Kurdish literature and exile

If the first sparks of contemporary Kurdish literature were lit in exile, it was to catch fire in its own land. But those initial flames of exile, the foundation of our contemporary literature, are unfortunately being extinguished

09 Mayıs 2019 09:30

Considering exile within the triad of history, literature and the individual, Edward Said said, “Exile is terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home.” Considerations such as this are general and passing. To consider the role of exile in the life of Kurds, we should begin with the word “exile” itself.

Along with its several synonyms, the word “exile” has now become adopted into the Kurdish language, acquiring a function in the language itself and its application. No doubt the majority of the words used for this concept derive from languages which have influenced Kurdish. The origin of the ingrained word “exile” is Turkish and many Kurds use it. Another word, “nefî”, derives from Arabic. It too is one of the words that is ingrained in Kurdish and is used in this context. Also, the Kurdish words (Sirgûnî/being in exile, sergomî/to be exiled, nefîbûn/to be exiled from war, koçberî/to migrate, mişextî/exile, xerîbî/ expatriateness, penaberî/migrant, akincîtî/settler or forced migration) are linguistic aspects of “exile.” Very few languages have so many words to convey this meaning and it is rather obvious why there are so many in Kurdish. Throughout their history, Kurds have often been exiled and been pushed to the margins of border and homeland. And the ones effecting this exile have always been the ruling powers.

The condition of being exiled is not peculiar to Kurdish literature and Kurdish writers. When we look at world literature, we find that numerous writers belonging to different ethnicities and cultures have been through exile. While some of these exiles occurred with the consent of the persons involved, some were the consequence of hardship and despotism. If there is consent, it is more appropriate to call it “expatriation” instead of “exile.” Even if as expatriate writers live away from their homelands, family and friends, this situation cannot drag them from one continent into a new mainland. In such exiles, the person can go to a different region and live there. The motives might be economic or indeed, numerous; but in this type of exile, the person has the freedom to return to the land of their birth whenever he/she wishes. In forced migrations and in migrations due to political reasons, the conditions and consequences vary. People are driven into exile to escape oppression - religious, political, sexual and ethnic. This type of exile has affected writers for centuries, forcing them to migrate from one continent to another.

If we take a look at world literature, we find the names of many poets, writers, philosophers and politicians who endured exile, from Ovidius to James Joyce, including Rafael Alberti, Adorno, Adonis, Joseph Brodsky, Nina Berberova, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad, Dante, T. S. Eliot, Carlos Fuentes, Witold Gomrowicz, Tahar Ben Jelun, Franz Kafka, Lermontov, Thomas Mann, Ezra Pound, Pushkin, Rilke, Voltaire to name a few. While some of these names abandoned their country by choice, many were banished by force. In times of war, when the form of government changes, when persons who have opposing views violently take over the reins, unlimited power can become a feature of a new autocratic pressure. The first to usually be affected by this pressure and oppression are writers. Lightly touching upon this past century and the period in which we are living, we find several major historical events that are considered to be turning points. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the emergence of Francisco Franco and the Civil War in Spain, Mussolini’s appearance on the world stage and the condition of Italy, the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany, military coups and junta rule in Latin America, the Iraq-Iran War, the 1980 military coup in Turkey and the junta take-over, the Arab Spring in the Middle East and its consequences, the Civil War in Syria and the forced exile of Syrians. The pressure and the forced migrations and the exiles experienced by Kurds go back to ancient times. During the Ottoman period, after being captured in the Eruh Tower, to be rendered politically ineffective Mir Bedirhan was banished with his family to the Island of Crete. His sons Emin Ali and Mikdat Mithad spent all their lives in exile. Among his grandchildren, Celadet, Kamran, Süreyya and Safder too lived in exile. Through the labors of these exiled people, contemporary Kurdish literature began and the foundations of Kurdish journalism were laid. In 1898, The Kurdistan newspaper in Cairo, in 1918 the Jîn periodical in Istanbul, in 1913 the Rojî Kurd periodical in İstanbul, in 1932 the Hawar periodical in Damascus, in 1942 the Ronahi periodical in Damascus, in 1943 the Roja Nû and Stêr periodicals began to be published.

Numerous Kurdish newspaper and periodicals began publishing in Ankara, İzmir and İstanbul in the 1970s; in Stockholm, Brussels and Paris in the 1980s and 1990s. The departure of many writers and intellectuals after the September 12 military coup in 1980 led Sweden to become one of the main centers of Kurdish literature. Several periodicals and newspapers began to be printed in Sweden. The number of Kurdish writers in Sweden surpassed a 100. More than 10 publishing houses were founded. Along with the Kurdish literature efforts in the late Soviet Union and the birth of contemporary Kurdish literature in Morocco, it’s fair to say that in the history of contemporary Kurdish literature Sweden has played a unique and decisive role. The foundations of contemporary Kurdish short story and novel were laid in Sweden. When we make it to the 2000s, we find thousands of Kurdish books were being published there. Besides the classical Kurdish literature born out of the medrese (Islamic school of religious instruction) tradition, until the 2000s most of the works of contemporary Kurdish literature were brought to life by writers in exile, thus our literature managed to survive. At the end of the 1990s and especially after the 2000s, publishing houses were founded in Turkey and the number of printed works increased. Several periodicals began publishing. A new generation of writers and poets emerged. Our literature sparked in exile, began to burst into flames in its homeland. But the foundation of our contemporary literature, the spark of exile, is unfortunately being extinguished. Nevertheless, Kurdish literature is now internationally appreciated. To witness this appreciation brings me great joy.



Translated from the Turkish by Melek Hamer