The Kurdish writer Burhan Sönmez is one of the most exciting, innovative voices in Turkish and Kurdish literature today. He is author of five award-winning novels and president of PEN International, an international writers’ organization committed to the freedom of expression, collaboration between writers around the world and literature as an intercultural binding agent.

Already for those reasons, an interview with Burhan Sönmez is a revelation.

“Harvard Review” managed to publish an interview with Sönmez on their university platform. He testifies about the various aspects that have shaped him as a writer and a poet. To clarify the title of the interview, we quote below some of Sönmez’s most remarkable statements.

“… This sense of a dual reality—of the outer and inner, the world and the imagination—was also informed by the linguistic fracturing of my childhood. In the village, we spoke and thought in Kurdish, but this language was forbidden from use in public life, so we had to learn and study Turkish. Thus, Turkish became the language of reality—of our comings and goings in the marketplace and schools and workplaces—while Kurdish, with our village stories and legends and songs, served as a kind of language of imagination. That sense of double existence guided my later pen strokes.”

At the interviewer’s question “Even though you connect your native Kurdish language to the life of the imagination—to your own beginnings as a storyteller—you write primarily in Turkish. Have you considered writing more in Kurdish?“, Sönmez answers:

Writing in Turkish was not my choice. For people like me who were raised in Turkey, it was the only option to read, to work, to socialize. We didn’t have an education in Kurdish, and there weren’t any opportunities available. For example, we didn’t see any Kurdish books in our schools. Around the time I completed university studies and began my legal career, Kurdish books became legally available in Turkey, but it was still not easy to find them. There wasn’t yet the same kind of literary infrastructure available for this market. The Kurdish diaspora around the world had different opportunities, where Kurdish intellectuals focused on the cultivation and preservation of Kurdish language and literature. Now, the situation, thankfully, is changing. We have a few Kurdish publishing houses in Turkey, and a new generation of young Kurdish writers are publishing with greater frequency and success. Kurdish has been the language of imagination for me, so a part of my hope is to eventually write a book in my native Kurdish. This will be a dream come true, and I hope to tackle it soon.”

We invite you to read the full interview via the platform of Harvard Review.

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