turkish society is currently undergoing and a new outlook at the situation in which languages are not imposed on each other but coexist peacefully as means of understanding and learning and a motive of celebration.

In case anybody is interest in joining the courses, the centre’s contact information can be found below:

Geoaktif Kültür ve Aktivizm Merkezi
Atif Yilmaz Caddesi No: 16 Kat (floor): 4-5
Taksim – Istanbul
telephone: 0212-244 84 63
email: bilgi@geoaktif.com
web: www.geoaktif.com
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Geoaktif-Kultur-ve-Aktivizm-Merkezi/165889510088241

Kurdish singer, Hama Jaza, passes away

One of Kurdistan’s most popular singers, Hama Jaza (حه‌مه جه‌زا), passed away today from cancer, according to news sources in Kurdistan.

Hama Jaza died in his hometown of Suleiymania after a long battle with cancer.

Hama Jaza was a well-known singer whose popularity grew in the late 70s and early 80s with each song he released. He was particularly well-known for his traditional songs called ‘Lawanawa’.

source: Kurdish Aspect

Listen to more of his music here.

News about his passing in Kurdish from Awene.

More on Kurdish music…

This is somewhat of a follow-up to AN’s posting a few days ago which introduced Kurdish music. He wrote that in Kurdish music there is ‘a lot of emphasis on political, cultural and societal issues.’ What is also true is that politics often affect singers and artists and they are forced to emigrate or run the risk of harassment and/or imprisonment.

Music is a powerful tool of cultural expression. This posting will focus on singers from the wild West (Syria) where freedom to express Kurdish identity does not exist in any form. All of the singers I mention below no longer reside in Syria. To flourish they had to leave. Staying in Syria would only silence them and their passion to express themselves through music.

So let’s have a look at some singers from the west. As AN has already mentioned Ciwan Haco, I’ll talk about others. Had AN not mentioned him, he would be at the top of the list here.

I’ve picked out six singers/musicians to introduce. They are, in no particular order, Lorîn Berzincî, Narîn Feqe, Miço Kendeş, Suzana Barmanî, Abbas Ahmed, and Şeyda. There are many, many others, past and present, but this half dozen represents a good variety of talent and style.

Lorîn Berzincî was born in Qamişlo (a town that has produced many of the singers from West Kurdistan) in 1980, but moved to Europe with her family at the age of 10. She released her first album, Çîrokên Evînê (Tales of Love), in 2007. I think she falls more into the ‘Kurds of the diaspora’ singers than not, but she was born in Qamişlo so I include her here. The video below is a song from that album called Derdî Evînê (Pain of Love). As you’ll see, it’s heavily influenced by her European upbringing. Even more noticeable in her video Mal Awayî.

Narîn Feqe was born in the city of Dêrek near Qamişlo in 1980. Narin released her first single in 2005 to coincide with Newruz that year. Narîn’s new album (2009) is Hêvî (Hope) whose songs combine traditional Kurdish music, modern oriental rhythms and a Euro-pop style. Hêvî is dedicated to Kurdish woman and carries a message of peace and freedom.

Like Lorîn Berzincî, Narîn Feqe and her family emigrated to Europe (Sweden) when she was 10 years old. Narîn’s father, Cudî, also a well-known singer, instilled in her a deep appreciation for Kurdish song and taught her much of what she knows. She started to sing professionally at the age of 22.

Miço Kendeş was born in Kobanî in 1966. He was brought up on Kurdish tales and epic stories told to him by his grandmother. He thrived on the legends and heroes of Kurdish culture and brings them back to life in a spirited vocal interpretation.

Memê Alan occupies a prominent place among these epic figures, whose adventures were handed down for centuries and then finally recorded in writing by the 17th century Kurdish poet Ehmedê Xanî.
 The video below is a live performance of ‘Memê Alan’ in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2007.

Kendeş started singing at a very young age, always entering song contests and performing at local festivals. He sang in Arabic or Kurdish, depending on the circumstances. He taught himself to play a variety of stringed instruments as well. He later moved to Aleppo (Heleb) to continue his musical training, taking private lessons with recognised musicians, and learning about Arabic, Persian and Turkish music traditions. Kendeş now resides in Switzerland.

Suzana Barmanî was born 1964, in Ariha, Syria and spent many years of her childhood in the Heleb and Efrîn provinces. In 1985 she left for Bulgaria. After studying music there for several years she moved to Sweden. Her first album ‘Lê Lê’ was released in August 2004. The video below, from that album, is her song ‘Diyarbakır.’ This song is done a more traditional style than her sometimes jazzy, blues beat. Her singing has been at times described as ‘Kurdish night club’ style.

My favourite of this group is Abbas Ahmed, also from Qamişlo (born 1969). He is very popular in Germany (largest Kurdish diaspora population in Europe). His discography is extensive.: Keça Delal (1996), Deynek (1997), Barana Tirsê (2000), Mêvana Xewnê (2003), and Bi Tenê (2007).

He’s very laid-back, almost always in jeans, and has an amazing voice. My favourite album is Barana Tirsê (Rain of Fear), and I like Qamişlo and Hey Dinyayê in particular. Hauntingly melodic and ever so smooth. Here’s Qamişlo, but it’s not his video. His song, but someone has put together a slide show…lots of photos of the infamous football match there and of  Kurdish cleric Khaznawi, murdered by Syrian security.

Zaroktî (Childhood) is unique in that it has this bit of English-language hip-hop/rap thrown into the middle of it.

Here’s a clip from a concert in Frankfurt last November:

More of his tunes are available on his website.

Finally, a brief mention of Şeyda, who is from Amûde.  He has a great voice and is well known for his love songs. What more can you say about love songs? Video is Evina Te (Your Love).

So that’s a brief roundup from the West.  I’ll turn the music reviews back over to AN…

Introducing Kurdish music

What do you know about Kurdish music? if not much, then this post might help. I’m going to give a basic introduction to the world of modern Kurdish music. It’s only a small sample, for now, but I’ll give regular updates when new songs, albums and video clips are released, as well as look back at Kurdish classics.

Kurdish music in general, like most other music, is a lot to do with love and partying. However, we do also tend to put a lot of emphasis on political, cultural and societal issues. This is a tradition in Kurdish music that goes back as long as anyone can remember, and you will see it in the first artist I’ll introduce you to.

Aynur Dogan is by far one of my favorite Kurdish singer/musicians. She is popular with all Kurds throughout the Middle East. Aynur is originally from Dersim (Tunceli in Turkish) and gained fame in 2004 when cultural restrictions on the Kurdish language were loosened in Turkey. She burst onto both the Kurdish and Turkish music scene singing songs dealing with women’s and Kurdish culture rights in Turkey. She sings mostly in Kurdish, but also has Armenian and Turkish songs. Her voice is undeniably beautiful and soulful.

Her new 2010 album is called Rewend (Nomad in Kurdish) and the lead song of the same name is devoted to Heskîf (Hasankeyf in Turkish), an ancient Kurdish town that has been at threat of being submerged under water ever since the Turkish government started building dams in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. The Ilisu Dam project has attracted a lot of attention over the years with human rights organisations successfully lobbying international credit firms to deny the money needed by the Turkish government to build the dam. But the ever so persistent Turkish state, despite all the protests, is determined to build the Ilisu dam; so the campaign to stop it is ongoing and Aynur’s album is part of the protests.

The next artist, Roozbeh, came onto the Kurdish music scene in fall last year with his debut song Koch (Exodus). He later released an album of the same name in spring 2010 and quickly attracted a strong following, especially among the young, fusing a Kurdish singing style, typical from his home region of Hewraman, with a variety of modern music forms from the West. There is also a Persian pop influence in some of his songs. The album is made up of love and dance songs. No politics in this one.

Two singers that have been kicking up a lot of controversy in Kurdish society, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan, are Dashne Murad and Loka Zahir. These two divas both grew up in Europe and brought back to Kurdistan particular music styles that challenge many traditional customs in society. They both have attracted disapproval and admiration from different parts of society.

Dashne’s songs are quite in your face by Kurdish standards. She’s gained a lot of media attention outside Kurdistan, internationally as well as in the wider Middle East. Her songs about kissing, flirting and dating, and her clothing style, are considered vulgar to some, but liberating to others. Many, including herself, consider Dashne to be the Kurdish answer to Shakira.

And if Dashne is the Shakira of Kurdistan then Loka is its Nancy Ajram. Loka’s stlye is heavily influenced by modern Arabic music, and with lyrics such as “don’t get your hands familiar with my chest” and “your hand is in mine, i’ve cleared the way for our chests to meet” (i guess she’s got a thing for hands and chests) she’s kicked up just as much fuss as Dashne. Unsurprisingly, they are good friends.

More in tune with the conscientious style of Aynur is Serhado, who can be considered the first person to establish a distinclty Kurdish style of hip-hop/rap. Serhado, like Aynur, concentrates on themes of society, politics, Kurdish rights, and is overtly patriotic for the Kurdish cause.

The clip that I’ve posted,Ez Kurdistanim (I am Kurdistan), from Serhado’s 2009 album Xeyala Evîn (Love’s Imagination), is actually a remix of a song by a PKK guerrilla, Hozan Serhad, who was killed fighting the Turkish military. Serhado raps about different cities and Kurdish historical/heroic figures that have struggled for Kurdish independence, and the chorus is in the style of Hozan Serhad’s original version. It is a particularly popular song among the young in Kurdistan of Turkey.

Azhdar/Ajdar Wahbi is an established Kurdish pop artist from Silêmanî (As Sulaymaniyah) who has released a number of well received albums over the years. He mostly sings mainstream love and dance songs typical of the modern Kurdish music scene in Iraqi Kurdistan, with subtle influences from Turkish and Arabic pop music. His latest album, Lem Bibure (Forgive me), was released late last year and the most popular track on the album is Dilî Min (My heart) which I’ve posted above. Azhdar also has his own TV show called ‘Azhdar Show’, typically styled after the ‘Ibo Show’ which is hosted in Turkey by another Kurdish singer/actor, but I’ll get into that in another article.

Now I’ve left the best till last with Ciwan Haco (pronounced Jwan Hajo), this singer/musician from Qamişlo (Qamishli), in Kurdistan of Syria, is something of an icon in Kurdish music. He’s been churning out popular albums since the 1980s and his music really transcends generations; his appeal among young Kurds is greater than among the old. He also has had a rare bit of fame within Turkish society despite singing only in Kurdish. Ciwan has probably also held the biggest concert of any Kurdish artist when in 2003 around 200,000 people went to see him perform in Êlih (Batman in Turkish. Yea seriously, the Turks actually call it Batman!).

Apart from songs of love and dance, Ciwan sings in a melancholic style, typical of most Kurdish artists, about famous Kurdish places and personalities and of times of glory in Kurdish history. My favourite of his songs is one of his most famous, Diyarbakir, dedicated to the largest Kurdish city in the Middle East, which is based in Kurdistan of Turkey, and is considered by Kurds to be the capital of Greater Kurdistan. Here he is singing it at the Êlih concert, check out the size of the crowd.

So there you have it, a brief introduction to Kurdish music. I’ll try to introduce more artists and also classical songs in future posts. And also, I’ve not written about some very famous singers that are considered legends among Kurds, but this is a good start for now.

Enjoy!

IF YOU LIKED THIS, WE’VE GOT MORE HERE: More on Kurdish Music…

Rojîn files sexual harassment suit against Serdar Turgut

rojin

'Is it because I am a Kurd even more than I am a woman?'

Kurdish pop-star and former host of her own show on TRT6, Rojîn filed a criminal complaint against Akşam newspaper columnist Serdar Turgut, handing her petition to the Bakırköy Courthouse on 27 October.

Turgut, former editor-in-chief of Akşam, published a column on 24 October entitled ‘I regret not being a PKK terrorist’ in which he said he wanted to make Rojîn his ‘sex slave.’

What he said exactly was:

“From what I understand of Öcalan’s statements, there are occasional group sex parties in the mountains. I would definitely have participated in those with a militant consciousness. I haven’t yet seen a woman PKK member that I like, but that’s OK; if I couldn’t have found one there, I would’ve founded a cell, raided the city, abducted Rojîn and taken her to the mountains. What’s more, I might even have proposed to her.  Think about it, for years I would enjoy a life in the mountains; I would live with Rojîn, who I would make my sex slave, and go to the city when I get sick of the woman’s chatter to kill some editors-in-chief.”

The column was supposed to be a criticism of the recent arrival of a PKK group and Turgut couldn’t understand why Rojîn didn’t see the humour.

If Turgut’s attempt at humour failed, his attempt at an apology only made it worse.  He said in his column yesterday (29

turgut

'Instead of laughing, she chose to be a victim.'

October), which was called ‘I thought Rojîn was smart,’ ‘Looking at her speeches and television performances, I thought Rojîn was a smart woman. Instead of laughing, she chose to be a victim.’  She chose to be a victim?

But Rojîn does not want an apology. She wants his ‘insult to be punished on behalf of all women.’ She has demanded in her complaint to prosecute Turgut under charges of ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘insult via the media.’  She also said she would pursue this until the end as an example in Turkey. Saying that what Turgut wrote had nothing to do with humour but was rather racism and sexism.  She asks ‘Is the reason for this indifference that I am a Kurd and a women?’

Women’s organisations such as Med-iz plan to petition a court to join the case against Turgut.  Med-iz works against sexism in the media.

‘There is nothing to say to Turgut, but we will ask the court to allow us to take part [in the case] since his article degrades all women in Turkey, and especially Kurdish women,’ said Melek Özman from Med-iz.

Kerem Altıparmak, who is affiliated with the Ankara University Human Rights Research Centre, also underlined that Turgut’s article cannot be considered merely a personal conflict since the article targets women who belong to an ethnic group.

‘From the point of view of freedom of expression, the question that needs to be asked is, does this article justify the kidnapping of a Kurdish woman? The article suggests that any Kurdish woman, due to her ethnicity, is linked to the PKK and that kidnapping her for sexual purposes would be justified. If you considered the present situation in Turkey, the danger is immediate,’ Altıparmak told Today’s Zaman.

In part of a written statement Rojîn stated that ‘Turgut used my name for this ugly aim with the same ugliness. What gives him the audacity to use these monstrous, salivating and macho phrases like ‘Abducting to the mountains’ and ‘making a sex slave’?’ she wrote. ‘Is it because I am a Kurd even more than I am a woman?’

If Rojîn’s claim is accepted, Turgut could face between 6 months and 4 years imprisonment.

sources:

Çakir, Bawer.  Artist Rojîn Sues Journalist Turgut for “Sexual Harassment”.  Istanbul – BİA News Center, 29 October 2009.

Karabat, Ayşe. Women’s organizations to take columnist Turgut to court. Today’s Zaman, 29 October 2009.

Turgut apologizes to Rojîn in column. Today’s Zaman, 30 October 2009.

Şivan Perwer’s visit to Canada

perwer_1A black Hummer is cruising down Highway 427 in Toronto, Canada.  Suddenly, in a dramatic armed takedown earlier this week, a half dozen Ontario Provincial Police cruisers surrounded the vehicle and order its occupants out.

Şivan Perwer, Kurdish singer and icon, and three friends were in the Hummer returning to Toronto from Niagra Falls.  The other occupants of the vehicle were Riza Eileik, 73, who was driving at the time, musician Neg Medeine in the back and Iraqi-born cameraman Akrum Hidou in the passenger seat.

All four were taken from the vehicle at gunpoint, pinned to the ground, handcuffed, and pushed into OPP cruisers.

Another motorist had called police after seeing what he thought was a gun through the Hummer’s tinted window.  It was one of the crew’s long camera lenses.perwer_2

During the takedown, while trying to explain who they were, Perwer said the officers yelled at them to stop speaking and said ‘I will shoot … I will kill you now.’

For Perwer, who travels the world singing about peace, the incident was more than just an innocent mistake.

“I’m really in shock still. Still I have pain in my arm,” he said. “It hurt our honour. It hurt a lot,” says Perwer, who is living in exile in Germany from his native Turkey because of lyrics to his songs. “It was scary stuff. It was terrible. Why? Why?”

Perwer has recorded more than 30 records and has performed alongside Peter Gabriel, Sting, Paul Simon, Tom Jones, and Gipsy Kings.

perwer_3Canadian police in Toronto have apologised to the internationally known Kurdish singer for mistaking him and his entourage for armed terrorists.

“As for the people in the vehicle, I certainly understand how they must feel and hope they understand the difficulties and dangers that go with policing,” said OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino.

The incident was filmed and can be viewed on YouTube here.

Sources:

Warmington, Joe. Kurdish superstar gets rude welcome to Canada.  Toronto Sun, 18 August 2009.

Kurdish music star mistaken for terrorist, UPI.com, 18 August 2009.

Doolittle, Robyn.  Armed Takedown Shocks Singer.  The Star, 19 August 2009.

Huber, Jordan. Kurdish music star may sue OPP after dramatic highway arrest.  National Post, 18 August 2009.

Singing in Syria

In January 2008, well known Syrian Kurdish singer, Elî Tico, was arrested by Syrian intelligence services. Tico, 71, is a singer following the traditional ways of dengbêj, or story telling, deeply rooted in Kurdish folkloric tradition. He is one of the last remaining singers of this genre. His most famous ballad is Shêx Seîd, recounting the 1925 Kurdish uprising, the first major rebellion of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey.

Tico’s arrest followed a gathering of Kurdish singers at his home in Aleppo. He was interrogated in Aleppo for several days before being taken to intelligence headquarters in Damascus. His family has not heard from him since.

Kurds represent 10% of the population in Syria, mainly living in north along the borders with Turkey and Iraq. Many do not have citizenship in Syria due to the Arabisation laws passed there in the 1960s. Kurds are not recognised as a separate ethnicity. Kurdish human rights activists are routinely arrested and persecuted. Kurdish ethnic identity is fiercely suppressed through language bans and prohibition of education in Kurdish.

In this context it is amazing that just a couple days ago another Kurdish singer, Mazkin Tahir al-Naqash, performed in Kurdish at a cultural event in the Syrian capital. While the Syrian government does sometimes grant permission for Kurdish cultural events, it does not offer official recognition. Even al-Naqash’s performance was billed as ‘songs from the north-eastern heritage of Syria’ without mentioning the words Kurd or Kurdish.

Members of the Kurdish minority in Syria are wondering whether this signals an improvement in the way the government regards their community.

Abdo Khalil, a writer in Damascus, believes the authorities may have embarked on ‘a project of reconciliation with the Kurds.’ But he cautioned that a cultural event could not in itself be seen as a step toward ending the problems between Kurds and their government.

His caution is well noted. The relationship between the Syrian government and Kurdish groups is tenuous at best. One cultural event does not magically erase the detention of Kurdish poets, political leaders, artists, and bloggers. And whither Elî Tico?

sources:

Kurdish Singer Breaks Sound Barrier, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 07 Nov 08
Kurdish Singer Missing, KurdishMedia, 02 Feb 08