Introduction

Not all will know these poets; know these voices, their lives, their pens and papers that reflect the resistance and rebellion of their people. Or voices that look back on that history with images needed in the present, needed if the lives of the living must change.

The story of resistance is also a story of defeat, of years and years silenced by the force of power. But even in these years, also in their years of imprisonment, the poets often find a way. A way of giving life to things that seemed to have gone. A world of words which seems so far away, on themes and history which to power seem irrelevant in its oppression of the day. And then, on another day, it will all be said again in voices clear and fearless.
 
Resistance will continue. It will live and die and grow and fall as long as life itself. Also in Kurdistan.
 

Five poems and one song from Kurdistan

Contents

Sherko Bekas:  Separation

Nazand Begikhani:  An ordinary day

Seyde Cigerxwîn:  Who am I?

Ey Raqîb:  Anthem of Kurdistan

 

Sherko Bekas and Nazand Begikhani are poets of a people whose language and culture have suffered under constant persecution. Poets who have been in exile and some who have returned.

With the break up the Ottoman Empire after World War 1, an agreement was signed on establishing an independent Kurdistan under Article 64 of the Treaty of Sèvres (1920). The treaty was never ratified and the autonomy clause was eliminated in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).There was no longer any reference to the Kurdish people. They were divided, written off and isolated by the colonial borders of Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Sherko Bekas joined the Kurdish liberation movement in 1965 and worked in the movement’s radio station, the Voice of Kurdistan, living for some years with the peshmergas, the freedom fighters of the land. He left his land and lived in exile. In 1992 he returned to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Nazand Begikhani, born in 1964 lives still in exile. It is often rational and good to flee the inhumanity of power. Some stay away and repress and forget their past. Others stay away but have never forgotten. They work and make clear the profile of the power. And some day, they may again return.

Sherko Bekas: Separation

 

If from my poems
You wrench away the flower.
From the four seasons of my poetry
One of my seasons will die.

If you exclude love
Two of my seasons will die.

If you exclude bread
Three of my seasons will die.

And if you take away freedom
All four seasons and I will die.

Stormtide

The tide said to the fisherman:
There are many reasons
why my waves are in a rage.

The most important is
that I am for the freedom of the fish

and against
the net

Seeds

We were millions
we were old trees
newly growing plants
and seeds.

From the helmet of Ankara
they came at dawn
they uprooted us
they took us away
far away.

On the way the heads of
many old trees drooped
many new plants died in the cold
many seeds were trampled under foot
lost and forgotten

We grew thin like the summer river
we diminished like flocks of birds
towards the time of autumn
we diminished to mere thousands

We had seeds
carried back by the wind
they reached the thirsty mountains again
they hid inside rock clefts
the first rain
the second rain
the third rain
they grew again

Now again we are a forest
we are millions
we are seeds
plants
and old trees
the old helmet died!

And now you the new helmet
why have you put the head of the spear
under your chin?
Can you finish us off?

But I know
and you know
as long as there is a seed
for the rain and the wind
this forest will never end?
 

Nazand Begikhani:  An ordinary day

The security officer
got up early
put on his white shirt
had honey toast with nuts
kissed his three children
hugged his wife passionately
and left for work

At his desk
sat ten files
of ten men to be shot
He signed them
while drinking mint tea

At ten o’clock
he ordered the shooting
got angry over a gunman who missed his target
Taking out his pistol
he fired at the missed target ten times

Before the end of his shift
he visited the mothers of the ten shot men
ordered each to pay 100 dinars
for the cost of the bullets that killed their sons

In the evening
he celebrated his brother’s birthday

At night
on the surface of a mirror
he saw a drop of blood trickling down to his feet
he tried to wash it
the trickle rose to his chest

Where does the difference lie between the killer and killed?

 

Let us turn to Seyde Cigerxwîn who could not return to his land. It was only after his death that he could do so. He sings of the past and of the future and of its dream. He sings of Kurdistan, of the victories of its history, of its defeat and pain. He sings and sings for the recreation of his land "despite centuries of suppression /in a country by force divided".
 

Seyde Cigerxwîn:  Who am I?
 

Who am I, you ask?
The Kurd of Kurdistan,
a lively volcano,
fire and dynamite
in the face of enemy.
When furious,
I shake the mountains,
the sparks of my anger
are death to my foes.
Who am I?

I am in the east,
forts and castles
towns and hamlets,
rocks and boulders,
What irony, what a shameful day !
A slave I am now for blood suckers
yet I saved the Middle East
from the Romans and the crusaders.
Who am I?

Ask the Near East
Ask the Middle East,
villages and towns,
plains and deserts.
They were once all mine,
when by war and knowledge
I defeated rivals
to become crowned over an empire
stretching to the borders of India.
Who am I?

I am the proud Kurd,
the enemies’ enemy,
the friend of peace-loving ones.
I am of noble race,
not wild as they claim.
My mighty ancestors
were free people.
Like them I want to be free
and that is why I fight
for the enemy won’t leave in peace
and I don’t want to be forever oppressed.
Who am I?

I shall free my land
from the tyrants
from the corrupt Shah and Mollas,
from the Turkish juntas
so we may live free
like other nations,
so my gardens and meadows
are mine again;
So I can join the struggle
for the good of mankind.
Who am I?

It was I who defeated
Richard Lionheart
My own blood I shed
to defend these regions.
A thorn I was in my enemies’ side
in my shadow lived the Arabs, Turks and Persians
many a king held my horse’s head.
Yes I am the warrior
 I am Saladin
the King of Egypt, Syria and Israel.
Who am I?

I am Ardashir,
I am Noshi Rawan.
In the ancient days
rivals feared my Caesars
regretted my animosity.
I knew no fright;
in love with adventure
from India to Greece
they paid me tribute.
Who am I?

Yes, I am the Kurd
the Kurd of Kurdistan
who is poor and oppressed today.
My castles and forts
are now demolished;
my name and my fame
swindled by my assailants,
those who set germs into my body
to paralyze my existence
making a nameless soul of me;
a nation with no friends.
Who am I?

I am the one who despite it all
remains the unyielding Kurd
still formidable to the enemy.
The smell of dynamite is again in my nostrils
and in my heart the strong desire to erupt.
I am the fighting valiant of mountains
who is not in love with death
but for the sake of life and freedom
he sacrifices himself
so that the land of his ancestors,
the invincible Medes,
his beloved Kurdistan, may become unchained.
Who am I?

One of my ancestors was the Blacksmith Kawa
who slayed Dahak, the notorious tyrant
to break off chains from Kurdish shoulders
and save many heads from the sword and death.
The day his vicious reign ended
was called Newroz, the New Day.
When Newroz comes winter departs
taking with it the dark harsh times
to make place for light and warmth.
This is the time, as Zoroaster says
the evil spirit Ahriman is defeated
at the hand of Ormazd, the god of wisdom and light.
Who am I?

I am the maker of Newroz;
again I shall become my own master,
the ruler of my land
so I may enjoy the fruits of my orchards,
relish the sacred wines of my vineyards
and put an end to a dark era
by seeking salvation in knowledge and science;
I shall make another new day
and breathe the pure air of the liberty.
Who am I?

I am Kordokh, the good old Khaldew;
I am Mitan; Nayri and Sobar;
the son of Lo Lo; Kardok and Kodi;
I am the Mede, the Gosh, Hori and Gudi;
I am the Kurmanc, Kelhor; Lor and Gor;
yes, I have always been and remain the Kurd.
Despite centuries of suppression
in a country by force divided.
Who am I?

I am the son of Lor, Kelhor and Kurmanc
who have lost crown and reign
to become powerless,
betrayed in the name of religion
to carry rosaries in their hands
duped by the rulers,
deprived of might and wealth,
fighting each other, divided and torn
while my oppressed Kurdistan,
my wretched Kurdistan
remains repressed.
Who am I?

The son of the Kurdish nation
awaken from deep sleep,
marching forward,
proud as a lion
wanting the whole world to know;
I shall struggle and continue the path to freedom;
I shall learn from great men
Like Marx and Lenin.
I make a vow to my ancestors,
to Salar, Shergo and Deysem,
that this of mine will remain vigorous, unyielding, stronger than death.
Let it be known
I announce with no fear;
Liberty is my goal;
I shall advance in this path.
Who am I?

I am not blood thirsty,
no, I adore peace.
Noble were my ancestors,
sincere are my leaders.
We don’t ask for war but demand equality
but our enemies are the ones who betray and lie.
Friendship I seek and offer my hands
to all friendly nations.
Long live Kurdistan;
death to the oppressor!
 
Cigerxwîn ("The bleeding heart") is a pseudonym for Sheikmous Hasan. He came from northern Kurdistan, born in 1901 or 1903 in the village of Hesar close to the city of Mardin, at that time within the Ottoman Empire. In 1914, with the beginning of World War 1, his family became refugees and fled to Amude near the city of Qamishli in present-day north-eastern Syria.

Seyde Cigerxwîn studied theology and became a cleric in 1921. In 1948 he joined the Communist Party of Syria and became a candidate for parliament in 1954. He left the party in 1957 to create the Azadî (Freedom) organization. Later, this new party was united with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria. He was arrested and jailed in Damascus in 1963 and exiled to the city of Siweyda. In 1969 he moved to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he took part in the uprising. In 1973 he fled to Lebanon where he published the collection Kîme Elishedz? (Who Am I?). And that is where this poem is from.

There are many names here. Richard Lionheart and Saladin and Medes and Ardashir and the Shah of Persia, the blacksmith Kawa and Marx and Zoroaster and many, many more. A reader can go to a lexicon and find them all explained. But even without doing so the poem is deeply moving. It moves with the movement of history and of the people from the past to our own time and into a future that may or may not be.

 In 1976, Seyde Cigerxwîn returned to Syria, but three years later, at the age of 75 or 76, he had to flee again. To Sweden where many collections of his poems were published. At 80 or 81, Seyde Cigerxwîn passed away. He was brought back to Kurdistan, to his home in Qamishli. And there, he still is with us.
 

Ey Raqîb:   Anthem of Kurdistan

Ey raqîb her mawe qewmî Kurd ziman,
Nay sikên danery topî zeman
Kes nelê Kurd mirduwe
Kurd zîn duwe,
Zîn duwe qet nanewê alakeman

Hey enemy, the Kurdish nation is alive with its language
Can not be defeated by the weapons of any time
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are living
Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

We, the youth are the red colour of the revolution
Watch our blood that we shed on this way
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are living
Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

We are the children of Medya and Keyhusrew
Both our faith and religion are our homeland
Both our faith and religion are Kurd and Kurdistan
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are living
Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

The Kurdish youth have risen like lions
To adorn the crown of life with blood
Let no one say Kurds are dead
Kurds are living
Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

The Kurdish youth are ever present and
Forever will be ready to sacrifice their lives
Sacrifice each life they have, each life they have
 

Lawî Kurdî hazir û amadeye,
Giyan fîdan e, giyan fîda her giyan fîda,
Giyan fîdan e, giyan fîda her giyan fîda

This song is not the last song of the people: they sing and will sing on as the people of a forbidden nation.

Ey Reqiîb is a national anthem of Kurdistan. Written by the Kurdish poet Yonis Reuf, also called Dildar. Yonis Reuf was born in 1917 in the city of Koye. After finishing school in Kirkuk, he moved to Baghdad and here he studied law. Ey Reqîb was written in 1938. At that time, he was in jail in the Kurdistan province of Iran. 
 
Ey Reqib means literally "hey guard", but the title is more often translated as "hey enemy". It has become the song of the Partiya Karkarén Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). We know that in Turkey, the rights of the Kurdish people have been denied. Their language and culture suffer under constant state persecution.

This time must end. The people must gain their right to be themselves. To speak and to write and to work and to sing their own song. 
 

Bibliography

Sherko Berkas, The Secret Diary of a Rose: A Journey Through Poetic Kurdistan. Translated by Reingard and Shirwan Mirza. Revised by Luise Von Flotow. Ashti Bibani 1997.

Nazand Begikhani, Bells of Speech. Ambit Books, London, 2006.

Seyde Cigerxwîn, Who Am I? (Kîme Ez?). Translated by Shahîn Bekir Sorekli. www.antoloji.com

Yonis Reuf, Ey Raqîb. Song to the enemy. en.kurdland.com/history

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