Friday, November 8, 2013

Towards a National Anthem for Kurdistan

This article was originally published by Kurdistan Tribune. Here is the Link.

Recently, I watched a short video footage of the late Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya in which he is to be named as the Musician of the Year in Turkey. Kaya appears on stage as he receives the award and says, “I am receiving this award on behalf of everyone struggling for human rights. In my next album, I will sing in Kurdish and will make a Kurdish video clip. I am sure there are courageous TV people who will air this.”

But no sooner had he said  this than he was showered with swear words by the attending Turk artists. Some of them shouted angrily that there is nothing called “Kurd” or “Kurdish language”. Others waived their hands in the air as they spoke unintelligibly because of the uproar of the audience. Kaya was speechless. It was heart breaking. Later I did a little research: reading  related articles, watching other videos. I found out that on that night Kaya was also pelted with forks and spoons by the attendants and that he barely survived an attack by some of the attendants. He was also pounded by the mainstream Turkish media as a “traitor”, and was also prosecuted on false charges and sent into exile in France where he died the following year, of a heart attack. 

Today, I read on one Kurdish news outlet that Turkey’s Nationalist People’s Party (MHP) opposes efforts to have a Kurdish language dictionary printed by the state printing and publishing facility. Mehmet Gunal of the MHP has reportedly said in the Turkish parliament that recognizing Kurdish language divides the state language and serves as a step toward federalism in the country. I understood the Kurdish sentiment behind the article. I am also a Kurd and all that denial of the Kurdish identity, culture and language is very relatable. It was heart breaking again. I can’t understand how a person can deny the ethnic and cultural identity of someone else. How can you hold so much hate for someone else based on the fact that they are different from you one way or another?

I tried very hard to imagine myself doing to a non-Kurd those things the Turkish audience did to Kaya, and I couldn't. And I believe that no Kurds - who have seen decades of discrimination, denial, and forced assimilation - should be able to imagine that. But as much as I love this to be true with every single Kurd, it is still far from reality. Disagree with me? well, here is what was also going on recently:

A few members of the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) – an opposition party in the Kurdistan Parliament – did not stand up in a Kurdistan parliament meeting when the Kurdish Anthem was played. They based their rejection of the anthem on grounds that it contained blasphemy, and later in an attempt to divert all of the criticism some of their brethren said it did not represent all ethnic groups in Kurdistan. This stirred outrage among the nationalist Kurds on social media networks and has been further hyped up by the media close to the secular Kurdish parties.

Now, the point here is not to defend the Islamic MPs for what they did. I am not an Islamist person and I do not appreciate what those Islamic MPs did on such grounds that the lyrics of the anthem contain blasphemy, because I have always been of the opinion that poetry should not be treated within rigid frameworks of right and wrong, good and bad. I have also been of the opinion that those Islamic party members generally spend more time worrying about such trivial things than on understanding the poem's historical and political context. I believe “Ey Reqib” is the “Kurdish” anthem, I honor it, and stand up to its playing. But, I do not believe it is a good anthem for Kurdistan because it is sung specifically for Kurdish ethnics.

And we know that Kurdistan, as in “Kurdistan Region” which is a federal region in northern Iraq, has a diverse ethnic and religious makeup. Let me explain. Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans, Assyrians, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenians live in Kurdistan and they hold such faiths as Islam, Christianity, Yezidism, Kakayi and Atheism. Ey Reqib is full of praise for the Kurdish valor, bravery, struggle of the Kurdish people, fight for freedom of Kurdish people, the Kurdish identity, the Kurdish language. Below is some excepts form the anthem:

"... the Kurdophone people still remain.."
"Kurdish people stand up valiantly.."
"We are sons of Medya and Kaykhusraw" - In reference to the mesopotamian poeple and empire of the same name that Kurds consider to be the ancesstors of Kurds.

Did you notice any patterns? It is all “Kurdish” and not diverse as is the “Kurdistan Region”

On many occasions, Kurdish political leaders – and I mean all of them including the Islamic and secular and nationalist leaders alike, and at the top of the list, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani – have stressed that Kurdistan is not only the land of “Kurds” but also of all the other ethnic groups that live in Kurdistan. And history proves that and I support that statement. 

Now, can you, as a Kurd who has seen discrimination, denial, and forced assimilation by the Iraqi Arab nationalist governments, Turkish fascist governments and Persian regimes, imagine why Ey Reqib is not a good national anthem for Kurdistan Region?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then I believe this has reminded you that the anthem is hurting other minority groups in Kurdistan and it should be replaced. That does not mean that we have to give it up altogether. We can still retain it as the “Kurdish” anthem – “Kurdish” as in “that which pertains to Kurds”, as opposed to the “Kurdistan national anthem” where Kurdistan is a federal region - or hopefully an independent country in the future - with a mixed ethnic structure.There needs to be this distinction between an anthem for Kurdistan (the diverse region) and an anthem for Kurds (the homogeneous ethnic group)

I am assuming that there will not be a flat “No” answer, but rather something like “Yes I understand, BUT… "

But there is only one humanely right answer.

If you are thinking that Ey Reqib should still be the national anthem of Kurdistan (whether as the federal region, or the independent state), then I beg you to consider this: If you are old enough to remember the Baath Regime in Iraq and the then-Iraqi national anthem – I remember singing it in school, though not its connotations – How did you like it when you heard the anthem glorifying the “Arab land” and its “Arab headscarf” and how the “Arab sands” kindled a “revolution”?

If your answer is that you did not hate it and believed it was okay because it was the national anthem, then you were either too young to know, like I was, or too busy to be worrying about it for whatever reason, or you were simply, by today's nationalist standards, a fake Kurd, a traitor, a jash (like people used to refer to Kurds who worked with the Arab Iraqi governments) 

And if you hated it and yet still want Ey Reqib to remain as the anthem of Kurdistan then you are doing nothing different from what Saddam Hussein and the repressive governments of Iraq, Turkey and Iran did – and may be still doing – to Kurds for decades. You have taken the exact same steps.

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