Kurdish music, Kurdish Culture
Do not cry my son.
I know that you are suffering.
You ask me why you must be so firmly tied.
You tell me that you cannot bear
these heavy chains anymore.
You wonder why the Kurdish people
must be captives.
And I tell you, my son,
that it is better for you
to go used to the captivity in the cradle.
Those lines were written by the Kurdish poet Hejar in the thirties. Still, we, Kurds are prisoners both inside and outside our own country. Hundreds of Kurdish intellectuals, writers, artists, poets and troubadours have been forced to live in exile outside of our country’s borders. Life in exile is also a kind of imprisonment that we have to get used to. Many of our old artists have died in exile with the love of their country and their people in their hearts. And new ones are emerging. One of the new exiles, who is still hoping to be able to return one day, is the Kurdish troubadour Shivan Perwer.
In the mid-seventies, he suddenly appeared in Turkey at a time when the Turkish government believed that the Kurdish culture had been eradicated once for all through its assimilation policy and laws. But here was a young student who sang Kurdish songs in his forbidden language, and dared to defy the laws of the Turkish government.
Unlike so many other Kurdish artists, Shivan Perwer did not let himself be bribed or silenced for money. Neither did he introduce the Kurdish culture as Turkish, nor did he deny his Kurdish identity — as other Kurdish artists had done in order to be accepted by the Turkish state. Instead, he was frank and candid, openly declaring he was a Kurdish troubadour by singing in Kurdish.
He immediately became very popular amongst the Kurdish people. His way of presenting Kurdish music became a model for other young Kurdish musicians. The years after 1975 were a nightmare for the Turkish authorities. Shivan’s songs of Kurdistan aroused again in the hearts of the Kurdish people, their longing for a free country, a longing that the Turkish government had failed to crush. His songs kindled a fire. The songs were based on Kurdish poetry, folklore and history. They live in the hearts of all Kurds.
Very soon Shivan’s music spread all over Kurdistan. On casettes and tape recorders it passed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, all the way from the mountains of Ararat to the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. In spite of Shivan’s forced exile in 1976 his Kurdish voice continued to irritate the Turkish government, as well as those of Iraq and Iran.
Culture is an effective weapon against oppression. In our second native country — Sweden —
we Kurds have had the opportunity to develop our culture. In a few years’ time we have been able to publish obout thirty books in Kurdish with the support of the Swedish authorities. This is more than has been published during the last 60 years of Turkish domination. Since 1983, Shivan has been living in Sweden with his wife Gulistan, also a singer, and their son Serxebun. Here he continues to produce new songs which will secretly find their way to Kurdistan. Music cannot be stopped, crushed out or killed by bullets. A people who continues to produce musicians like Shivan will never desappear.
The Kurdish nation feels the need to know the personal particulars, the past and the aspirations of the artists and performers it has produced, nourished, loved and protected as the apple of its eye. This desire, this urge is undoubtedly not without good reasons. The roots of this urge lies in the history of Kurdistan. If the Kurdish nation cannot look for and find the life goals of the giants of the Kurdish art and literature such as Eh-mede Xani and the like, it is because of the deficiencies in our historical records. Because, those preceding us felt no need to leave written records behind, though the impact of a people and the respect it commands are measured by its past accomplishments.
What is not written down, published and passed on from generation to generation for study cannot perform its historic function, cannot prove itself. As in our day, we can grope in the dark for the lost masterpieces without much success.
The Kurdish writers, intellectuals, scientists must understand anad be conscious of this bitter reality. If not, the future generation will find themselves in the same dilemma as we are in and will fail to appreciate the past. Such a state of affairs would be a weakness, a depressing helplessness for them. We must leave behind a heritage for the generations to come.
This is why I wrote this book about Shivan Perwer and my experience connected with Kurdish music and songs on some of journeys in the past seven years.
Most people, living in their own country with their own governments might not understand that songs and a singer can mean so much to a people as Shivan’s songs and his person has meant to the Kurdish people during the last ten years. He was the first singer who broke the chains that the Turkish government had put on our tongues. Now he has followers, the chains are broken, he is not the only one who sings in Kurdish anymore in open. Now the Turkish government cannot stop our songs anymore, cannot fin all the casettes that bring our music from village to village, house to house, ear to ear in Kurdistan. What I also want to say with this book is that Shivan and his brothers and sisters — the Kurdish musicians — are the result of our Kurdish culture, Kurdish nature, Kurdish history and tragedy. They are the children of the ancient city of Urfa and Mount Ararat, of Mem and Zin, our great and old lovestory, of our old poet Ehmedi Xani. Their heritage is lake Van and volcanos, that have been active for thousands of years. They have been nourished by poems, songs, history and art and filled with love for our country. They are the children of our culture and Shivan Perwer is one of them.
The oppressors who have pinned down Kurdistan in bondage, who want to suffocate and crush the Kurdish people in their coils have done all they could. They have laid siege to the Kurdish language, culture and heart with coils made of chains, tanks and bayonets. But all their efforts will come to naught. A people who have their Shivans do not die, are not exhausted so easily.
This book was first written in Turkish to make Turkish intellectuals understand our cause and how the Turkish society stole our culture and songs and converted them and presented them as Turkish both to the Turkish people and abroad.
The English translation was realized thanks to the work of two Kurdish teachers, translaters and academicians in Sidney Australia: Chahin Baker and Bawer-mend.
Due to our tragedy Kurds have been forced to live in exile all over the world. Still we keep in contact with each other. Our goal is the same: a free and democratic Kurdistan.
Stockholm in February 1986
One day, in 1979, 1 was on a bus departing from the Kurdish terminal in Teheran for the Kurdish city of Ma-habad. The bus was overflowing with passengers, dressed in their warm, colourful clothes. The travellers appeared to be throwing down the gauntlet to the history of Iran. The only language of communication was Kurdish. The Kurdish language was experiencing one of its lucky moments. The passengers were exchanging conversation and laughing at anecdotes they had heard about the Shah and the Ayatollah. The driver was constantly issuing instructions as to how they should conduct themselves. Under no circumstances, would the weapons be handed over to the so called Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards), that is, Ayatollah Khomeini’s gangs of terror. If necessary, the passangers would use their weapons to protect themselves against the bootyseekers. The political atmosphere was very tense. Khomeini was viewing the Kurdish national movement with anxiety. Therefore, there was always the possibility that the bus would be stopped. But, the Kurdish people were no longer afraid. Thousands of Peshmergas (Kurdish freedom fighters) were on the alert in the mountains, cities, towns and villages. They had become a nightmare for the Pasdaran and the Ayatollahs. Mindful of this, the Khomeini camp did not harrass Kurdish travellers moving throughout Iran. The history of Iran was undergoing internal convulsions. The convulsions were cataclysmic enough to overcome and eliminate the most powerful individual, government and clans.
When the driver learned I was from the part of Kurdistan under Turkish occupation, he looked at me and asked: