Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey: The Politics and Aesthetics of Identity and Resistance 1443897981, 9781443897983, 9781443857161

Without a doubt, this decade's most discussed and developed documentary productions in Turkey come from Kurdistan,

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Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey: The Politics and Aesthetics of Identity and Resistance
 1443897981, 9781443897983, 9781443857161

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII

Citation preview

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey The Politics and Aesthetics of Identity and Resistance Edited by

Suncem Koçer and Can Candan

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey: The Politics and Aesthetics of Identity and Resistance Edited by Suncem Koçer and Can Candan This book first published 2016 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2016 by Suncem Koçer, Can Candan and contributors Cover Image © Zehra Güzel All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-9798-1 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9798-3


List of Illustrations .................................................................................... vii Introduction .............................................................................................. viii Suncem Koçer and Can Candan Chapter I ...................................................................................................... 1 Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview Can Candan Chapter II ................................................................................................... 33 Speaking Truth, Recording Reality in Kurdish: An Inquiry into the Formal Politics of Kurdish-Language Documentary Films Ali Fuat ùengül Chapter III ................................................................................................. 51 Echoes of the Past: The Politics of Truth in the Talking Witness Documentary Louise Spence (with Asl Kotaman Avc) Chapter IV ................................................................................................. 70 The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey Özgür Çiçek Chapter V .................................................................................................. 86 Kurdish Films in Turkey: Claims of Truth-Telling and Convergences between Fiction and Non-Fiction Ayça Çiftçi Chapter VI ............................................................................................... 112 Negotiating Clashing Truths: Critical Responses to the Observational Documentary Mode in On the Way to School Zeynep Yaúar


Table of Contents

Chapter VII .............................................................................................. 131 Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed / Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldn): An Example of Domestic Ethnography Suncem Koçer Chapter VIII ............................................................................................ 140 Regarding North: Bakur and the Crystallization of Cinematic Censorship in Turkey Josh Carney Chapter IX ............................................................................................... 165 Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema: The Case of Kazim Öz’s Demsala Dawî: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks) Suncem Koçer Chapter X ................................................................................................ 191 Conflict and Resistance on Screen: On the Films of Halil Da÷ Kevin Smets and Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya Chapter XI ............................................................................................... 209 Kurdish Documentary Activism as a Means of Existence Nagehan Uskan Selvelli Chapter XII .............................................................................................. 230 The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema at the 17th Visible Evidence Conference (with a critical introduction by Alisa Lebow) Contributors ............................................................................................. 261 Filmography ............................................................................................ 265


Fig. 2-1 Besna makes her first eye contact with the camera. Fig. 2-2 The opening frame of Min Rast‫ ۺ‬Niv‫ۺ‬sand. Fig. 2-3 A second camera recording Tektaú’s notebook. Fig. 2-4 Tektaú’s handwriting in close-up. Fig. 7-1 The Makhmur Refugee Camp. Fig. 7-2 Mizgin Müjde Arslan with her father’s adopted daughter in Makhmur. Fig. 10-1 Da÷’s portrait in a Kurdish community center in Dalston, London (UK). Fig. 12-1 The Visible Evidence Plenary Panel, Bo÷aziçi University, Istanbul, August 11, 2010. Fig. 12-2 Poster of 38. Fig. 12-3 Poster of 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84). Fig. 12-4 Poster of Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy). Fig. 12-5 Poster of Demsala Dawî: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks).


Without doubt, this decade’s most elaborated and developed documentary production in Turkey comes from Kurdistan, a name that provokes nationalist panic in Turkey, yet delineates distinct cultural, linguistic, and political boundaries, nonetheless. Documentary film production by Kurdish filmmakers of Turkey determines the major tendencies of this emergent genre of Kurdish documentary cinema. Kurds have an approximate total population of over thirty million in Kurdistan as a whole. About twenty million Kurds live in Turkey, and about twenty percent of this population resides in Istanbul. Today, Istanbul is known as the largest Kurdish city in the world. Kurdish cultural production in Turkey has long been entangled with the Turkish state’s oppressive policies towards non-Turkish populations, several Kurdish rebellions throughout the Republic’s history, the war between the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan/Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the Turkish military forces since the mid-1980s, and the torrid international contexts of the Middle East. This volume was written in 2016, at a time when, unfortunately, the conflict between Kurds and the Turkish state had escalated after a period of hope when a peaceful future seemed not so distant. Such documentary film production by Kurdish filmmakers provides a vantage point not only on the current cultural and political dynamics, but especially on the historical context that circumscribes the “Kurdish issue” in Turkey. Detailing seemingly unending state crimes against civilians of the region, the subject matters of Kurdish documentaries range widely, including the absurdities of the Turkish national education system, Kurdish nomads and pastoralism as an expiring subsistence method, and the memoirs of torture narrated by Kurdish political prisoners of the 1980 coup. There is great diversity not only in the subject matters, but also in the aesthetic and stylistic tendencies within this proliferating body of work, as the filmmakers come from various backgrounds, express different social and political orientations, and embody multiple approaches to documentary practice. Nevertheless, many of these documentary productions

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey


are geared towards cultivating experiences and narratives that have historically been either ignored or precluded by the official and hegemonic constructions of identity, history, and culture in Turkey. Since its launch, the Turkish nation-state has sought to subsume its Kurdish subjects both practically and discursively in its construct of the Turkish nation through the project of ethnic homogeneity and modernization. Kurdish history has been shaped by resistance on several fronts to this nationalization project. With the increasing access to first, video and, later, digital technologies, and due to the emergent modes of transnational culture movements in a post-colonial world, media production has emerged as a significant platform for cultural preservation and for raising political awareness and dissent. The documentary form, then, has come to constitute a productive site for Kurdish media and culture producers through which they contest official histories, hegemonic identities, and the dominant constructions of Kurdishness against a backdrop of dynamic national, local, and transnational contexts. While the documentary genre, with its seemingly transparent and direct relationship to reality has provided Kurdish media producers with tools to breach and reconstruct dominant codes of identity and history, its canonical conventions, such as the epistemological hierarchy between who is behind, and who is in front, of the camera has arguably overshadowed the practice of recreating meanings of Kurdishness as well as the continuing discussions around Kurdish documentaries. The burgeoning of documentary media productions revolving around Kurds and the Kurdish issue in Turkey has stimulated a scholarly interest in interrogating the intersections between history and memory, identity and nation, and mainstream representations and counter-narratives through close readings of these documentary texts and/or the study of their production, circulation, and reception. Approaching Kurdish media as a transnational field of cultural production, this edited volume sets out to bring together this recent academic interest in Kurdish documentary filmmaking, especially in Turkey. Why do Kurdish cultural activists consider the documentary genre a productive vantage point from which to re-signify history, identity, and culture? In what ways do Kurdish documentary films question hegemonic representations of Kurdishness, national ideologies that create these representations, and such historical constructs of nation and borders as well as reality and truth? What are some of the problems, opportunities, and limitations inherent in this endeavor of refashioning representations of Kurdishness through documentary practice? What are some of the aesthetic and stylistic inclinations of this emergent genre, which is highly saturated by social and political discourse around Kurds and Turkey? This volume is designed to



tackle some of these critical questions and issues, and open the ground for further discussion. The questions above need to be prefaced by somewhat larger and more definitive other questions, one of which is what a Kurdish (documentary) film is. This primary question is symbiotically related to the historical, political, and social context from which Kurdish cultural production has flourished. Kurds, as a transnational people without a nation-state of their own, have engaged in cinema productions (just like productions in other areas of arts and culture) as part of their political existence within multiple nation-states, which separate them as a people and subject them to a variety of assimilation policies, to say the least. It is no easy task to answer the question of what defines a Kurdish film, as neither academics nor practitioners themselves have reached a consensus on the canonical conventions of the genre. A more productive approach is perhaps to focus the endeavor of defining a Kurdish film, including Kurdish documentary film, and Kurdish cinema as a genre, on the debates and discussions themselves in addition to the characteristics of the films. Why does the Kurdish language become a significant defining point despite the fact that Kurds live within borders of multiple nation-states and often speak diverse languages? Or, in what ways are the concepts of authenticity, reality, and history opened up to discussion in films and through the discourse around films? How is censorship discussed in relation to Kurdish films? Paying attention to such discourses paints a more complete and more dynamic picture about Kurdish documentary cinema, which cannot be considered in isolation from its current and historical political and social contexts. From this perspective, a focus on Kurdish documentary productions in/from Turkey seems inevitable, not only due to the increasing production in Turkey within the last couple of decades, but also due to the dynamic discourse around Kurdish documentary cinema in Turkey. The chapters in this volume illustrate such discourses as they delve into analyses of particular documentaries in various contexts. Cinema productions by and about Kurds offer a unique opportunity for a nuanced understanding of national cinema. The larger body of films, fiction and non-fiction which has been named Kurdish cinema complicates the category of national cinema, a concept discussed heatedly within cinema studies literature. Documentary film is proving to be a particularly complex tool for the Kurdish social and political existence, as Kurds lack the official tools of history-writing and cultural preservation that are categorically associated with the capacities of a state. Overlooking aesthetics and style for a focus on the political nature of these productions, however, would be shortsighted, as Kurdish documentary filmmaking

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey


blends contemporary art forms and muddles the ever-shifting lines between art and politics and the political and the personal. Furthermore, by delving into Kurdish documentary films as products of complex societal, political, and historical processes, the articles in this volume highlight the intersections of media production, film text, and audience reception, and they expand on vibrant debates in the field of film and media studies through situated case studies. Bringing these chapters together, we hope to stimulate academic discussion around this emergent and lively genre of documentary film production and encourage further research and publication. Following this introduction, the volume starts with a chapter that situates Kurdish documentary filmmaking within the history and politics of documentary cinema in Turkey. In doing so, Can Candan traces the origins of Kurdish documentary filmmaking in Turkey by focusing not only on documentary filmmakers and institutions, but also on themes and modes prevalent in Kurdish documentaries. The following two chapters trace the depiction of truth and the politics of reality evident in many Kurdish documentaries. While Ali Fuat ùengül’s discussion revolves around what constitutes reality and its relevance to the claims to truth in Kurdish documentaries, Louise Spence focuses her discussion on 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr.5: 1980-84, Çayan Demirel, 2009) as a case study and considers the opportunities and limitations of the talking witness form, as well as its manifold appeals. In her piece, Özgür Çiçek continues where ùengül and Spence leave off. She coins the concept of the fictive archive in describing the relationship between Kurdish cinema and historical reality. The following two articles pay particular attention to the circulation and reception dynamics of Kurdish documentaries. Ayça Çiftçi argues that Kurdish films are inevitably received with reference to reality beyond the intentions of the filmmakers. “How real the story of this film is,” Çiftçi notes, is a question that arises from the political conflicts around the Kurdish issue, and comes with Kurdish films, both fiction and non-fiction. In the piece following Çiftçi’s, Zeynep Yaúar analyses the critical reception of the documentary, øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School, Orhan Eskiköy and Özgür Do÷an, 2008), by focusing particularly on the discourse around the political discussions this film has stimulated. In the following chapter, focusing on Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed/Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldn, Mizgin Müjde Arslan, 2012) as an example of domestic ethnography, Suncem Koçer explores the ways in which the actual process of production turns into a process of discovery in which the



filmmaker cultivates her identity against a backdrop of both official ideologies and counter histories. The next two chapters delve into a symbiotic aspect of producing and circulating Kurdish films in Turkey, namely censorship. Josh Carney traces the journey of Bakur (North/Kuzey, Çayan Demirel and Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu, 2015), a recent documentary that deals with Kurdish guerillas’ withdrawal from eastern Turkey as part of the peace process. This journey has been bound with nothing but the circuits of censorship in Turkish film culture. Carney documents the case of Bakur (North) and presents that case as a window on cultures of censorship which have lately become more visible and have swallowed film festivals, rating system, and the state funding agencies. Suncem Koçer, on the other hand, argues that, as much as it is binding for agents, censorship is also a discursive formulation by which Kurdish filmmakers harness transnational publics. Based on long-term ethnographic research with the production team of Demsala Dawî: ùewaxan (Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim: ùavaklar, Kazim Öz, 2009), Koçer documents the active process of public making by Kazim Öz, a renowned Kurdish filmmaker from Turkey, at international film festivals. In the following two chapters, Nagehan Uskan Selvelli asks what the documentary camera accomplishes for Kurdish collectivity by simply “being there,” whereas Kevin Smets and Hamdi Akkaya delve into the documentary work Halil Da÷ produced while fighting for the PKK in the mountains. Ranging from activist documentary videos, to transnational productions, to films by a Kurdish guerrilla, the authors of this volume work with a diverse set of texts to discuss Kurdish documentary filmmaking in Turkey. Presented with a critical introduction by Alisa Lebow, the final chapter consists of the transcript of the plenary session on Kurdish documentary cinema that was held during the 2010 Visible Evidence Conference in Istanbul. In that session, Kazim Öz, Mizgin Müjde Arslan, and Çayan Demirel, three of the directors whose works are discussed in this volume, elaborated on their documentary practice and politics. With that final chapter the volume is concluded with the narratives of the filmmakers themselves. Encouraged by Kazim Öz’s statement at the discussion panel mentioned above that academia has not paid attention to Kurdish Documentary Cinema, this volume is an attempt at bringing together academic scholarship on this topic, making this form of cultural production visible, hoping to encourage others to join in the discussion around Kurdish documentary cinema, and hopefully not only encouraging further scholarship, but also production. It is our greatest hope that this

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volume will be translated into Kurdish and Turkish in the near future to make it accessible to non-English speakers.

Note Since we are writing in English about a cinema that is inherently bilingual (Kurdish and Turkish), we have felt the necessity to give proper reference to film titles. Hence, we have decided to use the following format when a film is introduced in text for the first time: Original title (either in Kurdish or Turkish), then English title and Turkish title if available, then director’s name and year of release. For example: Dûr (Distant/Uzak, Kazim Öz, 2004).

Acknowledgement We would like to thank Alisa Lebow for her encouragement, support, and advice since the beginning of this book project. We would also like to thank Anthony Pavlik for his meticulous copy-editing work for this volume.


This chapter attempts to situate Kurdish documentary filmmaking within the history and politics of documentary cinema in Turkey by giving an historical overview. The main emphasis will be on the last two decades, when Kurds in Turkey have become their own storytellers, bringing new voices, perspectives, and challenges to the documentary cinema of Turkey. Focusing on the films, the filmmakers, the institutions, as well as the audiences, both in Turkey and in the transnational Kurdish diaspora, the chapter briefly analyzes the contexts within which these films were produced. By situating Kurdish documentary filmmaking within the history of documentary cinema in Turkey, this chapter aims to identify a documentary practice and heritage which is fertile ground for self/cultural expression in resistance and in constant interaction with other filmmakers in the region and in the diaspora. As in any historiography, this work is incomplete and intended to be a brief introductory survey.

Where are the Kurds in Documentary Cinema? Today, it is estimated that Kurds have a total population of approximately thirty million in Kurdistan as a whole, a few million in the diaspora, and approximately fifteen million living in Turkey.1 Although Kurds have been living in this part of the world for millennia, and have been the subjects of documentary filmmaking for over a century, they have been rendered invisible in documentary cinema in Turkey until very recently. This is not surprising given the fact that expressions of Kurdish identity, including language (education in Kurdish) and culture (music, literature, theater, film) have long been suppressed by the Turkish state.


Chapter I

The earliest moving images in the Ottoman Empire were recorded on film in 1897 by Alexandre Promio, a traveling Lumiere cameraman.2 This means that the history of documentary cinema in Turkey has been being written for almost 120 years. When Promio was filming the Ottoman Army parade and the scenes at the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Kurds, as one of the ancient peoples who had been living in the Mesopotamia region for millennia, were one of the many ethnic groups that made up this Empire. Before World War I, starting in 1905, the Manaki Brothers in the Balkans were not only filming their family and traditional life, but also the visits of the Ottoman Sultan, who was trying to keep the Empire together. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire saw the division of Kurdistan, literally the land of the Kurds, into four regions, each controlled by another state: Bakur/North Kurdistan (Turkey), Baúûr/South Kurdistan (Iraq), Rojava/West Kurdistan (Syria), and Rojhilat/East Kurdistan (Iran). When the borders of the modern Turkish Republic were defined by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, a mono-ethnic Turkish nation-state was established, and Kurds became the largest ethnic minority living within these political borders, although without receiving the official recognition given to the non-Muslim ethnic identities, such as the Armenians, Greeks, and Jews in Turkey. Upon its foundation, all people living within the borders of the nation-state of Turkey were declared to be Turkish, and any claims of a separate ethnic identity, let alone autonomy or selfdetermination, were severely suppressed. This meant the denial of the right to education and cultural expression (music, literature, theater, film, etc.) in any language other than Turkish, and bloody suppressions of revolts by the Turkish Army (Güneú and Zeydanlo÷lu 2014). When Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) was filmed, the American filmmakers (Cooper, Schoedsack, and Harrison) traveled eastward from Ankara (Angora, as spelled on the map in the film) through Anatolia to find the “forgotten people in the East,” the nomadic Bakhtyari tribe in Southern Iran, who were on a “great migration following the sun from the East to the West.” 3 Although not specified in the film, they probably encountered and filmed Kurds on their journey through Mesopotamia.4 Güneú and Zeydanlo÷lu (2014) call attention to the colonization of Kurds in Turkey and the construction of a ‘Turkish’ Anatolia: The policy of annihilating the ethnic identity of a large section of the society has meant that the Kurdish regions have been and continue to be ruled under emergency rule, or like an ‘internal colony’, for the majority of the modern history of Turkey. In order to legitimize these policies, ideological and ‘scientific’ justifications have had to be manufactured.

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


Accordingly, a new glorious national history was written in the 1930s that also ‘proved’ that Kurds were indeed Turks. Thus, ‘studying’ and ‘knowing’ the ‘East’ went hand in hand with its cultural and linguistic colonization. These ‘scientific’ race theories justified the ‘Turkishness’ of Anatolia, the greatness of the Turks as a ‘civilizing race’, and the turkification of Kurds. (10)

When we look at Istanbul University Film Center’s “Anatolian Epic” documentaries of 1956 onwards, there is no mention of Kurds living anywhere in Anatolia, as Anatolia is defined as a region populated by Turks, who carry on the traditions of ancient peoples of the land from the Hittites to the Ottomans. For example, in Nemrut Tanrlar (The Gods of Nemrut, Sabahattin Eyubo÷lu and Aziz Albek, 1964), on the way to the archaeological remains on Mount Nemrut in Southern Anatolia, the film takes us to Kâhta (Kurdish name: Kolîk) and later to Horik village, mostly populated by Kurds without mentioning anything that has to do with the Kurds.5 This omission and erasure through documentary is, of course, not only the fate of the Kurds. In a similar vein, in another “Anatolian Epic” documentary from the same center, Do÷u Anadolu’da Bir Dünya Tapna÷: Ahtamar (A World Temple in Eastern Anatolia: Ahtamar, Mazhar ùevket øpúiro÷lu and Adnan Benk, 1959) about the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on Aghtamar island, there is no mention of its Armenian heritage. Even the name of the island has been further turkified since then: Armenian “Aghtamar” has officially become Turkish “Akdamar.” Through state controlled education, media, and broadcasting (newspaper, radio, television) and its centralized institutions, the Turkish state continued with its policies of denial and cultural assimilation and turkification. After 1960, things begin to change, and challenges to this state policy became visible. This could be seen as the beginnings of a political struggle for collective cultural identity, independence, and autonomy by the Kurds: The limited freedoms allowed by the democratic regime instituted with the 1960 constitution made room for oppressed voices to be heard and political opposition to harness its struggle. The Kurds were able to express some of their demands and concerns. Consequently the 1960s witnessed the proliferation of Kurdish cultural activities leading to an increase in discussion of the Kurdish question. (Güneú and Zeydanlo÷lu 2014: 2)

In this post 1960 period, Genç Sinema (the Young Cinema movement of 1968-1970) could be seen as the first attempt to establish an independent documentary cinema in Turkey. In 1968, in the first issue of


Chapter I

their publication Devrimci Sinema (Revolutionary Cinema), the Genç Sinema filmmakers were advocating a revolutionary independent cinema for the people, where the emphasis was on organizing as a cinema movement outside of the film industry, making 8mm. and 16mm. films about real people and real issues of the day, creating audiences, and taking their films to the people. This was to be an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal national front in cinema (Ufuk 1996). Even though numerous Kurdish publications, including magazines and books were published in this period, the Kurdish question was not reflected in Genç Sinema’s revolutionary agenda, and a unified working class was emphasized as a homogeneous entity, deprived of its heterogeneous histories.6 The successive military coups in 1971 and 1980, not only stifled opposition and free cultural expression, but also saw the development of a Kurdish consciousness and liberation movement in resistance. In the decades to come, this would also have its effects on cinema in general, and on documentary cinema in particular. While Kurds did not exist as specified subjects in documentary cinema, Ylmaz Güney, the world renowned Kurdish maker of fictional films, introduced the viewer to ethnically unspecified “Eastern” villagers with Kurdish names (for example Sirvan and Berivan) in Sürü (The Herd, 1979), directed by Zeki Ökten while Güney was in prison.7 Although the main dialogue is in Turkish, Kurdish klams (ballads) are heard in the soundtrack, and side characters do speak Kurdish. This film is noteworthy for its scenes shot on location in North Kurdistan (the Turkish part of Kurdistan) that read as ethnographic documentary scenes, recording on celluloid Kurdish rural life during the 1970s. The feature fiction film Yol (The Road, ùerif Gören, 1982), based on a script and directions by Güney while in prison, is a seminal film in the history of Kurdish Cinema. It was premiered at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, where it received the Palme d'Or prize and was promptly banned in Turkey. Despite the ban in Turkey, it was distributed abroad, and helped Güney become the first internationally known Turkish director and scriptwriter. It was in the late 80s, in the United States, when I was able to see this film at a local art house movie theater for the first time. The film takes place in the immediate aftermath of the 1980 coup in Turkey and tells the story of five convicts on furlough, temporarily released from a prison in the West during the short “bayram” holiday.8 They have to travel far to visit their families in the East and return back to the prison on time. When one of the protagonists arrives in Diyarbakr, the regional Kurdish capital, the word “Kurdistan” as a superimposed title appears. This was a very radical and visible self-assertion at a time when Kurdish language,

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


literature, music, broadcasting, etc. was banned in Turkey. Yol (The Road) remained banned in Turkey until 1999, even after Güney’s premature death in exile in France in 1983, and when the ban was lifted, the superimposed title “Kurdistan” was omitted in the restored Turkish version. Albeit not completely free of restraint, Güney’s fictional films could be seen as first attempts at cultural and political expression of Kurdish identity in cinema in Turkey. But what about documentary cinema? When do we begin to see the emergence of a Kurdish documentary cinema? When do we see the actors of cultural production partaking in Kurdish consciousness and liberation movement, expressing themselves with documentaries? The late 80s and the early 90s was a period when the video revolution was coming to Turkey, first with relatively low quality consumer, prosumer, semi-professional analog video (VHS, Video8, S-VHS, Hi8, Umatic etc.), quickly followed by better quality digital tape-based video (mini-DV, DVCAM, etc.) and desktop editing. This made filmmaking much more accessible and affordable than before and, as in many countries, it became possible to make low budget films independent of the established film and media industries. This saw the emergence of documentaries where identities and experiences, absent from mainstream media representations were expressed for the first time. In a way, a truly independent cinema first envisioned two decades earlier in Turkey by the Genç Sinema Movement, was truly becoming a possibility. Hence, the beginning of Kurdish documentary filmmaking coincides with the birth of an independent documentary cinema in Turkey.

The Mesopotamia Cultural Center’s Cinema Collective The Mesopotamia Cultural Center (Mezopotamya Kültür Merkezi – MKM) was founded in 1991 in Istanbul, historically the main hub of cultural production in Turkey, as a result of the Kurdish consciousness movement in the post-1980 military coup period. Among its founders were Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals such as Musa Anter and øsmail Beúikçi. The stated goal was protecting the cultural heritage and identity of Mesopotamia against the political and cultural assimilation policies of the Turkish state. The MKM became a hub for socialization and alternative education for many young Kurdish people, who had recently begun to identify themselves as politically Kurdish as well. 9 In 1995, Med-TV broadcasting from Europe became the first Kurdish satellite television channel, which provided a televised voice for the Kurds (Ryan 1997). In


Chapter I

1996, film courses were offered at the MKM, with Ahmet Soner and Hüseyin Kuzu being regular instructors, and with Thomas Balkenhol and Enis Rza occasionally joining in. In an interview conducted in 1996, Genç Sinema pioneers talk about the possibilities engendered by the relatively new video technology. 10 Veysi Atayman talks about how video will provide a means of expression within political movements of the day, Enis Rza talks about the importance of video production collectives, and Ahmet Soner talks specifically about his work at the MKM, and how he is trying to pass on his knowledge and experience to others, and how video technology had made this possible: Apart from passing on information, I want people to make films. Making films was difficult in the past. Now, we are able to provide the necessary tools. This is an organization we initiated last year. We provide lights and camera equipment, and help people make their own short films. Hüseyin Kuzu comes and helps us with scriptwriting. It is about to give its fruits. Groups are formed—because we wanted them to work in groups. Each group wrote their script, and we’re going to discuss them. In this set up, there is a diversity of people from various backgrounds. For example, a worker from the local Kadköy Municipality, as well as students from Bogazici University. I am trying to do something, and friends are helping out. So, this is what we do at the MKM...These will certainly have an effect. For example, five movies will come out of the MKM, and the workshops will continue. (Görüntü)

As a result of the film workshops at the MKM, the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective (Kolektîfa Sînema ya Mezopotamya) was established in 1996 with the stated goal of establishing an alternative Kurdish cinema in opposition. 11 Not only did this collective inspire many filmmakers to collectively express themselves in film, it also became a fertile ground from which Kurdish documentary cinema in Turkey was born. Some of the young Kurdish filmmakers, who studied filmmaking there later became well-known and established filmmakers, most notably Kazim Öz, Özkan Küçük, and Hüseyin Karabey. In 1996, a 48 minute documentary, in Kurdish and Turkish, Rengen Bi Keda Destan (Groping for Colors/El Yordamyla Renkler) was made by Kazim Öz, Kadir Sözen, and Özkan Küçük about the founding and activities of the MKM. Another early documentary film of the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective was the 27 minute Destên Me Wê Bibin Bask, Emê Bifirin Herin (Our Hands Will Become Wings, We’ll Fly Away/Ellerimiz Kanat Olacak Uçup Gidece÷iz, Kazim Öz with Dorothie Kiest, et al., 1996). This is a documentary about a migrant Kurdish family who has to leave their home after their village

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


was burned by the Turkish Army and settle in Istanbul. The off-screen interviewer asks for the original Kurdish name of their village after the elderly man states the Turkish name. In Kurdish, he talks about how they felt betrayed by the state: “There was no electricity, no roads, no clean water. We were miserable. When it snowed and covered the roads, we weren’t able to take our sick and women giving birth to a doctor.”12 He also talks about how they were forced to become pro-state village militia.13 Those who refused had to endure mistreatment and torture. His wife talks about how they resisted and continue to do so. In addition to archival footage of villages burning, there is also an interview with a lawyer from the Human Rights Foundation (IHD), who talks about the burning down of villages and the forced evacuations of approximately three thousand villages by the Turkish Army in order to undermine logistic support for the PKK; about three million people having to migrate to metropolitan areas, becoming refugees in their own country, living under dire economic conditions. He also calls for a democratic solution to the “Kurdish problem.” Later, the 23 minute Karkerên Avahiyan (Builders/Yapclar, Özkan Küçük, et al., 1999) followed. This film is about Kurdish construction workers who had had to migrate to Istanbul to find work in the construction of high-rise buildings. At the beginning of the film, one of the laborers talks about the migration process, starting with forced migration from their village, to the major urban center, to the metropolis: “They burnt down whatever we had. We had to migrate to Diyarbakr. There was no work there, we ended up here in exile.” As the daily lives of these men unfold in front of our eyes, we see them waiting on curbs to be picked up as day laborers to work at construction sites; at their temporary makeshift rooms in buildings under construction; cooking, socializing with each other, listening to music, singing in both Kurdish and Turkish, and dancing. They talk to the camera about their work, life in the big city, their hopes and aspirations. This collectively produced short documentary puts a human face on the invisible migrant labor of Kurdish men, trying to make a living for themselves and their families back home by doing precarious and temporary construction work. Em Her Tim Koçberin (We’re Always Migrants/Biz Her Zaman Göçmeniz, Zülfiye Dolu with Nure Demirbaú, Güllü Özalp, 2000) is an 18 minute documentary made collectively with a group of women at the MKM, once again about recent migrants to Istanbul as a result of forced migration, but this time focusing on Kurdish women’s experiences. When asked about the experience of migration, a woman says, “In the past, for us settling on highlands was emigration. Now migrating has become


Chapter I

obligatory and people go far away from their land and do not return.”14 This film is significant as perhaps one of the first examples of Kurdish women expressing themselves through documentary filmmaking. The establishment of the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective by no means meant that the oppression of Kurdish identity and cultural expression had come to an end. In 1999, the televised attack on Ahmet Kaya, a very popular and well-respected Kurdish musician of the period, was etched onto public memory. 15 Kaya was receiving the “Musician of the Year” award at a televised annual music awards ceremony organized by a private television channel. During his acceptance speech, he expressed his intention to include a Kurdish song in his next album, and that he hoped there would be brave producers and broadcasters who would dare to release and broadcast his Kurdish song. Upon hearing Kaya’s statement, the prominent musicians and celebrities at the ceremony began throwing objects, including forks and knives at Kaya, and he had to be ushered out in haste (Aksoy 2010). After this incident, Kaya had to leave his homeland due to death threats and was later given, in abstentia, a three year nine month prison sentence because the Turkish courts deemed that a speech by him at a concert in Berlin included “separatist propaganda.”

The London Kurdish Film Festival The oppression in Turkey made the diaspora a significant site for resistance and cultural affirmation, providing not only a significant site for the exhibition of Kurdish films, but also a hub for interaction and the building of a collective cinema movement. In 2001, the very first Kurdish Film Festival was organized in London and, in the first two years of the festival, there were only Kurdish documentaries from Turkey in the festival’s program.16 The festival’s website had a section entitled “What is Kurdistan?” In 2007, the festival’s founder and coordinator, Mustafa Gündo÷du, talked about that period in an interview conducted in Turkish: “We realized our first festival in 2001. In that festival, there were only a few short films and documentaries. The program had a narrow scope, made up of cinematic works of only Northern Kurds. So was the second festival.”17 The program of the first festival consisted of four documentary films. Adana–Paris (1994) is a 74 minute documentary by Ahmet Soner, the Genç Sinema pioneer, and one of the instructors at the MKM. In this documentary, Soner tells us the life story of his former colleague, Ylmaz Güney, starting from his birthplace, Adana, and ending in Paris, where he is laid to rest while in exile. Good Kurds Bad Kurds: No Friends but the

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


Mountains (Kevin McKiernan, 2000) is a 70 minute American documentary that could be seen as a journalistic effort to introduce Kurds and their plight to the American public. 18 It is centered on a Kurdish family who had to migrate to the USA, and it tells the story for survival for Kurds in the post-Gulf War period. Ret 1111 (Refusal 1111, Cüneyt ùekerci and Hasan Çimen, 2001) is a 22 minute documentary about conscientious objectors to conscription into the Turkish army. It takes its name from law number 1111, which states that every male Turkish citizen is required to serve in the army. The film tells the short history of the conscientious objection movement in Turkey and in the World, and it includes interviews with activists. Sessiz Ölüm (Silent Death, Hüseyin Karabey, 2001) is an 85 minute documentary about the F-type prisons in Turkey, recently constructed by the Turkish Ministry of Justice, with their isolation cell systems for political prisoners. By looking at the experiences of prisons and prisoners outside of Turkey, it aims to counter the official portrayal of such prisons as a “modern solution” in Turkey. Although placed in the shorts program rather than the documentary section, there was also a short essay film from the UK that should not be overlooked. Displaced Voices (Sevim Metin, 2001) is based on the “legend of Elîka Sevê as told in Kurdish villages in Turkey.” Reminiscent of Trinh T. Minh Ha’s Reassemblage (1982), this 17 minute film is a combination of silent film footage shot in the villages of Dersim, edited with a simple and powerful soundtrack, and with a poetic voiceover in English, Kurdish klams sung by the elderly, and occasional sound effects. As Metin returns to her roots, she makes a first of its kind film that speaks powerfully about displacement, bringing voices from Dersim to the diaspora. As a diasporic venue for showcasing Kurdish films, the London Kurdish Film Festival expanded its selection in its third edition in 2003 to include films from South Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). This was possible due to the fact that there were more films being produced, and because the organizers had direct access to the local producers in different parts of Kurdistan.19 They were able not only to bring more diverse Kurdish voices to the audiences, but also build bridges within a Kurdistan separated by state borders and also with the diaspora. In Turkey, while the MKM was a hub for training and production outside of academia, within academia, Kurdish students studying filmmaking also began to tell their stories with documentary films, contributing to Kurdish documentary cinema with their output. In 2003, at Ankara University’s School of Communications, a short documentary, Ayrl÷a Dü÷ün (Wedding to Severance, M. Namk U÷ur and Mustafa Sa÷lam) was produced. 20 This 38 minute documentary is about the


Chapter I

filmmakers’ brother going through the tradition of bride exchange called berdel.21 As we learn from the voice-over at the beginning of this film, it is a tribute to an older brother who sacrifices himself so that his brother can get an education and so that his sister can get married to her loved one. In this intimate portrait, we see the reclusive elder brother go through the motions as he gets wed to a woman, other than his beloved, and occasionally hear his sentiments in his native tongue, Kurdish.

Diyarbakır Cinema Workshop In 2003, the first filmmaking workshop in Diyarbakr was organized during the 3rd Diyarbakr Culture and Arts Festival. The coordinator for the month-long workshop was Özkan Küçük from the Mesopotamia Cultural Center.22 This workshop could be seen as the beginning of the process of Diyarbakr becoming a center for documentary instruction and production as well. 23 A 20 minute documentary, Çek Çek (Pull Pull, 2003), was collectively produced by the participants of this workshop under the supervision of Ahmet Soner of Genç Sinema. In Çek Çek, which is named after the type of handcart used in Diyarbakr, we witness a day in the life of an elderly çek çek puller. It is a portrait of a poor, traditional migrant who is trying to raise his family in Diyarbakr. Çek Çek was shown at the 3rd London Kurdish Film Festival in 2003, and then became the first Kurdish language documentary film to be broadcast with Turkish subtitles in Turkey on the local television channel, Gün TV in 2004. Zeynel Do÷an, who later directed Dengê Bavê Min (My Father’s Voice/Babamn Sesi, 2012), an award-winning fiction feature, remembers this workshop as a turning point in his career as a director.24 In the same year, a 70 minute documentary, Yllar Sonra, øúte Diyar- Bekir (Years Later, Here is Diyarbekir, Özkan Küçük, 2003) about the Diyarbakr Culture and Art Festival was produced. It begins with a scene from Ylmaz Güney’s Yol (The Road), where two of the protagonists arrive in Diyarbakr as prisoners on furlough. Twenty years after the release of Yol, Diyarbakr had become the capital of Kurdish culture and arts. In 2004, a 28 minute documentary Beúikten Mezara (From Cradle to Grave), about a local carpenter and his trade, was collectively produced at the Diyarbakr Cinema Workshop. Although as a Kurdish language documentary film, Çek Çek was broadcast on local television in 2004, the ban on the Kurdish language in the public sphere continued. A well-known example is from the music industry: Aynur Do÷an, a contemporary Kurdish singer, released her album, Keçê Kurdan (Kurdish Girl/Kürt Kz, 2004), in which she sang

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


nine out of the eleven songs in Kurdish. The album was banned by a provincial court in Diyarbakr on the grounds that the lyrics contained propaganda for an illegal organization (meaning, by that, the PKK).25 The court ruling said the album “incites women to take to the hills and promotes division.”26 A month later, in an attempt to boost its bid to join the European Union, Turkey’s public television broadcaster, TRT, began broadcasting a half-hour Kurdish program entitled Our Cultural Riches.27

Kurdish Documentary on the Rise After his beginnings at the MKM, Kazim Öz became one of the most prolific and well-known Kurdish filmmakers in Turkey. His fiction short, Ax (The Land/Toprak, Kazim Öz, 1999) and the later fiction feature Fotograf (The Photograph/Foto÷raf, Kazim Öz, 2001) won numerous awards. His first feature-length documentary was Dûr (Distant/Uzak, 2004), about the return of the filmmaker to his small Kurdish village and the stories of those who remained and those who left. One of the most memorable scenes is when an elderly woman in the village addresses the filmmaker and demands, “Don’t lose our tongue Kazim!”, clearly prescribing a certain mission. The elderly villagers staring into the camera, 28 the camera going through the rundown and closed village school, looking at the village from the cemetery where guerrillas killed in the armed conflict with the Turkish army are buried—all are powerful images that possibly remain etched in the viewers’ minds for a long time. In this personal story, the filmmaker takes us along a journey chronicled in his diary entries that he occasionally shares with us. At the same time, he manages to close the gap between family members by sharing video footage he has filmed, similar to the tradition of audio/video letters carried back and forth between home and exile. Dûr (Distant) is also significant in its alternative distribution strategy. Outside of the commercial distribution channels, the filmmakers organized independent screenings with video projectors in many cities, reaching between 20,000–25,000 viewers.29 In addition to coordinating the workshops in Diyarbakr, Özkan Küçük continued making documentary films, and 2005 was a productive year for him. Mamoste Arsen (Master Arsen, Özkan Küçük, 2005) is a 29 minute film about the Diyarbakr days of Kurdish pantomime artist, Arsen Poladov, a.k.a Mamoste Arsen (Master, or teacher, Arsen), who was visiting Diyarbakr for the first time for the 3rd Culture and Arts Festival. The film begins with Arsen’s funeral in Yerevan, Armenia, where he lived, and it includes archival footage of Arsen giving a workshop at the MKM in 1993 and a TV interview recorded in Cologne, Germany. 30 In


Chapter I

one scene at the festival in Diyarbakr, Mamoste Arsen says, “for the first time in my life, I’m speaking in Kurdish in front of such a large crowd.” Li Serxaniyên Diyarbekirê (On the Rooftops of Diyarbakr/Diyarbakr Damlarnda, Özkan Küçük, 2005) is a 27 minute documentary, shot in Diyarbakr, with no dialogue. Küçük observes life on the rooftops of Diyarbakr, including the shadows cast on rooftops as he is filming. Pîlava Binok (Rice with Chickpeas, Özkan Küçük, 2005) is a 45 minute documentary about Fahriye, the widow of a guerrilla, Tahsin, who decided to leave his pregnant wife and small child to join the armed struggle of the PKK, and who died while fighting. Fahriye tells us her life story, starting from meeting Tahsin at the age of fourteen, eloping with him, and ending with her becoming an independent woman on the theater stage fourteen years after her husband’s departure. The two boys, who did not have a chance to get to know their father, talk about their mixed feelings about him. They are both angry with and proud of him, despite the fact that they have to hide the details of how he passed away. This film puts a human face to one aspect of the armed struggle of PKK guerillas: the families left behind. In øsmi Güzide (Vendetta Song, Eylem Kaftan, 2005), the filmmaker travels from Canada to Turkey, where she was born and raised, to trace the life story of her aunt, Güzide, who was murdered. The film begins with her statement, “I have an urge to return to the East,” and the National Film Board of Canada describes the film as follows: In an attempt to unravel the 30-year-old mystery of her aunt Güzide’s murder. As she searches for clues and closure, she encounters antiquated customs in a Kurdish culture she’s never known. She knows that her aunt was the victim of a senseless vendetta killing and as she ventures from village to village she pieces together the woman’s final days and closes in on the identity of her killer. 31

Premiered at the 9th 1001 Documentary Film Festival in Istanbul, 38 (Çayan Demirel, 2006) is about the state organized 1938 Dersim massacre in Turkey. Demirel, through the eyes of witnesses and culprits, as well as archival material, not only sheds light onto what happened to the Kurds in Dersim during the years 1937–1938, but also makes visible the mechanisms, such as the print media, that shaped and continue to shape public opinion; “… the events come as a ‘silent scream’ before our eyes in this documentary.”32 Not only was this a massacre on a grand scale but, at the same time, it was a family tragedy for the filmmaker, as 54 members of his extended family were killed at the time. Not surprisingly, there have been numerous attempts to censor this film. After its Istanbul premiere,

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


during the Munzur Festival in Dersim, the film’s screening was canceled by the governor for not having the necessary permission. Later, the Ministry of Culture effectively censored the film by not granting it a commercial license for distribution and exhibition (Candan 2011). Although legally challenged, this ban continues to date. In 2007, following the London Kurdish Film Festival, the second Kurdish film festival in the diaspora was organized in Paris by The Collective of Kurdish Filmmakers and Artists (Le Collectif des Cinéastes et des Artistes Kurdes/CCAK): “The festival intends to promote Kurdish culture and cinema to the Parisians by providing varied Kurdish feature and short films, documentaries as well as some animations” (Klç 2007). Meanwhile in its third year, the Diyarbakr Municipality’s Cinema Workshop continued instruction in the art and craft of filmmaking. Three full-time positions were created and workshops expanded throughout the whole year. 33 In addition to short fiction films, participants continued making short documentaries collectively. A press release dated 6 Dec 2007 stated: The Cinema Workshop, which has been active for three years within Diyarbakr Metropolitan Municipality’s Culture and Tourism Department, has become a film school for both professional and amateur students. The Cinema Workshop has given the opportunity for students to make two documentaries and two short films under the supervision and with the support of their tutors after three-months of training. Although 70 people applied to the Cinema Workshop this term, only 30 people will be accepted for the three-month program. A practical and theoretical “documentary workshop” with advisor Özkan Küçük, will begin on December 8th.

The two collectively made documentary projects that were mentioned in this press release are Kalo (2007) and Semerci Fesih (Fesih, The Saddle-maker, 2007).34 Kalo is a 29 minute portrait of a local newspaper delivery man, part of the tradition of the free Kurdish press. We see him distributing Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) and Azadiya Welat (Free Country), talking about not only his work, but also the importance of bringing these independent Kurdish newspapers, despite all forms of repression by the state, to its readers in the region. The 8 minute documentary Semerci Fesih is also a local portrait. Fesih Sürmeli is one of the last practitioners of saddle-making, an ancient Armenian trade passed onto Kurds. Close Up Kurdistan (Yüksel Yavuz, 2007, Germany), from the diaspora, could perhaps be seen as an answer to Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friend but the Mountains (2001) from a Kurdish perspective:


Chapter I The Kurdish director Yüksel Yavuz creates a connection between his personal story of immigration and the current situation of the TurkishKurdish conflict. In the film he makes a personal journey which takes him from Hamburg through Stockholm to Turkey, ending in the north of Iraq, in the refugee camp Maxmur in Iraqi Kurdistan. Throughout this journey he meets among others his parents and old friends, some of whom went to the mountains to become guerrilla fighters, others who fled the country and went into exile.35

Close Up Kurdistan is a documentary attempting to write on film the alternative history of the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish Liberation Movement. It was shown for the first time in Turkey two years after its release at the 2009 !f Istanbul International Independent Film Festival. The festival director, Serra Ciliv, candidly talked about how scared they were to show such a film and debated what the Turkish title of the film should be. They considered titling it just “Close-up” without any reference to Kurds or Kurdistan, but later decided to call it “Close-up Kurds”.36 Even though the screening took place without any attempts at censoring the film, even in 2009, the word “Kurdistan” with its political connotations, was still a taboo. In 2009, at the 28th International Istanbul Film Festival, premieres of several Kurdish documentaries were programmed. Prdesur (Red Bridge/Krmzköprü, 2008) was the first documentary by Caner Canerik to be shown at the Istanbul International Film Festival. Canerik is known for living in Dersim and producing all his documentaries there. The 90 minute Prdesur (Red Bridge) tells the story of the difficult winter season in a village in Dersim, from where many have migrated and a few remained. In an interview, he talked about how he was surprised that his film was accepted at the Istanbul Film Festival and how this has meant that such films were being appreciated as works of art.37 Inspired by the story of her 48 year old paralyzed aunt’s experience, in Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy/Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalk, 2009), Mizgin Müjde Arslan talks to women and men about the tradition and experience of polygamy in the Kurdish community. This 45 minute documentary later became the first Kurdish documentary to be broadcast on Turkish prime-time television, on Kanal 24, a conservative mainstream television channel.38 The channel even paid an acquisition fee, a rare event in Turkey for a documentary. øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School, Orhan Eskiköy and Özgür Do÷an, 2008) is a purely observational documentary about the first year of a young Turkish teacher at a small primary school in a Kurdish village. The absurdity of the official educational system is made apparent, as

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


neither the teacher nor the students speak each other’s language. With its hands-off approach to the subject matter, the film had a wide appeal. This was due to the fact that 2009 was the year of the “Kurdish Opening” in domestic politics. Nevertheless, it is significant to mention the debate engendered among film critics, who did not know what to do with such a form of documentary storytelling (Sönmez 2009). Also premiered at the 2009 festival were two feature length documentaries: 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84, Çayan Demirel, 2009) is about the horrific human rights abuses that took place at the infamous Diyarbakr prison after the 1980 military coup. This was the prison where activists of the Kurdish political movement were tortured for years. Told by the survivors themselves, it is a very powerful depiction of state violence and the will to survive and resist: The documentary exposes how the use of systematic torture and turkification policies were imposed by the state upon all prisoners, most of whom were Kurdish prisoners. While the Turkish military authorities describe the prison as a “military school,” the prisoners describe it as “years of indescribable brutality.” The only way to break the chain of atrocities was to resist and sacrifice yourself. The prisoners took up the challenge to break it and, three decades later, director Çayan Demirel takes up the challenge again to show us what happened. (Surela Film)

In Demsala Dawi: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim ùavaklar, 2010), Kazim Öz witnesses a year in the endangered traditional life of the nomadic Shawak community in Eastern Turkey. If Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life was the first documentary in the “nomadic people genre,” this documentary could possibly be seen as the first Kurdish contribution to this genre, the main difference being that Öz was not directing his camera at some exotic tribe, but to his own community, where he had grown up.39 In this film made from within, he also talks about sexism within the community, when he confronts a man in front of the camera.40 In pursuit of European Union membership, in 2009 the Turkish government, with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power, announced its new democratic initiative to improve its human rights track record. Popularly known as the “Kurdish Opening,” this hotly debated shift in government policy possibly loosened some of the restraints on Kurdish cinema. As part of this new “opening,” the state-run Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) established its own national, 24 hour Kurdish language channel, TRT-6, in 2009. 41 At that time, Kurdish language television channels had already been broadcasting outside Turkey via


Chapter I

satellite to many parts of Kurdistan, including to Kurds in Turkey, since 1994 (Hassanpour 1998). This was followed later in 2009 by a new regulation that would allow privately owned television and radio stations to broadcast in languages other than Turkish. In response to the prevalence of Kurdish media production, the Turkish state attempted to produce state sanctioned documentaries. Thirteen years after Destên Me Wê Bibin Bask, Emê Bifirin Herin (Our Hands Will Become Wings, We’ll Fly Away), a 57 minute documentary about the same topic of forced migration and its human cost was produced and aired by TRT. Zorunlu Hayat (Forced Life, Zafer Akturan and Sema Ceylan Cabbaro÷lu, 2009) is the story of families forcibly severed from their home, ending up as migrants in Istanbul. This TRT documentary surprisingly ends with this title: “Forced migration is a human rights violation!” and could be regarded as the most significant contribution by TRT to the “Kurdish Opening” via documentary film. In 2009, too, the third Kurdish film festival in the diaspora was organized in New York, by the founder of the London Kurdish Film Festival (LKFF), Mustafa Gündo÷du, with the theme “a cinema across borders,” signifying the trans-national aspect of Kurdish cinema. In December of the same year, as a collaborative project of the Diyarbakr Arts Center (DSM) and the Diyarbakr Municipality, an international Kurdish cinema conference (Konferansa Sînemaya Kurdî Navnetewî) was organized in Diyarbakr. Although Kurdish cinema had been discussed outside of Turkey for some time, this was the first time a conference was being held in Turkey, where the majority of Kurds live. Conceptual and theoretical debates and discussions took place in Kurdish and Turkish within the framework of the two sessions, one titled “Kurdish Cinema as a Question,” and the other “Situating Kurdish Cinema.”42 A year after Close-up Kurdistan was shown at the !f Istanbul International Independent Film Festival as “Close-up Kurds,” the festival announced a section titled “Opening Continued” in their program. 43 “Opening Continued” referred both to the “Kurdish Opening” in the country, and their own “opening” as a festival.44 At the 2010 festival, for the first time in Turkey, two documentaries that could be considered part of a genre of “mountain films” were screened.45 Albeit years after their release in international festivals, with these two films, audiences were, for the first time, witnessing the experiences of Kurdish women active in the armed struggle. Sozdar: She Who Lives Her Promise (Annegriet Wietsma, The Netherlands, 2007) is a 70 minute portrait of Nuriye Kesbir, one of the leaders of the Kurdish resistance movement, Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK). 46 Les Femmes du Mont Ararat (The Women of Mount Ararat, Erwann Briand, France, 2004) is an 85 minute documentary about a small,

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


autonomous group of six Kurdish women guerrillas in the mountains.47 As we witness their daily routines, we also hear them reflect on their lives as guerrillas. In 2010, the 12th Visible Evidence International Documentary Studies Conference was held at Bo÷aziçi University in Istanbul, and a plenary session was organized with the title “Kurdish Documentary Cinema.” 48 Moderated by Ayça Çiftçi, panelists included Kazim Öz, Mizgin Müjde Arslan, and Çayan Demirel. During the panel, Kazim Öz called attention to the fact that this panel was taking place after the government had initiated a democratic opening and criticized academia for its belated attention to Kurdish cinema: Having a discussion here, after the powers that be, the state, or let’s say classes, take a certain initiative, is also an indication of belatedness. I don’t know, I think academic freedom, in this context, is quite questionable. Without the Kurdish initiative, would we have been able to organize this panel even three or five years ago? Would academics be receptive to this topic?

The 2010 Istanbul Film Festival again included a number of Kurdish documentaries. Vijdanên Kevirî (Brutal Consciences/Taúlaúan Vicdanlar, Cenk Örtülü and Zeynel Koç, 2010) tells the story of child victims of the Prevention of Terrorism Act by focusing on the trials of “stone-throwing kids” with the aim of questioning our consciences (Istanbul International Film Festival 2010). Seyid-Hakikat Yolunda (Seyid–On the Path of Truth, 2010) was Özkan Küçük’s next documentary feature, a portrait of Musa Dede in his seventies, one of the leading Alevi dedes (religious leaders) who had established the first cemevi (meeting house) in Turkey (Istanbul International Film Festival 2010). Bertij 49 (2010) was Caner Canerik’s second feature documentary, and it is about children who spend six months of the year in the high plateaus of Dersim herding animals with their families and playing in nature far from civilization. As a hopeful documentary emerging from a region full of pain and sorrow, it could be seen as a celebration of the traditional rural life of Kurds in accord with nature. The hope in Miraz (Hope/Umut, Rodi Yüzbaú, 2010) is one that lies in migrating to Europe in search of a better life for the young, and for the elderly, in the expectation that their children would one day return home from France (Istanbul International Film Festival 2010). øki Tutam Saç: Dersim’in Kayp Kzlar (Two Locks of Hair: The Missing Girls of Dersim/Du Bisk Por- Keçên Dêrsimê yên Winda, Nezahat Gündo÷an, 2010) is another Dersim story, but this time, following in the footsteps of Demirel’s 38, this documentary delves into the history of the Dersim


Chapter I

massacre by focusing on the painful stories of four 80 plus year-old women who, as young girls, were taken from their families and forcibly adopted for assimilation by Turkish military officers. Years later, the filmmaker traces their life stories. A review of this documentary appeared in Hürriyet Daily News, an online English daily: Concomitant with an increasing questioning of Turkey’s official history, a new documentary on the women who were lost following the 1938 Dersim Operation seeks to illuminate a dark period in Turkish history….The documentary gained added significance given the recent debates that have erupted over the Dersim Operation. The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, Chairman Onur Öymen made a November speech in the Turkish Parliament and criticized the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, democratic initiative by appearing to defend the military’s operation in [the] 1938 operation. The deputy’s comments caused a firestorm of public reaction.50

The documentary ends with a list (“here are the names of the missing girls that we were able to identify”) and, in a way, calls for further inquiry into the plight of the other missing girls.51 In 2011, Kurdish documentaries continued to be showcased at festivals in Turkey, and a number of Kurdish documentaries premiered at the 2011 Istanbul International Film Festival. Rewúen (Cemil O÷uz, 2011) is about the Kurdish magazine of the same name published by the Mesopotamia Culture Center, and the film “relates the journey of Rewúen from 1991 to 2000 as the first officially Kurdish magazine, and portrays the milestones of the Kurdish language on its path of development.” (Istanbul International Film Festival 2011). Daye Dibe Aúitî (My Mother Wants Peace/Annem Barú østiyor, Aziz Çapkurt, 2011) is about the plight of the Peace Mothers Initiative, an association of mothers who have lost their sons and daughters in the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish Army. The festival’s catalogue describes the film thus: “The 30-year-long conflict cost the lives of tens of thousands of people, affected millions of people directly or indirectly, hundreds of thousands of people had to migrate. Set in Istanbul, Izmir, Mardin and Diyarbakr, the documentary follows three mothers –whose son has been in prison for 16 years, a mother who has migrated to Istanbul and another whose son was killed while a soldier.” (Istanbul International Film Festival 2011). Ölücanlar (Dead Souls, Murat Özçelik, 2010), as told by a survivor, is the story of Ulucanlar Prison in Ankara where, in 1999, as a result of a military operation, ten inmates were killed and many injured (Istanbul International Film Festival 2011). Another Kurdish documentary, Destaneke Serhildanê:

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


Bêrîvan (The Legend of Rebellion: Berivan/Bir Baúkaldr Destan: Berivan, Aydn Orak, 2010) seemed to be the most challenging for the Turkish state. It was described in these words by the festival: In the Newroz celebrations of 1992, during which thousands of people unexpectedly started a rebellion and fought to the death, one woman especially caught the eye. This person, conspicuous with her white kefiye around her head, guiding the masses, was none other than Berivan Cizre: a woman who went through heavy torture and was injured. This uprising, the rebellion of Berivan Cizre, is one in which 17 people died, many were injured, hundreds were taken into custody and arrested, and journalist øzzet Kezer was killed. This documentary brings back the forgotten streets, alleys, and neighborhoods in, on and through which the rebellion took place.” (Istanbul International Film Festival 2011).

After its Istanbul Film Festival premiere, and several screenings at international festivals, Destaneke Serhildanê: Bêrîvan (The Legend of Rebellion: Berivan) was scheduled to be shown at the 2nd Ylmaz Güney Film Festival in Batman, Turkey, but was banned hours before the scheduled time by the governor’s office. The official document was read out to the audience at the cinema by the director of the Ylmaz Güney Cinema, Dicle Anter:52 “By unanimous vote, it was not found suitable for commercial circulation and exhibition, as it contains elements that manipulate history, undermine the unity and solidarity of Turkish nation, spread PKK propaganda.” The film’s director, Aydn Orak, who was present at the screening that could not take place, decided to tell the story of the film himself in front of the audience. Possibly a first in the history of documentary cinema in Turkey, a film was “told” by its director in lieu of a screening. As expected after this ban, the Ministry of Culture also did not grant a commercial license to the film, effectively preventing its theatrical and DVD releases, as well as television broadcasts. It is ironic that the same ministry had included Destaneke Serhildanê: Bêrîvan (The Legend of Rebellion: Berivan) in its Turkish cinema booth at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.53 In Istanbul, a press conference was organized by the cinema union, Sine-Sen, in protest at the ban, with the director Aydn Orak, along with Kazim Öz, and Çayan Demirel, director of banned documentary, 38.54 Diyarbakr, with its locally grown, film-related institutions, continued to emerge as a production center for documentary films. The cinema workshops that had been conducted since 2003, continued, from 2010 onwards, at the Konservatuara Aram Tîgran (the Aram Tigran City Conservatory), founded and financed by the Metropolitan Municipality of


Chapter I

Diyarbakr.55 The Cegerxwîn Cultural Center56 has been another center for documentary instruction and production, as well as the home of Mîhrîcana Belgefîlman a Fîlmamedê (the Filmamed Documentary Film Festival) since 2011.57 Ersin Çelik and Piran Baydemir trained at these institutions as filmmakers and went on to make their own documentaries. Min Rastî Nivîsand - Deftera Lîceyê (I Wrote the Truth – The Notebook of Lice/ Gerçekleri Yazdm - Lice Defteri, Ersin Çelik, 2012) is about Ahmet Tektaú, who has been keeping a diary since 1945, writing down the local history of Lice, including the Lice earthquake of 1975, the forced evacuation and burning of villages by security forces, and even the film crew shooting the documentary. Rezonse (Vintage/Ba÷bozumu, Piran Baydemir, 2012) is a 22 minute documentary about the surviving rural tradition of growing and harvesting grapes at a time of hydro-electric dams. The 2nd Filmamed Documentary Film Festival hosted two documentaries that delved deeper into state terror. Faîlî Dewlet (Official Murders/Faili Devlet, Veysi Altay, 2011) is about the stories of people lost or killed by the State between 1990 and 1995 in Cizre. Cizre, which is described in the documentary as “a place where the state doesn’t even feel the need to hide itself,” was one of the cities where these “official murders” were frequent. Much of the archival footage used in the film reached the public for the first time. Dengê Derî (The Knock on the Door/Kapdaki Ses, Halil Frat Yazar and Metin Çelik, 2012) is about the state operations fueled by the mainstream media against the Kurdish opposition that began in 2009, and which resulted in the imprisonment of thousands of people. In the courts, people accused of being members of a terrorist organization were not permitted to defend themselves in their native language and, when they spoke Kurdish in the courts, this was written as “an unknown language” and “a language thought be Kurdish” in the trial records. Dengê Derî (The Knock on the Door) was also a finalist at the 49th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival’s Documentary Film Competition in 2012. Maya (Rodi Yüzbaú, 2012) was one of the recipients of the best documentary prize at this festival. It is story of the daily life in a village in I÷dr, close to Turkey’s border with Armenia, told through the ballads and metaphors of a dengbej, or performative storyteller (Koçer 2012). Filmmaker Mizgin Müjde Arslan was also accused of being a member of the KCK and arrested before she had a chance to premiere her next documentary, Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed/Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldn) in 2012, making the state prosecutor its very first viewer. The film is a personal journey of a filmmaker who sets out to find her father, whom she never knew. This journey takes her to the village where she

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


grew up and to confrontations with her relatives, and all the way to Northern Iraq, where her father died. Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih had its proper premiere at the 2012 International Istanbul Film Festival along with another film about the gap between generations, Türkçe Pekiyi (Turkish A+, Murat Bayramo÷lu, 2012), is about a modern, accomplished Kurdish woman who has gone through the Turkish educational system as an A+ student at the cost of not learning her mother tongue and so losing the connection to her grandmother, who does not speak Turkish. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2012). The International Istanbul Film Festival continued with its line-up of Kurdish documentaries in 2013. Bûka Baranê (Dilek Gökçin, 2013), a collaborative work, begins with a 1989 school photograph showing primary school children in front of their village school in Hakkari.58 ørfan Aktan, now a well-known writer and journalist is among them. In collaboration with the filmmaker, Dilek Gökçin, they go back to the village and trace the life stories of Aktan’s classmates. The story begins with the childhood years, when the children first encounter the state and the Turkish language at school, have their names changed by the Turkish school teacher, when the village guard system was first introduced along with a “state of emergency”... This film focuses on the stories of children of the 90s at any school in the predominantly Kurdish-populated areas whose dream of a peaceful world devoid of war and clashes is as unimaginable as jumping over the rainbow. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2013).

Caner Canerik’s contribution was another story from Dersim. In Was (Grass/Ot, 2013), two elderly women, co-wives, now widowed, and forced out of their village by the state, continue to live together and try to protect the grass they had bought for their cattle. It is a story about the daily life of the elderly women and the struggle for survival in a village. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2013). Another Dersim documentary was Fecîra (Piran Baydemir, 2013). 59 It is described in the festival catalogue thus: Is the anguish gone through in Dersim in 1938, just a memory today? How does Dersim affect the lives of locals today, with its geography, and history of Munzur outbreathed by dams? The documentary gives an answer to these questions by presenting slices of life from Besna, who lives in the village of ùakak, her daughter Devrim, and Melek. The film depicts the effect of seasonal changes in these women´s lives while observing their natural states, and through to narratives told without any questions asked,


Chapter I proceeding in a way different from the common perception of interviewbased documentary structure. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2013).

Fecîra went on to receive the “Best Documentary Award” at the 50th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in 2013. In his bilingual acceptance speech in Kurdish and Turkish, Baydemir dedicated the award to the three Kurdish women killed in Paris, including Sakine Cansz, who was featured in 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84), as one of the survivors of the Diyarbakr Prison, and the Kurdish women fighters of the Rojava Revolution. The audience gave mixed reactions to this speech, but Baydemir talked about receiving the expected racist remarks afterwards.60 Another film at the Antalya Film Festival of that year was Hay Way Zaman: Dersim'in Kayp Kzlar (Unburied in the Past: The Missing Girls of Dersim, Nezahat Gündo÷an, 2012) which received the Special Jury Prize in the National Documentary Competition. In this film, Gündo÷an continues with the story of the missing girls of the Dersim massacre, this time focusing on the story of Emoú, who was 5 years old when her family was killed in Dersim: “Taken by a military officer who took part in the operation and raised by his family. 75 years later, she begins a journey with her daughter back to her roots.”61 In 2014, the Istanbul Film Festival showed three new Kurdish documentaries. He Bû Tune Bû (Once Upon a Time/Bir Varmú Bir Yokmuú) was Kazim Öz’s 2013 feature length documentary about Kurdish seasonal agricultural workers, who travel on top of trucks and pickups to agricultural areas and work under terrible conditions for minimal pay, a form of “modern slavery” as defined by its director. Similar to the construction workers of Özkan Küçük, this documentary makes the invisible, precarious labor of millions of seasonal agricultural workers visible. Later in the year, He Bû Tune Bû (Once Upon a Time) was first accepted to the Adana Golden Boll Film Festival, but then taken off the program.62 In Öz’s own words: An estimated one million people in Turkey work as hired hands in agriculture—a form of vast exploitation of labour. They work without any insurance whatsoever and are paid extremely low wages. Most of them are Kurdish and, to top it all, underage. It is art against the sharp class struggle that continues to date, against new ways of colonialism, and against people alienated from what they produce and consume. Art should continue to be the conscience of humanity. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2014).

Another Kurdish documentary in the festival program was Berxwedana 33 salan-Dayika Berfo (33 Years of Resistance/33 Yllk Direniú-Berfo Ana,

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


Veysi Altay, 2013) about Berfo Krbayr, known as “Mother Berfo,” whose son Cemil Krbayr dissappeared right after the military coup of 1980, never to be heard from again. She spent all her remaining years looking for him and calling attention to the hundreds of others who were “lost” by the state. In her quest, she has become a symbol of the human rights struggle in Turkey. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2014). The same subject matter is dealt with in the other Kurdish documentary at the festival. Kêl (The Endless Grief/O øklimde Kalrd Aclar, Cenk Örtülü and Zeynel Koç, 2014) is also about families searching for the bones of their “lost” relatives, who are denied the dignity of having a grave. (Istanbul International Film Festival 2014). Kêl was scheduled to be shown at the 51st Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October 2014, along with Reyan Tuvi’s 2014 documentary, Yeryüzü Aúkn Yüzü Oluncaya Dek (Love Will Change the Earth), which was about the Gezi Park Uprising, one of the most significant civil uprisings in Turkey’s recent history. When Yeryüzü Aúkn Yüzü Oluncaya Dek was taken off the program by the festival administration after it was selected by the programmers, jury members resigned, and filmmakers withdrew their films in solidarity with Reyan Tuvi and the documentary selection committee. This was a significant public protest of censorship at film festivals. The censorship scandal continued at the next edition of the International Istanbul Film Festival in 2015. Bakur (North/Kuzey, Çayan Demirel and Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu, 2015), a much anticipated new documentary about PKK guerrillas in Turkey during a time of truce, was scheduled to have its world premiere. In the words of its makers: Bakur is a documentary that invites its audience to reflect on a war that has been continuing for decades and gives an insightful look on its main subject, the PKK. The film follows the lives of the guerillas in three different camps in the Kurdish region (north) that lies within Turkish borders. Bakur, which was shot during the summer and autumn of 2013, introduces us to women and men who have decided to join the armed struggle for “a better future for their people.” Bakur tells the story of how the PKK, a group that has been known as building its struggle mostly on national identity, turned to become a women’s movement. The documentary challenges the audience to develop a different point of view as it sheds light on this mysterious world.” (Surela Film)

The night before the premiere, the festival administration decided to cancel the screening after receiving a “warning” from the government that films without the proper license cannot be screened at festivals. Censoring of Bakur meant that it was effectively banned from commercial distribution


Chapter I

in Turkey, and the government was threatening all festivals that might dare to show such films.63 When Bakur was taken off the program, in solidarity, and along with other directors, Kazim Öz decided to pull his 2015 feature documentary, Çnara Spî (White Sycamore/Beyaz Çnar) from the festival. Çnara Spî (White Sycamore) is about an elderly Kurdish man, Granpa Zeynel, “a master of almost everything,” living in a village in the mountains of Dersim with his extended family. The film was shown at the 2016 Istanbul Film Festival. In November 2015, the 9th edition of the London Kurdish Film Festival took place, bringing Kurdish films from Kurdistan and elsewhere together in one program: Its objective is to support the development of Kurdish cinema by showcasing films made by Kurdish directors on any subject, and films of a feature, short and documentary style on Kurds, by non-Kurdish directors. It provides a platform for both Kurdish and non-Kurdish producers and filmmakers, many of them still young promises.64

On the occasion of the festival, an article entitled “London Kurdish Film Festival: Cinematic Resistance Tells Story of War, Refugees, and Oppression” appeared in the International Business Times, based on an interview with the organizer and Kurdish activist, Memed Aksoy: “It is about resistance. All of these films are in some way about Kurds resisting one form of oppression and discrimination or another and defending themselves. There are documentaries about various issues, but yes, it is mostly still about war.”65 A new documentary by Yüksel Yavuz from Germany was also shown in London. Hevi (Umut/Hope, 2013) “tells the story of four Kurdish women—Eren Keskin, Gültan Kúanak, Aysel Tu÷luk, and Sakine Cansz—who all fought significant battles and crossed paths with one another.”66 In 2013, Cansz was murdered in Paris alongside two female comrades; Eren Keskin continues her work as one of the best known human rights lawyers in Turkey; Gültan Kúanak is the co-major of Diyarbakr; Aysel Tu÷luk is a Kurdish MP in the Turkish parliament. In April 2016, a new Kurdish documentary by Selim Yldz, Bîra M’ têtin (I Remember/Hatrlyorum) was scheduled to be shown at the 27th Ankara International Film Festival. This documentary, about the 2011 Roboskî massacre, where 34 civilians living off cross-border smuggling were “mistakenly” bombed to death by Turkish Army jets, was taken off the program for not having the necessary license from the Ministry of Culture. Once again what had happened to Bakur a year earlier was happening to Bîra M’têtin. This documentary was later shown at the 11th

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


International Labor Film Festival, whose motto this year was “Against Babarism, Stories of Hope.” After a two year hiatus, the 4th Filmamed Documentary Film Festival (Mîhrîcana Belgefîlman a Fîlmamedê) was held in Diyarbakr in May 2016 as resistance to the destruction brought upon the city’s ancient neighborhoods by the state. 67 There, Nû Jîn (New Life), the 2015 documentary by Veysi Altay, which had earlier premiered at the 2015 Which Human Rights? Film Festival, was again about hope, this time telling the story of the daily life of a young woman guerrilla, Elif Kobanê (18), of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). They battle against ISIS with the slogan, “Woman is life. Life is resistance and resistance is Kobanê.”68

Some thoughts on the future of Kurdish Documentary Cinema Since the 1990s, when the large-scale burning down and forced evacuation of villages and unresolved state-sanctioned murders were taking place, Kurds have been resisting policies of cultural and political destruction and assimilation, and the Turkish state has no longer been able to prevent Kurds from expressing themselves in cinema. Especially since 2000, documentary film production in Turkey has been steadily on the rise, and a plethora of recent Kurdish documentaries has enabled us to study Kurdish documentary cinema in Turkey. The Kurdish word for documentary film, “belgefîlm,” could literally be translated as “document film” or “documentation,” signaling the culturally assigned role of the documentary filmmaker as the one who documents their people’s history, culture, and traditional way of life, the language under threat, somewhat in the vein of salvage ethnography. 69 Kurdish documentary filmmakers have been making films in Kurdish, their native language whose existence has been denied, and which has been suppressed and targeted for erasure. The oppressed, silenced voice of the Kurds is liberated through artistic cultural production. As a form of self-assertion and self-empowerment, they say we exist, our culture exists, our language exists, we are one of the ancient peoples of this land, and we are not going anywhere, and we demand equal rights. Their films exist within the context of the Kurdish consciousness and liberation movement, and an ongoing struggle against human rights abuses and for justice. In documentary cinema, Kurds continue to write their histories. Some of these documentaries use personal witness accounts as well as archival materials and, with extensive archival and oral history research, they


Chapter I

record memories of resistance and point to the role of documentary in digging out lived experiences, and reminding us of what has happened. Some of these documentaries can not only be seen as acts of cultural affirmation, but also as the filmmakers’ critical treatment of their cultural heritage and traditions, as well as documentary representation. The dengbêj (performative storyteller) tradition has been a common subject of Kurdish documentaries, and Kurdish filmmakers, as modern day storytellers, have often been compared to the dengbêj. This has become somewhat of a cliché, but one aspect of this cliché might be useful. Dengbêj, as a storyteller, is also a performer, very much in the center of the stories that she or he performs. This is similar to the way some of the Kurdish documentary filmmakers position themselves within their films, constantly calling attention to the process of storytelling and their own position as storytellers. As can be seen from the films mentioned in this chapter, women have a special place in Kurdish documentary cinema, but mostly as subjects, not as filmmakers. Although the women’s liberation movement within the Kurdish political struggle continues to gain strength, as all Kurdish political parties and local Kurdish municipalities are managed by both a woman and a man (co-presidency, co-spokespersons, similar to the German Green Party), and the Kurdish women’s army recently caught the world’s attention in their valiant armed struggle against ISIS in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) and, although in some documentaries, patriarchy and sexism within the Kurdish societies are questioned, it seems a truly liberated Kurdish women’s cinema, where women are the creators of their own images and tellers of their own stories is yet to be born. Women’s production collectives might be a good beginning.70 The institutions (festivals, workshops, schools, festivals, TV channels) are in place, audiences are eager, filmmakers are working, and new ones are emerging. Nevertheless, Kurdish documentary filmmakers continue to face numerous obstacles in Turkey. In an ongoing war against their neighborhoods, towns, and cities in Kurdistan, Kurds are trying to stay alive and keep themselves and their families from harm’s way. In such a daily struggle for survival, could there be any chance to continue making films? Even when the films are made, state censorship is preventing documentaries from reaching audiences (especially non-Kurdish) where they can have a chance to counter state controlled propaganda. For example, a documentary film like Bakur (North), which was destined to be a trailblazer in its portrayal of Kurdish guerillas as human beings, has been kept away from especially non-Kurdish audiences. 71 In an increasingly polarized and intolerant society, with increasing state control of the

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


mainstream media, a strong bias and racism against Kurds in Turkey still thrives. In the continuing armed struggle between the Turkish state and the PKK, when Turkish soldiers are killed, the mainstream media reports they have become martyrs; when Kurdish guerillas are killed, the mainstream media reports they have been “rendered ineffective.” In such a war, the first thing that gets thrown out is the truth, which is the main source of documentary cinema.72 In such an environment, it is becoming difficult for Kurdish documentary filmmakers to show their works and meet with audiences to discuss their stories and concerns.

Notes All translations from Turkish to English are the author’s. I would like to thank Arda Çiltepe and ølknur Bilir for their assistance in research and translation. 1

Estimates on the total population of Kurds vary, as there is no official population census for Kurds, but regardless of various estimates, Kurds are the largest ethnic minority within the borders of the Republic of Turkey. 2 For more information on Promio, see Luke McKernan (2008). 3 As specified within an intertitle in the film. 4 Grass (1925) was programmed at the 3rd Paris Kurdish Film Festival, connecting it to Kurdish cinema. Festival catalogue available here: https://kurdistancommentary.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/festival_du_cinema_kur de_de_paris.pdf 5 It is important to note that the names of these villages sound particularly Armenian. 6 Detailed information available in Güneú and Zeydanlo÷lu (2014) 7 For further reading on Güney, see Armes (1987). 8 The word “bayram” literally means celebration in Turkish, but connotes religious holiday. It is also the original work-in-progress title of this film. 9 Kazim Öz, in an unpublished interview by Zülfiye Acar for the FA48i/ Documentary in Turkey course taught by the author in Spring 2015 at Bo÷aziçi University, Istanbul. 10 This interview appeared as “Genç Sinemaclarla Söyleúi: Ahmet Soner, Veysel Atayman, Enis Rza” in Görüntü, say 5, Bahar 1996 (Türk Sinemas Özel Says2) pp. 25-34. Translation by the author. 11 Özkan Küçük, quoted in Pnar Yanarda÷’s unpublished research project for the FA48i/Documentary in Turkey course taught by the author in Spring 2008 at Bo÷aziçi University, Istanbul. 12 Translated by the author from the Turkish subtitles. 13 The term is “korucu” in Turkish, 14 Translated by the author from the Turkish original: “Eskiden yaylalara çkmaya göçmenlik diyorduk. ùimdi göçmenlik oldu mecburi, ve kendi topra÷ndan uza÷a


Chapter I

ve artk insanlar yerlerine geri gelmiyorlar.” http://www.sinemayakurdi.com/filmbilgileri-agahi/1448-em-her-tim-kocberin.html Accessed 2016-06-10. 15 This incident is featured in Uçurtmam Tellere Takld (My Kite Got Stuck in the Wires), Ümit Kvanç’s 2010 documentary about Ahmet Kaya’s life. 16 The first London Kurdish Film Festival took place 9-15th November 2001. Its program is archived here: http://tcnarchive.blogspot.com.tr/2006/10/kurdish-filmfiles.html. Accessed 2016-06-10. 17 Accessed via kurdishcinema.com on 2016-06-10. The original interviewer seems to be Halil Gam from Yeni Özgür Politika. Translation from Turkish by the author. http://www.kurdishcinema.com/LKKFFMustafaGundogduRoportaj.html 18 Shot by the famous American cinematographer Haskell Wexler. 19 Accessed via kurdishcinema.com on 2016-06-10. The original interviewer seems to be Halil Gam from Yeni Özgür Politika. Translation from Turkish by the author. http://www.kurdishcinema.com/LKKFFMustafaGundogduRoportaj.html 20 In some places, Özgür E. Ark is credited as the co-director instead of Mustafa Sa÷lam. For example: http://www.kameraarkasi.org/yonetmenler/belgeseller/ayriligadugun.html 21 Ankara University’s School of Communications’ website. Accessed 2016-06-10. http://www.ilefarsiv.com/film/yazi_24.htm 22 Personal correspondence with Zeynel Do÷an, June 2016. 23 Founded in 2002, the DSM was also offering workshops in filmmaking. 24 Personal correspondence with Zeynel Do÷an, June 2016. 25 Radikal newspaper “‘Kürt Kz’ Aynur’un albümü toplatld” 2005-02-27. Accessed 2016-06-10. http://www.radikal.com.tr/haber.php?haberno=144918 26 The ban was lifted later in 2005. 27 “Kurdish Broadcast Ends Turkish TV Taboo” ABC News Online. 2004-06-10. Accessed 2016-06-05. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2004-06-10/kurdish-broadcast-ends-turkish-tvtaboo/1990144 28 Similar to Sevin Metin’s Displaced Voices (2001). 29 Kazim Öz at IMC-TV’s Belgesel Sohbetleri (Can Candan in conversation with Kazim Öz), broadcast on 20-04-2012. 30 At 20:41 in the film, a title reads: “Medya TV, Köln, 2001” as the source of this archival footage. 31 National Film Board of Canada: https://www.nfb.ca/film/vendetta_song. Accessed 2016-06-04. 32 Surela Film: http://surelafilm.com/en/film-detay.aspx?id=3. Accessed 2016-0604. 33 Personal correspondence with Zeynel Do÷an, June 2016. 34 “Kalo” means elderly. This is the nickname that his colleagues use for Ylmaz, the main character, as he is the most experienced one. Personal correspondence with Zeynel Do÷an, July 2016. 35 This is how the film is defined by its distribution company, Mitos Film. http://www.mitosfilm.com/index.php/close-up-kurdistan-63.html. Accessed 201606-11. 36 More information available on the festival’s blog:

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


http://blog.ifistanbul.com/kapatilmak/. Accessed 2016-06-11. 37 Interviewed by Suncem Koçer on Öteki Sinema, IMC-TV. Broadcast on 201304-11. Accessed 2016-06-06 via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vBxvRGRsuY. 38 National broadcast on 7 March 2011 at 20:30 on Kanal 24 (Channel 24). 39 It would be interesting to note that Grass (1925) was programmed at the 3rd Paris Kurdish Film Festival in 2010, connecting it to Kurdish cinema. https://kurdistancommentary.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/third-kurdish-filmfestival-in-paris/. Accessed 2016-06-11. 40 When Öz screened his film to the Shawak community, one of their reactions was: “you should not have talked about this situation between this man and the woman. It would be seen that Shawaks always beat their wives.” From an interview conducted by Müge Yamanylmaz and Ya÷mur Mutluay for the FA48i/Documentary in Turkey course taught by the author in Spring 2010 at Bo÷aziçi University, Istanbul. http://diyalogsempozyumu.blogspot.com.tr/2010/10/kazm-ozle-kurt-belgeselsinemas-uzerine.html. Accessed 2016-06-06. 41 In 2015, the name was changed to TRT-Kurdî. http://www.trtkurdi.com.tr. Accessed 2016-06-11. 42 One of the organizers of the conference, the DSM (Diyarbakr Arts Center), described the conference here: http://www.diyarbakirsanat.org/konferansa-snemaya-kurd-ya-navnetew--uluslararasi-kurt-sinemasikonferansi/c296/default.aspx. Accessed 2016-06-11. 43 “Açlm” and “Açlma Devam” are the original terminology in Turkish. 44 More information available on the festival’s blog. http://blog.ifistanbul.com/video-acilim-hakkinda-niye-boyle-bir-bolum-niye-kurtfilmleri/. Accessed 2016-06-11. 45 Mountain films could be defined as films shot in “the mountains” about Kurdish guerrillas. The films of Halil Uysal (Da÷), who was a guerrilla filmmaker within the ranks of the PKK, and who became famous amongst Kurds with his films, and Bakur (North, 2015) could be considered part of this genre. A chapter by Kevin Smets and Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya on the films of Halil Da÷ and a chapter on Bakur by Josh Carney are included in this volume. 46 Sözdar had premiered three years previously at the IDFA (the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) 2007: https://www.idfa.nl/industry/tags/project.aspx?id=c5fdaf53-ae58-4e2f-97609430336c1fd3. Accessed 2016-06-11. 47 Women of Mount Ararat had premiered six years earlier at the IDFA in 2004: https://www.idfa.nl/industry/tags/project.aspx?id=d356f0c5-eadd-45fd-9b01dcc743e046e5. Accessed 2016-06-11. 48 The transcript from this panel appears as Chapter 12 of this volume, with a critical introduction by Alisa Lebow. 49 Bertij means those who come with the sun and is used for the nomadic Shawaks in the Dersim region. Personal correspondence with Caner Canerik, July 2016. 50 Vercihan Ziflio÷lu, Hürriyet Daily News, 2010-03-21.


Chapter I

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/dersims-missing-girls-break-their-silence-after72-years.aspx?pageID=438&n=dersim8217s-missing-girls-break-their-silence-of72-years-2010-03-19. Accessed 2016-06-11. 51 A follow-up documentary, Hay Way Zaman, was released in 2014. 52 Son of Musa Anter, Kurdish dissident, writer, and activist, one of the founders of the MKM, assasinated in 1992 in Diyarbakr by the Turkish state. 53 Arif Arslan in Milliyet newspaper: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/yilmaz-guneyfilm-festivali-nde-berivan-a-yasak/gundem/gundemdetay/15.12.2011/1475978/ default.htm. Accessed 2016-06-11. 54 More on this available here: http://www.beyazperde.com/haberler/filmler/haberler-16885/. Accessed 2016-0611. 55 Aram Tigran was a Kurdish-Armenian singer who was born in Kamishli, Syria, into a family from Diyarbakr. He died in Athens in 2009. For more information on Konservatuara Aram Tîgran see http://konservatuar.diyarbakir.bel.tr. 56 Cegerxwîn is Kurdish intellectual, writer, and poet ùeyhmus Hasan’s pen name and means “bleeding liver.” As late as 2012, the state was imposing a ban on the Cegerxwin Cultural Center along with 19 parks, for having illegal, non-Turkish characters in their names. More on this here: http://ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/7/turkey4035.htm. Accessed 2016-0611. Website of Cegerxwin Cultural Center: http://www.cegerxwin.net. 57 The first Filmamed Documentary Film Festival took place in 2011 (as Diyarbakr Documentary Days), the second in 2012, the third in 2013, and the fourth in 2016. (http://www.filmamed.com). 58 Bûka Baranê means “bride of the rainbow’ and is the name given to a rainbow in Kurdish. http://www.bukabarane.com Accessed 2016-06-11. 59 Fecîra means first daylight in Kurdish and is also a woman’s name. From: Gülten Aydn. Dêrsimli üç kadn ve Fecira – http://politikart1.blogspot.com.tr/2013/04/dersimli-uc-kadn-ve-fecira-gultenaydin.html. Accessed 2016-06-11. 60 Interviewed by Evrim Kepenek. BiaMag. 26 October 2013. http://bianet.org/biamag/toplum/150832-fecira-direnistir. Accessed 2016-06-11. 61 From Boston Turkish Film Festival catalogue: http://www.bostonturkishfestival.org/competition/2014/finalists/haywayzaman_un buriedinthepast.html. Accessed 2016-06-11. 62 This is similar to what happened to Öz’s first fictional short, Ax (The Land at the Ankara Film Festival. 63 Josh Carney writes in detail about the censoring of Bakur in his chapter in this volume. 64 th 9 edition of London Kurdish Film Festival website: www.lkff.co.uk. Accessed 2016-06-11. 65 International Business Times interview: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/londonkurdish-film-festival-cinematic-resistance-tells-story-war-refugees-oppression1527587. Accessed 2016-06-11. 66 2015 London Kurdish Film Festival catalogue: http://www.lkff.co.uk/portfolio_page/hope/. Accessed 2016-06-11.

Kurdish Documentaries in Turkey: An Historical Overview


67 th 4 Filmamed Documentary Film Festival: http://www.filmamed.com. Accessed 2016-06-11. 68 7th Which Human Rights? Film Festival catalogue: http://www.hihff.org/2015/HIHFF_2015_katalog.pdf 69 Salvage ethnography is a term associated with Franz Boas. 70 Recently, a group of young women got together and formed the “Özgür Kadn Kolektifi” (the Free Women’s Collective). Personal correspondence with Esra Ekinci, one of the founding members. June 2016. 71 Bakur has had numerous non-commercial screenings and will have a theatrical relase in 2016 in Europe. Personal correspondence with Ayúe Çetinbaú, the producer of Bakur (North). 72 “In war, truth is the first casualty,” is attributed to Greek writer/poet, Aeschylus (525BC-456BC).

Works Cited Aksoy, Ozan. 2010. “Remembering Ahmet Kaya.” Kurdish Herald. Vol. 2 Issue 1, February 2010. Accessed June 10, 2016. http://www.kurdishherald.com/issue/v002/001/article02.php. Armes, Roy. 1987. “Yilmaz Guney.” In Third World Filmmaking and the West, edited by John Downing, 119-129. New York: Praeger. Candan, Can. 2011. “38 Belgeselinin Hukuk Serüveni.” Altyaz Film Monthly, no. 104: 72. Do÷an, Aynur. 2004. Keçê Kurdan (Kurdish Girl/Kürt Kz). Kalan Müzik. Görüntü. 1996. “Genç Sinemaclarla Söyleúi: Ahmet Soner, Veysel Atayman, Enis Rza.” Görüntü 5:25-34. Güneú, Cengiz, and Welat Zeydanlo÷lu. 2014. The Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Representation and Reconciliation. Oxford: Routledge. Hassanpour, Amir. 1998. “Satellite Footprints as National Borders: MedTV and the Extraterritoriality of State Sovereignty.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 18 (1):53-72. Istanbul International Film Festival. Catalogue. 2010. —. Catalogue. 2011. —. Catalogue. 2012. —. Catalogue. 2013. —. Catalogue. 2014. —. Catalogue. 2016. Klç, Devrim. 2007. “The first Paris Kurdish Film Festival.” Kurdish Aspect. April 17, 2007. Accessed June 4, 2016. http://www.kurdishaspect.com/doc041707KK.html.


Chapter I

Koçer, Suncem. 2012. “2. Filmamed: 34 Bedene øthaf Edilmiú 34 Belgesel.” Altyaz 119:84. McKernan, Luke. 2008. ”Jean Alexandre Louis Promio Promio.” Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. 10 2008. Accessed June 11, 2016. http://www.victorian-cinema.net/promio. Ryan, Nick. 1997. “Television Nation—the Story of Med-TV.” Nick Ryan's personal website. 03 1997. Accessed June 25, 2016. http://www.nickryan.net/articles/television.html. Sönmez, Necati. 2009. “øki Tür, Bir Film, Pek Çok Kafa Karúkl÷!” BiaMag. 11 7, 2009. Accessed June 11, 2016. http://bianet.org/biamag/medya/118114-iki-tur-bir-film-pek-cok-kafakarisikligi. Surela Film website. Accessed June 6, 2016. http://surelafilm.com. Ufuk, Adnan. 1996. “Türkiye’de Devrimci Sinema Tartúmalar 2-Genç Sinema.” Görüntü 5:15-24.


My intention is not to deal with the problem of truth, but with the problem of the truth-teller, or of truth telling as an activity: who is able to tell the truth, about what, with what consequences, and with what relations to power. —Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech

This chapter studies the politics of truth and reality in recent Kurdishlanguage documentary films made in Turkey. Predominantly reflecting on the war between the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and the Turkish army, and its effects on the Kurdish southeast since the mid-1980s, these documentaries construct their narratives around the testimonies of people in the region who survived the period. The filmmakers use the documentary form to speak truth, or to have it spoken, and they turn to testimonial subjects to disclose and archive the events and embodied experiences silenced within the Turkish national-colonial epistemic regime effected by the concerted efforts of Turkish national educational system in effect in the region, the suppression of Kurdish ethno-political identity, and the nationalization of the regional economy. The importance of using Kurdish languages, Kurmanji and Zaza, which had been forbidden by the political power until recently, is that it allows truth to be spoken in a non-hegemonic language, and it establishes the enunciator as a proper subject entitled to speak [truth]. Yet, unlike the conventional


Chapter II

testimonial mode where truth claims are made at the intersection of the truth-telling/claiming subject and the camera as “indexical technology” (Rosen 1993), the Kurdish-language documentary films I discuss here problematize the positions of both the documentary subjects and the camera as suspect in terms of their capacity for truth and reality. The films bracket the truth claims of their subjects by securing a distance between the truth that is narrated by the subjects and the films’ overall truth claim, which is more reflexive than descriptive. The main motivation of this chapter is to discuss how these Kurdish documentary filmmakers, from a minority position, negotiate the positions of their subjects and themselves once they are able to “speak” in and through the documentary form. Documentary studies have been shaped by a discursive turn, which has allowed documentary film scholars and filmmakers to critically engage with the form. This has meant redefining the form’s relation to the categories of truth and reality in terms of the former’s productivity of the latter two, rather than being their “privileged domain”’ (Minh-ha 1993). In the Kurdish context, a similar shift took place within the last decade’s documentaries in terms of their politics of representation. The shift is not only in what gets to be the subject of the documentary, hence the subject of truth and reality, but also how these subjects are dealt with cinematically, namely the formal strategies used to represent their subjects as such. The construction of non-linear narrative, reflexivity, subjectivity and performativity have come to define the formal strategies of these Kurdish-language documentary films. Within their critical formal strategies, the categories of truth and reality have been addressed from an epistemological standpoint as knowledge, the production of which involves positionality of the producers in relation to their subjects and political power, rather than as presence prior to representation. I approach the politics of truth and reality via the nexus of formal politics of these documentary films and the contemporary Kurdish political movement. 1 The political minority status from which the filmmakers speak to their audiences informs the discourses of truth and reality in Kurdish-language documentaries. The films that I discuss here deal with their subjects from a counter-hegemonic and anti-colonial political and aesthetic perspective. The documentary form, with its assumed affinity to truth and reality, has enabled representation by Kurdish filmmakers on their own terms, while setting some historical accounts straight along the way. Anti-colonial and counter-hegemonic political struggle, however, is not necessarily automatically translated into a progressive documentary praxis in terms of its politics of truth and reality (Stam 2013, Spence and Kotaman Avc 2013). Replacing one set of

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truths and realities with another without problematizing the production of these very categories within relations of power would end up replacing one essentialism with another. For this kind of critical documentary aesthetics, speaking from outside a position of power is insufficient. From a documentary ethical standpoint, the new speaking position that the documentary form affords its subjects has to recognize the tension between the positions of not being able to speak, which informs the documentary representations in the first place, and the new documentary subject reflecting on the position of not-speaking. The ethical question, here, is how to allow a documentary subject (whose very presence in front of the camera is due to his or her minority position) without fetishizing or erasing its extra-diegetic political condition. An anti-hegemonic documentary aesthetic would be when the camera can implicate itself within the same plane of immanence as its subject and the political condition it narrates, rather than situating itself and its subject as metahistorical and metasocial. In studying the formal politics of several recent Kurdish-language documentaries, I will argue that, rather than their subjects—state violence, forced evacuations, human rights violations, etc.—it is their formal politics, the experimental formal structure, that makes them productive of counter-hegemonic and anti-colonial representations. Although their political minority status gives credibility to their documentary accounts of the armed conflict, and although the documentary form allows them visibility in terms of their experiences of the war (challenging the official national truth regime in Turkey), I suggest that these documentaries do not claim to produce an alternative truth and reality. Nor am I interested in which version of truth and reality—Kurdish or Turkish—is more “truthful” and more “real.” These documentaries do indeed attempt to reveal “truths” submerged beneath official accounts, to show state violence and the viciousness of the official truth regime that justifies the state violence. More importantly, however, by assigning the ability to speak the truth, these documentaries invite and form a new documentary subject position, which had been denied representative agency. I argue that Kurdish-language documentaries, in their defiance, and from their minority position, defy and dispute the categories of documentary truth and reality. I center my discussion on two documentary films: Fecîra (Piran Baydemir, 2013) and Min Rastî Nivîsand - Deftera Lîceyê (I Wrote the Truth – The Notebook of Lice/ Gerçekleri Yazdm - Lice Defteri, Ersin Çelik, 2012) (hereafter, MRN). These films work to overcome the hegemonic discourses of truth and reality by problematizing an objectivist documentary language. In both Fecîra and MRN, the filmmakers create a


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documentary space within which the documentary impulse that does not function by unearthing the truth and showing the reality—through testimonial accounts—but by testing the possibility and limits of speaking of, and recording, truth and reality in the Kurdish language. The subjects of the films live in the Kurdish districts of Dersim and Lice, where state violence has been experienced most severely. 2 Both Fecîra’s Melek, Besna and Devrim and MRN’s Ahmet Tektaú, who has kept a diary of the Lice district since 1945, agree to appear in front of the camera in order to tell the truth. However, rather than just recording their subjects telling what they consider truthful, these films negotiate a more complex version of truth by including in their diegesis the moment of recording and the position of their subjects and the filmmakers. Within this space of truth, both the condition of the truth telling/claiming subject and of the camera recording it are made to refer to the national-colonial condition that structures the filmic encounter. In these films, unlike conventional testimonial documentaries, where the content of the truth referred to lies within the space-time of the narrated event(s), the formal structure works to fix the truth claim to the moment of filming, the moment at which the possibility of narrating the experience and of its recording coalesce. The political context, which “urges” the documentary subject to speak the truth, also structures the encounter of the subject and the camera. Hence, neither the documentary subject, nor the camera or the filmmaker is located outside the political context.

The Language of Truth and the Formal Politics in Fecîra and MRN Although both Fecîra and MRN are Kurdish-language films, their testimonial subjects use Turkish to either record (as in MRN) or communicate (as in Fecîra) the truth they claim to present. In both films, language works as a thick layer through which to access the events the documentary subjects narrate. Piran Baydemir, the director of Fecîra, recalls the initial interviews he conducted with one of his subjects in the film. As they start filming, the character insists on speaking to the camera in Turkish, even though she normally speaks to the crew in the Zaza dialect of Kurdish. When asked why she does not speak to the camera in her own language, she replies with a question: “would they [the audience] understand me if I do?”; the answer is more than just the naïve reaction of a traditional woman to modern recording technology. As Baydemir explains, speaking Zaza, and one might add, Kurmanji, in front of the camera was difficult because the informants have seldom seen somebody

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on the screen speaking in a language other than Turkish. As Baydemir reflects on the question, he shares his observation: “indeed, the language of the camera and the screen is Turkish.”3 The audio-visibility of the Turkish language in recording truth, as well as in the documentary subjects’ preference for addressing the camera as an apparatus recording their truth accounts, necessitates critical reflection on the documentary subjects’ relation to both the category of “truth” and the camera which records it. Indeed, these films intend to problematize not only the subjects’ relation to truth, but also the camera’s claim to capture it. Rather than situating the subjects’ narration of truth and its recording by the camera as autonomous events, the films urge the audience to see narration and recording as complementary. Through a thick formal layer, they direct the attention to the act of filming, where the two events are brought together with the effect of putting on hold any objectivist claim the documentary form would assume and, instead, put forward the documentary-now as the condition and the possibility of documentary truth.

Documentary Truth and Politics of Representation Not all Kurdish-language documentary films experiment with the documentary form and problematize the categories of truth and reality as they relate to their subject and the filmmaker. Some have a more direct access to truth and reality, however they are defined by the filmmaker, and they carry a realist belief that once the camera is turned on, it has the capacity to capture what exists in front of the camera. The ideology of the claim to have direct access is based on the objectivist account of the documentary subject and the documentary camera, which inscribes an external topography to both truth and reality and to the camera that would be able to capture it. Rather than discussing how realist documentaries create truth and reality “effects” through certain representative strategies, here I am interested in the deconstructive formal strategies films such as Fecîra and MRN use to produce a counter-hegemonic documentary film language. These films allow us to discuss documentary truth and reality not as autonomous events to which the documentary camera gives access, but as effects of certain representative conventions. Arguing that the category of documentary truth, and cinematic realism as its possibility, are discursive constructions does not mean that the events to which they refer do not exist, or that they are not important. Rather, it invites us to recognize the working of a discursive leap between the desire and the political responsibility to unearth the truth and the very practice of its representation.


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Within recent debates in documentary studies this discursive leap is taken as a main feature of documentary film language (See Lòpez 1993, Renov 1993, Gaines in Gaines & Renov 1999, Chanan 2008, Aufderheide 2007). Studying documentary form through discursivity rather than indexicality has helped documentary scholars to (re)discover the documentary form’s affinity with fiction rather than non-fiction, through which the form had long been defined. As Michael Renov explains in his introduction to Theorizing Documentary, “the two domains [documentary and fiction] inhabit each other” (1993, 3). Following Grierson’s definition of documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality” (1966, 13), Renov argues that, although documentary takes its subject from actuality, it uses procedures similar to those used in fiction, such as character development, mise-en-scène, montage, expressive camera angles, etc. The “discursive turn,” which was meticulously discussed by the contributors to Theorizing Documentary, made possible the study of documentary truth and reality through the above listed formal procedures. 4 As a consequence, an affective, relative and contingent (Williams 2013) definition of truth has replaced the objective/mechanical definition to which the documentary form was believed to give access. The debate on the truth effects of the formal strategies in documentary also allowed the theorization of “new documentary” practices (Spence and Navarro 2011, Chanan 2008, Bruzzi 2006) which, through experimental/deconstructive formal strategies, problematize objectivist and historicist conventions of the documentary form. In what follows, I will examine how, and to what effects, Fecîra and MRN use similar formal strategies.

Documentary Subject as Truth Teller and the Politics of Documentary Truth Both Fecîra and MRN resort to their documentary subjects’ narration of self-experiences in the Kurdish southeast during the various conflicts in the region. In Kurdish-language documentaries, the turn to testimonies to access the past-as-truth rather than visual and written archives is common. The presence of the truth teller as the repository of truth and reality has been necessitated by the lack of an archive that would otherwise authenticate truth claims in documentary representations. This, however, is both the structural limitation of these documentaries—the lack of an archive as a form of visible evidence would leave the truth claims of the documentary subjects unsubstantiated—and a deliberate strategy on the part of the filmmaker to differentiate the official accounts of the disembodied (national) past and the documentary subjects’ embodied experiences,

Speaking Truth, Recording Reality in Kurdish


which the official records flatten out for claims of scientificity and universality.5 However, what binds the archive to documentary truth claim through scientificity is an ideological work sustained through discourses of historicity. The use of archive and of expert talking heads, which complements the former in historical documentaries, is productive of a stable and linear historiography in search of a teleological narrative of the past for the territorially organized nation-state. The ideological function of such an archive is not only to historicize “presence,” but also to regulate the space of “absence” the minority subject is forced to occupy by being denied visibility. That, in Kurdish-language documentaries, the archive does not work as a primary source of truth-claiming over the past can be explained through aesthetic-political distaste for using objectification and disembodiment to fill in an abstract political form with the past which these documentaries work to unstabilize. What interests me in Fecîra and MRN is not the subjects’ desire to convey the truth and the ability of the camera to capture it, nor is it the historical [truth] value of the narrations. On the contrary, it is the gap between the truths the subjects desire to convey—which initially must have inspired the filmmakers—and how the filmmakers end up representing these truths being told. In both FecРra and MRN, although the subjects desire to tell the truth, they keep at bay their trust of the ability of the film(maker) to convey the truth. The subjects constantly address the filmmaker by asking about the recording process. The filmmakers, on the other hand, implicate themselves within the narrative structure by either making themselves visible, as in MRN, or not cutting out the parts where the subjects directly address them, as in Fecîra. These representational strategies undermine the reality effect the films may otherwise produce. In both Fecîra and MRN, the interactive dynamic between the truthtelling subject and the camera and their apparently conflicting senses of truth and reality makes the encounter an important part of the politics of truth in these documentaries. With their experimental formal structure, both films diverge from the authorizing effect of conventional testimonies, even though the subjects in these films claim to speak of, or to have written, the truth and reality (what has really happened). 6 Rather than experientially dislocating the audience towards the space-time of the narrated event through the affective, yet authorized, performance of the testimonial subject, these films fix the truth claims to the moment of filming, where both the subjects and the filmmakers constantly test each other’s claim to truth. The films do not offer the narrated past as spacetime of truth; rather, they craft a continuous space-time of truth by adding the time of filmmaking to the narrated past. Hence, the camera works not


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as a mere conduit providing access to the narrated past, but rather helps in creating a thick epistemological layer where the narrated past, the act of narration and of filming coalesce to form the documentary truth these films address.

FecРra and the Limits of Truth-telling FecРra records three women, Melek, Besna, and Devrim, from the city of Dersim, as they reflect on recent political events in their hometown while doing their daily chores. The film starts with Melek in close up paying attention to the other woman, Besna, who emotionally narrates to Melek the nightmare she had had the other night. Melek tries to appease her with prayers, and she invites the camera-person to have tea with them. However, not hearing a response, Melek asks the cameraperson, “Don’t you know our language, lady?” to which Besna adds, “They go to school all along and they speak to us in Turkish.” As she speaks, Besna makes her first eye contact with the camera in disdain.

Fig. 2-1. Besna makes her first eye contact with the camera.

These initial moments, when the presence of the camera is first registered by Besna and Melek through their direct address, this initial matching of gazes and shift in the linguistic register in their address to the camera and the filmmaker, make the film about more than the stories the women narrate. Both Melek and Besna’s implication of the camera in the

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narrative economy of the film through their reverse gazes, and the filmmaker’s decision to keep this moment in the film interrupt the possibility of the film’s direct access to the otherwise historical truth-value of Besna and Melek’s narratives. Soon after this initial moment, Melek, addressing the camera again, reveals her intention in appearing in front of the camera: “now that she is recording our voice, those who know our language well will understand everything,” and Besna adds, “of course they will, what else is she recording us for?” Besna and Melek appropriate the camera as a conduit to reach the audience who can understand their language, both in the literal sense and also in the sense that they can understand what Melek and Besna went through. However, by addressing the camera-person who, they think, does not know their language, Melek and Besna implicate the camera—and filming itself—in the content of their narratives: the Dersim massacre of 1938, the re-militarization of the Kurdish region, the armed conflict in the 1990s and village evacuations perpetrated by the Turkish army. However, throughout the film, both Besna and Melek, and later Devrim, constantly shift between the Kurdish and Turkish languages. When they talk to each other, they exclusively use Kurdish yet, when they address the camera, they make frequent use of Turkish to tell their stories. Within this economy of language, this shift in the register of their conversation, Besna, Melek and Devrim constantly remind the audience of the suspect position of the camera-person, who apparently does not understand them at the time of filming. However, the women who speak to the cameraperson in Turkish also give the film a self-reflexive quality for, even though the reason for this camera being there may be to record the women’s stories, their reverse gaze, together with its linguistic load, stitches the time of the filmmaking, “the documentary now,” to the time of the events being narrated. What happens in the documentary now is important. That the women speak to the camera in Turkish, the language of the oppressor, the perpetrator of the violent events of which they speak, and their alertness as to the ability of the camera-person to “understand” what they say and tell, may lead the audience to question whether what the subjects tell the camera and the audience is truthful. Why would they trust somebody who does not speak their language? And how much is the camera-person able to enter into their lives “to capture” the truth? These questions are crucial as matters of objectivity if objectivity is the filmmaker’s criteria of truth. There is no archival material or expert talking in an attempt to authenticate the narratives of the women. Due to the documentary subjects’ frequent address to it, the camera cannot function transparently. Both for the women recorded, and for us, the


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audience, the camera is too visible. In order to understand the film’s politics of truth, let us now look at how it constructs past and present, history and now. In conventional historical documentaries, the past is claimed as the space of truth and the present, the moment of filmmaking, works as a transparent, unmediated access to it through an illusion of reality created by the realist camera. The past is objectified through archives and expert talking heads. The archive works not only by authenticating the discourses of the past, but also by merging discourses of truth with the ontology of realist representation. Here, documentary now works as a transparent temporality. In Fecîra, on the other hand, the discourse of the past is fractured and replete with prophecies and dreams. In order to talk about the past, both Besna and Devrim refer to a fortune-teller, whose job is to warn people what awaits them. However, the warning, allegorical in form, is always about the political events. Devrim speaks of Heyder Beg: One day Heyder Beg gathers people around himself and look at their fortune. He tells them “be afraid of the day when everybody evacuates their house and gathers around the river.” This really happened in [19]9495 when the soldiers dragged everybody to the riverbed and turned the area into a prison…another day he says the Munzur River will become out of breath and flow in reverse. Really, soon after, a dam is constructed on the river and it started to flow in reverse.

As the narratives of the women get mixed with the fantastic, the past and the everyday become one continuous temporality. That the film starts with Besna telling her nightmare is significant. Even though Besna’s fragmented narrative does not give us a clear picture of the dream content, we understand that it is triggered by a past traumatic event: she asks Melek if she also remembers “that day” when it happened. Combined with the linguistic tension throughout, the film’s politics of truth is in a state of ambivalence. Although not unilaterally authored by the filmmaker, this ambivalence is heightened by a cyclical temporality. The filmmaker visits the three women four times in four seasons and records them while they do different chores. As Baydemir explains in an interview, when his characters tell their stories of the past, different seasons not only mean different daily chores but, more importantly, different events to remember and different ways to remember them. This gives a more complex account of the past.7 Fecîra does not separate the (narrated) past and the present and prevents a dichotomous ordering of before and behind the camera through a reflexive form in which past and present, profilmic and extrafilmic, work together. At the encounter of the

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documentary subject and the camera, the “documentary now,” insisted upon by both, works as the space of truth.

Recording Truth in the Other’s Language: Min RastР NivРsand – Deftera Lîceyê MRN opens on the page of a notebook with Ahmet Tektaú’s stuttering voice reading one of his entries dated 8.7.1993: Crazy Urfi of the Çeperli village is shot dead by the soldiers. On 7.7.1993, Wednesday night Urfi is shot. His body is located under the Sa÷atan bridge. His body is taken to the attorney general. His death certificate is taken. His coffin is brought to the village and buried.

Fig. 2-2. The opening frame of Min RastР NivРsand.

These entries, written in the form of annals, range from the 1975 earthquake, which demolished almost the entire district, to the routine occurrences of weddings and funerals. As Tektaú goes through the entries, though, what is striking is the level of detail with which the political events are recorded: Murat Dermanc, the son of ùevket from the Kene Spi neighborhood of the Til village is shot dead by the soldiers by the oil station. Tuesday night at 11:00, he was shot 27 times while getting off his truck. Murat was 18-19 years old. He was a very good kid. He was buried on 10.11.1992. In the


Chapter II village of Senan, located in the district of Hani, Huseyin is shot dead with one bullet on 30.08.1993. Ferit Erol is shot dead at the intersection on Sunday. 10.10.1993.

As Tektaú reads the entries in the notebook, which has survived multiple raids by the Turkish army, the camera focuses on the specific entry written in a broken script. The level of detail and the shape of the notebooks give it the feel of an authentic representation of the past, even though the entries lack a narrative structure productive of a historical account (White 1987). The combination of mundane events with the extraordinary— catastrophic events of earthquake, army raid, assassinations—betrays the violent structure of the everyday in the recorded past. The director uses some archival footage like that of the earthquake, the prime minister’s visit to the district afterwards, and videos showing the district after the Turkish army had burned down private properties in the downtown area. As Tektaú reads the entries, this footage works to provide visible evidence to the written accounts in the notebooks, just like a conventional historical documentary where the image and text together produce an objective experience of the past. However, although this image-text nexus seems to work to objectify the past, the curious visibility of the film crew, and the use of a second camera to show the filmmaking apparatus throughout, make one wonder why the filmmaker wants to show a craft that would subvert the otherwise authenticity of the representation. Put another way, in a historical representation where the truth-claiming subject provides the necessary “truth content,” and archival footage is also available for the filmmaker to support the claim, why would the filmmaker turn to reflexivity and make the filmic process part of the representation, if not to comment on the very truth-claims he or she records? In fact, the title of the film, Min Rastî Nivîsand (I Wrote the Truth) does not do as much to answer, or even pose, the question as it does to emphasize the “enunciator” and the content of its script rather than the craft of filmmaking. More than a few times we see the camera-person with the camera taking close-up images of the notebooks while we hear Tektaú’s voice on the voice-over track reading those very notebooks.

Speaking Truth, Recording Reality in Kurdish


Fig. 2-3. A second camera recording Tektaú’s notebook.

The reflexive point-of-view shot shows the film crew operating a rather large camera attached to a tripod with completely expanded legs around the notebooks. Watching the camera’s intimate relationship with the notebook not only works to put into brackets the authenticity of the image-text in relation to the referred past, but it also points to a crucial detail that a more reserved camera would fail to register. The screen-filling magnitude of the letters on the notebook further emphasizes how shaky and crooked the writing is, to the extent that it ceases to signify anything other than itself. This handwriting is only matched with Tektaú’s voiceover reading on camera in a stuttering heavy accent, which also fails to refer to anything but itself. The reflexivity of the filmmaker seems to work to direct the attention of the audience to the physicality of the audio-visual as deformed, rather than to its otherwise purported referent. What is seen in the notebook and in the voice reading is its language rather than the events they refer to; although Tektaú is a native Kurmanji speaker and speaks to the camera in Kurmanji, the notebooks are written in Turkish, the only language he can read and write. Tektaú speaks fluently in Kurmanji. He does not speak comfortably in Turkish, yet he uses the Turkish language to write “the truth.”8


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Fig. 2-4. Tektaú’s handwriting in close-up.

It is through this reflexive presence of the camera within the film that the film can address the materiality of the language in expressing the truth. The question the film poses and addresses through its formal politics is why Tektaú uses Kurdish to speak, yet Turkish to write, and why, in a Kurdish-language documentary film, is the language of the archive Turkish? The insistence on the language of the documentary film being in Kurdish, and the audio-visibility of Turkish language as the possibility of writing, authenticating and communicating “truth,” unmistakably refers to a colonial situation. 9 We can make sense of the reflexivity of the film in the following way: while recognizing the ontological and epistemological effects of Tektaú “speaking” Kurdish in front of the documentary camera, the filmmaker positions this politics of presence within the still working hegemonic truth regime within which the Kurdish documentary subject must necessarily use Turkish to write and authenticate its truth claims. Neither the filmmaker nor the documentary subject is located outside of this hegemonic regime by assuming direct access to the past as truth, bypassing the present. While being able to speak—but not read or write— in Kurdish, the documentary subject still has to work within a colonial epistemic regime, which works through national education. The filmmaker does not seem to question the truth-value of the events recorded; he seems to accept that the events recorded in the notebook really happened. Rather, it is in the insistence on the difference between what really happened and what gives it the status of truth that MRN shows how the events referred to in the notebook can exist as truth only in and

Speaking Truth, Recording Reality in Kurdish


through (another) language. Hence, because it is mediated by language, the camera’s direct access to truth, as the particular representation of an event, is only an illusion. In this way, the physical presence of the camera works metaphorically to refer to the mediation involved in truth-making. The film ends when the cameraperson tells Tektaú that they have to change the battery of the camera to retake the last scene. The closing shot shows Tektaú’s hand in close-up writing on his notebook: “On 07.10.2010, Thursday, the filmmakers came to the village and made a film about my notebook.” Tektaú, in the end, records the film(ing) in his notebook as one more event in its truth-making.

Conclusion The audio-visibility of the Turkish language as a main part of the subjects’ truth-telling within recent Kurdish-language documentary films betrays the difficulty of establishing the Kurdish language as a discursive space of documentary truth. The aesthetic-political choice of the filmmakers to use Kurdish as their film language ends up crafting a documentary space where the filmmakers negotiate the existence of the Turkish language both as the language of writing—hence, inscribing truth—and of the visual archive. By focusing on their subjects’ narration as the space of truth, Fecîra and MRN make visible their subjects’ embodied experiences, which had been erased within the national-colonial epistemic regime in Turkey. This space is a reflexive one, where the filmmakers inscribe themselves into the film’s diegesis to prevent the fixation of audience’s attention on the space-time of the narrated event, but the documentary subjects inculcate the filmmakers into their stories by constantly talking to those behind the camera. Bracketing both the production process and the truth-claims of their subjects, Fecîra and MRN address the national-colonial condition as shaping the documentary production process. The filmmakers devise certain formal strategies to thwart the truth and reality effects of the documentary form, formal strategies that afford a more reflexive and critical version of truth and reality at the encounter of the filmmaker and the documentary subjects. Yet, neither the documentary subjects’ claim to truth, nor the filmmakers’ intention to capture it is left outside the national-colonial condition.


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By formal politics, I refer to the formal structure of the documentary film such as camera angles, editing, mise-en-scène, narrative, camera movements–the way camera interacts with profilmic and extra-filmic spaces—in terms of their relation to the ontological, epistemological and political conditions and effects. Considering the formal politics of the documentary form presupposes that it assumes more—or less—than a direct/unmediated access to truth and reality. 2 The Dersim district was renamed Tunceli after the military operations in 1937-8. The name comes from these military operations organized by the state against the Kurdish-populated Dersim district. 3 Personal interview with Baydemir. March 2015. 4 Theorizing Documentary uses post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theory (with frequent reference to the works of Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Hayden White) to problematize the objectivist conventions of the documentary form. The contributors discuss documentary through postmodernity, discursivity, historicity, fictiveness, and desire, which have been used to define and study the domain of fiction. 5 Moreover, the presence of the Kurdish speaker as documentary subject narrating the past in front of the camera imbues her with authority to claim a right to the past and identity, which is denied to her within the Turkish language mediascape. However, the subject position of the documentary subject, qua Kurdish language, gets interrupted as they switch between languages in order to communicate truth to the camera. 6 Besna in FecРra claims that, after watching the film, ‘those who know [their] language well will understand everything,’ Ahmet in MRN explains the reason why he keeps the diary as “putting the truth on record.” 7 Personal interview with Baydemir March 2015. 8 This linguistic mark is also visible in the archival footage used in the film. The language of the archival footage—the other truth-content used in the film—is also in Turkish. 9 Being able to speak in the Kurdish language establishes a political ontology of the Kurdish identity that was included within the nationalist epistemological regime as absent. Speaking—and being heard—in one’s own language should have a double function: speaking authorizes both a new subject category as “present” and as the content of truth claims. Language acknowledges the documentary subject as present prior to filming while documentary camera makes this subject “visible.”

Works Cited Aufderheide, Patricia. 2007. Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. Austin, Thomas and Wilma de Jong. 2008. Rethinking Documentary: New

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Perspectives, New Practices. Berkshire, England: Open University Press. Bruzzi, Stella. 2006. New Documentary. London and New York: Routledge. Chanan, Michael. 2008. The Politics of Documentary. London: British Film Institute. Cowie. Elizabeth. 2011. Recording Reality, Desiring the Real. Minneapolis & London: University Minnesota Press. Gaines, Jane and Michael Renov (eds.). 1999. Collecting Visible Evidence. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press. Gierstberg, Frits, Maartje van den Heuvel, Hans Scholten, Martijn Verhoeven. 2005. Documentary Now! Contemporary Strategies in Photography, Film and the Visual Arts. Rotterdam, New York and London: Nai Publishers. Grierson, John. 1966. “The First Principles of Documentary.” In Grierson on Documentary, edited by Hardy Forsythe, 145-156. London: Faber & Faber. Lòpez, Ana M. 1993. “(Not) Looking for Origins: Postmodernism, Documentary and America.” In Theorizing Documentary, edited by Michael Renov, 151-163. New York & London: Routledge. Minh-ha, Trinh T.1993. “The Totalizing Quest of Meaning.” In Theorizing Documentary, edited By M Renov, 90-107. New York & London: Routledge. Nichols, Bill. 1993. “‘Getting to know you…:’ Knowledge, Power and the Body.” In Theorizing Documentary, edited by M Renov, 174-192. New York & London: Routledge. —. 2001. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Renov, Michael. 1993. “Introduction: The Truth about Non-Fiction.” In Theorizing Documentary, edited by M Renov, 1-11. New York & London: Routledge. —. 1993. “Toward a Poetics of Documentary.” In Theorizing Documentary, edited by M Renov, 12-36. New York & London: Routledge. —. 2004. The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis & London: University Minnesota Press. Rosen, Philip. 1993. “Document and Documentary: On the Persistence of Historical Concepts.” In Theorizing Documentary, edited by M Renov, 58-89. New York & London: Routledge. Spence, Louise and Vinicius Navarro. 2011. Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning. New Brunswick, New Jersey & London: Rutgers University Press.


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Spence, Louise and Asl Kotaman Avc. 2013. “The Talking Witness Documentary: Rememberance and the Politics of Truth.” Rethinking History 7 (3):295-311. Stam, Robert. 2013. “The Two Avant-Gardes: Solanas and Getino’s The Hour of the Furnaces.” In Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, edited by B. K. Grant and J. Sloniowsky, 271-286. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. White, Hayden. 1987. The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore & London: The John Hopkins University Press. Williams, Linda. 2013. “Mirrors Without Memories: Truth, History, and The Thin Blue Line.” In Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, edited by B. K. Grant and J. Sloniowsky, 385-403. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.


On February 6th, 2010, I was invited by several students to a screening of a recent Kurdish documentary, 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84, Çayan Demirel, 2009), at Satur-Dox, an alternative site programming Saturday night documentaries in an Istanbul art gallery. Many of my students and colleagues stopped by my office or emailed to say that I ought to see it. The crowd was so large at Satur-Dox that they needed to arrange a second room. More people attended that screening than any other in the three years of the venue’s operation. Eleven months later, the feature-length documentary played at a commercial movie theater on Istiklal Street, in the main entertainment district of the European section of Istanbul. Originally scheduled for one week, it was held over for three. The film drew a total of 6,000 people at an arts festival and at a commercial theater in the city of Diyarbakr in the east of Turkey, a predominately Kurdish city, the symbolic home city for Turkish Kurds, and where the prison is located. It won the best documentary award at the 46th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival and at the 21st Ankara Film Festival, and, in 2009, from the Sinema Yazarlar Derne÷i/Turkish Film Critics Association (SøYAD). The film was being welcomed with open arms. Prison Nr. 5 tells of the experiences of the men and women who were incarcerated in the prison in the aftermath of the 1980 Turkish coup d’état, those who survived and are willing to talk about it. It relies on testimony, the spoken memories of witnesses, people who had first-hand knowledge of torture, executions, and so-called accidental deaths. The spoken word is


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used to communicate, as Teshome Gabriel has pointed out in a different context, “things that have always to some degree, exceeded visual representation: the lived experience, residuals, the viscera” (1998, 76). By drawing on memories, and by attributing absolute authority to lived experience (through the on-camera attestation of violence and suffering), this documentary seems to be offering us a new truth, a truth which runs counter to the state-sanctioned truth, a truth that is to become part of the public record—for all time. Michel Foucault speaks of such memory as counter-memory, a residual or resistant strain that withstands official versions (Davis and Starn 1989, 2; Foucault 1980, 139–64). One cannot doubt the work’s social relevance. Yet writing about this documentary has been difficult for me because, no matter how much acclaim it has received, no matter how grateful people are that it was not banned, and no matter how much it is seen as doing good work (fulfilling a political need), this documentary is essentially, in its formal construction, far from radical.1 Therefore, I have been wondering if there may not a limit to how much social influence it might have. First, the background. Turkey is a country that is often accused, even in its own public opinion, of social amnesia.2 The process involved in the founding of the modern Turkish Republic on the ruins of the Ottoman state was also the scene of unprecedented and institutionalized “forgetting.” As Esra Özyürek explains, “Erasing the everyday habits and memories of the immediate past allowed the [nascent] Turkish government to establish itself as the founder of a new era” (4). In the mid1920s, the Islamic lunar calendar was abandoned in favor of the Western Gregorian calendar, and Latin script was adopted in place of Arabic script. The new alphabet made it impossible for the younger generation to read anything written before 1928. Soon the script reform was coupled with language reform, further distancing younger generations from their Ottoman past. In addition, all Turkish citizens were required to drop their tribal, clan, and location names, as well as their religious titles, and adopt surnames, as was customary in the West. This divided clans into smaller groups, made it harder for young people to know their genealogy, and severed them from many older connections. These moves created, in Ayúe Öncü’s words, “a homogenous empty time upon which the biography of the new nation could be written” (2000, 299). Importantly, the effort to construct a unified Turkish national identity also included leaving behind memories of the multicultural and heterogeneous Ottoman Empire. This targeted Greeks, Jews, and Armenians, but also Kurds, who, in state rhetoric, were referred to as “mountain Turks,” and later as “eastern Turks.”

The Politics of Truth in the Talking Witness Documentary


But of course, Kurds and Turks have memories, and even the attempts of the new Republic to foster “forgetfulness” did not erase memories. Yet there still exists a subtle and complicated politics involved in expressing memories, in articulating them in public life. I will return to this in a moment. What makes it difficult to situate this documentary in contemporary Turkey is not that the 1980 coup’s brutality was unknown or forgotten, but that the violence is the secret everyone knows. It was that way in the early ‘80s, and was still that way at the time of the documentary’s release.3 Many memoirs by those who were incarcerated have been published, and there have been fiction films.4 A recent TV serial even mentioned the incarcerations and torture.5 These works were far from impartial. Prison Nr. 5 was greeted enthusiastically, in my opinion, precisely because it does not have the objectivity that many expect from a documentary. Its first-person testimony and its history are explicit, legible and, significantly, it is from the point of view of the victims. It was seen to be telling the truth about the evil hidden in plain sight. Meltem Ahska (2006) writes of “different registers of telling the truth” in Turkish national history. What one speaks about in an “intimate” register is what everyone knows but rarely speaks about openly (11-12).6 “If the official truth is static and falsified and not able to accommodate the diversity of lived experience,” comments Ahska, “then the other [intimate] register of truth acknowledges this and creates ways of informal falsification” (22). These two registers of truth cannot be reconciled, as they are interdependent and, because of their dialogical relations, they reinforce each other. Turkey’s “refusal to know the complexity and heterogeneity of the social,” as Ahska notes, reduces it to a national idiom. This in turn justifies the secrets of the state, which should not be spoken aloud or exhibited to an external gaze. So a distinction must be made between the inside and outside (2006, 26).7 A documentary that announces publicly the clandestine truth everyone knows, then, would appear to be performing a vital and fundamental function. But this raises a number of crucial questions. What happens to collective knowledge when national traumas are constrained by the vicissitudes of representation? What part does that mediation play? What is the potential of a documentary’s revision of public memory to contribute to the field of contested memories in which we produce our concept of “nation”? Our understandings of, and allegiance to, the “nation” are culturally constructed, and the nation itself is a cultural artifact, an “imagined community,” to use Benedict Anderson’s phrase,


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that rests on the myth of social affinity (1983, 4-7). The utopian belief in that imagined community, or a nationalism that promotes the expression and realization of a utopian will, in Bhaskar Sarkar’s words, the “proud and thunderous ‘we’ that energizes and legitimizes many a national constitution” is, at best, a tenuous entity (2009, 3-4). The cleft in nationalism that comes with the knowledge of the state’s betrayal can threaten that utopian will. Although Turkish nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, and leftists were incarcerated, tortured, and killed by the junta, it was mainly Kurds and leftists who bore the brunt of the violence. This, too, was widely known. Yet to declare it out loud had been seen as a threat to Turkish solidarity. This documentary has, perhaps, garnered so much attention because it brings that violence and suffering into public visibility at a time when, as never before, this had become feasible. Recent shifts in nationalist ideologies and programs, in particular the nation-wide referendum that would make possible the civil prosecution of military personnel, the criticisms of torture and human rights abuses that the prospective admission to the EU has engendered, and the latest concessions to Kurdish language and culture, had all contributed to an emergent openness to this past.8 Let me cite some statistics for those who are not familiar with the September 12, 1980 coup d’état. The coup put an end to several years of political violence between, among others, leftists, nationalists, and fundamentalist Muslim groups. But it did so at a great social cost. According to Erik J. Zürcher, in the first six weeks, 11,500 people were arrested. By the end of 1980, 30,000 were incarcerated, and by the oneyear anniversary, 122,600 arrests had been made (1997, 292-94). It is generally thought that 650,000 were taken into custody in the four years that followed the coup (many of them simply for belonging to an organization); 1,683,000 were registered as suspect. During the interrogation of detainees in police stations, garrisons, and prisons, torture was widespread. In most cases, those charged were tried by military courts. Nearly 3,600 death sentences were pronounced. Prison Nr. 5 begins with a set of statistics stating that 50 of those sentenced were hung and 299 others died in jail.9 In this chapter, I will be considering the talking-head testimony as something to be looked through and something to be looked at and, although I am looking at Prison Nr. 5 as a sample, much of what I will be saying is relevant to other talking witness documentaries, a popular form outside of Turkey as well (especially in documentaries made for television). I will be paying special attention to the form Prison Nr. 5

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takes, the means it uses to reconstruct and recreate “history.” This work, then, serves as a starting point, a springboard, to reflect on the opportunities and limitations of the talking witness form, its appeals, and its politics of truth. Because of this, I am not as interested in what the interviewees say in Prison Nr. 5, neither the representational nor the expressive aspects of the spoken, as much as in what is made of the direct sound interviews, how the film tells its story. As James Young has pointed out, any historical inquiry should attend not only to what happened, but also to how it has been passed down to us (2003, 283). It is this second aspect, how these documentaries tell their history, how they pass on history, that concerns me here. Prison Nr. 5 has no voice-over narration, and its first-hand testimony is punctuated and supported by archival footage. There are occasional inserts of eastern landscapes, watchtowers, clanging prison gates, and drawings by Zülfükar Tak.10 I will be concentrating on the main means the film uses, the eyewitness testimony of the women and men who were there and who want to share their experiences. But share with whom? Who are the intended recipients? Although witnesses speak of the difficulties many of those incarcerated and their Kurdish visitors had in speaking Turkish, the spoken language throughout the film is Turkish. The title, too, is in Turkish.11 In an earlier version of this chapter, I noted that one might assume the maker wished to address majority audiences (people who belong to what Karen E. Till has called, in another context, the “society of perpetrators,” a society that must face its violent past [Till 2005, 122; see also Demirel quoted in Ziflio÷lu 2009]). What those audiences see and hear are not dispassionate, generalized accounts, but the specifics of the event through the heartfelt words of people whose lives were directly affected. But, as Ali Fuat ùengül has noted in an essay in this volume, Kurdish people speaking Turkish in a documentary are speaking the language that has traditionally been associated with official truth, so we might also ponder how this can be an important matter in a film’s truth claims. The very people who were interrogated in that prison, the “unruly populace” who were treated as objects of political subjugation, have now become voluntary subjects of knowledge, purposeful subjects aware of their own voices. Furthermore, the documentary honors them for their sense of agency and their ability to provide answers about the “real past,” even though they may not have been previously recognized for that in their personal lives. Audiences observe testimony about abuses and atrocities, traces of national trauma (a “wound” to the nation). The senseless, yet routine, horrors prisoners experienced, many extremely


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painful to talk about, are communicated sometimes assertively, sometimes haltingly, with choked-up pauses and tears. Hands cover faces as memories are too difficult to negotiate. There is a political agenda to the work: the talking witness—and the testimonial act—are meant as tools of justice. The secret everyone knows and the questions everyone has been wordlessly asking now have a place in the public mind and eye. Thanks to these men and women, events and actions in the past that were previously known via whispers and innuendo, muted by the traumatized victims’ reluctance to discuss the past, or the state not wanting to take responsibility for it, are now out in the open. And, thanks to these women and men, the fractured stories that the younger generation grew up with, and which fueled their imaginations and fantasies, but which never added up to a complete picture, are now transformed into something more concrete. In Prison Nr. 5, the display of state power is openly visible to the public gaze. The testimonies turn a state institution of confinement into an institution of exhibition, a reversal of the surveillance and disciplinary mechanisms that suffused Turkish society in the early 1980s. The bodies of the tortured and the exercise of power are no longer hidden, but writ large for all to read (see Bennett 1988, 73-4). 12 And, because of the comfortable indexicality of those talking heads (the fact that the camera and microphone were present to record the witnesses’ testimony), the stories are endowed with life (Hirsch and Spitzer, 2008, 138). The strong correspondence between sound and image, a conventional realist aesthetic, means that the witnesses also have a persuasive iconic presence. Avishai Margalit writes of witnesses of nightmares of evil and suffering as having a “special sort of charisma,” one that “comes from having a special kind of experience which is elevated to some sort of high spirituality that makes the witness a moral force” (2002, 178). Certainly this is part of the power of the documentary. We may know the facts already, we may learn nothing new but, because of the “mimetic” affective engagement, which breaks into the moral and conceptual space of the trauma, endeavoring to, at once, fix and disseminate memories of the past, we now have an indelible image and a permanent record that cannot be ignored. Along with the words spoken, the quality of the voice, the cadences of speech, the sobbing, the sighs, the silences, the non-semantic sounds that come from the faces all contribute to the emotional impact of the testimony. We generally refer to these works as “talking head” documentaries, but it might be more precise to refer to them as “talking faces.” 13 The camera generally remains static on the interviewees in Prison Nr. 5, but the performances themselves, the delivery of testimony,

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are quite moving. The effects on the teller of conveying memories are apparent. Clearly memory does not take place in a void. Yet the present conditions under which they are being remembered are not part of this story, nor are the effects of the memories on the ultimate storyteller, the collector of memories, the documentary’s maker. The middle agent, the filmmaker, the agent who has brought the memories to us and has shaped them into a history, is missing. Memory is evidence of history, and the shared memory becomes the pretense of truth and the ground for moral claims. This is interesting for what it tells us about evidence. But it is also interesting for what it tells us about the desires that spectators bring to a documentary. We want compelling individuals and chilling facts, sensational evidence. We want the witness to remember and to be here now to tell the tale. We want, as Geoffrey Hartman has written, “I was there,” and, equally, “I am here,” not only to tell us about it but also to display the humanity of the victim, the humanity of surviving (1997, 6970; see also Spence and Navarro 2011, 84). These witnesses have been asked to perform their memories about their trauma and pain, on camera, for the spectator’s benefit. And, as Jill Godmilow (1999) argues in a different context, the spectator seems to have a certain, synthetic intimacy with them. Talking witness documentaries forge an implicit contract with the audience that is based on our desire for the real and our good faith. They knit us in to a moral community of “we,” a collective we, united by our compassion. This seems based on the liberal assumption that goodness will come from understanding that evil took place, and that knowledge will make us better people. It is also based, of course, on the notion that the audience believes that these witnesses are conveying truths. Jacques Derrida insists that inherent in bearing witness is a call to the addressee of the witnessing to believe the testimony. According to Derrida, witnesses do not deliver proof; they deliver “having-beenpresent,” responsibility and sincerity, an assumed knowledge based on their first-hand experience. He writes that we have no other choice but to believe—or disbelieve—attestation: “[V]erification or transformation into proof…belong to some [other] foreign space” (2000, 194). Memory is assumed to be reliable, even though we all know that memory fades over time, and even though we know that memory can be distorted by our beliefs, desires, and interests. The children’s game of “telephone” (in which you whisper something in someone’s ear, then she whispers it to another, and so on around the circle, ending when the last says the message out loud, generally far from that which the first person


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whispered) illustrates how unreliable even our short-term memory is.14 We are sometimes suspicious that even talking about an event can also affect our memory. Do we remember the event itself or our stories about it? And we know, too, that memories are constantly being revised, rewritten, overlaid with commentary, made into narratives. When memory enters language, it is changed in the process (Hirsch and Spitzer, 2010, 402). This is not meant to call memory into question as an aid to the construction of history. Surely it is the simultaneous desire for contact with the past and its unattainability that make memories, and the talking witness documentary, so attractive. Although memories cannot deliver a past, they can sound an echo—one in which the moment of the events recalled reverberates with the moment of the narrative that reports it. The memories expressed in Prison Nr. 5 are valuable not only because they break the conspiracy of whispers and innuendo to tell us of events, but also because they tell us what those events mean to the people who recount them. As people look back on their lives, their memories are vital sources of their feelings, beliefs, and values. Hence they can reveal not just what people did, but what they felt about what they did, why they responded to events as they did, and what those events have come to mean to them. Oral historian Alessandro Portelli contends that subjectivity is as much a part of history as the more visible facts (1981, 100). He also maintains that oral histories, and I think we can substitute oral reminiscences, tell us less about events than about their meanings (1991, 50). So testimonies, if we know how to read them, can be very valuable.15 But, as Young observes, survivors know of events both directly and at some remove. “The survivor’s memory includes both experiences of history and of memory, the way that memory has already become a part of personal history…” (2003, 280). Memories themselves have histories, and they are narrativized within power relations. We need to recognize the role their experiences have played in the survivors’ lives, and also the role their own narratives have played in their lives, the complex interweaving of memories and self. Yet, in Prison Nr. 5, we know little of the dynamic of memory, little of the history of those memories, and nothing of the power relations that produce them for this film. Although certainly aware of the camera, and performing for it, the testimony itself appears to be what the informants want to comment on, rather than an unscripted response to questions asked. The interrogator is off-screen and unheard, and the “hierarchy of control that guides and directs the exchange” is invisible (Nichols 1991, 52).16 We get no insight into the process through which the memories have been solicited, collected, and made available to audiences. Memory is

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reduced to the facts and emotions that the documentarian feels are necessary to tell his history in a meaningful, authoritative manner. And the contingent truths of the historian’s narrative, the intersubjective dialogues, the pas de deux between disparate voices are missing, hidden under the weight of the witnesses’ memories, the survivors’ testimonies.16 The dialogue between the filmmaker and the viewer is also subdued, as the authority of the memories, the evidence of memories, becomes the realization of the real. Even as we acknowledge the value of memory, it is important to acknowledge the limitations that come with the “truth telling” of this type of documentary. We know that memory is subject, in Pierre Nora’s words, “to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting” (1996, 3). We want to remember so we will not forget; and there is a need to testify so that others will not forget. The promise, then, is in the telling, the transmission of memories, so that those memories can be part of how we know history. But what is generally not clear in the talking witness documentary is that the history with which we are presented is a reconstruction, “always problematic and incomplete” (Nora, 3). The testimonial documentary stakes a claim to history, yet it rarely exposes the history, variability, and partiality of its own production of meaning. We are seldom aware of the intellectual and social dynamics of the work’s history. Unlike the more modernist, multivalent hermeneutics of Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light, Patricio Guzmán, 2010), S21: La machine de mort Khmère rouge (S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, Rithy Panh, 2003), or History and Memory (Rea Tajiri, 1991), Prison Nr. 5 (and, I would suggest, most other talking witness documentaries), does not see the nature of historical knowledge as a problem. It confidently substitutes one history for another. It never challenges conventional historical understandings of evidence. Nor does it include the search for meaning as part of the story. Nor does it critically and self-consciously incorporate into the story the difficulty of discovering and telling the whole truth—or even a small part of the truth—about an event. Rather, by implication, this type of documentary points out the need for information in order to reconstruct what happened (on the popular, if not the official, level) and, with untainted realism, with all the rhetorical force of photographic likeness, it seems to be conveying that information to us through the memories of those who testify. History is knowable, and eyewitness testimony is evidence that can bring the past to us. We might describe its use of testimony as a positivist faith in truth and historical knowledge, a discursive transparency that hides its own power behind a naïve epistemology. The above-mentioned works are also concerned with


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representing reality “realistically.” But conceptions of both history and realism are being interrogated. The history they confront is not the history envisioned by nineteenth century mimetic realism. In Prison Nr. 5 there is little uncertainty of meaning. Evidence is strong and unambiguous, and declares its own importance. Former inmates tell us of having been forced to sign false statements suggesting that the deaths that resulted from torture were the result of accidents. We might think of the new evidence as generally filling in gaps in the record or shedding new light on a phenomenon. And it would be nice to think of this new evidence as revealing the circumstances of these violent deaths, heretofore suppressed, excised from popular memory. In this case, however, the new evidence does not reveal previously unknown information. If it transforms our understanding, it does so not through new facts, but through vivid, affecting information that allows us to see the phenomenon differently—through the eyes of the survivors.17 Yet this new evidence is not treated as redundant or supplementary. It is treated as authenticating the past. Its claim to pedagogical legitimacy is based on the authority of experience. This evidence depends on a referential notion of evidence: evidence as simply a reflection of the real.18 And this authorized appearance of the “real,” to paraphrase Michel de Certeau, serves to camouflage the practices that determine it and organize it. In effect, de Certeau goes on to say, representation disguises the praxis that brings it to us (cited in Scott 1991, 776-777). Any historical documentary reports on present sources of historical knowledge, organizes the evidence in some fashion, into some sort of narrative form. Evidence, therefore, should be recognized as such in relation to a potential narrative, “so that,” as Lionel Gossman notes, a “narrative can be seen to determine the evidence as much as the evidence determines the narrative” (1989, 26). But, in the talking testimony documentary, how each informant’s past is narrativized is generally hidden in the editing process. The recorded recollections in testimonial documentaries are excerpted to provide the information that is needed to reconstruct what happened. In Prison Nr. 5, they are arranged into a fairly linear chronology. The way that each witness’ story was told is lost. What would have been the story of each survivor has been reduced to a sequence of memories—memories of experiences. In the talking witness documentary, the authority of experience serves as the starting point, as well as explanation and conclusion. It treats testimony not as an opaque site of political struggle, but as transparent factual evidence. Experience seems to be uncontestable, true, because the subject lived through it. (“I hold the truth; I was there; I will tell you what

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the state-authorized textbooks don’t tell….”). The discursive nature of testimony—indeed, the discursive nature of memory—is ignored because to discuss it would undermine the status of testimony as an unquestionable ground for explanation. Experience itself is unquestioned and unquestionable. And there seems to be a perceived necessity for a strong, clear narrative line, a certain amount of coherence. Here, again, a contrast with the documentaries mentioned earlier—documentaries with intricate, self-conscious, and fragmented narratives—might be constructive. Unlike those, in the talking witness documentary’s search for legibility and persuasiveness (and there are political reasons for wanting to be persuasive), conflicting accounts, vagueness and ambivalence, rather than being interrogated, are generally excised. It is usually assumed that if one informant contradicts another, one account must be omitted. Consequently complexity is eliminated, as well. But is this not contrary to the subjectivities that memory has to offer? Subjectivities that are, indeed, constituted by experience (see Scott 1991, 777-79). In the search for certainties, story is reduced to necessary information. Context is negated. Derrida’s notion that witnesses deliver “having-beenpresent,” and that we have no other choice but to believe—or disbelieve— the attestation, is based on the notion that testimony is empirical evidence. Competing accounts would throw this epistemological perspective into question. They would splinter the definitive, logical history into rival, malleable histories. Competing accounts might also reveal the act of remembering, that memory created at the moment for a specific purpose, materialized in fleeting moments, shaped for a particular occasion. In Prison Nr. 5, the occasion is muffled; the witnesses seem to be thinking about the events that they recount, unprovoked. Yet, it is the necessity to report, to externalize the memory that brings forth the recollections (see Bal et al. 1999; also Spence and Paça Cengiz 2011). As Susan Engel puts it, “One creates the memory at the moment one needs it” (1999, 6). She also remarks that “[m]emories must find an audience to become part of history” (154). It might thus be helpful to see the act of testimony as performative, in the sense that it both constitutes and enables historical memory. Rather than thinking of testimony as simply a form of historical evidence, we might, as Roxana Waterson does, think of it as an event in its own right (2007, 61), an event that takes place in the present. As such, these testimonies do not simply report on or


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describe the past reality; they have the potential to intervene in the course of human events in the present. But what can this social intervention accomplish? Prison Nr. 5 is an unquestionably significant documentary, powerful and eloquent political oratory. Because of its politics of truth, however, I wonder if there might not be some limit to the kinds of social impact this well-meaning documentary might have. It delivers an unquestionable truth, a past that is clear and forceful. The logic of the talking witness may be limited precisely to bringing force and clarity to the event. It is seldom able to get deeper into the subject to explore the structural reasons behind the event, the inner workings or logic. The documentary’s communicability, the utopian potential to inform, takes precedence over analytical complexity. But is knowledge about the past enough to ensure that it will not happen again? In Prison Nr. 5, there is no structural analysis. Personal memory of personal experience substitutes for historical inquiry. The documentary laments the past events. But can it contribute to understanding them? Or does it, as Godmilow (1999) suggests about the “liberal documentary” in general, produce not useful knowledge, but desire—desire for a “better, fairer world”? Yet, ironically, doesn’t this desire celebrate the inherent absence of that ideal? The witnesses, therefore, might be seen as performing a kind of healing service for the spectator. We are edified by their memories, their suffering. Prison Nr. 5 is not only welcome, but also satisfying. So what? What do we expect from a documentary? The possibility of a documentary contributing to or mobilizing people for social transformation is itself a debatable concept. If information about wrongdoings has the possibility to change consciousness, how can we appraise that change? And what does the fact that Prison Nr. 5 was so welcomed tell us? Theater attendance or DVD sales may reflect a documentary’s reporting skills. An award may be a sign of its artistic excellence. But can we measure engagement? Can we even isolate motivations to evaluate them? Homi Bhabha long ago referred to an article Robert Stam and I wrote as Brechtian (1983, 22). He was right, of course. As Brechtians, we felt that a film’s form, its textual strategies, were political, and could affect the way spectators connect with the work and, therefore, how they processed the information in it. The aim was to produce active spectators who were encouraged to think critically and to draw conclusions, to be transformed into participants, so to speak. Why should they check their brain in the

The Politics of Truth in the Talking Witness Documentary


cloakroom? Brecht felt that his concerns were “eminently practical,” and he hoped that his spectators would change society (1964, 41). Bertolt Brecht was writing about theater. What about documentary film? For Brecht, theater should be “committed” and explore social issues. But it should also be popular and enjoyable. Do we claim that for a radical documentary? For a talking witness documentary? After all, the witnesses are not “quoting” characters (as Brecht demanded), they are drawing on the memory of their experiences, in this case trauma, to tell us what once was. We do not expect a Brechtian dissonance in a talking witness documentary—we expect transparency, an indexical relation with reality. Robert A. Rosenstone writes of the historical documentary as constituting its facts by “selecting traces of the past and enfolding them into a narrative” (2006, 70). A talking witness documentary, however, deals in affect. It is not simply an arrangement of facts: it is a telling of facts, in the form of conveyed memories. And the telling is a construction of the past that draws on the subjectivities of the teller, “always positioned, ideological, and partisan” (Rosenstone 2006, 72), but also emotional. The feelings we see and hear are not the past; they are the way the past is being experienced in the present, or near present, the present of the documentary’s recording. The talking witness documentary’s project of making experience accessible remains within the epistemological frame of normative history and its understanding of evidence. Its referentiality is certainly contrary to Brecht’s formal strategies. And its transparency precludes the kind of critical examination of the workings of ideology that Brecht espoused. So it is not Brechtian. Are there not other ways of being radical? Or does the fact that the talking witness documentary has no historical analysis, no scrutiny of the inner workings or logics of events, no critical questioning of how history, evidence, or meaning are constituted, prevent even that? I would argue it does. Maybe the most we can expect from a conventional talking witness documentary about trauma is to adamantly establish that the harrowing violence existed and reveal the feelings the victims have about the experiences they have gone through. But we can never really understand the historical processes that have produced their experiences and positioned them as subjects. Perhaps, then, Prison Nr. 5 was so welcomed and acclaimed, not because it was so radical, but because it contributes to the ongoing project of transforming the way we imagine our community and our communion. Personal recollections, no longer private, are available to be appropriated as a common discourse, as national history. The 1980 coup d’état marked a moment of rupture for citizens of Turkey. Speaking about the repression


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that ensued remained a difficult task even after the passage of three decades: corporal and psychic losses and the widespread sense of betrayal impose deep breaches in the solidarity necessary to the imagined community (see Sarkar 2009, 9). Prison Nr. 5’s compelling testimony turns memory into a shocking collective experience. It is meant to generate empathy in the spectators, a rhetoric of pathos and affect, but also, more importantly, a rhetoric of communion. The feelings we take away from the viewing experience do not only contribute to our knowledge; they bind us to an affective community. They may even help to create an imagined community, fostering some kind of affiliation and fellowship among people who have little or no physical contact (Benedict Anderson again) but care about such issues and long for communion. The large number of people who were in attendance when the documentary was screened at Satur-Dox and in the movie theater on Istiklal Street, both Turks and Kurds, suggests not only the need to acknowledge the sense of betrayal, but also the imagined potential of this coming together. And perhaps my difficulty with this essay suggests my own conflicts over notions of betrayal and the imagined potential of belonging to this community. 

Notes This essay is dedicated to the memory of Robert Sklar. One of the many things I have learned from Bob is the relationship between scholarship and political responsibility. I would also like to express my gratitude to Güldem Baykal Büyüksaraç, Ayúe Çetinbaú, Bülent Eken, Hardy Griffin, Asena Günal, Vinicius Navarro, Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, Eser Selen, Jerl Surratt, Brian Winston, and, especially, Mark Wyers, to whom I am indebted for his encouragement, friendship, and gentle criticism. I worked with Asl Kotaman Avc on an earlier version of this chapter, “The Archeology of Suffering: Remembrance and the Politics of Truth,” which we presented at the “Topographies of ‘Turkish Cinema’: Hybrids, Hyphens and Borders” Conference, in Izmir, Turkey in April 2011. She stood by me and helped me with research during the many years that I both contracted and expanded that original paper. I would like to thank, too, the intrepid students in “Documentary Form and Meaning,” who listened attentively to my struggles, as well as audiences at the University of Liège and at the Visible Evidence 18 conference at New York University. An earlier version of this chapter was published as “The Talking Witness Documentary: Remembrance and the Politics of Truth,” in Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice (17.3, Fall 2013). 1 The tradition of banning films is deeply entrenched in Turkish society. Prison Nr. 5 tells us that, during the four years of the junta, 937 films were banned for being “inappropriate.” Although this documentary exposes the state brutality in a jail in

The Politics of Truth in the Talking Witness Documentary


Diyarbakr, it was not banned like the documentary maker’s previous work about the massacre of Kurdish Alevis in the province of Dersim in 1938. Ayúe Çetinbaú, one of the film’s producers, has suggested that, unlike the previous documentary, this documentary confronts the military’s account of events, and places blame (email correspondence, 4/21/2011). The tensions between the military and the Turkish government had been heightened in recent years. 2 See editor’s “Introduction” to Esra Özyürek’s The Politics of Public Memory in Turkey (2006, 5). 3 Yet, even as the victims’ voices and subjectivity are spoken aloud, chronicled into the historical record, we must concede that some people would prefer not to have to acknowledge that these injustices ever took place. And many would like to move on to something else. But, as Theodor W. Adorno pointed out not long after the end of the Second World War, “The attitude that it would be proper for everything to be forgotten and forgiven by those who were wronged is expressed primarily by the party that committed the injustice” (1986, 114). 4 See, for example, Yilmaz Güney’s Duvar (The Wall, 1985). 5 Bu Kalp Seni Unutur Mu? [Would This Heart Forget You?], 13 Oct. 2009 through 9 Feb. 2010, on SHOW TV, an independent commercial channel. It was canceled after 16 episodes because of “low viewership.” I thank Mary Lou O'Neil for keeping me informed about this show. 6 She draws on Michael Herzfeld’s language in Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State (2005) 7 In Amy Mills’ ethnographic research into how memories of its cosmopolitan past function in the Kuzguncuk neighborhood of Istanbul, one of the residents alluded to the mid-twentieth century departure of Greeks, Armenians, and Jews (after the 1934 law barring foreigners from certain professions, 1942-43 wealth taxes that disproportionately targeted non-Muslims, the September 1955 state-led antiminority riots and destruction of property, and the 1964 forced deportations of Greek citizens): “It’s known but never discussed” (2010, 101). 8 At the time I was writing this section, the prosecution of Gen. Kenan Evren and Gen. Tahsin ùahinkaya, surviving leaders of the 1980 coup, seemed highly likely. (See, for instance, “Coup leaders must be tried as example: Gül” Hürriyet Daily News, February 2, 2012.) 9 Part of the legacy of the 1980 coup was also a disavowal of history. The military government not only dismissed all members of parliament, every mayor and municipal council, but they also closed down many newspapers and some trade unions, and abolished all political parties, confiscating their possessions. And, according to Erik J. Zürcher, in their zeal to break with the past, they “even tried to destroy that past itself.” The archives of the political parties disappeared (1997, 293). Nearly twenty years of the archives of the National Senate were destroyed as well (Ahska 2006, 15). 10 The drawings were from his memories of incarceration. 11 The film, however, does include several songs in Kurdish. In the fall of 2011, an Istanbul Kurdish-language theater company, DestAR Theatre, mounted Disco No. 5, a one-man show that also dealt with brutality in the Diyarbakr prison. It


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projected non-dialogue excerpts of the prison from the film intermittently. I am grateful to Çetin Sarkartal for telling me about the play. 12 It is also an inversion of the dynamic Foucault traces in Discipline and Punish (1997), one in which the scaffold and the bodies of the condemned are withdrawn from the public gaze as public punishment is replaced by institutions of confinement. “The scaffold, where the body of the tortured criminal had been exposed to the ritually manifest force of the sovereign, the punitive theatre in which the representation of punishment was permanently available to the social body, was replaced by a great enclosed, complex and hierarchised structure that was integrated into the very body of the state apparatus” (115-16). 13 This point has been inspired by a talk, “Talking Voices and Looking Heads: Documentary Devices in Question,” given by Susana de Sousa Dias at the Visible Evidence 18 conference, New York City, August 14, 2011. 14 The game is known as “kulaktan kula÷a” [from ear to ear] in Turkish. 15 For more on this issue, see Natalie Zemon Davis and Randolph Starn, “Introduction,” to the special issue on “History and Memory,” Representations, 26 (Spring 1989). 15 Bill Nichols calls this a “masked interview” (1991, 51). Since the filmmaker is evident in the editing, we might think of this, as Nichols does, as a presence by absence (54). 16 Mehmet Özgür Candan’s Geçmiú Mazi Olmad (The Past is Not in the Past, 2011) is an interesting contrast. The documentary interviews Tümay Hanm and her family. The two daughters and son-in-law were incarcerated in an Istanbul prison after the September 12, 1980 military coup. How the family remembers the events, and the effects their memories have had on their lives in the past thirty years, is the major part of the story told. Although Candan does not appear in the work, one always has the feeling that the family members are speaking, openly or reluctantly, to someone. 17 To some extent, the documentary is haunted by those who did not survive, its coherence a necessary but ultimately misleading artificiality. 18 Noel King describes Union Maids (James Klein, Miles Mogulescu, Julia Reichert, 1976) as “a series of witnesses… unanswerable in their existential authenticity; they are constructed as incontrovertible within a textual system which effectively forecloses any possibility of dialogue and analysis” (1981, 14), suggesting that experience is unproblematic.

Works Cited Adorno, Theodor W. 1986. “What Does Coming to Terms with the Past Mean?” In Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective, edited by Geoffrey Hartman, 114–129. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. Ahska, Meltem. 2006. “Occidentalism and Registers of Truth: The Politics of Archives in Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey, 34:9–29.

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Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso. Bal, Mieke, Jonathan Crewe and Leo Spitzer eds. 1999. Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. Bennett, Tony. 1988. “The Exhibitionary Complex.” New Formations 4:73-102. Bhabha, Homi. 1983. “The Other Question: The Stereotype and Colonial Discourse.” Screen 24(4):18–36. Reprinted in: 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. Brecht, Bertolt. 1964. “The Modern Theater is the Epic Theater.” In Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, edited by John Willett, 33–42. New York: Hill and Wang. de Certeau, Michel. 1986. “History: Science and Fiction.” In Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, 199–221. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Davis, Natalie Zemon, and Randolph Starn. 1989. “Introduction.” Representations 26(1):1–6. Derrida, Jacques. 2000. “‘A Self-Unsealing Poetic Text’: Poetics and Politics of Witnessing.” In Revenge of the Aesthetic: The Place of Literature in Theory Today, edited by Michael P. Clark, 180–207. Berkeley: University of California Press. Engel, Susan. 1999. Context is Everything: The Nature of Memory. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. London: Allen Lane. —. 1980. Language, Counter-memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Edited by Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Gabriel, Teshome H. 1998. “The Intolerable Gift: Residues and Traces of a Journey.” In Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place, edited by Hamid Naficy. 75-83. New York: Routledge. Godmilow, Jill. 1999. “What’s Wrong With the Liberal Documentary.” University of Notre Dame. Accessed June 21, 2011. http://www.nd.edu/~jgodmilo/liberal.html. Gossman, Lionel. 1989. Towards a Rational Historiography. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. Hartman, Geoffrey H. 1997. “The Cinema Animal” In Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler’s List, edited by Yosef Loshitzky, 61–76. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


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Herzfeld, Michael. 2005. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the NationState. New York: Routledge. Hirsch, Marianne and Leo Spitzer. 2008. “‘There Never Was a Camp Here’: Searching for Vapniarka.” In Locating Memory: Photographic Acts, edited by Annette Kuhn and Kirsten Emiko McAllister, 135–154. New York: Berghahn Books. —. 2010. “The Witness in the Archive: Holocaust Studies/Memory Studies.” In Memory: Histories, Theories, Debates, edited by Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwartz, 390–405. New York: Fordham University Press. King, Noel. 1981. “Recent ‘Political’ Documentary: Notes on ‘Union Maids’ and ‘Harlan County, USA.’” Screen 22(2):7–20. Margalit, Avishal. 2002. The Ethics of Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Mills, Amy. 2010. Streets of Memory: Landscape, Tolerance, and National Identity in Istanbul. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Nichols, Bill. 1991. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Nora, Pierre. 1996. Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, Vol. 1: Conflicts and Divisions. New York: Columbia University Press. Öncü, Ay‫܈‬e. 2000. “The Banal and the Subversive: Politics of Language on Turkish Television.” European Journal of Cultural Studies, 3(3):296-318. Özyürek, Esra. 2006. Introduction to The Politics of Public Memory in Turkey, edited by Esra Özyürek. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. Portelli, Alessandro. 1991. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. —. 1981. “The Peculiarities of Oral History.” History Workshop 12:96– 107. Rosenstone, Robert A. 2006. History on Film/Film on History. London: Pearson. Ruby, Jay. 2000. “Speaking for, Speaking about, Speaking with, or Speaking Alongside.” In Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology, 195-219. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Sarkar, Bahskar. 2009. Mourning the Nation: Indian Cinema in the Wake of Partition. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Scott, Joan W. 1991. “The Evidence of Experience.” Critical Inquiry 17(4):773-97.

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Spence, Louise and Esin Paça Cengiz. 2012. “Pushing the Boundaries of the Historical Documentary: Su Friedrich’s The Ties That Bind.” Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 16(3):377– 392. Spence, Louise and Vinicius Navarro, 2011. Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Stam, Robert and Louise Spence. 1983. “Colonialism, Racism and Representation: An Introduction.” Screen, 24(2):2–20. Sturken, Marita. 1997. “Reenactment, Fantasy, and the Paranoia of History: Oliver Stone’s Docudramas.” History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History 3(4):64-79. Till, Karen E. 2005. The New Berlin: Memory, Politics, Place. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Waterson, Roxana. 2007. “Trajectories of Memory: Documentary Film and the Transmission of Testimony.” History and Anthropology 18(1):51–73. Young, James E. 2003. “Between History and Memory: The Voice of the Eyewitness.” In Witness and Memory: The Discourse of Trauma, edited by Ana Douglass and Thomas A. Vogler, 275–283. New York: Routledge. Ziflio÷lu, Vercihan. 2009. “Torture at Diyarbakr Prison as Narrated by Witnesses.” Hürriyet Daily News, 11/20/2009. Accessed June 25, 2011. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438&n=tortur es-happened-in-diyarbakir-no5-prison-as-narrated-by-the-witnesses2009-11-17. Zürcher, Erik J. 1997. Turkey: A Modern History, revised edition. London: I. B. Tauris.


This chapter examines the potential and theoretical interpretations of Kurdish filmmaking through the particular case of Kurdish cinema produced in Turkey. Kurdish cinema, categorized as such since the 2000s, is an international cinema that emerges from multiple geographic spaces, although it is concentrated in countries with Kurdish populations, such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia and European countries such as England, Germany, Sweden and Norway. In this chapter, I focus on Kurdish cinema produced specifically in Turkey to evaluate the dynamics of the emergence of a stateless Kurdish cinema, which produces films that contrast with Turkish national cinema and Turkish national identity. With respect to Hayden White’s formulations on narrative and history, and Gilles Deleuze’s theories about minor cinema and the time-image, I argue that the concept of time in Kurdish cinema exceeds the time of the narrative and carries an archival potential for the unrepresented history of Kurdish life in Turkey, thus blurring the line between documentary and fiction or narrative and “history.” In order to explain the backdrop to this argument, I will first articulate the emergence of Kurdish cinema in international arenas and in Turkey. Then, I will analyze two Kurdish feature films made in Turkey—øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School, 2009) by Özgür Do÷an and Orhan Eskiköy, and Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr, Ben Gördüm, 2009) by Miraz Bezar—in terms of how they play with the notions of fiction and documentary, as well as narrative and history. As a woman of Turkish origin, born in Turkey, I cannot remember how old I was when I first realized that I had a national identity. It was certainly not early in my life, or during my elementary school years. It did not emerge at Turkish national festivals during those times when we were

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


all joyful about something, but we were not perfectly aware that this joy should be about the existence of our republic. It was also not during my high school years when we were all following the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, due to an education that imprinted a post-coup-d’etat military ideology onto young minds. Actually, it was only after I moved to the metropolis of Istanbul from Kocaeli (a relatively small city that is close to Istanbul), that I realized there were people who held different beliefs than mine. Thus, my idea of national identity was questioned and challenged when I interacted with the diverse identities living in Istanbul, those who were not mentioned in the official history classes or the textbooks we were taught during high school or at university. Susan Hayward raises similar questions for cinema: “How does one enunciate the ‘national’ of a country’s cinema? When is a cinema national? What does possessing a national identity imply?” (2005, 1) Answers to these questions are especially crucial in the case of a minority or ethnic cinema, and especially for Kurdish cinema produced in Turkey. Being the largest ethnic community in Turkey, Kurdish people have been able to resist assimilation and have tried to preserve their culture and identity since the establishment of the new Turkish Republic in 1923. It can then be argued that, given their status as an ethnic community that continuously experiences exclusion and deterritorialization, the national identity of Kurds is always in question because difference is a self-evident reality for them. In “The Rise of Kurdish Cinema”, Devrim Klç states that, although Kurdish people live in their homeland, their life can be defined as exilic because, in their social space, they cannot speak their language and live with their own culture. Klç notes that “cinematic art, similar to other art forms, is the action of reproducing life in the format of film with image and sound. In this respect, cinema provides an opportunity for Kurdish people … to reproduce and present to the world their own identity and culture” (2009, 15).2 Thus, cinema for Kurdish people does not stand for the same thing as it does for Turkish people or, for instance, for German or American people. Being a group of people without a state, the Kurds can emphasize their existence and identity through cinematic representation. A number of historical, political and cultural circumstances have led to the emergence of Kurdish cinema. These include the visibility of Kurdish directors, like Bahman Ghobadi and Hineer Salem, at international film festivals, the increase in the number of Kurdish people receiving a film education in Europe, and the new digital technologies that bypass or limit the influence of censorship by state apparatuses. However, in the case of Turkey, the assimilation politics of the Turkish nation state were eased


Chapter IV

during Turkey’s attempts to gain European Union membership, which led to the provision of Kurdish language courses, a state-owned Kurdish TV channel and, more importantly, the recognition of the Kurdish problem in Turkey. As stated above, for Kurdish people, who are trying to resist assimilation and fight for their basic human rights, including speaking their native language, cinema functions as a means of self-representation and as a way of bringing about political recognition. Devrim Klç asserts that, “As cinema narrates emotions, ideas, history, in short life itself with image and sound, it is a highly significant tool for Kurdish people who are in a state of liberation” (2009, 3). He argues that there is a strong relationship between the emancipation attempts of Kurdish people and developments in Kurdish cinema. The growing number of Kurdish-themed films after the 1990s is a reflection of the continuous changes in the status of Kurdish people’s lives. The emergence of Kurdish cinema is directly linked with the rise of the Kurdish Question in international politics. The Kurdish community attracted international attention in terms of its political and cultural status, especially after the first Gulf War in 1991 and, due to the interventionist politics of the US in countries like Iraq, Iran and Syria, the cause of Kurdish people has become more of an issue in international arenas. As a result of these changes in political circumstances, the Kurdish people have found the opportunity to reflect their lack of political status through cinema. The international success of the Iranian Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi’s films, Zamani Barayé Masti Asbha (The Time of The Drunken Horses, 2000), Gomgashtei Der Aragh (Marooned in Iraq, 2002) and Lakposhtha Parvaz Mikonand (Turtles Can Fly, 2004) ignited the first spark of “Kurdish cinema.” Ghobadi’s representation of the lives of Kurdish people, combined with the awards these films received at international film festivals, generated recognition of Kurdish identity in the international film arena. These successful attempts created a significant motivation for Kurdish people, disseminated throughout various countries, to be assembled under the rubric of Kurdish cinema. Thus, Ghobadi’s success is one of the most significant factors behind the international recognition of Kurdish cinema. In Kurdish Cinema: Statelessness, Boundary and Death (2009), Mizgin Müjde Arslan, a Kurdish director and film critic from Turkey, states that the success of Kurdish directors like Bahman Ghobadi and Hiner Saleem motivated young Kurdish people of different social classes from all over the world to engage in cinema. In the 2000s, Kurdish films were accepted at international film festivals like Cannes and Berlin. As a result, cinema workshops were held in various, newly emerging Kurdish

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


art and cultural centers mainly established in cities with a predominantly Kurdish population in Turkey. These workshops, organized by Kurdish directors, provided an education in the technical aspects of filmmaking for both Kurdish and Turkish people who were interested in filmmaking. Apart from receiving a filmmaking education in these centers, Kurdish students also began to do degrees in Film Studies. Hence, Arslan concludes that, for Kurdish people, cinema became a method of selfdefinition and liberation (2009, xi). Furthermore, Hamid Dabaúi states that Kurdish cinema creates a visual topography and, in this way, it animates the reality of Kurdish people (2009, x). Thus, it can be argued that Kurdish cinema creates a platform to share a Kurdish reality with both Kurdish and non-Kurdish audiences. It also motivates the formation of a Kurdish audience, which represents the disseminated Kurdish nation and creates a common language embodying different aspects of Kurdish identity, including the different accents, local culture, traditions and lifestyles that merge with each other through Kurdish films. Muhammad Kamal, in his opening speech for the Kurdish Film Festival in Melbourne in 2007, stated that, in order to understand the emergence of Kurdish cinema, we need to consider the films that were produced after the 1980s (2007, 28). The first reason for this is that improvements in audio-visual technologies came to Kurdistan only after the 1980s.3 With the dissemination of video and satellite television technologies, it has become harder for the Turkish state to fully control the film distribution channels and television programs. The second reason is the increase in the number of young Kurds in exile (mainly in Europe), who are educated, as mentioned above, in art, media and cinema. For instance, in 1989, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, preparations for the first Kurdish language film Mem û Zîn (Mem and Zin, Ümit Elçi, 1991) began, but the film did not proceed due to the outbreak of the first Gulf War and was finally shot in Turkey in 1991. Mehmet Aktaú explains that, while world cinema was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, Kurdish cinema was just emerging in the early 2000s (2009, 28). For Kurdish people, the twentieth century was a difficult time, filled with resistance, prohibition, defeat and sorrow. States like Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria tried hard to eradicate the Kurdish language and identity through assimilation politics. As Aktaú comments, “that is why the late coming of a national cinema, which is more complex and which has different needs than other modern art forms, should be tolerated” (2009, 56). Given this adversity, it is understandable that international film festivals are the sites where Kurdish cinema is acknowledged and new Kurdish directors are recognized. Yet, in Turkey,


Chapter IV

the emergence of Kurdish-themed films is due to more political reasons as set out in the following paragraphs. As I have stated before, the emergence of Kurdish cinema in Turkey is also related to Turkey’s desire to enter the European Union. Ylmaz Güney’s films were banned in the 1980s, yet they were reintroduced into Turkey in 1992, at the same time as the ban on Kurdish music was lifted. Gwendolin Sasse states that “The Treaty of Maastricht (1992) entrenched, for the first time in the history of EU, specific provisions on fundamental rights and a vague recognition of the requirement that the Community shall respect ‘national and regional diversity’ within the Member States” (2009, 1). Colin Williams states that the EU enlargement processes since 2005 motivated an “internal rights regime” that added extra privileges to international law (2009, 5). This reinforced a clearer distinction between rights as citizens in a nation state and rights as individuals. “Once such rights are detached from the state we see the beginning of the undermining of the normative basis of the state” (Williams , 5). Therefore, when individual rights were implemented (and thus separated from national citizenship), democratic rights for minorities and ethnic communities— including those for diversity of languages—improved. Yet, although accession into the European Union is a crucial motivation for providing more freedom for “national and regional diversities” (Sasse 2005, 1), the reception of Kurdish cinema in Turkey is contested by a Turkish nationalism that has deep roots dating back to the foundation of the new Turkish Republic. The Kemalist regime, out of which the new Turkish Republic was formed, is founded on the principle that all the people living in Turkey are Turks. This principle influenced the emergence of Turkish cinema as well, which mainly worked as a part of the new Turkish nation-state project that was formed in line with the principles of Atatürk. However, with additional freedoms provided by the European Union for national and regional diversities in the late 1990s, the new Turkish Cinema could now deal with subjects like religion and freedom for ethnicities and minorities living in Turkey, which were taboo subjects in the past when filmmakers like Güney had to leave Turkey because their ideas and artistic works challenged the ideals of the Turkish nation state. Thus, the new Turkish Cinema in Turkey becomes a site where the unresolved tensions of the past are revealed to a larger audience. As far as Kurdish films or films about Kurdish people in cinema produced in Turkey are concerned, however, there is still a tension present in the reception of films produced in the Kurdish language in Turkey. For instance, when Min Dît received the Behlül Dal Special Jury Award at the Antalya International Golden Orange Festival in 2009, it caused quite a

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


controversy during and after the festival because it was the first Kurdish film made entirely in the Kurdish language and shot in Turkey. After the premiere of the film, the festival audience accused the film of being onesided, while media coverage included headlines like “Kurdish Film Created Controversy” (Radikal 16.10.2009). This highlights how, in spite of the accolades given to Kurdish films produced in Turkey and shot in the Kurdish language, a tension remains in the reception of Kurdish films both as regards Turkish media and audiences. Kurdish cinema produced in Turkey is a site where certain unrepresented facts about Turkish history are revealed. The Kurdish people do not have a state or a national archive, and their written history is limited to scholarly books and articles. In the last few years, there have been attempts to keep online archives of Kurdish newspapers; but apart from books written on Kurdish history, the early history of Kurdish people living in Turkey can only be traced in the archives of the Turkish Republic. In fact, these archives can misrepresent events that have occurred in the eastern part of Turkey, where Kurdish people originated. From this perspective, I argue that Kurdish films reveal certain “histories” of Kurdish and Turkish people and carry an archival potential that shapes the memories of both Kurdish and non-Kurdish people. Furthermore, Kurdish films also merge with anonymous Kurdish oral culture and become personalized sources of previously unrepresented Kurdish history. The lack of a Kurdish archive has motivated some recent attempts by international scholars and artists working in Kurdish Studies to highlight Kurdish history and culture for both Kurdish and non-Kurdish people.4 Yet, in Turkey, narratives from the Kurdish, rather than the Turkish, point of view reveal certain histories that were hidden and that challenge Turkish national identity and Turkish politics towards Kurdish people. As Hayden White notes in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, narratives can be considered as a solution to “the problem of how to translate knowing into telling” (1987, 1). Furthermore, he writes that, with narratives, events can be assimilated into structures of meaning that are not culture-specific; rather, they are based on human experience. Hence, understanding a story from another culture is easier than fully comprehending specific thought patterns of that culture. White also claims that “narrative is a meta-code, a human universal on the basis of which trans-cultural messages about the nature of a shared reality can be transmitted” (1987, 1). Following White’s formulations, Kurdish cinema provides the grounds for turning the Kurdish experience in Turkey into something that can be told (in both visual and vocal forms). The existence of Kurdish narratives in film brings the histories of Kurdish


Chapter IV

people to light and questions the realities of Kurdish people’s lives, as well as the realities of Turkish national identity. The history of Kurdish cinema produced in Turkey is filled with struggles against censorship and prohibition. For instance, Ylmaz Güney was the first director from Turkey to receive the Golden Palm at the 1982 Cannes Festival with his film Yol (The Road, 1982) and yet, after the award ceremony, his Turkish citizenship was revoked, and he was declared a traitor to the Turkish Republic. Being a director of Kurdish origin, Güney could only use the Kurdish language in a very limited way due to political censorship. In an interview with Alfreda Benge, at a secret location in Paris, just one month before his death, Güney notes that censorship limited his cinematic production: In all the films I have made in Turkey, I have never been able to express a single one of my thoughts in the way I would like to have, let alone a serious matter like the Kurdish question, let alone an important question like that of the working class. Even basic questions of justice and injustice which exist in our society could only be dealt with partially and indirectly. (Benge 1985, 36)

Although today restrictions on Kurdish cinema are not as severe as they were in the 1980s, what White indicates as an “absence of narrative capacity” is crucial for interpreting Kurdish cinema’s historical background, which is dominated by narratives that are influenced by political censorship and exclusion. In the context of Kurdish representation in a Turkey that is still struggling with state censorship, the boundaries and insight of the narrative capacity is influenced by the political agenda and how it imposes itself on Kurdish representations. White states that “The absence of narrative capacity or a refusal of narrative indicate an absence or refusal of meaning itself” and, from this perspective, he raises a significant question: “What kind of meaning is absent or refused?”(1987, 2) This question should be answered, taking into account the political agendas concerning Kurdish people in terms of how they apply to Kurdish cinema and its struggle against this refusal and absence of meaning.

Fiction vs. Non-fiction In Kurdish cinema debates, the problem of being “subjective” is always employed as a criticism (and an excuse for censorship).5 However, Orhan Eskiköy and Özgür Do÷an’s film, entitled øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School, 2009) deals with this dilemma between narrative and history from a point of view that exemplifies White’s theories on narrative.

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


On the Way to School is a documentary film about an elementary schoolteacher who is assigned to teach in a village in ùanlurfa (a city in the eastern part of Turkey). The directors, Eskiköy and Do÷an, were looking for a real teacher who taught Turkish to Kurdish students. They met Emre Aydn (the teacher who plays the main character in the film) quite coincidentally while they were interviewing elementary schoolteachers living in ùanlurfa. He was trying to find the village of Demirci, where he was supposed to teach, and which is not shown on the map of ùanlurfa. The distinction between fiction and documentary was hotly debated in relation to On the Way to School after it was screened in theaters. Although it is a story of a schoolteacher, it is both Emre Aydn’s story and part of his real life. The shooting of this film took nearly one year, and Eskiköy and Do÷an spent ten days of each month during that time in Demirci village, recording Aydn’s life in Demirci village while he taught Turkish to Kurdish students. On the one hand, the film is about the adventure of a schoolteacher who moves from øzmir to ùanlurfa, from the most western part of Turkey to the most eastern, and his struggles not only to teach Turkish, but also to communicate with students who only know Kurdish. On the other hand, his story on screen is not a staged one. Thus, the time that is recorded is not the time of a fiction. Although there is the self-conscious effect of the existence of the camera and the directors during the shooting, the school life in Demirci village is not staged or fictionalized for this film. As the directors contend, the camera recorded the process of Aydn teaching Turkish to his students, as well as their hardship in learning and understanding Turkish. Many reviewers have found different ways to define the form of this film, including documentary mixed with fiction or a fiction having documentary elements. Referring to this point in a review for Documentarist 2009, Necati Sönmez (2009) argues that the confusion about this film’s form is mainly to do with the unconventional perception of a documentary film in Turkey. Furthermore, the film resists categorization because it has competed with fiction films in festivals and, more importantly, it won the Best Film award in the International Adana Golden Boll Film Festival (2009) and the Best First Film Award in the International Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival (2009). Sönmez argues that On the Way to School is one hundred percent a documentary film because there is no script, no cast and no staged setting. He notes that this type of documentary is well-known in Europe and the United States, but not in Turkey. He also argues that documentary has always been a form that is disregarded because, compared to fiction, it is perceived as boring


Chapter IV

and cannot attract as large an audience as can a fiction film. However, when On the Way to School contradicted these ideas and became an unpredicted success, there was a perception that this film cannot solely be dependent upon a documentary style, but it should also contain drama or fiction. Although I agree completely with what Sönmez argues in his review, this confusion between fiction and documentary needs to be articulated in line with my previous references to White’s theory of “absence of meaning” because, in this context, there is also a refusal and denial of the documentary form. When On the Way to School was screened in theaters in 2009, the Turkish Government was working on a political package that would bring more freedom to Kurdish people. This package also dealt with the issue of the Kurdish language and the right to be educated in Kurdish. Perfectly fitting with the political agenda, this film aroused much debate in Kurdish politics. However, when political scientists and film critics referred to On the Way To School, they were, as Sönmez argues, always presupposing that it should be characterized by a degree of fiction in its staging.6 What are the reasons behind the tendency to label this film a fiction film? Is it only through a lack of familiarity with new methods in documentary filmmaking, such as documentary being able to utilize elements of fiction but still be classified as documentary? Or can there be a degree of denying the “real” aspects of eastern parts of Turkey? This eastern and Kurdish “real” in Turkey exists to the extent that Emre Aydn feels very lonely and desperate when he continuously fails to communicate with his students in Turkish. As a result of the students’ resistance to learning Turkish and attachment to their culture, as in Demirci village, which is not even locatable on maps, the language spoken everywhere is Kurdish, and the students only practice Turkish with their teacher. So, does the tendency to regard this film as fiction have anything to do with the tendency to believe that, in the eastern part of Turkey, the people can speak both Kurdish and Turkish? Is regarding this non-fiction film as fiction a way of disavowing the Kurdish problem in Turkey? The tendency to label the narrative as fiction reveals an unresolved tension within the Turkish imagination; namely, the fear of dealing with the “real.” This kind of fiction labeling also serves the purpose of fictionalizing the “real” into a more digestible form. In other words, by categorizing the film as a staged story, the audience could overlook selfevident aspects of the Kurdish problem in Turkey. However, considering Hayden White’s argument for narrative as a universal meta-code that transmits a shared reality, the transmission in this context, which is the context of the narrative of an ethnic group in Turkey, does not necessarily

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


stand for a shared reality. Despite being a real life story, On the Way to School creates the conception of a narrative constructed by the directors. Consequently, this subjectivity disavows the “real” representation of the Kurdish problem in Turkey. In this context, there is certainly a refusal of meaning, but it does not stem from the lack of narrative capacity. In contrast, the meaning is refused because of the narrative capacity of a reality. Fictionalizing the real story of a schoolteacher reduces the critical conception of the Kurdish language problem itself, creating grounds for the audience to think that what they watch could only be a fictive narrative. All these issues lead to the conclusion that, in this example of Kurdish cinema, narrative becomes the site where history is both told and negotiated between the blurred line of fiction and non-fiction. The issue of Kurdish filmmaking can also be mediated through Gilles Deleuze’s work on “becoming” and the “time image.” In Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature (1986), he and Félix Guattari introduce the term “minor literature,” mainly focusing on Franz Kafka’s works. According to their formulations, minor literature is a literature that is not merely a literature produced by minority people, but that is affected by a degree of deterritorialization. In this regard, Deleuze, in his work Cinema II: The Time-Image (2005), also refers to minority filmmaking and includes Ylmaz Güney in this context (218). The absence or refusal of meaning that Hayden White indicates is interpreted in a different way for minority filmmakers in Deleuze’s formulations. Deleuze makes a distinction between classical cinema (which he identifies with movement-image) and modern cinema (time-image) and claims that, in classical cinema, “the people are there, even though they are oppressed, tricked, subject, even though blind or unconscious. … [I]f there were a modern political cinema, it would be on this basis: the people no longer exist, or not yet… the people are missing” (2005, 216). In this formulation, Deleuze emphasizes that, in classical cinema, what or who is represented already exists in the minds of the audience, yet modern cinema, especially that of third world countries and minorities, gives rise to filmmakers who suggest that their people are missing: Sometimes the third world filmmaker finds himself before an illiterate public, swamped by American, Egyptian or Indian serials, and karate films and he has to go through all this, it is this material that he has to work on, to extract from it the elements of a people who are still missing. Sometimes the minority filmmaker finds himself in the impasse described by Kafka: the impossibility of not writing, the impossibility of writing in the dominant language, the impossibility of writing differently. (2005, 217)


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Kurdish filmmakers have to deal with the impasse of writing that Deleuze and Guattari also mention in their work Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. This impasse in the Kurdish filmmaking context is the impossibility of not shooting films, the impossibility of shooting films about Kurdish people in Turkish, and the impossibility of any other way of shooting. For On the Way to School, the same impasse or impossibility is at stake when the documentary value of the film is overlooked and replaced with the fictive value. The problem of language that is put forth in this film is actually what it is missing in the minds of Turkish people: the Kurdish people who cannot speak Turkish. What Deleuze defines as missing is also what constitutes political cinema in the third world and for minorities. He also suggests that the cinematic art should take on this task of contributing to the invention of people, and, as I argue, to the invention of Kurdish people who live in the eastern parts of Turkey and who do not know Turkish. These are the sites to which political art must contribute. What Deleuze defines here is also crucial to understanding Devrim Klç’s description of the rise of Kurdish cinema as a way of reproducing Kurdish identity and culture. Deleuze’s theories about minority filmmaking are also beneficial for demystifying the blurred line of fiction and non-fiction I discussed earlier. He states that, for the minority author or filmmaker, there remains a possibility to take real and non-fictional characters and use these characters in the condition of “‘making-up fiction’, of ‘making legends’, of ‘storytelling’” (2005, 222). Yet, he states that storytelling is neither an impersonal nor a personal fiction. Rather, storytelling is a collective utterance, a speech-act that cannot be forced into silence. Thus “storytelling is itself a memory, and memory is invention of people” (2005, 223). While minority filmmaking indicates the stories of the “missing” people, it becomes memory, and this memory invents the missing people. In order to illustrate Deleuze’s formulations on minority filmmaking inventing missing people and memory, I will discuss another award-winning film by Kurdish director Miraz Bezar: Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakır, 2009).7

Seeing vs. Saying Min Dît is a Kurdish title that means “I Saw.” Set in the 1990s in Diyarbakr, the biggest Kurdish city in the eastern part of Turkey, which is also known as the capital of the Kurdistan region, brother and sister Frat (Muhammed Al) and Gülistan (ùenay Orak) try to survive after their mother and father, who is a political journalist, are killed by officers of

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


JITEM (a secret, underground organization) while driving home from a wedding ceremony.8 Frat and Gülistan witness the murder of their parents, but they cannot reveal what they saw because the perpetrator, Nuri Kaya (Hakan Karsak), is a police officer. He is never charged or convicted, and the murder remains an unsolved crime. The existence of JITEM as a secret organization was still not officially recognized in the 1990s, and the unsolved crimes that were categorized as extrajudicial killings generally coincided with Kurdish people raising their voices against the nationalist discourse of the Turkish Republic. While the film points out the unofficial realities and facts that remained hidden from public recognition, the title of the film, I Saw, reveals otherwise. In Min Dît the murderer in an unsolved crime is exposed. At this point, although the film is certainly fiction, it refers to certain historical facts that were not revealed to the public, and that were labeled as unresolved/unsolvable. Thus, Min Dît, which is made by a Kurdish filmmaker, indicates the “missing” children of Diyarbakr as well as the “missing” secret organizations and their operatives that leave those children orphaned. I argue, in this case, that Kurdish filmmaking not only indicates “missing” people in Deleuze’s definition, but also uncovers the secret mechanisms of state apparatuses in both the invention of people who are minorities, and the re-invention of the state apparatuses that silence minorities. If Deleuze’s formulation of memory is incorporated into this perspective, the memory that is told through this narrative also makes an intervention in the existing collective consciousness of the past of a nation. Another important aspect of Min Dît that needs analysis is the role of fairy tales in the film. Gülistan and Frat’s mother always tells them a children’s tale about a wolf attacking a village. In the tale, the villagers do not kill the wolf, but they put a bell around its neck. By doing so, they know when it is coming and when it is going to attack. In the fairy tale, their mother tells them, the enemy is demarcated and, referring to the fairy tale, Gülistan does the same thing. When she finds the murderer of her parents, she does not shoot him, but she does let everyone know the secret identity of Nuri Kaya (a JITEM officer). Thus, she marks the enemy as one who is capable of taking more lives, like the wolf in her mother’s fairy tale. The fairy tale used in Min Dît should also be considered in relation to Kurdish people’s dependency on their oral culture. Having very limited written culture and archival material, oral culture becomes highly significant for Kurdish people. Devrim Klç states that Kurdish people can only express their feelings and thoughts extensively through their folk music (2009, 164). Furthermore, music is a way of freeing themselves


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from the constraints of an endless war and restriction. It is also a way of announcing Kurdish identity. Thus the songs, the veils and the fairy tales constitute a significant part of their culture. In Min Dît, Gülistan and Frat’s mother records her tales onto a cassette tape so that her children can listen to her voice when she is not at home. After the death of their mother, they keep this cassette, which means that they are able to keep her voice, and her tales wherever they go. When they start living with other orphan children in Diyarbakr, all the orphans listen to the same tale told by the anonymous and disembodied voice of the mother before they go to sleep. In addressing not only her children, but also all the other orphan children living with them, the mother’s voice loses its origin and becomes a part of oral culture. Not only is the storyline of Min Dît enriched with authentic oral culture, but also, as in many Kurdish films, the film’s drama is heightened by the use of Kurdish folk music on the soundtrack. This use of Kurdish folk songs and tales forms a means of narrativizing the oral culture. While the oral culture becomes a significant part of the narrative of the film, extra-diegetic oral culture as a historical entity addresses the present and the past subjectivities of the film. The Kurdish oral culture in question embodies the authentic and mostly traumatic stories of the past. Those stories are created through certain historical incidents and the collective interpretations of those incidents. Therefore, while some of them are mythical or metaphorical, they embody historical interpretations. Furthermore, they are circulated through utterance and sharing. Thus, oral culture has a significant role in creating and shaping the memories of Kurdish people. When the oral culture tradition is incorporated into the actual narrative of the film, it becomes a narrative within a narrative that refers to the collective consciousness of Kurdish people. The historical reasons why the fairy tales and folk songs were created, their cultural and political history, along with the social and, in most cases, traumatic interpretations of those fairy tales and folk songs, merge with the plot of the film. Furthermore, the folk songs and fairy tales reinforce the major dramatic conflict of the film with the social references of oral culture.9 In the Kurdish context, the use of oral culture in film is, in Deleuzian terms, another form of invention and intervention: the intervention of Kurdish history, memory and identity.

Conclusion These two examples of Kurdish cinema enrich their narratives with the unrepresented history of Kurdish people as well as with Kurdish oral

The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey


culture. From this point of view, the conception of time in these examples exceeds the time of the narrative and becomes a part of historical time by inscribing the histories of Kurdish people within the films’ formats. Time can then be understood through Deleuze’s notion of the time-image, which is constantly in the process of becoming. Claire Colebrook explains Deleuze’s notion of becoming and the time-image and states that “The advent of cinema might give us one form of transversal becoming: not a becoming that is grounded in a being and which simply unfolds itself through time, but a becoming that changes with each new encounter. … But this can only be so if we encounter the camera of cinema, not as something we already know, but as something that challenges us” (2002, 37). Minor filmmaking in general challenges the consciousness of the dominant nation by pointing out what is missing. It also reflects on the unrepresented histories of an ethnic group, which is also the unrepresented history of the nation in which diverse (sub) national identities co-exist with the majority. Time in these two examples of Kurdish cinema is not simply fictive time, but a time that is socially historical, yet without a record in the archives: it is a narrative time. However, it also indicates the time of an unrepresented national past that is narrativized through cinema; in other words, it is a time that is in the process of becoming. In Deleuzian terms, it is a becoming, and it is also invention. The time-image in these films invents the history, the culture and the identity of Kurdish people as well as the unrepresented history of the Turkish nation. In the realm of a seamless national consciousness of the Turkish state’s grand narrative, Kurdish filmmaking indicates the hidden side of the official historical narrative. Cinema serves the purpose of unhinging the safe and comfortable grounds upon which Turkish national identity is based. Yet, struggling against the restrictions and predeterminations about its narratives, Kurdish cinema is in a continuous state of becoming, and it urges identification with its state of “becoming” through its challenging narratives, which embody the archival absence of Kurdish history. 

Notes 1 An extended version of this article was originally published in Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, in the Summer 2011 issue. 2 All translations into English in this chapter have been made by the author. 3 C. J. Edmonds defines Kurdistan as the territory inhabited by Kurds, which is divided between Persia, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. In the north it overlaps into Armenia.


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4 An example is Tatyana Feodouna, a Russian social scientist, who conducted research in various Kurdish villages located in the Middle East and Southern Kurdistan. She has published her findings at the following website: www.kurdishcenter.ru. Susan Meiselas, an American photographer, has also tried to create an on-line archive of Kurdish people through her web site, www.akakurdistan.com. 5 As exemplified by Ylmaz Güney’s films, made in the 1980s. 6 These commentators include U÷ur Vardan, Mesut Ye÷en, Onur Baútürk, Yusuf Güven and Burçin S. Yalçn. 7 The film won nine awards, including the Behlül Dal Special Jury Award 2009, and the Istanbul Golden Tulip Best Director, Best Actress and Best Soundtrack Awards 2010. 8 JITEM stands for Jandarma Istihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele, which roughly translates as Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terror. It is an organization that was secretly founded in 1987 by the General Command of the Gendarmerie, without the approval of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Its existence and function was denied for a long time by the state institutions, yet the Ankara Republican Attorney Generalship proved it in 2008. JITEM has been responsible for thousands of unresolved crimes and extrajudicial killings, and corporal punishments perpetrated mainly in the eastern part of Turkey. 9 This is, of course, valid not only for Kurdish filmmaking, but also for any national cinema that uses oral culture in its narrative.

Works Cited Aktaú, Mehmet. 2009. “Kürt Sinemas: Artk Bir Gerçek.” In Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Ölüm ve Snr, edited by Müjde Arslan, 56-68. østanbul: Agora. Arslan, Müjde ed. 2009. Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Snr ve Ölüm, østanbul: Agora. Benge, Alfreda. 1985. “Güney, Turkey and the West: An Interview.” Race & Class 26.3: 31. Colebrook, Claire. 2002. Gilles Deleuze. London. Routledge. Dabaúi, Hamid. 2009. “Önsöz.” In Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Ölüm ve Snr, edited by Müjde Arslan. ix-x. Istanbul: Agora. Deleuze, Gilles. 2005. Cinema 2: The Time Image. London, New York.: Continuum International Publishing Group. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1986. Kafka: Toward a Minor literature. Minneapolis, US, University of Minnesota Press. Edmonds, C. J. 1971. “Kurdish Nationalism.” Journal of Contemporary History 6(1):87. Hayden. 1987. The Content of Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

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Hayward, Susan. 2005. French National Cinema. 2nd ed. Oxon, New York: Routledge. Kamal, Muhammed. 2009. “Kürt Sinemas Kültürel Kimlik Arayúnda.” In Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Ölüm ve Snr, edited by Müjde Arslan, 28-34. Istanbul: Agora. Klç, Devrim. 2009. “Kürt Sinemasnn Yükseliúi” In Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Ölüm ve Snr, edited by Müjde Arslan, 3-27. Istanbul: Agora. Klç, Devrim. 2009. “Bahman Ghobadi’nin Filmlerinde Kürt Kimli÷i ve Kültürünün Temsili.” In Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Ölüm ve Snr, edited by Müjde Arslan, 137-138. Istanbul: Agora. Radikal Kültür Sanat, “Kürtçe Film tartúma yaratt.” 16. 10. 2009. Accessed July 6, 2016. http://www.radikal.com.tr/kultur/kurtce-filmtartisma-yaratti-959400/ Sasse, Gwendolyn. 2005. “EU Conditionality and Minority Rights: Translating the Copenhagen Criterion into Policy.” EUI-RSCAS Working Papers (2005). Sönmez, Necati. 2009. “øki Tür, bir Film, Pek çok Kafa Karúkl÷.” Documentarist. Accessed July 6, 2016. http://www.documentarist.org/2009/gazete_ikidilbirbavul.htmlWhite. Williams, Colin H. 2009. In Rights, Promotion and Integration Issues for Minority Languages in Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Tom O’Regan suggests that the films of a nation can serve as “a forum for telling uncomfortable truths about its society” (1996, 10) because “films investigate contemporary public issues [and] they register disturbing social and cultural truths, and foster alternative identities within the country” (19). This is what Kurdish films have done in Turkey since the early 2000s.1 There is no scarcity of “uncomfortable truths” in the recent and distant history of Turkey for Kurdish films to tackle; if anything, there is an overabundance of them. However, “truth” is a highly politicized concept; what is to be recognized as truth in a society is always subject to power struggles, as well as what is to be done with the knowledge of those truths. Especially when we are talking about issues such as the Kurdish conflict, the politicization of the notion of truth becomes more explicit, and the power struggles over truth becomes more observable. As Toby Miller remarks, “texts accrete and attenuate meanings on their travels as they rub up against, trope, and are troped by other fictional and social texts” (2010, 142). In other words, the meaning of a filmic text undergoes a constant transformation during its social circulation as it encounters other social texts that operate around the same subject. Since the themes of Kurdish films are the themes of current affairs in Turkey, the process Miller talks about is something more readily observable in the case of Kurdish films. As the themes of Kurdish films are the themes of an ongoing political struggle in Turkey, these films take shape under the impact of the political power struggles over what is to be recognized as truth in relation to the Kurdish conflict.

Kurdish Films in Turkey


In building a nation-state on a multi-religious and multi-ethnic territory, the founding elite of the Turkish Republic adopted a “nationalism-from-above” (Keyder 1997) strategy, and as a consequence of the Kemalist discourses and practices on nation-building and nationmaintenance enacted by the Turkish state, since the foundation of the republic in 1923, Kurdish identity has been strictly denied in Turkey.2 According to the official narrative, Kurds were “mountain Turks,” there was no such thing as a Kurdish language (it was simply a “dialect” of Turkish), and anyone claiming otherwise must be financed by, and the pawn of, the “external enemies” of the Turkish nation-state. Conversely, the rigid denial of Kurdish reality and the Kemalist policies implemented to oppress the Kurds and suppress all cultural elements of Kurdishness gave strength and continuity to Kurdish dissent and politicized Kurdish identity. Consequently, the Kurdish issue remained unresolved, and Kurdish rebellions kept surfacing at different times from the 1920s onwards, taking different political and ideological forms at different junctures according to the shifting socio-political contexts of the times when it re-emerged. However, all Kurdish attempts to break this policy of denial and oppression were violently suppressed, publicly speaking about the Kurdish issue was banned, and the Kurdish perspective on the issue was completely erased from the public realm. With the emergence of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), an armed national liberation movement, the Kurdish conflict was transformed into a brutal internal war in 1984. The consequence was a decades-long war, leaving behind approximately forty thousand dead alongside the multifaceted long-term social impacts of such a protracted conflict. While the PKK gained power and popularity amongst Kurds over the decades, the war fueled anti-Kurdish sentiment in Turkish society and led to deep political polarization in the country. Rigid state control over the narration of the war, a refusal to let real information flow to the west of the country, and deployment of a discourse on terrorism in narrating the conflict, created a wide gap between the experience and the knowledge of the Kurds and the Turks about the war. The result was two segregated perceptions of the conflict in the same country.3 As Zeynep Gambetti remarks, the war created two “antagonistic publics” in Turkey and, “by the early 1990s, it was barely impossible to speak from a middle ground” (2008, 96). In the 2000s, the dynamics of the Kurdish issue in Turkey have significantly changed. With the emergence of the pro-Islamic AKP (Justice and Development Party) in the early 2000s as a new political actor, Turkey has witnessed a large-scale political transformation


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concerning the very definition of the nation, national identity, and national history, and implementing a new Kurdish policy was one of the pillars of this immense political transformation. The launch of the “Kurdish Opening” in 2009 particularly marks a milestone with regard to the AKP’s promise of bringing a peaceful solution to the conflict. Although the promises of the “Kurdish Opening” and the “peace process” embarked upon by the government initially inspired hope amongst the Kurds, the AKP’s new policy from the very beginning signaled the fact that the core of the AKP’s plan was “to integrate Kurds through depoliticizing the Kurdish identity” (Güneú 2014, 253). Thus, within a few years of the launch of the “Kurdish Opening,” it became clear that the AKP government’s Kurdish policy was far from being a democracy-seeking policy: it was yet another authoritarian and anti-democratic policy. However, despite all the negative developments, fundamental disagreements and conflicts, the “peace process” continued until the beginning of 2015. Despite the picture summarized above, the AKP government’s attempt to shift traditional state policy towards the Kurdish issue indisputably represents a milestone in the history of the conflict. The significance of the official launch of the “Kurdish Opening” in 2009 was that, in order to obtain the Turkish public’s support in its bold policy shift, the AKP had to reshape the dominant public perception of the Kurdish conflict, which necessitated an extensive public debate on the issue. In this period, the Kurdish perspective gained the opportunity to communicate with the general public in Turkey for the first time, or else the Turkish people, for the first time, had access to the Kurdish version of the past. From the day it was launched, the “Kurdish Opening” became subject to harsh criticisms from diverse political positions for varying reasons. Heated debates on the “Kurdish Opening,” and the Kurdish issue at large, occupied parliamentary discussions, as well as media coverage and daily conversations amongst citizens. Those were quite extraordinary days in Turkey, witnessing an overwhelming nation-wide debate on a subject which had been strictly banned from public discussion in the past. The public debate generated by the “Kurdish Opening” consequently gave voice to some long silenced realities of the conflict and gave public visibility to the previously suppressed historical context of the conflict. What is particularly important for this chapter in this context is that the Kurdish films addressed here function as one of the major mediums of publicizing Kurdish memories; they render hitherto silenced Kurdish memories publicly visible and publicly accessible. Through Kurdish films, the Kurdish version of history in Turkey, and the Kurdish version of the truth regarding the conflict, become visible and available to the general

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public and compete with other versions to be the dominant narrative of the conflict. I attach importance to Michael Schudson’s notion of “available past” in this context when he writes, “Given that people choose from available past and that the available past is limited, are individuals free to choose as they wish? Far from it. There are a variety of ways in which the freedom to choose is constrained” (2011, 288). I would like to extend Schudson’s phrase here and talk about “publicly available pasts,” and I deploy the concept of “public memory” in this regard to emphasize the importance of the public availability of diverse narrations of the past in investigating the relationship of a society with its history. My conception of public memory involves a reminder of the fact that power struggles over history take place in public, to influence public opinion on the past, and it is a struggle between publicly available pasts only. This point is highly crucial for this chapter, as the films that will be addressed in the following parts were made and released after 2009, in a period of political transformation in Turkey, with the aspiration to play a positive role in this process towards building social peace. And, in this period, Kurdish films have not only been utilized as, but have also been widely regarded as, one of the most significant means of making Kurdish memories visible and accessible to wide segments of the general public in Turkey for the first time.

Breaking the void of representation Traditional denial policy strictly banning any public representation of Kurdish identity and the Kurdish conflict had impinged on the cinema and left behind a void of representation in the film history of the country. Until recently, apart from a few individual attempts to touch upon the issue, the Kurdish issue had remained unrepresented in the cinema of Turkey.4 The actual rise of Kurdish films in Turkey, their dramatic emergence in the public sphere, and their encounter with large audiences nationwide took place in the 2000s. When Kurdish films started to spring forth worldwide, the first Kurdish films that explicitly addressed the Kurdish issue started to emerge in Turkey as well. The international growth of Kurdish filmmaking, and the recognition of the notion of Kurdish cinema worldwide in these years. no doubt had a certain influence on the emergence of Kurdish films in Turkey.5 On the other hand, the rise of Kurdish films in Turkey was also an outcome of the general revival of cinema in Turkey. In the 2000s, cinema in Turkey started to flourish with the growth of both commercial films and also politically and artistically ambitious independent films.6 Kurdish films benefited from the overall


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revival of the film industry in Turkey; from the new opportunities for film funding, the space for independent filmmaking, the growing audience interest in domestic films, as well as the considerable media interest in newly emergent domestic films. Apart from these national and transnational cinematic dynamics, it was also the general political transformation and the shifting dynamics of the Kurdish conflict which played a crucial role in the rise of Kurdish films, specifically in Turkey. The launch of the “Kurdish Opening” by the AKP government particularly marks the beginning of a new era for Kurdish films in Turkey. After the launch of the “Kurdish Opening,” Turkey witnessed what we can certainly call a boom of Kurdish films, not only in reference to the growth of Kurdish films in terms of numbers, but also to the extraordinary public interest they received. In 2009, the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, the oldest and one of the most significant film festivals in Turkey, included two Kurdish films in the National Competition for the first time: the documentary film, øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School, Özgür Do÷an and Orhan Eskiköy, 2009) and Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr, Miraz Bezar, 2009), a Kurdish language feature film. The media showed huge interest in the selection of these two films in the national Altn Portakal (Golden Orange) competition. They reported this occurrence by contextualizing it with reference to the “Kurdish Opening” with headlines such as “Kurdish Opening in Cinema.”or “The Altn Portakal ‘Opening’,” or “The ‘Opening’ on Silver Screen,” etc. And, within this discourse, Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr) was publicized everywhere as “the first ever Kurdish language film.” In a country where Kurdish identity has been suppressed, the very existence of the Kurds has been denied, the Kurdish language was decreed non-existent, and even the word “Kurd” was banned for many decades, some films called Kurdish films taking part in the national competition of a Turkish film festival for the first time stimulated questions as to what “national cinema” means (and what it should mean) in the case of Turkey. After 2009, all prominent national film festivals in Turkey started to feature a number of Kurdish films in their programs each year. Within a few years, Kurdish film festivals also started to be launched in the Kurdish region (in Diyarbakr, Batman, Van, Mardin, and Dersim). The first book on Kurdish cinema (Arslan 2009) was published in 2009, and the first ever conference on Kurdish Cinema was organized in Diyarbakr, again in 2009 (see ùengül 2013). Kurdish films began to be highlighted, discussed and recommended widely in mainstream newspapers and on TV channels, the screenings of Kurdish films at national film festivals, and the audience

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reactions they received. became a fixed element in the media coverage of those annual festivals, film magazines gave wide coverage to Kurdish films and even published special issues (Film Aras 2013) dedicated to the Kurdish cinema debate. Shortly after the launch of the “Kurdish Opening,” in 2010, the !f Istanbul Film Festival, one of the biggest and most prestigious festivals in Turkey, showcased a special program of Kurdish films and called the program “The Opening.” Thus, as all these developments manifest, following the launch of the “Kurdish Opening,” Kurdish films suddenly turned into a significant cinematic (and political) phenomenon in Turkey. As explained earlier, one of the most significant aspects of the political transformation in recent Turkey was the policy shift in the state’s attitude towards the Kurdish conflict, while one of the most dynamic components of the new cinema in Turkey was the emergence of Kurdish films. Hence, it is important for this chapter to highlight that, at a time when the country witnessed radical shifts in politics, films came out that focused on the very issues that were at the heart of this political transformation and that had observable consequences in film culture. As a result, Kurdish films have participated in the ongoing struggle in Turkey over the future of the Kurdish conflict not only as a subject speaking out, but also as an object spoken about; not only did they interrogate the Kurdish issue, but they also became an instrument for the public to interrogate the issue. This means Kurdish films emerged in Turkey in a context in which they were most likely to have an impact on politics. Thus, the directors of these films repeatedly highlighted at every opportunity that, while tackling politically significant issues in Turkey, they believe in the potential of cinema to influence the public perception of the Kurdish conflict and in contributing to the peace-building process, and they expressed their desire to take an active part in contemporary political debates on the Kurdish issue via their films. Kurdish films emerged in a period of political transformation in which power struggles in the present to shape the future of the country centered upon the past, and national history has become an open narrative that is subject to political debates and contestations as never before. It was a dramatic shift, given that Turkish society used to be “frequently accused of being amnesiac” (Özyürek 2007, 3), or “used to suffer from a purposeful amnesia” (Kechriotis 2011, 101), or was even “considered an archetype of social amnesia” (Bakner 2013, 697). Yet, the political transformation in the AKP era dramatically broke the traditional culture of “amnesia” in Turkey and led to an “explosion of memory” (Bakner 2013). Emerging in this period of political transformation, Kurdish films aimed at bringing the


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dark history of the Kurdish issue in Turkey onto the screen and into the present via Kurdish memories. In the days of the memory wars in Turkey, when the national past became a battleground, Kurdish films deployed Kurdish memories against the dominant historicization of the Kurdish issue, and they became one of the most significant means of rendering the Kurdish perspective on the national past visible and accessible to the general public in Turkey for the first time. As the following parts of this chapter will demonstrate, and before any close analysis is done, even an overall look at the subject matters of Kurdish films would be sufficient to see the centrality of memory in these films. It is as if there is an unspoken allocation at work amongst the filmmakers when deciding on their narrative focus. It is as if the filmmakers go through the list of true stories in the big black file of history in order to find the yet untold: one of them narrates the unidentified political murders; another focuses on the ban on the Kurdish language; one recounts the Dersim massacre; another tells the brutal suppression of the Kurdish media. They seem to be emerging from an urge to speak out about everything that has not been unveiled yet. While being the first films to break the order of silence on the Kurdish issue, they are marked by a sense of urgency to fill the void in the public memory by narrating different dimensions of the history of the Kurdish conflict one by one. As the Kurdish voice acquires the means to break the silence, it first exposes the price of the preceding silence by belatedly reporting on the oppressive mechanisms of silencing unleashed against the Kurdish people in the past. And, while narrating stories from an unspoken past in the days of the memory wars in Turkey, these films build a certain claim of truth-telling. Quite aware of the intense power struggles in the days of political transformation between opposing interpretations of the past in Turkey, they seek ways to convince the audience that their version of the history of the Kurdish issue is the “true version” among various other opposing narratives and conflicting interpretations. And, in doing so, they enter into the realm of the “politics of memory” and the “politics of truth.”

Kurdish documentary filmmaking and “the truth” What could be the most effective way of telling a society some “uncomfortable truths” about its past when that society has been ideologically configured under the powerful impact of an official policy of denial that has been suppressing those truths? How to undermine the political conventions that have been cutting off any attempts by the Kurds to express themselves, labeling them as “terrorist propaganda”? How to

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render the average Turkish audience open to listening to the Kurdish issue from the Kurdish perspective? These are the questions that seem to be significantly conditioning Kurdish films. While bringing the history of the Kurdish issue to the screen and telling some “uncomfortable truths” to Turkish society about its past, filmmakers search for ways of saying “This is really what happened in the past.” We can say that speaking out about long-silenced issues, and thus building a communicative sphere for social confrontation, is the main motivation behind the emergence of Kurdish films. And, the challenge of accomplishing this motivation within the current political atmosphere is the main parameter defining the structure of these films. We can say that “truth-telling” is one of the main motivations behind the making of Kurdish films, whereas seeking ways of announcing their “claim of truth-telling” is one of the main characteristics of these films. The predominance of documentary in Kurdish filmmaking can be seen as one of the reflections of the challenge of convincingly representing truths that conflict with truths that have been largely accepted in Turkish society for decades. In order to break down some deep-seated ideological prejudices, to overcome the problem of persuasion, the Kurdish issue is mostly told in the documentary format. In pointing to the common tendency of Kurdish filmmakers to favor documentary over fiction film, director Hüseyin Karabey says: We thought, if we show people these issues in an objective way, people cannot remain unresponsive. [...] This was why we became interested in cinema in the first place. When you can’t see yourself, the things around you, the things you have witnessed in cinema, you think, “We must be living in a different Turkey, or, the Turkey narrated in cinema is another Turkey.” And, we reckoned that the most objective way to do something about this was documentary. (Karabey 2009, translation mine)

For instance, the documentary film On the Way to School follows one school year of Emre, a newly graduated Turkish teacher from western Turkey, who is appointed to teach in a small Kurdish village. Yet, Emre cannot speak any Kurdish, and his little students cannot speak any Turkish. Because the very existence of the Kurds and the Kurdish language had been denied by the Turkish state, Emre’s training has in no way prepared him for such a situation; thus, he is left to his own devices in attempting to solve this problem. On the Way to School was one of the most acclaimed Kurdish films of the period, and it received positive acclaim from a broad swathe of Turkish audiences. It is made in what Bill Nichols (1991) calls “observational mode,” the aesthetic choices of the


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documentary are designed to highlight the intention of not intervening in people’s lives and just “observing” from a distance with “no manipulation.” In an interview, co-director Özgür Do÷an (2009) says that “This film is an effort to understand both sides. We take a side by choosing not to take a side. Instead, we try to make sense of both sides. We therefore choose not to go inside, but rather identify as much as we can without affecting their lives” (translation mine). While commenting on why they preferred the documentary genre over fiction in On the Way to School, co-director Orhan Eskiköy remarks that the audience would not have believed that kind of a story had they told it via a fiction film. He emphasizes that using the documentary format was, therefore, particularly necessary in the narration of this story, which touches upon a “sensitive issue.” because the documentary format does not leave space for doubtful questions regarding the validity of the film (Eskiköy 2009). Thus, as these comments also reflect, the documentary format was utilized by Do÷an and Eskiköy as a way of conveying a sense of objectivity (and thus reliability) in telling some “uncomfortable truths” to the average Turkish audience. While searching for ways of convincingly communicating to the audience on a politically charged issue, Kurdish filmmaking largely draws upon the traditional perception that considers documentary film as more entitled to “represent the reality,” or to be more competent in “unravelling the truth” than fiction film. In this sense, we can say that what Spence and Avc (2013) argue specifically for the documentary film 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84, Çayan Demirel, 2009) in fact applies to the majority of the Kurdish documentaries of the period. Prison Nr. 5 was one of the most significant and much debated examples of Kurdish oral history documentaries, or “testimonial cinema” (Chanan 1990, 40) in Turkey. The film brings forward the memories of the systematic torture inflicted on Kurdish political prisoners in the Diyarbakr Military Prison after the 1980 military coup in Turkey. Kurdish left-wing activists who were imprisoned after the coup faced incredible methods of systematic torture in this military prison in the 1980s (see Zeydanlo÷lu 2009). Prison Nr. 5 primarily consists of interviews with the survivors of the Diyarbakr Military Prison, many of whom are prominent Kurdish politicians and intellectuals in present-day Turkey. The act of speaking out is in its purest and strongest form in this film, as the victims publicly articulate their experiences of one of the most brutal state atrocities, and with no interruption of manipulative film techniques, just staring into the eyes of the audience and unearthing their traumatic memories. In their analysis of Prison Nr.5, Spence and Avc on the one hand recount the wide public interest the film triggered in Turkey and recognize the “social relevance”

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of this documentary but, on the other hand, they problematize Demirel’s traditional approach to documentary filmmaking. In pointing to “the limitations that come with the ‘truth telling’ of this type of documentary,” they write that Prison Nr. 5 [...] does not see the notion of historical knowledge as a problem. It confidently substitutes one history for another. It never challenges conventional historical understandings of evidence. Nor does it include the search for meaning as part of the story. Nor does it critically and selfconsciously incorporate into the story the difficulty of discovering and telling the whole truth–or even a small part of the truth–about an event. [...] History is knowable and eyewitness testimony is evidence that can bring the past to us. We might describe its use of testimony as a positivist faith in truth and historical knowledge, a discursive transparency that hides its own power behind a naive epistemology. (2013, 302)

We can say that what Spence and Avc argue specifically for Çayan Demirel’s documentary film, Prison Nr. 5, also applies to the majority of the Kurdish films of the period. In fact, documentary film theory has long been problematizing this kind of an “unsophisticated” approach to the notion of “truth” in documentary films, and current literature is predominated by the suspicion towards the possibility of objectively representing reality in the documentary format. On this subject, Michael Chanan writes, Nothing shows so clearly the growth of scepticism in the twentieth century as our attitude towards documentary. The emergence of the documentary as a recognised cinematic genre in the 20s inherited a naïve trust in the veracity of the image as an authentic representation of the real. Today we no longer see things this way. Documentary has succumbed to a general disbelief in the possibility of objective truth, and the rise of the very inexact concept of relativism. (Chanan 1998)

Linda Williams, on the other hand, draws attention to a contradiction, remarking that, in the era we live in, “loss of faith in the objectivity of the image” is accompanied by “a remarkable hunger for documentary images” (1993, 10). This “hunger” detected by Williams is very much related to the “memory boom” Andreas Huyssen (2000) observes. He discusses the increasing interest in the concept of memory by drawing attention to a long list of dramatic historical events in the twentieth century world history, and writes,


Chapter V As particular nations struggle to create democratic polities in the wake of histories of mass exterminations, apartheids, military dictatorships, and totalitarianism, they are faced [...] with the unprecedented task of securing the legitimacy and future of their emergent polity by finding ways to commemorate and adjudicate past wrongs. (Huyssen 2000, 26)

In a similar vein, Dipesh Chakrabarty stresses that, “After the Second World War, the question has arisen in all democracies of including in the history of the nation the histories of groups previously left out from it. [...] Official or officially-blessed accounts of the nation’s past have been challenged in many countries by the champions of minority-histories” (1997, 17). Hence, memory studies started to flourish with certain “democratic aspirations” (Thomson et al. 1994, 33), regarding memory as a medium of history from below. Yet, in recent years, it has become commonplace to develop a more complicated approach in addressing the power relationships between the official accounts of the past disseminated through official history and the repressed, marginalized, excluded memories of the past: The idea of memory as a tool with which to contest ‘official’ versions of the past, too, shifts from an opposition between the subordinate truth versus the dominant lie, to a concern with the ways in which particular versions of an event may be at various times and for various reasons promoted, reformulated, or silenced” (Hodgkin & Radstone 2003, 5).

Although skeptical approaches towards the notion of truth in general, and the documentary representation of truth in particular, certainly have a valid and valuable point, it is easy to lose the ground completely, especially when the complexities of these theoretical arguments get lost within over-simplified deductions once these approaches become dominant. Thus, the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’ statement points at the limits of complicating the arguments regarding the notion of truth and its representations in documentary: There is a kind of realism behind all of the movies that I’ve made. Realism in the philosophical sense. That there is a real world out there in which things happen. Truth is not subjective. When you make claims such as poison gas was used in Auschwitz, there is a true and false answer. Just as there is a true and false answer to the question of whether Randall Adams shot police officer Robert Wood on that roadway in West Dallas. This is not up for grabs. You don’t take an audience survey. (Morris 2000)

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I would like to suggest replacing the term “truth” with “fact” in Morris’s words. We cannot deny that there are “historical facts,” and those “facts” can be investigated. Yet, there are questions regarding “historical facts” that bring forth the notion of “truth,” which is more complicated, subjective, and open to dispute, unlike “historical facts.” These include questions such as, “Who is interested in which historical facts with what kind of present-day motivations?”, “How are these facts contextualized in the present, and by whom?”, “Who interprets these facts in what ways?”, “Who utilises these facts towards which future goals?” and so on. If we return to the case of Kurdish films in Turkey, and specifically to Spence and Avc’s discussion on Prison Nr.5, it is important to acknowledge that the rigidity of the traditional policy of denial, and the rigorousness of the suppression of Kurdish voices in telling the history of the conflict, have played a major role in this “positivist faith in truth and historical knowledge.” Because Turkish society has been oblivious to many “historical facts” as regards the Kurdish conflict up until the 2000s, “truthtelling” in Kurdish films first and foremost means “revealing denied historical facts.” As the Turkish state, for decades, denied Kurdish identity, stringently controlled narrations of the conflict, and blocked the flow of information to the west of the country, primary questions regarding the history of the conflict, the first set of questions whose answers need consensus if the political polarization in Turkey is to be healed are rather simple: “Is there such thing as a Kurdish language?”, “Did the state forces kill thousands of Kurdish civilians in Dersim in 1938?”, or “Was there a secret paramilitary organization in the 1990s, established by the Turkish state, and called JITEM, which tortured and killed tens of thousands Kurdish people?” There is a true and false answer to these questions; there is nothing subjective about them. However, as a consequence of the decades-long denial policy and state-ordered amnesia, even “historical facts” are still subject to debate, contestation, and denial in contemporary Turkey. More complicated questions regarding truth, questions about what to do with the dark historical facts and how to interpret them, how to deal with them, and how to accommodate them in present-day Turkey, are of primary concern; they are crucial to the peacebuilding process, but they can be fully addressed only when there is consensus on historical facts, on what actually happened in the past. In sum, it is necessary to acknowledge that, in this political atmosphere, Kurdish films perform a belief in “an opposition between the subordinate truth versus the dominant lie” (Hodgkin and Radstone 2003, 5) and deploy an approach that is not so self-conscious or sophisticated in dealing with the issue of representing reality in documentary film.


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Telling “the truth” in fiction While the documentary genre has been widely deployed as a suitable medium for convincingly narrating historical facts regarding the Kurdish issue, the drive to tell the truth and the claim of “truth-telling” on the other hand is, in fact, apparent not only in documentaries but in Kurdish fiction films as well. There is a remarkable convergence between fiction and nonfiction in the case of Kurdish films in Turkey in terms of their relationship with the notion of reality. In the case of Kurdish films, the relationships between “reality and representation” or “film and life” are so transitional that the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction also become transitional. In telling stories regarding the Kurdish issue, Kurdish films aim to attest to the wide-scale social effects of the Kurdish conflict in Kurdish society, bringing the prevalence of painful individual Kurdish stories marked by the socio-political history of the Kurdish issue into view. In reference to the Kurdish region, director Özcan Alper says, “Whoever you get in touch with, whoever you come across in the street, it’s either his brother is in prison, or her father is missing, or another relative is murdered” (Alper 2011). Talking about his experience of filming in Diyarbakr, director Miraz Bezar, says, “Every single person has a story in Diyarbakr. Whoever you speak with, they have a story to share with you” (Bezar 2010). ølham Bakr, one of the organizers of the Amed Film Festival in Diyarbakr, says “Kurdish cinema is lucky, because in the Kurdish region, wherever you direct the camera you would find a story for a film. [...] What has been experienced in the last thirty years in this region gives enough material to the filmmakers to last for fifty years in cinema” (Evrensel, 9 August 2012, translation mine). Kurdish films first and foremost aim to make these hitherto silenced stories publicly visible via cinema. In Kurdish filmmaking, there is always a true story at the initial point, which then becomes a fiction or non-fiction film. The quest to represent reality, to bring forward these numerous untold true stories in a way that maximizes the reality effect, finds its response in both forms. In Gelecek Uzun Sürer (The Future Lasts Forever, Özcan Alper, 2011), the main character is Sumru, a Turkish doctoral student who visits the Kurdish region for her research in ethnomusicology. The Future Lasts Forever makes use of densely integrated audio-visual archival footage as well as interviews with actual eyewitnesses of state atrocities carried out in the 1990s, but these materials are all motivated within the narrative as material found by Sumru through her academic research. Hence, the film conveys real accounts of memories of atrocity through the mediation of

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fictional characters. When we look at the pre-production of The Future Lasts Forever, we find a documentary project behind the making of a fiction film. Before shooting the fictional parts of this film, director Özcan Alper conducted thorough historical research, accessed some significant archive footage from the 1990s, and also recorded interviews with eyewitnesses of the village evacuations, tortures and unidentified murders. He later integrated this footage into the fictional story. In this sense, it can be said that he has first made a documentary film based on testimonies and archival footage, but then framed it within a fictional story. Like Özcan Alper, Miraz Bezar also began working on his first feature film project by conducting extensive historical research. In Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr/Ben Gördüm), Bezar narrates the paramilitary activities in the Kurdish region in the 1990s via the story of two siblings whose parents are killed by JITEM in front of their eyes.7 In an interview, Bezar explains how they created the script of Min Dît together with Evrim Alataú: Because I hadn’t experienced that period myself, I wanted to make this film with someone who had. And, Evrim knew the period very well, as she was a journalist in the region back then. Together, we did extensive research. We also went to the Human Rights Association in Diyarbakr and worked through the incidents in their files. We tried to deploy those incidents in our script. We were looking for a real example that would best represent the issue of unidentified murders. (Bezar 2009, translation mine)

Press (Sedat Ylmaz, 2010) is a fiction film that deals with the subject of state control over the Kurdish press. The story centers on a group of Kurdish journalists who are constantly exposed to threats, raids, assaults and even assassinations, because they work for Özgür Gündem, the daily Kurdish newspaper of the 1990s that reported state atrocities and human right abuses in the Kurdish region. In his interviews, director Sedat Ylmaz remarks that, while writing the script for Press, they were working on the diaries of Bayram Balc, a Kurdish journalist who used to work for the newspaper Özgür Gündem in the 1990s, and who also took part in the making of Press as a consultant; moreover, they interviewed other people who worked for Özgür Gündem in those years in order to create a faithful representation of the events and create a feeling of authenticity in this fiction film. In the 1990s, in order to be able to deliver the Özgür Gündem newspaper despite constant prohibitions, little children were employed to secretly deliver the newspaper, and this historical fact was integrated into the authentic story of Press. Director Ylmaz also recounts that, in order to authentically represent every single detail while drawing a realistic picture


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of the 1990s in Press, he consulted a number of people simply to find out what kind of bags were used in those years by the Kurdish children who were employed to secretly deliver banned issues of Özgür Gündem (Ylmaz 2011). This kind of meticulousness is something we find in all Kurdish films in their effort to represent the Kurdish geography and culture authentically and depict certain historical periods and past events truthfully. In this regard, we can say that the filmmakers treat their fiction films as “drama-documentaries” or “re-enactments.” And, when Press ends with a written note itemizing some historical facts (the number of Kurdish journalists murdered in the period depicted in the film, the number of indictments filed against Özgür Gündem, and so on), this fiction film one last time draws attention to its authentic and realistic narrative, and stakes a claim to truth-telling, in order to break down some conflict-driven sentiments and deep-seated opinions on “the truth” regarding the Kurdish issue. Sometimes, the appropriate historical materials to represent true stories are found in personal collections. As filmmakers often complain about the absence, paucity, or inaccessibility of relevant historical archives regarding the Kurdish conflict, they are sometimes left with what they can access: personal memories available to them through private collections such as photographs, family albums, letters, personal diaries, and sound recordings. Applying the representative power of personal stories to attest to the wide-scale social effects of the Kurdish conflict in Kurdish society, some filmmakers direct their cameras to the nearest stories available, and thus speak of the Kurdish issue through their own stories, or stories of their families, of villagers, and friends. For instance, Dengê Bavê Min (My Father’s Voice/Babamm Sesi, Zeynel Do÷an and Orhan Eskiköy, 2012) is a fiction film based on the true story of co-director Do÷an’s family. The main character is Base, Do÷an’s mother; a taciturn old Kurdish woman who always wears black, and who lives alone in the family home in the desolate hills of their village burdened by all the weight of the past. This is an Alevi-Kurdish family that survived the Maraú Massacre in 1978. The father works abroad in Saudi Arabia as a construction worker to earn money for the family and, at the end of the film, dies in a work accident. Hasan, the older brother of Zeynel Do÷an, whom we never see in the film, had joined the guerrillas some time before. What inspired Do÷an for the idea to make this film was an actual archive of audiotapes that for years were used as letters between the father who worked abroad and the rest of the family. Listening to all these audio-letters, director Do÷an retrospectively realized the power of these sound recordings in representing not only his family’s history, but also the history of the Kurdish issue in

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general. As he says, “I have always been aware that this story had a representative power; that there are certain things that my and my family’s experiences represent” (Do÷an 2012). Originally conceived as a documentary film, the project evolved into a fiction film based on the true story of Do÷an’s family, with Do÷an and his family playing themselves, and with the use of the actual sound-recordings of Do÷an’s father. As Özgür Çiçek argues, “Kurdish films reveal certain ‘histories’ of Kurdish and Turkish people and carry an archival potential that shapes the memories of both Kurdish and non-Kurdish people” (2011, 5). Thus, as the examples discussed above demonstrate, cinema is deployed by filmmakers as a suitable medium for responding to the problem of the lack of historical archives on the Kurdish issue. Moreover, it is not only in documentary filmmaking, but also in fiction filmmaking that directors see their film projects as historical research projects, unearthing lost, hidden, or inaccessible historical materials, and they have started building an onscreen historical archive of the Kurdish issue in Turkey.

The documentary value of the fictional One of the consequences of the official policy of denial and the severe armed conflict that continued in the region from 1984 onwards is the unfamiliarity with the Kurds and the Kurdish region for the majority of Turkish society living in western Turkey. The Kurdish conflict, in a sense, precluded state nationalism from involving the Kurdish region as part of the national discourse that praised the national territory. The Turkish state declared sovereignty in the region via Turkish flags, Atatürk statues, and massive “How happy is the one who says I am a Turk” writings on buildings and on mountains, yet it failed to annex and incorporate the region into the national imagination of the homeland. The region was first the territory of pre-modernity, underdevelopment, backwardness and primitiveness in the dominant national discourse, representing huge opposition to the Kemalist ideal of a westernized Turkey. Then, after the emergence of the PKK and the beginning of the armed conflict, the prevailing image of the Kurdish region became even darker, as it came to represent the dangerous geography of war and the territory of terrorism for the rest of the country. As a result, people from the west stayed away from the Kurdish region; only military personnel and teachers went to the region to do their “obligatory service” in the “state of emergency” region for a few years, and they were paid extra salary for serving there. TV programs traveling around the country inch by inch introducing the geography and the culture of the homeland to the national audience, or TV


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food shows exploring the richness of diverse culinary traditions in different regions of Turkey, never visited the Kurdish region. This isolation and obscurity of the region only started to be broken down for the first time in the 2000s. As discussed earlier, Kurdish films that were made in the period of the “peace process” were able to be more explicit in representing the Kurdish issue, and they enjoyed the opportunity of communicating to a wide spectrum of audience in Turkey for the first time. While making use of this opportunity, filmmakers attempted to narrow down the angle between Kurdish and Turkish memories of the conflict by making the unfamiliar familiar through their representation of the Kurdish region. Kurdish films of the period provided the first visuals from various parts of the region, and they introduced the Kurdish region to the wider public in Turkey for the first time, or else they re-introduced it with an alternative image: the image of a different Kurdish geography built through and within Kurdish memories to replace the prevailing negative public image disseminated through official discourse. The beautiful, mountainous Kurdish rural landscape and Kurdish cities were featured for the first time in these films. Hence, using the Kurdish region as their setting has been one of the salient characteristics of Kurdish films, which gives them a distinct look and, in fact, the feel of “foreign films” for the audience in western Turkey. The fact that, until recently, the Kurdish region had been under-represented, and thus unfamiliar, to a wide spectrum of the Turkish population, gives a certain “documentary value” to the Kurdish fiction films of the period. While bringing forth the history of the Kurdish issue in an attempt to contribute to the peace process, Kurdish films also aim to revise the dominant image of the Kurds and the Kurdish region in the Turkish public memory. In general, as much as the stories they narrate, taking the audience to the unknown Kurdish region through film is one of the initial motivations of many Kurdish films. Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr), which was acclaimed as the first ever Kurdish-language film in Turkey, was also the first film to use Diyarbakr, the major city of the Kurdish region, as its setting. In fact, director Miraz Bezar states that the initial idea that excited him was as simple as “making a film that is set in Diyarbakr”; he then goes to Diyarbakr to find a story and works on the script whilst staying there. The excitement of featuring Diyarbakr for the first time is evident in Min Dît. As mentioned earlier, the film tells the story of two young siblings who are left to their own means after their parents are killed by JITEM before their very eyes. Because the children start living on the streets, the majority of the film consists of outdoor scenes. This makes it possible for Bezar to make the most of being the first

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to introduce Diyarbakr in cinema, as the city literally becomes home to the two young orphans. Consequently, the city becomes one of the main subjects treated in the film along with the story of the siblings. This fiction film makes extensive use of the documentary value of featuring Diyarbakr for the first time in cinema, so much so that we can say there is a fictional story in Min Dît that is set within a documentary film about Diyarbakr in the background. Gelecek Uzun Sürer (The Future Lasts Forever) is another film that gives a central role to Diyarbakr in its narrative. In this film, the audience meet the Kurdish region through the eyes of a visitor, an “outsider” just like the audience; the doctoral student, Sumru, who visits Diyarbakr to collect folk elegies. The region is represented utterly as a site of memory in Future Lasts Forever, a cradle of unpleasant memories, opening up its past to its visitor with memories springing from everywhere and everyone Sumru touches. The film primarily addresses the Turkish audience, and the obscurity of the Kurdish region for the majority of the Turkish audience is what influences its narrative structure. In an interview, Özcan Alper points out that the Kurdish region has been an obscure territory not only for the average Turk, but even for left-wing/socialist people who have actually been sympathetic to, or who support, the Kurdish political struggle, like his character Sumru. He says, “How well do we actually know the region? People from the Turkish left, do they ever visit Diyarbakr? Who showed the courage to go to Hakkari, or to Van? Nobody. There has always been a distance, maybe an unavoidable one” (Alper 2011, translation mine). While attempting to obliterate this distance in and through his film, he gives his audience a main character to identify with, a character as unfamiliar with the Kurdish region as the Turkish audience. The Future Lasts Forever draws an authentic and detailed picture of city life in Diyarbakr, featuring its streets, historical buildings, cafés, art and cultural centers, and thus utilizes the power of representing the unrepresented, treating Diyarbakr as a treasure untouched in cinema. Before setting out to accomplish this, at the beginning, the film first comments on the prevailing image of the Kurdish region in the west of the country that it aims to dispel. When Sumru first arrives in Diyarbakr for her doctoral research, we see her walking in the streets while talking to her mother on the phone. We hear her trying to soothe her concerned mother, saying “Don’t worry about me, mom. In fact Istanbul is more dangerous than here. Forget about what they say on TV. It is not like bombs exploding everywhere, you know?” With these words, the film begins by addressing the fear of its audience that originates from the dominant representation of the region and inviting them to overcome that fear, and


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then lets them see the region with their own eyes (through the lens of the camera). Gitmek: Benim Marlon ve Brandom (My Marlon and Brando, Hüseyin Karabey, 2008) deploys a journey-narrative in an attempt to make the unfamiliar Kurdish region familiar. In the film, Ayça, an amateur Turkish actor, falls in love with Hama Ali, a Kurdish actor from Iraq, and she takes an adventurous journey through the Kurdish region of Turkey towards Iraq to meet him during the days of the Iraq War. The story is the true story of Ayça Damgacı, who co-wrote the script together with director Karabey, and who plays herself in the film. The film mixes documentary footage with fiction in portraying Ayça’s journey through the Kurdish region, by making use of a great variety of actual people, actual events and actual settings that they come across throughout the journey they took for the filmmaking process. For example, when they come across an actual wedding on the way, they stop and Ayça joins the wedding crowd and performs the traditional Kurdish dances with them, and Karabey integrates this scene into the film. When Ayça needs to take a taxi according to the script, for instance, they find a real Kurdish taxi driver and film the spontaneous conversations between Ayça and the driver. As director Karabey says, We didn’t want to lose the feeling of reality. For that reason, some of the actors in the film are acting themselves and others worked alongside people who participated in the real-life drama. Throughout the production, reality intervened. When one of the drivers asked if he could stop at his parents’ grave in a destroyed Kurdish village, we ended up incorporating this in the film because his experiences were so reflective of those we were trying to represent in the story. (Karabey 2008, translation mine)

Hence, as in The Future Lasts Forever, or Dengê Bavê Min (My Father’s Voice/Babamın Sesi), the convergence between fiction and nonfiction in My Marlon and Brando originates not only from the fact that the script is based on a true story, but also from the documentary footage that is smoothly fused with a fictional narrative. The journey narrative allows Karabey to map out the Kurdish region for his audience. While Ayça travels around the Kurdish region, the film explores and unravels Kurdish geography before the eyes of the audience. In this sense, journey-narrative functions as an appropriate means of introducing the region with its geography and culture to the wider Turkish public.

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Conclusion: The question of hybridity While most Kurdish filmmakers start off their projects with a thorough historical study while working on their fictional scripts, on the textual level, we observe that Kurdish fiction films also perform a certain claim of truth-telling; they are structured with a claim to be regarded as documentaries in terms of representing reality. As the films addressed above demonstrate, there are various filmic ways of enunciating and prompting this claim: Whether deploying archival footage within fictional stories, giving the floor to real witnesses of actual events, giving accounts of certain historical facts through written notes, employing nonprofessional actors playing themselves, or interspersing documentary footage with fictional scenes, what these films do is to contextualize fictional narratives with reference to socio-historical realities. Through fictional stories infused with these reminders of reality, the filmmakers position the textual fiction within a contextual reality, reminding the viewer of the reality in relation to which the film claims to be based. In terms of incorporating the outcomes of their historical research into fictional narratives, on the one hand we have films that literally blend fictional and non-fictional elements. In this sense, The Future Lasts Forever, My Father’s Voice, and My Marlon and Brando, for instance, exemplify “hybrid genre” films. However, if we consider the centrality of the claim of truth-telling in all Kurdish fiction films, we can even conclude that labeling these films as “hybrid genre” films is, in fact, insignificant. What is the exact point in a fiction film where the reminders of reality interspersed within the story reach a certain level of intensity such that the film is no longer a “pure” fiction film? Ultimately, this is a pointless question that demonstrates that the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is always subject to becoming vague when interrogated. Yet, what is significant is that Kurdish films always bring this interrogation forth, or they expose this vagueness, due to the way notions of reality and truth are evident in them. My argument is that it is the politics of the Kurdish issue that renders the fiction/non-fiction distinction in Kurdish films as a peculiarly complicated issue. In other words, the much-debated and theoretically vague distinction between fiction film and non-fiction film becomes even more indistinct in the case of Kurdish films due to the political context. What is significant for our discussion, with regard to Kurdish fiction films that deploy historical material in different ways and to varying extents, is the reality effect brought about by the infiltration of real history into fictional stories. In explaining why he integrated actual victim


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accounts in his fiction film, Özcan Alper says, “when you make a film that tackles sociological realities and political issues, no matter how fictional your story is, the reality keeps badgering you,” and he continues, “I wanted to avoid the audience thinking that ‘the film is making propaganda’ and leave them alone with the reality” (Alper 2011, translation mine). An interviewer asks Orhan Eskiköy, the co-director of My Father’s Voice, whether he particularly wants to highlight that the story of the film is a “true story,” and Eskiköy’s response is, “What you are watching is not just a film; that is what I want to get through to my audience” (Eskiköy 2012, translation mine). This seems to be the essential issue for these filmmakers: finding the most effective mechanisms, in either fiction or non-fiction filmmaking, for getting this through to Turkish audiences. For Kurdish films that find their stories in real life, the fundamental concern seems to be that of retaining the intrinsic link between the “found real story” and their filmic story, and thus representing reality in a way that maximizes the reality effect. To sum up, in both fiction and non-fiction filmmaking, filmmakers who address the history of the Kurdish issue are in search of the most effective ways of communicating to their audience in Turkey that “what they are watching is not just a film.” In order to render the average Turkish audience more approachable, and in order to break down ideological barriers, they endeavor to firmly knit the films together with reality. In this regard, the message we see in some films saying “All characters and events depicted in this film are fictional and any resemblance to real events, locales or persons is purely coincidental” works in the opposite direction in Kurdish films. It is as if all Kurdish films start with an unspoken, unwritten yet ipso facto present message: “All characters and events depicted in this film are correlated with real events, locales and persons and all resemblances are deliberate.”

Notes 1

The concept of Kurdish cinema came into existence surrounded by a cluster of complex questions: What is Kurdish cinema? What makes a film Kurdish; is it the ethnicity of the director, the theme, the language, a specific aesthetic style, or a political stance that allows one to recognise it as a Kurdish film? Insofar as the concept of Kurdish cinema correlates with the Kurdish people whose political status has been, and is still, subject to power struggles, the definition of Kurdish cinema has never been a mere theoretical issue. And the struggle over the definition of Kurdish films bears the weight of the history of the Kurdish issue. For this reason, rather than favoring one of the potential definitions of Kurdish cinema, or suggesting a new definition, I find it crucial to emphasize that Kurdish films

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have emerged from a political context which renders the definition of a Kurdish film as open as the status of the Kurdish people. And, in this article, I use the term ‘Kurdish film’ in the widest sense of the concept to include any films which represent the Kurdish issue from the Kurdish perspective with an aim of initiating a public debate on different aspects of the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. 2 Kemalism is the traditional, official ideology of the Turkish state named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. 3 There are several surveys and studies that reveal the profound contrast between the Turkish and Kurdish perceptions of the conflict. For example, see the findings of the national surveys by Seta and Pollmark (2009) and KONDA (2011). Also see (Çelik 2012); (Klç 1992); (Haúimi, 2009); (Çelebi et al. 2014); (Saraço÷lu 2010); (Dixon and Ergin 2010). 4 Until the late 1990s, the only exception that broke the onscreen silence on the Kurdish issue was the legendary filmmaker Ylmaz Güney. He sought ways to tacitly represent Kurdishness on screen. Güney’s Yol/The Road (1982) was the first film in Turkey to feature Kurdish culture, use Kurdish folk songs, and depict Kurdish characters truly, with their own identity. However, the film was banned in Turkey for seventeen years, until the late 1990s. Following Güney, there are a handful of films made by left-wing liberal Turkish filmmakers who address the Kurdish issue on screen, before the emergence of Kurdish filmmakers, such as Eúkya/Bandit (1996, Yavuz Turgul), Iúklar Sönmesin/Let There Be Light (1996, Reis Çelik) Güneúe Yolculuk/Journey to the Sun (1999, Yeúim Ustao÷lu), Büyük Adam Küçük Aúk/Hejar (2001, Handan øpekçi), Yaz Tura/Toss Up (2004, U÷ur Yücel). In 1995, MKM (the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective) was formed with the aim of producing Kurdish films made by Kurdish filmmakers. MKM mostly produced short films and documentaries, but these films have been subject to diverse facets of censorship and they never had the opportunity to achieve a wide audience in Turkey. 5 In 2000, Bahman Ghobadi, a Kurdish filmmaker from Iran, won the Golden Camera Award at the Cannes Film Festival with Zamani Barayé Masti Asbha (A Time of The Drunken Horses), a film that is woven with certain elements distinctly identifiable as “Kurdish,” such as its language, theme and geography. Ghobadi’s international recognition under the label of a “Kurdish filmmaker” has been a milestone for Kurdish filmmaking, in that it inspired and motivated new Kurdish filmmakers and, moreover, helped the notion of Kurdish cinema to be heard and recognised widely. And, the following year, the London Kurdish Film Festival (LKFF), the first ever Kurdish film festival in the world, was launched, and it functioned as the leading institution of Kurdish cinema in its early years, taking an active role in almost all activities and events regarding Kurdish films, and deploying its resources to assist the flourishing of the web of cultural activities and institutions surrounding Kurdish films (see Koçer 2014). 6 For further information on the revival of cinema in Turkey in the 2000s, see Arslan 2011; Suner 2010; Köstepen 2009; Göl 2007. 7 JITEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism): Paramilitary forces that were mobilised to deal with the Kurdish movement. The existence of this illegal organization was denied by the state until the 2000s.


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Works Cited Alper, Özcan. 2011. “ùimdi De÷ilse Ne Zaman?” Interviewed by Enis Köstepen and Berke Göl, Altyaz 111. Arslan, Müjde. ed. 2009. Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Snr ve Ölüm, østanbul: Agora. Arslan, Savaú. 2011. Cinema in Turkey: A New Critical History, New York: Oxford University Press. Bakner, Onur. 2013. “Is Turkey Coming to Terms with its Past? Politics of Memory and Majoritarian Conservatism.” Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity 41 (5):691-708. Bezar, Miraz. 2009. “Min Dît ile Gerçekleri Anlattk.” Accessed May 13, 2012. http://www.kurdishcinema.com/BezarveAlataslaMinDitUzerine.html —. 2010. “Filmimle ønsanlara Kulak Vermek østedim”, Interviewed by Serdar Akbyk, Cinedergi (24). Bozarslan, Hamit. 2001. “Human Rights and the Kurdish Issue in Turkey: 1984-1999.” Human Rights Review 3(1), 45-54. Casier, Marlies, Joost Jongerden and Nic Walker. 2011. “Fruitless Attempts? The Kurdish Initiative and Containment of the Kurdish Movement in Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey 44:103-127. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 1997. “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts.” Humanities Research (Winter):17-33. Chanan, Michael. 1990. “Rediscovering Documentary: Cultural Context and Intentionality.” In The Social Documentary in Latin America, edited by Julianne Burton, 201-217. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Çelebi, Elif, Maykel Verkuijten, Talha Köse and Mieke Maliepaard. 2014. “Out-group Trust and Conflict Understandings: The Perspective of Turks and Kurds in Turkey.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2014.02.002. Çelik, Ayúe Betül. 2012. “Ethnopolitical Conflict in Turkey: From the Denial of Kurds to Peaceful Co-existence?” In Handbook of Ethnic Conflict: International Perspectives, edited by Rosita D. Albert and Dan Landis, 241-260. London: Springer. Çnar, Menderes. 2008. “The Justice and Development Party and the Kemalist establishment.” In Secular and Islamic Politics in Turkey: The Making of the Justice and Development Party, edited by Ümit Cizre, 109-131.Oxon: Routledge.

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Çiçek, Özgür. 2011. “The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey.” Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media (1). Accessed April 10, 2012. http://www.alphavillejournal.com/Issue%201/ArticleCicek.html. Dixon, Jeffrey C. and Murat Ergin. 2010. “Explaining Anti-Kurdish Beliefs in Turkey: Group Competition, Identity, and Globalisation.” Social Science Quarterly 91(5):1329-1348. Do÷an, Özgür. 2009. “øki Taraf da Anlamaya Yönelik Bir Film.” Interviewed by Ayça Çiftçi Altyaz (85). Do÷an, Zeynel. 2012. “Ne Bize Hesap Verildi Ne Biz Hesap Sorduk.’ Interviewed by Müge Turan, Radikal, February 6. Accessed February 6, 2012. http://www.radikal.com.tr/kultur/ne_bize_hesap_verildi_ne_biz_hesap _sorduk-1077812. Eskiköy, Orhan. 2009. “Filmde Barú Vurgusunun Ön Plana Çkmasn istedik.” Interviewed by Saliha Yadigar, Andaç Sanat. Accessed March 12, 2012. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/11-09-Andac-sanat.pdf . —. 2012. “Bu Sadece Bir Film De÷il. Son 30 Ylmz!” Interviewed by Ceyda Aúar, Accessed November 1, 2012. film.iksv.org/tr/festivalgunlugu/509 Film Aras (29). 2013. “Türkiye’de Kürt Sinemas.” Gambetti, Zeynep. 2008. “Conflict, “Communication” and the Role of Collective Action in the Formation of Public Spheres.” In Publics, Politics and Participation: Locating the Public Sphere in the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Seteney Shami, 91-115. New York: SSRC Books. Göl, Berke. 2007. “Faces of the Nation in Contemporary Turkish Cinema.” In Turkish Cinema Now, edited by Övgü Gökçe, 23-26. østanbul: Altyaz. Güneú, Cengiz. 2014. “Political Reconciliation in Turkey: Challenges and Prospects.” In The Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Representation, and Reconciliation, edited by Cengiz Güneú and Welat Zeydanlo÷lu, 258-280. Oxon: Routledge. Haúimi, Cemalettin. 2009. “Mapping the Pathways: Public Perception and Kurdish Question.” Insight Turkey 11(4):21-27. Hodgkin, Katharine and Susanah Radstone. 2003. “Introduction: Contested Pasts.” In Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory, edited by Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone, 1-22. New York: Routledge.


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Huyssen, Andreas. 2000. “Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia.” Public Culture. 12(1):21-38. Karabey, Hüseyin. 2008. “My Marlon and Brando: Director Huseyin Karabey.” Indiewire. Accessed May 13, 2012. http://www.indiewire.com/article/tribeca_08_interview_my_marlon_a nd_brando_director_huseyin_karabey. Karabey, Hüseyin. 2009. “Yeni Türkiye Sinemas: Hüseyin Karabey, Özcan Alper, ønan Temelkuran.” Interviewed by Çi÷dem Mater, Accessed May 12, 2012. http://www.mafm.boun.edu.tr/files/68_YeniT%C3%BCrkiyeSinemas %C4%B1.pdf Kechriotis, Vangelis. 2011. “From Oblivion to Obsession: The Uses of History in Recent Public Debates in Turkey.” Historein 11:99-124. Keyder, Ça÷lar. 1997. “Whither the Project of Modernity? Turkey in the 1990s.” In Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, edited by Sibel Bozdo÷an and Reúat Kasaba, 37-51. University of Washington Press. Klç, ùengün. 1992. Biz ve Onlar: Türkiye’de Etnik Ayrmclk, østanbul: Metis. Koçer, Suncem. 2014. “Kurdish Cinema as a Transnational Discourse Genre: Cinematic Visibility, Cultural Resilience, and Political Agency.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46(3):473-488. KONDA. 2011. Kürt Meselesinde Alg ve Beklentiler, østanbul: øletiúim. Köstepen, Enis. 2009. “Nefes: Yuvarlak Masa.” Altyaz (90). Miller, Toby. 2010. “National Cinema Abroad: The New International Division of Cultural Labor, from Production to Viewing.” In World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, edited by Natasa Durovicová and Kathleen E. Newman, 137-159. London: Routledge. Morris, Erroll. 2000. “Truth Is Not Subjective.” Interviewed by Michael Goldman, Cineaste (3):4. Nichols, Bill. 1991. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. O’Regan, Tom. 1996. Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge. Özyürek, Esra. 2007. The Politics of Public Memory in Turkey. New York: Syracuse University Press. Saraço÷lu, Cenk. 2010. “The Changing Image of the Kurds in Turkish Cities: Middle-class Perceptions of Kurdish Migrants in øzmir.” Patterns of Prejudice 44(3):239-260. Seta and Pollmark. 2009. “Public Perception of the Kurdish Question in Turkey.” Available at: http://arsiv.setav.org/ups/dosya/8504.pdf .

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Spence, Louise and Asl Kotaman Avc. 2013. “The Talking Witness Documentary: Remembrance and the Politics of Truth.” Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 17(3):295-311. Suner, Asuman. 2010. New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity and Memory. New York: I.B Tauris. ùengül, Ali Fuat. 2013. “The First Kurdish Cinema Conference and the National Question” Sarai Reader: Projections (9), December 19, 2013. http://archive.sarai.net/files/original/457a6e7bde8cd1b674b8cea8e94ee dea.pdf. Thomson, Alistair, Frisch, Michael, and Hamilton, Paula. 1994. “The Memory and History Debates: Some International Perspectives.” Oral History 22(2):33-43. Williams, Linda. 1993. “Mirrors without Memories: Truth, History, and the New Documentary.” Film Quarterly 46(3):9-21. Ylmaz, Sedat. 2011. “Press: Öldürülmeleri haber olmayan habercilerin öyküsü” Interviewed by Devrim Büyükacaro÷lu, Kültürel Ço÷unlukçu Gündem, Accessed June 1, 2011 20 March. http://www.kulturelcogulcugundem.com/news.php?nid=16027. Zeydanlo÷lu, Welat. 2008. “The White Turkish Man’s Burden: Orientalism, Kemalism and the Kurds in Turkey.” In Neo-colonial Mentalities in Contemporary Europe? Language and Discourse in the Construction of Identities, edited by Gudo Rings and Anne Ife, 155174. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. —. 2009. “Torture and Turkification in the Diyarbakr Military Prison.” In Rights, Citizenship and Torture: Perspectives on Evil, Law and the State, edited by Welat Zeydanlo÷lu and John Parry, 73-92. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press.


Upon its national theatrical release on October 23, 2009, the documentary film, øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School, Özgür Do÷an and Orhan Eskiköy, 2008), reached 11,935 audiences in Turkey within the first weekend. This number grew, over the thirty-one weeks it was on release, to 93,708 audiences, earning the film nearly 400,000 USD in domestic box office revenue (Box Office Türkiye 2015). These figures were—and, to this day, still are—staggering because, not only is On the Way to School a low-budget, independently produced film, but it also garnered an unprecedented amount of attention from a national audience otherwise indisposed towards documentaries. Necati Sönmez, film critic and the organizing director of Documentarist, an independent documentary film festival held annually in Istanbul, notes this situation in his review of the film: In short, [On the Way to School] is one of the best indicators of the regeneration occurring in the documentary sector, which has continually been disparaged in Turkey and toiled hard to remain standing, and it will take its place in the history of documentary film in Turkey as a unique example that attained the level of experience found in the genre’s world examples [and] is the recipient of such attention for the first time. (Sönmez 2009)

It is possible to discuss the film’s success based on a variety of factors that relate alternately to its production or context of circulation, as many critics have done since its public appearance. One particular characteristic

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of On the Way to School, however, seems to have acquired a somewhat privileged status among the set of reasons behind the film’s collective appreciation: its non-interventionist form, which aligns with what Bill Nichols (2010) calls the “observational mode.” Nichols defines this mode of documentary filmmaking as one that “emphasizes a direct engagement with the everyday life of subjects as observed by an unobtrusive camera” (2010, 31). In technical terms, films produced in this mode have “no voice-over commentary, no supplementary music or sound effects, no inter-titles, no historical reenactments, no behavior repeated for the camera, and not even any interviews” (Nichols 2010, 172-173). For the spectator, the intended effect is to “[de-emphasize] persuasion to give us a sense of what it is like to be in a given situation but without a sense of what it is like for the filmmaker to be there, too” (Nichols 2010, 181). This mode is far from novel within what Sönmez refers to as “the genre’s world examples.” On the other hand, many responses to On the Way to School, as will be discussed shortly, demonstrated that the film’s formal characteristics were relatively new vis-à-vis earlier counterparts produced in Turkey. In this light, the far-reaching embracement of the film by its national audiences can partly be explained by its arguably non-didactic address, which flirts with the conventionally “enjoyable” style of narrative film. Indeed, On the Way to School takes up a rather difficult subject and opens it to collective reflection in a rhetorical manner that is far from pedantic or moralizing. The filmmakers follow Emre Aydn, a Turkish schoolteacher who has just been appointed, by the Turkish state to teach in a Kurdish village named “Demirci” in the Siverek district of Urfa, a city in Southeastern Turkey. When he begins his journey as a young idealist, equipped with the state-sanctioned mission to educate the country’s future citizens in this remote village, and following the national curriculum he has been taught to implement, Emre confronts a major obstacle. The children, and the residents of Demirci at large, do not speak Turkish, nor does Emre speak Kurdish, the villagers’ native language. In order to even begin to communicate with his students, the schoolteacher needs first to teach them the official language. Not only does this cause the pedagogical process to inconveniently slow down and become generally awkward, but it also becomes painfully clear that the course material and rituals through which students are being taught the language and other skills disregard their identity and culture. What is made manifest through these portrayals is that the system is broken, and the Republic “blind,” as Yldrm Türker (2009) puts it in his review. The film shows Emre’s adjustment struggles outside of the classroom as well, as he suffers from social isolation and


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scarcity of infrastructural resources—another outcome of the inequitable system of centralized governance in Turkey—or when he tries to socialize with the parents of his students. On the Way to School discusses these “realities” without any seeming intervention, while it chronicles one school year experienced by Emre, his students, and the parents in Demirci from September 2007 through Emre’s departure for the summer break in June 2008 (IMDB 2015). Besides far-reaching appreciation, these “unobtrusive” formal strategies generated confusion in a majority of critics as to whether On the Way to School was a documentary, a fiction film, a docudrama, or a hybrid of sorts. Of course, these inquiries are congruent with the “newness” (Urban 2001) of the observational documentary style specific to the film’s context of circulation, granting it a particular advantage toward being heard of and watched by more people than other domestic documentaries would.1 When considered with respect to the truth-seeking impulse inherent in these inquiries, however, the film’s discursive environment becomes a more complex carrier of contextually specific sentiments prevailing at the historical moment of its release. In discussing the critical utility of, and the stakes involved in, tracing the “blurred boundaries” between fiction and nonfiction, Nichols (1994, x) writes: “These blurrings of what used to be effective distinctions may be not simply logical confusions but the arena within which major political, or ideological, contestation occurs.” These boundaries, he further argues, should be “recogni[zed] as the defining qualities of claims about the real and our relation to them.” The very ambiguity that resides in both the film’s making and its reception, then, should be treated based on the multitude of “contestations” it harbors vis-à-vis a presupposed “reality.” Nichols’s proposition is particularly significant when, as in the case of On the Way to School, the documentary under examination challenges the dominant “truth” surrounding a political issue—here, one which has historically been controlled by hegemonic narratives regarding the political and cultural rights of Kurds in Turkey. Given the complexity of, and long history behind, the Kurdish Issue, it is nearly impossible to provide an exhaustive account of such narratives, and what they effectively distort or manipulate, within the scope of this chapter. Still, a brief historical background is necessary in order to contextualize the film’s central premise: the right to education in one’s native language. Standardizing Turkish as the official language and the language of education for all citizens in the country was one of the assimilationist policies upon which the Turkish Republic was founded. As Güllistan Yarkn notes, these policies were “similarly implemented for all Muslim

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Non-Turkish ethnic groups that have lived under the rule of the Turkish state,” but Kurds are the only minority group with a history of (armed) resistance against that rule (Yarkın 2015). Yarkın explains this distinct status by drawing attention to the type of sovereignty Kurds had possessed even while living under the Ottoman rule, and how much more established their political and economic position was in comparison to other minorities during the Empire. With the foundation of the Republic in 1923, this political sovereignty was threatened to the extent of being completely abolished, which sparked multiple uprisings during the first couple of decades of modern Turkey. Not only were these violently and systematically suppressed by the Turkish state, but the period itself led to the birth of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), the still-active armed resistance movement. While the PKK’s goals have transformed over the past few decades, the movement overall seeks to attain political representation, democratization of identity rights, and self-governance in Kurdish regions in Turkey. As this brief overview suggests, the right to education in one’s native language is not an isolated, purely cultural demand in the context of the Kurdish Issue; instead, it is very much tied to the long history of political struggle and armed resistance through which Kurdish identity has shaped and cemented while being systematically attached to the concept of terrorism. The latter has been a powerful tool to justify and/or conceal the Turkish state’s treatment of its Kurdish populace since its inception, and one that has framed stereotypes of Kurdish people in the national imagination. The year in which On the Way to School was released witnessed an evidently crucial step toward ameliorating this situation through what was called the “Kurdish Opening,” a democratization process launched by the AKP (Justice and Development Party), the ruling government party. Although this initially appeared to be the beginning of a political process whereby the Kurdish Issue was going to be discussed openly in the sphere of political diplomacy for the first time in the history of Turkey, and through which negotiations would take place toward ending the armed conflict, the AKP failed to successfully implement the transition. Not only was the government unable to explain the legitimate reasons behind the urgent need to proceed with the Opening, but it also began suppressing Kurdish political agency by arresting numerous politicians, activists, and human rights advocates surrounding and following the time it made the move toward ostensible democratization. In the midst of such political teetering, the justification for granting Kurds cultural rights—including the right to education in Kurdish—was being subsumed under what Mithat Sancar identified as the AKP’s “pragmatism,”


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utilized centrally when legitimizing its political initiatives. More specifically, the ruling party sought to persuade the larger public of the need for the Opening solely on the basis of the desire to “stop the blood.” As Sancar notes, the AKP should have found a way to tell Turkish citizens why exactly the Kurdish people’s demand for language rights, among others, is legitimate, instead of acting as if it was “begrudgingly” extending these rights just so that there would be no more warfare or loss of soldiers’ lives (Sancar 2009). Because this strategy fell short of publicly legitimizing the extension of cultural rights to Kurds, the process was met with immense backlash, distrust, or confusion at best. On the Way to School was released, arguably by coincidence, at this historical juncture of heightened debates over the possible resolution of the Kurdish Issue, as well as against the backdrop of a firm state tradition of suppressing Kurds’ cultural and political rights in Turkey. In a sense, the documentary became, for many Turkish viewers, a source for finding out about a “truth” that had, for so long, been systematically denied public exposure. Considering the uniquely contextual significance of audience responses to the film, this chapter explores its popular and critical reception in Turkey as a discursive stage on which a variety of sentiments prevailing in its historical and political environment played out. I look at a number of reviews that were published around the time of the film’s release in order to analyze the types and degrees of engagement with the film’s observational form found in these responses. By examining the ways in which the film’s form structured each review and gave voice to the underlying political inclinations of the critic, I argue that the fiction/nonfiction dichotomy, historically inherent to the creation and viewership of the documentary form, constitutes a convenient and timely textual element that was variously mobilized in critical responses to On the Way to School. This “timeliness,” I further contend, is grounded in the unique politics of the film’s reception context, one where the nascent atmosphere of negotiation in the political sphere was creating a popular demand for previously unattended “truths” to be shown, ideally without a propagandist or radical rhetoric. As I aim to show in this chapter, On the Way to School appears to have struck a chord with the critics, and presumably the larger national audience body, precisely because the particular documentary style it espouses resonated with the political environment its viewers inhabited. Through this case study, I propose that analyses of a documentary’s reception are crucial to discussions of verisimilitude in representation, discussions that scholars have often carried out in relation to production and/or the filmmaker’s intent. In his comprehensive work on the television

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documentary, An American Family, Jeffrey Ruoff notes the inadequacy of critical attention to audience research found in documentary studies (2002, 95). Within what he calls a “holistic approach” to the documentary program, whereby he takes up both production and reception to examine meaning making processes (xxv), Ruoff investigates how the specificity of the documentary form itself, as well as the spectator’s knowledge of its intended effects, informs viewer responses in unique ways in comparison to, for example, narrative fiction. Following a brief overview of David Bordwell’s theory of classical Hollywood cinema, in which Bordwell argues that realism, as perceived by the spectator, is dependent on “narrative coherence,” Ruoff observes that “just the opposite” proves to be true for nonfiction film, as evidenced by critical responses to An American Family: “[I]f things fit together too neatly, viewers distrust the narration and question the realism” (2002, 111). This is one instance of how the “tremendous preoccupation with the making of An American Family” (2002, 96) found in audience responses to the program articulates the links between spectatorship and “truthful” representation as mediated by the documentary form. Similarly, the analyses here are predicated on my discovery of the conspicuous “preoccupation” with the filming of On the Way to School among critics, ranging in expression from casual mentions to closer examinations. On the other hand, while Ruoff traces viewer commentary on the program’s form primarily in relationship to the medium-specific qualities of television (such as liveness), and against the backdrop of industrial/promotional discourses surrounding the program, my analyses trace responses of a similar nature across the political landscape in Turkey when On the Way to School was released. In other words, I am rather interested in the subjective and collective positions, visà-vis a shifting political “truth,” that these responses indexed.

In Defense of (Documented) Truth: How the Directors Framed Audience Response Before beginning to analyze the reviews, I would like briefly to discuss how the filmmakers, Do÷an and Eskiköy, participated in the debates over the film’s formal strategies. What appears to have often been their “defense” of On the Way to School as a documentary is significant, not only due to the fact that the filmmakers were held accountable for explaining the film’s categorical relationship to “reality,” but also because, from a reception studies perspective, their comments necessarily became part of the “social universe” (Klinger 1994, 160) in which the film would mean variously to critics and other audiences.2 In an interview titled with a


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quote from the filmmaker himself, “We wanted the sentiment of peace to come forward in the film,” Eskiköy encounters multiple questions about the genre, style, and form of On the Way to School. Upon being asked if the two filmmakers have always worked in the field of documentary filmmaking, Eskiköy responds in the affirmative, and quickly dives into explaining the kind of documentary form they strive to pursue: “Here, we must distinguish between creative documentaries, that is, films that are made for cinema, and films that are made for television… And that is what we are trying to do, it must have a story” (Yadigar 2009). For the latter, Eskiköy mentions programs such as cooking shows and travelogues aired on niche television channels, in opposition to which he suggests that a “creative documentary,” made specifically for cinema, should have a story, characters, and a pre-written script. Along these lines, he adds that On the Way to School “resembles a fiction film by virtue of its characteristics but, with respect to the story it chose to tell, the protagonists of its story [and] its characters, it also contains features of documentary cinema” (Yadigar 2009). Eskiköy’s comments help to clarify the conceptual and artistic foundations of the film’s making for the audiences who might have had difficulty identifying its form. At the same time, his descriptions would likely open up a discursive space for speculations or persistent confusion over whether the filmmakers’ camera was documenting things as they unfolded, as my analyses will demonstrate shortly. Eskiköy’s emphasis on a story and characters as essential constituents of a “creative documentary” can be found in Özgür Do÷an’s commentary as well. In an interview he gave to the newspaper, Agos, Do÷an explains the function of what the interviewer seems to consider as the film’s unbiased character representations—free of the conventional “good vs. evil” binary logic—with the following statement: How nice if we were able to achieve what you mentioned, because we basically believe that everyone is a victim of this system. The teacher [in the film] is a progressivist, enlightenment-oriented character, who has been fed by Kemalist ideologies and holds entrenched opinions. Like many people in Turkey, he thinks all Kurds are terrorists, live in the mountains, and try to divide the nation; these are his cultural codes. But these do not touch anywhere within the truth, we have to find formulas that are in touch with the truth. This is why it is not right to force characters into forms of absolute good or absolute evil. (Tosun 2009)

Do÷an’s justification for a “hands-off” approach to representing the teacher and other individuals in On the Way to School is clearly informed

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by a strong “truth” claim, one that aims, first and foremost, to challenge politically and culturally entrenched stereotypes about Kurds in Turkey. In addition, and more importantly for the political developments in Turkey around the time of the film’s release, Do÷an contextualizes this aim in relation to the urgent need for “persuading” viewers on a “truth” whose visibility has historically failed against those stereotypes. Once again, the film’s form is designed as a key to such a persuasive outcome: We are trying to tell what the issue is without screaming, without shouting, [from] where the camera sits, with selected images, with what we call the language of cinema. The shouting is a topic that needs to be underscored, in our opinion, because the people you can speak to while shouting . . . are the people who exist [while] already experiencing the problem. We need to tell something not to these people, but others, those who don’t know, don’t understand what has been going on. We believe in this: the moment you succeed in showing the truth in an unadorned manner, it is impossible for whoever is facing it to not be persuaded, and, while doing so, it is necessary to try appealing to conscience [and] emotion rather than the mind. We need to succeed to make ourselves heard in alternative ways, we need to be able to break prejudices. (ibid.)

This emphasis on persuasion in Do÷an’s comments manifests a solid link, as perceived by the filmmakers, between the rhetorical function of the observational documentary mode and the possibility of ameliorating the historically powerful obstacles to peace between Turks and Kurds in Turkey. His use of the word “alternative” to describe what On the Way to School does, and proposing this in opposition to a presumably more didactic strategy—as embodied in the metaphor of “screaming”—serves as a remark about the kind of political intervention that the filmmakers sought to achieve with that very form. Eskiköy, too, reflects on persuasion as a goal evidently central to the film’s form but, while doing so, he chooses to compare On the Way to School to hypothetical, fictionalized versions of its story. In response to the interviewer’s question as to whether documentary filmmaking is “the truest form in cinema,” Eskiköy stresses the particular utility of the documentary form in telling the film’s story, given its “sensitive” topic. Fictionalized versions of the film’s story, he adds, could risk losing its “persuasive” effect on the audience or cause “digression” from the topic itself. He acknowledges that they “maybe aren’t able to say anything new, but intend to say [it] in a new form” (Yadigar 2009). Considering this discussion alongside Do÷an’s comments above, the filmmakers appear to have employed the observational documentary form as a key to showing what had been denied visibility in the vast majority of media in Turkey,


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without, so to speak, “lecturing” the viewers. Still, this conscious and strategic avoidance of any explicit cinematic interventions—such as talking heads interviews, filmmaker appearances, voice-over commentary, non-diegetic music, etc.—into what unfolds before the camera does not mean a lack of political intent. In fact, the kinds of truth claims that motivate the filmmakers’ responses to inquiries about the film’s form, as well as their stress on a much-needed persuasion at a time of potential peace proceedings, attest to the politics underlying the choice to both make On the Way to School through unobtrusive filmmaking strategies, and participate in various discussions about those very strategies. The political imperatives behind the film’s making, then, are very much related to its particular documentary form. In reworking a definition of documentary, Carl Plantinga attends to the spectator positioning inherent to the art of documentary filmmaking. He writes: When a filmmaker presents a film as a documentary, he or she not only intends that the audience come to form certain beliefs, but also implicitly asserts something about the use of the medium itself—that the use of motion pictures and recorded sounds offer an audiovisual array that communicates some phenomenological aspect of the subject, from which the spectator might reasonably be expected to form a sense of that phenomenological aspect and/or form true beliefs about the subject. (2005, 111)

This “implicit assertion” is key to Plantinga’s way of conceptualizing the filmmaker-spectator relationship. He moves beyond the question of whether or not a film’s representations are truthful, based on preconceived standards, in order to underscore the intentions behind the truthfulness embedded in the particular use of the medium itself. In this light, Plantinga claims, “the documentary filmmaker typically intends the spectator to take what is presented as asserted veridical representation” (2005, 114). When Do÷an and Eskiköy present the story of On the Way to School through documentary filmmaking, and repeatedly engage in discussions whereby they (need to) justify the particular documentary form they pursued in telling that story, these discursive acts become expressions of the kind of “assertion” that Plantinga theorizes. The filmmakers expect the film’s audiences to develop trust in its representations based on the very knowledge that the film, indeed, is a documentary. In order to discuss the extent to which On the Way to School’s assertions of truth resonated with its audiences, I now turn to analyses of critical reviews.

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Free of “Tricks” and “Screams”: Popular and Critical Responses to On the Way to School Even a quick glance over the short blurbs written for On the Way to School in several national newspapers demonstrates the far from uniform ways in which the film was received. One of the most widely distributed mainstream papers, Hürriyet, notes that the film features “nonprofessional actors” in the short description reserved for the documentary prior to its release, implying that the film’s characters are fictional ones (Hürriyet Sinema 2015). The Agos interview with Özgür Do÷an, which I referenced above, opens with a brief introduction to the film, where the interviewer describes the film as a “docudrama” that “succeeds in constructing a unique language outside of the narrative forms we are accustomed to” (Tosun 2009). In fact, On the Way to School’s “unique language” receives a mention in a significant number of reviews, albeit with varying interpretations of the cinematic category to which that language corresponds, or the political utility of that language. For example, journalist ørfan Aktan uses the words “unequivocal” and “an impeccable mirror” to describe the film’s expression, in particular, of the “nomadic” experience of those in power as embodied by the schoolteacher character (2009, 87). Whether the critical focus is exclusively on the film’s form or discussions of form rather tangentially structure criticism, it is possible to see different iterations of popular opinion on the power struggles intrinsic to the Kurdish Issue being channeled through the responses. A considerable number of reviews, where an appreciation of the film’s unvarnished, non-didactic form is readily evident, anchor the film’s meanings directly in the Kurdish Opening process as experienced by the national public at the time. These two aspects, moreover, appear to be interrelated within the critics’ interpretive schemes. For example, Onur Baútürk from Hürriyet observes that On the Way to School “sets forth everything in a very pure, very clear, very unadorned [manner], especially at this time of the Opening.” Baútürk’s greatest praise is for the film’s avoidance of biased, “agitating” or “overly dramatized” representations (Baútürk 2009). These comments carry the implicit assumption that there are, or have been, “biased” representations dealing with distinct aspects of the Kurdish Issue, but Do÷an and Eskiköy are utilizing a style that is different, and just what is appropriate “at this time.” Another, similar framing of the film’s form as such a timely tool to speak about issues related to the rights of Kurds in Turkey comes from Fatih Yürür. Yürür notes that the schoolteacher’s endeavors in the film are “not an entirely


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new story;” that, indeed, many others must have thought of similar stories about the experiences of Turkish teachers assigned to Kurdish villages before. On the other hand, he adds, “a production like this, [one] that oscillates between fiction [and] documentary, with this fluid a narration, was necessary during such a time” (Yürür 2009). The critic displays a certain level of confusion over the film’s form, yet what he perceives the film to be—a blend of fiction and nonfiction—becomes central not only to the film’s “fluid” narration, but also to its success at seizing the “right” moment for the opportunity to unearth stories that had long been hidden from public sight.3 In addition, Yürür echoes the filmmakers’ perspective on persuasiveness (as discussed above) when he praises the lack of “intervention into [the] images or the characters” through which the film “reflects the state of the individuals” in the village, and argues that, thanks to this, no other “tricks” would be necessary for “credibility” (2009). Within the context of the Kurdish Opening as crystallized in these responses to On the Way to School, persuasion arguably becomes an act that is necessarily associated with refraining from any “radical” rhetoric, at least as far as image-making is concerned. Another instance of the filmmakers’ perspective seeping into the popular understandings of the film’s (political) function can be seen in critic U÷ur Vardan’s review. After expressing mild discontent over the fact that, despite common expectations from a leftist government of taking the initiative of tackling the Kurdish Issue, the AKP—a conservative, right-wing government party—was the one to launch the Kurdish Opening process, Vardan notes how, in several interviews, Do÷an and Eskiköy refuse to be perceived as trying to take advantage of the Opening as part of their film’s promotion. While he accepts that the filmmakers have every right to be cautious about these assumptions and respond accordingly— and sometimes even defensively—Vardan says “it is actually not so bothersome, as far as I’m concerned, for their film to be treated within this process [of the Kurdish Opening]” (Vardan 2009). The reasoning behind his comment is the simultaneously historical and contemporary nature of every attempt to engage the contradictions arising from a state policy that has long employed educational curricula to advance national(ist) ideologies. When Vardan moves on to a closer analysis of the film’s plot and character representations, he returns to a mention of this larger, historical “reality,” this time in order to discuss how the film privileges the comical, humanist, and calm aspects of the characters’ mutual efforts at negotiating differences over political contradictions. He finds, for example, the psychological details in the schoolteacher Emre’s representation as “peaks in the film’s realism.” Emre’s running out of

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patience despite generally having a far from prejudiced demeanor, or the kids’ purely habitual day-to-day behavior, constitute the film’s most compelling and “persuasive” moments for the critic. Overall taking the film as a blend of documentary and fiction, Vardan praises the “typecasting” of the schoolteacher for not having involved the selection of, “for example, a leftist teacher that is against the system,” as the Emre character helps to produce a “more convincing and realistic” outcome (2009). Again, the perceived lack of a radical agenda in the film’s surprisingly realistic making becomes key to its capacity to mediate the accompanying historical developments unfolding in the film’s national backdrop. Such mediation, moreover, successfully appeals to Turkish viewers that have geographically—and, for decades, discursively—resided outside of the Kurdish region of Turkey. In this sense, On the Way to School is further attributed a pedagogical quality of sorts, as a piece of work that is capable of training viewers who, because of having been indoctrinated with nationalist ideologies of the Turkish state, are unaware, ignorant, or simply in denial of the Kurdish Issue. For example, Sibel Özbudun (2015) argues that the film should be shown and discussed as part of the curriculum in universities’ education departments because of its successful critique of the educational system in Turkey, offered “without screaming.” In addition to this metaphor used in reference to the film’s form, which curiously echoes Özgür Do÷an’s words quoted above, the critic compares the film’s pithy portrayal of an otherwise complex issue to “volumes of books that could have been written about this subject” (Özbudun 2015). Similar to Özbudun’s suggestion to show the documentary for informative purposes, as a kind of accessible source material regarding the issue of education in one’s native language, another review calls for “especially politicians” to see the film. The reasoning behind this proposition is, once again, the documentary’s stripped down aesthetics. The critic sees, in On the Way to School’s directors, a certain mastery in shaping a documentary that could have potentially turned out rather mediocre, by “also adding a sense of fiction,” and ultimately producing a great lesson “without using big words” (Haber Ekspres 2009). Here, the recurring critical premise is that the film’s observational form is accessible to large groups of people in Turkey during a time when they must learn more about the Kurdish Issue. In addition, the critic alludes to politicians’ often unproductive discourses around the Kurdish Opening, in using the phrase “big words” to characterize the exact opposite of what the film does. In this way, these reviews exemplify the demand for mutual understanding to be constructed


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in a calm, reconciliatory manner presumably achieved through On the Way to School’s unobtrusive representations. The notion of mutual understanding emerges in most reviews, though a number of critics either signal or explicitly discuss the various ways in which On the Way to School would speak to audiences of different ethnicities based on their historical relationship to the film’s subject matter. A fairly prominent approach among these reviews is to frame the film as one that was made primarily for Turks. Mustafa Kara, from Evrensel, for example, insists that the documentary is not a Kurdish film but a Turkish one because “what is being told is the story not of Kurds but of Turks.” He argues that rather than Kurds, “the others should see the film” for the following reason: “[T]hey will find the truth and only the truth in its purest form. The truth that they surely came in touch with at a certain moment in their lives, but that they somehow can’t understand” (Kara 2009). The critic implies that the film’s “pure” representations offer an alternative to previous engagements with the Kurdish Issue on the part of Turks, who have chosen to ignore or reject the rights of Kurds in Turkey, and he makes a point about the film’s positioning of the Turkish schoolteacher as the “other,” perhaps reversing the mainstream national narrative. Another reviewer emphasizes the film’s “unbiased, objective, almost entirely apolitical and very humanistic” form, and argues that “especially those who pontificate about Kurds, Kurdish language [and] the Kurdish Issue from afar” should see this film (Murakami 2009). Clearly, the reference audiences here are Turks, and more specifically the ones who reside in Western Turkey, as implicit in the “from afar” comment. What these commentaries demonstrate may indeed be said to find expression in a number of reviews by Turkish critics. Some critics manifest a tendency to primarily identify with, and embrace, the schoolteacher character and construct their reading of the film from that vantage point. In U÷ur Vardan’s review examined above, for instance, the Emre character is described through his “extremely patient, extremely calm, and extremely tolerant approach” with which “he decides to walk on his own [idealist] path,” as well as his lack of prejudice (Vardan 2009). Similarly, Onur Baútürk mentions the schoolteacher’s “incredible patience” in the midst of being “as lonely in the village as the Turkish flag swaying on the school playground” (Baútürk 2009). Other critics endorse the film for the lessons it provides on the educational system understood rather broadly, without necessarily taking up the Kurdish conflict in depth. Zeynep Oral from the historically secular-nationalist newspaper, Cumhuriyet, recommends that everyone see On the Way to School because “you will want to embrace all teachers in the country upon watching the

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schoolteacher in the film, Emre Aydn, who is also a real-life village schoolteacher...because the warmth [and] light of the children’s world will never leave you again” (Oral 2009). Oral does briefly mention issues of “assimilation” and “education in one’s native language” as problems that the film tackles, as well as the “brutal realities” that are likely experienced as a consequence of these problems. Nevertheless, the critic chooses to foreground the film’s sincerity, cheerfulness, and “ability to stand at an equal distance from all sides” (Oral 2009). Implicit in these comments is the film’s form espousing a “show rather than tell” attitude, at least as perceived by a large number of Turkish viewers. This attitude, in turn, seems to have registered universalist and humanist messages for these audiences. Indeed, nowhere in Oral’s review are the words “Kurd” or “Kurdish” uttered. On the other hand, Ece Temelkuran rather unequivocally engages the history of the Turkish state’s war with Kurds, the lives lost to the decadeslong war, and the function of On the Way to School as a starting point, as “an elementary school notebook,” to begin to understand why the war has been going on all these years. In reference to the Kurdish Opening, she compares the documentary to the “ABCs of a war that is passing and of a peace that is about to begin.” Noting that the filmmakers shot the film “with their hearts rather than with a camera,” Temelkuran argues that the film offers those who ask questions like, ‘why aren’t these Kurdish kids learning Turkish anyway?’ ‘Why is it being insisted that there be education in one’s native language?’ ‘What do these Kurds want?’ ‘Why are Kurds making this much noise?’ not due to chauvinism but because of truly not knowing about or understanding it, an extremely sincere and truthful response. And also in the most graceful way. A dialogue from one human to another. (Temelkuran 2009)

The affective register of the observational mode, once again, manifests itself in this review through metaphors such as “shooting with one’s heart,” or the qualifier “graceful” among others in the review. This mode, moreover, arguably “clicks” with a Turkish audience that is willing to begin to understand the intricacies and origins of the Kurdish resistance, as conveyed in Temelkuran’s words. Her distinction between chauvinist Turks and unaware ones further indexes a particularly Turkish vantage point vis-à-vis the history of this resistance, one that undoubtedly diverges from that of (most) Kurdish viewers. In a set of responses that present relatively closer analyses of the film’s form, the “show rather than tell” strategy emerges as something to be


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applauded in comparison to other styles of (documentary) filmmaking, especially concerning the historical weight of the political issue at hand. For example, Bülent Kale, from the independent news site Bianet, upholds the filmmakers’ seemingly unbiased stance as an ideal route to handling as thorny an issue as education in one’s native language. He writes: “On the Way to School is a film that does not tell [but] shows. In fact, it is a film that perhaps shows more than what it wants to show. Young directors Do÷an and Eskiköy...refrained from underscoring certain points with a set of camera movements and various editing tricks.” Kale continues by praising what the film shows “because it is one of our most vital issues,” and argues that it is good that they show it by keeping a certain distance due to the hard-to-resolve nature of the problem (Kale 2009). Another critic, Onur Ertu÷rul, also acknowledges the “messiness” of the issue at hand which, according to him, makes the filmmakers’ “meticulously” and “neatly” produced work all the more appreciable. Interestingly, Ertu÷rul also praises how strong the film’s dramatic structure is, despite not having an immediately recognizable narrative or thematic focus; in fact, he asks the reader not to “be deceived by looking at its documentary-like discourse” (Ertu÷rul 2009). While it is not entirely clear whether these words reflect a certain confusion, or distrust, on the critic’s part in terms of On the Way to School being a documentary, they do highlight the popular, newly found attachment to a documentary form that “feels” closer to a conventional narrative, and is thereby more conducive to opening up outlets of identification for the audience. Furthermore, this capacity causes the observational mode that Do÷an and Eskiköy employ to be perceived as the ideal way to handle the issue of language in national education, particularly as the Kurdish Opening unfolds.

Conclusion In his review with which I opened this chapter, Necati Sönmez insists that what most critics have thought of and written about the film’s form point to a “conceptual confusion.” Upon observing various commentaries that classified On the Way to School as “half fiction,” or took its characters merely as actors, Sönmez finds an “injustice” being done, “not only to the film and its potential audience, but also to the reality it reflects” (Sönmez 2009). His words reaffirm what is often at stake in documentary filmmaking as a politically motivated creative enterprise—reflecting a reality; a truth among many, differently versioned truths (Williams 2013). With respect to the historical struggles over the democratic rights of Kurds in Turkey, this perspective is particularly poignant, because Kurdish

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documentaries reclaim one-sided histories by intervening in them through their own, “truthful” version, one that is based in lived—rather than strategically distorted—realities. On the Way to School chooses to represent the consequences of the nationalist deployment of the Turkish educational system toward ethnic assimilation with seemingly little to no stylistic manipulation, and through what most critics have called a “pure” cinematic address. While this was very much a political, artistic, and arguably activist choice on the part of Do÷an and Eskiköy, its reverberations across the public sphere must be analyzed as moments of clashing, confronting, and interacting versions of a reality, moments that continue to discursively revise and reconstruct histories of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey. The popular and critical preoccupation with, and misinterpretations of, the film’s form, then, indicate something beyond a “conceptual confusion,” and must be taken into account as symptomatic of the sentiments arising from those moments of encounter amongst multiple realities. As I have attempted to show in this brief reception study, the particular documentary mode with which Do÷an and Eskiköy worked elicited the kind of audience response that revealed early symptoms of a government-initiated peace process: a commonly shared yearning and demand for change, yet a simultaneous reluctance toward any radical or overly politicized engagements.

Notes All translations from Turkish to English are the author’s. 1. In Metaculture: How Culture Moves Through the World, Greg Urban theorizes the dynamics inherent to the circulation of cultural objects through what he calls “metaculture.” Metaculture involves interpretive, evaluative, or representational acts that “[give] a boost to the culture that it is about, helping to propel it on its journey” (2001, 14). Thus, as Urban argues, metaculture has an “accelerative force” that benefits its referent by enabling culture’s integration into a system of representation beyond its textual, visual, aural, or material boundaries. In addition, this force is intrinsic to culture itself and is governed by the logic of “newness.” If a piece of culture contains elements that animate its potential to be picked up and “assemble[d] into new wholes”—tasks of metacultural interpretation—it can access and move through “new pathways,” thereby “reshaping social space” (2001, 18). Urban conceptualizes this principle as the “metaculture of newness” which is essential to cultural (re-)production under modernity. In the case of the discursive circulation of On the Way the School, the relative formal “newness” intrinsic to the film itself (culture) becomes a prominent part of the reviews written about it (metaculture); hence it constitutes a force that “accelerates” the film’s circulation and visibility.


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2. Barbara Klinger argues for the importance of attending to the “variables external to the film or the person of the viewer” in order to achieve a complete understanding of audience reception in a given context. Recognizing the limitations of both “text-oriented and reader-oriented approaches” to meaning production, she suggests any reception study must “[come] to terms with the relationship between textual features and the social universe in which they exist, between reader response and larger social agencies acting on the audience’s experience of a film” (1994, 160). In this case, the filmmakers’ framing of On the Way to School becomes part of the “external variables” that inevitably mobilize distinct textual features in particular ways—e.g., the film’s observational form— causing those features to effectively influence viewer response. 3. Towards the end of the review, Fatih Yürür acknowledges that the film is a documentary, yet his perception of the film’s form remains rather ambiguous as he argues that the film “bears a fiction film’s fluidity despite being a documentary” (emphasis added).

Works Cited Aktan, ørfan. 2009. øki dil bir bavula s÷ar m? Yeni Aktüel. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/11-09-aktuel.pdf. Baútürk, Onur. 2009. Önce do÷u: øki Dil Bir Bavul. Hürriyet Kelebek, October 23. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/magazin/yazarlar/12757435.asp?yazarid=1 49&gid=225. Box Office Türkiye. øki Dil Bir Bavul Bakú. Accessed April 9, 2015. http://boxofficeturkiye.com/film/iki-dil-bir-bavul-2010482. Ertu÷rul, Onur. 2009. Horoz kentli Emre’nin Demirci köyüyle imtihan. Baknz, November 1. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.bakiniz.com/iki-dil-bir-bavul-elestiri/. Haber Ekspres. 2009. øki Dil Bir Bavul. Accessed April 17, 2015. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/27-10-09-haber-ekspres.pdf. Hürriyet Sinema. 2015. øki Dil Bir Bavul. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://sinema.hurriyet.com .tr/iki-dil-bir-bavul_1134. IMDB. On the Way to School plot summary. Accessed November 20, 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1312137/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl. Kale, Bülent. 2009. Ö÷retmenler Günü’nde iki dil, bir bavul ve kürt çiçekleri. Bianet, November 24. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.bianet.org/bianet/insan-haklari/118474-ogretmenler-gununde-iki-dil-bir-bavul-ve-kurt-cicekleri. Kara, Mustafa. 2009. Varl÷m Zülküf’ün varl÷na arma÷an olsun. Evrensel, November 1. Accessed December 14, 2015.

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http://www.evrensel.net/haber/196351/varligim-zulkuf-un-varliginaarmagan-olsun. Klinger, Barbara. 1994. Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Murakami [blogger pseudonym]. 2009. øki Dil Bir Bavul: Bavulun øçindeki Biz. Milliyet Blog, October 26. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://blog.milliyet.com.tr/iki-dil-bir-bavul--bavulun-icindekibiz/Blog/?BlogNo=210318. Nichols, Bill. 1994. Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. —. 2010. Introduction to Documentary. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Oral, Zeynep. 2009. “Resim, Müzik, Beden E÷itimi…” Cumhuriyet, October 25. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/25-10-09-zeynep-oral.pdf. Özbudun, Sibel. “‘Köy Ö÷retmeni’ Mitosunun Sonu: øki Dil Bir Bavul”. øvme Dergisi. Accessed April 17, 2015; website now discontinued. http://www.ivmedergisi.com/koy-ogretmeni-mitosunun-sonu-iki-dilbir-bavul.html. Plantinga, Carl. 2005. “What A Documentary Is, After All.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63(1):105-117. Ruoff, Jeffrey. 2002. An American Family: A Televised Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Sancar, Mithat. 2009. “Kürt Açlm: Dinamikler, ømkanlar, øhtimaller.” Birikim 246. Accessed November 30, 2015. http://www.birikimdergisi.com/birikim-yazi/5479/kurt-acilimidinamikler-imkanlar-ihtimaller#.VnHbxcrzPou. Sönmez, Necati. 2009. “øki Tür, Bir Film, Pek Çok Kafa Karúkl÷.” Documentarist. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://www.documentarist.org/2009/gazete_ikidilbirbavul.html Temelkuran, Ece. 2009. “O÷ullarnz Niye Öldü?” Milliyet, October 23. Accessed April 25, 2015. http://www.milliyet.com.tr/ogullariniz-niyeoldu-/ece-temelkuran/guncel/gundemyazardetay/23.10.2009/ 1153580/default.htm. Tosun, Funda. 2009. “øki Dil Bir Bavul’un Yönetmeni Özgür Do÷an: Çplak Hakikat økna Eder.” Agos, October 30. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/30-10-09-agos.pdf. Türker, Yldrm. 2009. øki Dil Bir Bavul. Radikal, May 30. Accessed November 20, 2015. http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/yildirim-turker/ iki-dil-bir-bavul-938276/.


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Urban, Greg. 2001. Metaculture: How Culture Moves Through the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Vardan, U÷ur. 2009. “Herkesi øçine Alan Bir Bavul.” Radikal, October 23. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://www.radikal.com.tr/kultur/herkesi_icine_alan_bir_bavul960672. Williams, Linda. 2013. “Mirrors without Memories: Truth, History, and The Thin Blue Line.” In Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, edited by Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski, 385-403. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. Yadigar, Saliha. 2009. Orhan Eskiköy: “Filmde Barú Duygusunun Öne Çkmasn østedik…” Andaç Sanat. Accessed April 6, 2015. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/11-09-Andac-sanat.pdf. Yarkn, Güllistan. 2015. “Kürtler, Türklerle Eúit Vatandaúlk Haklarna Sahip Olmalarna Ra÷men Neden Devlete øtaat Etmiyorlar?” Zan Sosyal Siyasal ve øktisadi Araútrmalar Enstitüsü. Accessed November 24, 2015). http://zanenstitu.org/kurtler-turklerle-esit-vatandaslik-haklarinasahip-olmalarina-ragmen-neden-devlete-itaat-etmiyorlar-gullistanyarkin/. Yürür, Fatih. 2009. “øki Dil Bir Bavul: Aynaya Bakmay Bilmek.” November 5. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://www.perisanfilm.com/school/press/05-11-09-fatih-urur.pdf.


Canonical documentary film is based on the epistemological separation between Self and Other. This detachment is highlighted by the technological medium of the camera. While the one behind the camera is associated with modernity, the one who is being documented by the camera is, by default, represented as lacking immediate access to the medium, and is thus nonmodern. Russell explains this in the context of ethnographic documentary as follows: “As a subcategory of documentary film, ethnography has a major stake in cinematic realism. As a scientific instrument of representation, ethnographic film assumes that the camera records a truthful reality ‘out there’—a reality distinct from that of the viewer and the filmmaker” (1999,12). This, according to Russell, is possible only if and when the filmmaker manipulates her or his subjects and ensures certain conditions, such as subjects not looking directly at the camera. At the same time, the documentary camera bears a unique capacity to penetrate reality. As Jean Rouch notes, the camera is a potent tool for disentangling the constructed boundaries between what is in front of, and what is behind, the medium. From Rouch’s perspective, documentary filmmaking is “a permanent ethno-dialogue that appears to be one of the most interesting angles in the current progress of ethnography. Knowledge is no longer a stolen secret, devoured in the Western temples of knowledge; it is the result of an endless quest, where ethnographers and those whom they study meet on a path that some of us call ‘shared anthropology’” (Rouch 2003, 100-101). That is to say, documentary practice is a platform for dialogue; it constitutes a space for a shared


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anthropology that is the co-produced knowledge about human beings. Film is not a tool for collecting data, but “an area of inquiry.” The camera is not a tool to capture reality; rather, it “creates reality—or cine-reality—a set of images that evokes ideas and stimulates dialogue among observer, observed, and viewer” (Stoller 1992, 193). For peoples who lack the official means of writing their own history, such as the Kurds, documentary film functions as a productive site through which counter-histories and memories as well as imagined identities can crystallize. In what ways does the documentary camera disentangle and reconstruct history? How do documentary narratives that are crafted through the pursuit of personal life stories, longed-for family members, and childhood recollections contest hegemonic ideologies about identity? As cultural theorist Stuart Hall writes, “Rather than speaking of identity as a finished thing, we should speak of identification, and see it as an ongoing process” (1992, 287, emphasis in original). To Hall, “Identity arises, not so much from the fullness of identity which is already inside us as individuals, but from a lack of wholeness which is ‘filled’ from outside us, by the ways we imagine ourselves to be seen by others” (1992, 287288, emphasis in original). How does documentary film constitute a platform for such constant process of identification and imagination by individuals against a backdrop of hegemonic historical and political contexts? From another perspective, Russell suggests that autobiographical ethnographic documentaries lead the filmmaker to understand her or his personal story as implicated in historical processes and larger formations. She writes: “Identity is no longer a transcendental or essential self that is revealed, but a ‘staging of subjectivity’—a representation of the self as a performance. In the politicization of the personal, identities are frequently played out among several cultural discourses, be they ethnic, national, sexual, and/or class based” (Russell 1999, 276). In this chapter, I focus on a documentary film, Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed/Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldın 2012), by Mizgin Müjde Arslan, as a reflexive narrative following the traces of a longed-for, but absent, family member and, in so doing, uncovering an obscure life story. In her film, Arslan is looking for her father, whom she has never seen. As she seeks her father’s grave, in order to fill in painful gaps in her life journey, she ends up uncovering a restless history construed by ideologies that silence counter-hegemonic voices in unique ways. Based on Michael Renov’s notion of domestic ethnography, I look at Arslan’s ethnographic journey into her own family’s past as an attempt to engender her identity in the shadow of history.

An Example of Domestic Ethnography


Domestic ethnography is a mode of documentary that is “a kind of supplementary autobiographical practice” (Renov 1999, 141). In Renov’s words, “it functions as a vehicle of self-examination, a means through which to construct self-knowledge through recourse to the familial other” (Renov 1999, 141). Domestic ethnography is located “at the boundaries of inside and outside in a unique way” (Renov 1999, 141). Similarly, Lebow comments as follows: “When a filmmaker makes a film with herself as a subject, she is already divided as both the subject matter of the film and the subject making the film. The two senses of the word are immediately in play—the matter and the making—thus the two ways of being subjectified as, if you will, both subject and object” (2012, 4). In this chapter, I argue that Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed) entangles three distinct binary oppositions embedded in canonical documentary and ethnographic practice: the dichotomies between Self and Other, between fiction and reality, and between history and memory, whether political or personal. Through this praxis of domestic ethnography, the director of Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed) is not only able to breach the historical and hegemonic constructions of her father and her self vis-à-vis her father, but she also generates an open, multi-accentual, and performative text about the effects of the war between the PKK (Partiya Karkera Kurdistan- Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces and the Turkish army. Mizgin Müjde Arslan’s second documentary, the 79 minute Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed), was produced between 2009 and 2012, and released in April 2012. Arslan’s first documentary was Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy/Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalk), which was released in 2009. The 45 minute Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy/Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalk) also entails a journey into Arslan’s family history as the documentary cultivates the issue of polygamy in Mardin, Turkey, through Arslan’s paternal aunt Emine’s tragic life story. Emine was forced to be the second wife to her cousin in exchange for Arslan’s mother, who got married to Arslan’s father. This experience of polygamy turned Emine’s life into hell; bearing six children in ten years, her life was filled with trauma, violence, and psychological problems. Having produced two short films before her documentaries, Arslan has also worked as a journalist in Kurdish media in Turkey, and she has written cinema articles and film reviews for several media platforms. In 2009, Arslan published the book Kürt Sinemas: Yurtsuzluk, Snr ve Ölüm (Kurdish Cinema: Homelessness, Border, and Death), the first ever collection of essays on Kurdish cinema.


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In Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed), Arslan documents her journey from Istanbul, where she was then living, to Mardin, where she had been raised, and to the Makhmur Refugee Camp in Arbil Province, in the predominately Kurdish region of Iraq, where her father had died. She completes the circle by ending the journey, and the film, back in Istanbul. The overarching drive of her journey is to learn about her father in order to fill the painful gap in her life story caused by her father’s absence. Arslan’s father, Ahmet, had left to join the PKK shortly after she was born in 1980. Harassed by the security forces after her husband left, Arslan’s mother, Hssa, decided to leave Mardin as well. However, Hssa was able to take with her only one of her children, Arslan’s brother Bawer. Arslan was traumatized by this double abandonment. Her grandparents, whom she came to call mother and father, raised her in the village of Göllü in Mardin. Arslan had a rocky relationship with her birth-mother after her departure and, with the exception of a few photographs, had never seen her father. The only time she ever heard his voice was on a recording on a cassette tape he had sent from the mountains. When she was seventeen, news of her father’s death arrived, and Arslan had lost the father she had never had. In her film, Arslan picks up the trail her father, Ahmet, left on his journey to join the PKK. On the way between Mardin and Makhmur, she meets her father’s friends, relatives, and other people who knew him. In these encounters, she asks what kind of a man her father was.

Fig. 7-1 The Makhmur Refugee Camp

An Example of Domestic Ethnography


For his own father, Ahmet was a blond, handsome, young man; for his mother he was a tall, sturdy child. For his friend, with whom he discussed joining the PKK, he was a determined and loyal person; for the driver who drove Arslan around Arbil Province, Ahmet was one more Kurdish martyr. On reaching Makhmur, she learns that, for his adopted daughter, Ahmet was a perfect, caring father. For Arslan, on the other hand, he was simply nonexistent. As Renov writes, “Domestic ethnographies tend to be highly charged investigations brimming with a curious brand of epistephilia, a brew of affection, resentment, even self-loathing” (1999, 142). In Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed), Arslan is not merely on a journey from Istanbul to Makhmur; she also travels back and forth in time, to her childhood. She also moves between feelings of self-pity, pride, nostalgia, and prudence. Her state of being is on a pendulum between her subjective experiences, the “objective” voice of official history, and the counterhistory that sublimates her father, who fell as a martyr for the freedom of Kurdish people. The director concretizes this pendulum through television images. In the living room of her grandparents’ village house (that is, Arslan’s childhood home), the television is on with conflicting voices, yet parallel meanings, emanating from what seems to be the evening news. First, we see a guerilla funeral, where the crowd is chanting “ùehit namirin!” (“Martyrs never die”) in Kurdish. The television broadcast cuts abruptly to another funeral, this time for a Turkish soldier who died in the war with the PKK. The crowd is chanting: “ùehitler ölmez, vatan bölünmez!” in Turkish (that is “Martyrs never die; the homeland cannot be divided!”). The time period these images belong to is unknown. They might be from Arslan’s childhood, or from the time of the shoot, or even from today. The timeless sounds of nationalism and patriotism in both Turkish and Kurdish and the pictures of death, loss, and pain for both sides of the war circumscribe Arslan’s constant feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and anger after her father was gone and her mother had left her. In another scene, Arslan asks her grandmother about her childhood in the village of Göllü, and she remembers how she was an outcast in school. She was often referred to as “the terrorist’s daughter” by her schoolmates, which paralleled the ways in which official ideology constructed her father’s story. At home, on the other hand, there existed a deep silence about Ahmet. Arslan notes this silence in the voice-over that opens the film: “I spoke privately with my grandmother about my father. My grandfather prohibited us from speaking about him at home. It was as if he no longer existed.” Years later, Arslan challenges her grandfather with her camera, asking why Ahmet’s photograph on the wall has been covered.


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She discovers that her grandfather’s emotional struggle mirrors her own trauma, which moves on a pendulum between experience and ideology. Looking at his son’s photograph is just too painful for the father, although he cannot bear to take down the photograph. Blaming Ahmet for his loss is his consolation; it is merely the way to overcome the pain of the loss of his son. Arslan, on the other hand, is not silent anymore. She asks her grandfather questions about his son. The grandfather asks back, “Why did he have to go? He could still be Kurdish if he stayed here with us, with his family. Why did he have to go?” When her grandfather finally opens up in front of the camera, the documentary encounter breaks a silence that had overarched the entirety of Arslan’s childhood memories. A coincidence, on the other hand, had broken that silence for Arslan herself. She notes in the opening voice-over how her silent acceptance of her father’s non-existence was suddenly disrupted, years later, when she met a woman in Yerevan, the capital of neighboring Armenia: “One day I travelled to Armenia for a forum. I met someone who grew up in an Iraqi refugee camp. I asked them about my father. One of them replied excitedly, ‘I know him. He is my father’” (Arslan 2012).1 Shocked to hear an unknown woman call her non-existent father “father,” Arslan learns that Ahmet had taken a new name, Kzl Kemal, and had lots of adopted children in the Makhmur refugee camp where he lived for the last decade of his life.

Fig. 7-2 Mizgin Müjde Arslan with her father’s adopted daughter in Makhmur

An Example of Domestic Ethnography


The encounter in Yerevan changed Arslan’s life forever. She decided to go to Makhmur to find, at the very least, her father’s grave. The camera provided her with the language and courage she needed. At first, she wanted to make a dramatic narrative film. Yet, when she sat down to write the script, Arslan understood that this story did not lend itself to a narrative film. It did not lend itself to a documentary film either. Her story, she decided, was as fictive as a dramatic narrative, and therefore could not be a documentary; at the same time, it was real and could not be fiction. In our interview, she explained this in the following way: “I quit writing the script because everything about this story was like a script in and of itself but all of them were real. But if I wrote it as a script nobody would have believed it” (personal interview on April 9th, 2012).2 As uncanny as it sounds, to Arslan, her experience feels all-toofamiliar rather than exotic. Lending itself to the camera, whether as a narrative or documentary film, provided Arslan with the encouragement she wanted more than anything else, and her “desire for knowing about her father is embroiled with the question of self-knowledge” (Renov 1999, 142). As in all instances of domestic ethnography, as Renov (1999, 142) notes, “the familial other helps to flesh out the very contours of the enunciating self, offering itself as a precursor, alter ego, double, instigator, spiritual guide, or perpetuator of trauma.” Renov (1999, 152) continues: “Because the lives of artist and subject are interlaced through communal and blood ties, the documentation of the one tends to implicate the other in complicated ways.” To Renov, consanguinity and co(i)mplication are domestic ethnography’s defining features and, here, co(i)mplication is the symbiotic relationship between subject/object identities. This co(i)mplication plays itself out in unique ways, not only within the film’s text, but also during and after the making of Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed). The arrest of Arslan and her camerawoman, Özay ùahin, for allegedly being members of the KCK organization illustrates this complex interpenetration and co(i)mplication between the subject and object of domestic ethnography.3 After Arslan and ùahin returned from shooting in Makhmur, they were taken into custody by the Turkish security forces in February 2012. They were alleged to be terrorists, working as auxiliaries to KCK operations. Arslan noted in our interview that, when she was taken into custody, her direct experience of the constructedness of the category of terror brought her closer to her father. In mirroring her father’s struggle, her own life story became less fragmented and more cohesive after the experience of the arrest. “With domestic ethnography, authorial subjectivity is explicitly in question or on display. The desire of the domestic ethnographer is for the


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Other self” (Renov 1999, 143). In our interview before the documentary’s premiere at the 2012 Istanbul Film Festival, Arslan spoke of this urge to find her Self mirrored in the image of her familial Other: It was me who hit the road, who shot the road trip, and who was transformed on the road. When I sat down for editing I was watching that changed woman which was me three years ago. I think I am still on the road. I think I will watch the end of the story on the screen with the viewers in the movie theatre. I am really curious about whether that woman will find her father (personal interview in April 9th, 2012)

In this chapter, I explored Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed) as a reflexive narrative that follows the traces of a longed-for, but absent, family member and, in so doing, uncovers an obscure life story. Based on Michael Renov’s notion of domestic ethnography, I looked at Mizgin Müjde Arslan’s ethnographic journey into her own family as an attempt to engender her identity in the shadow of history. Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed) entangles three distinct binary oppositions embedded in canonical documentary and ethnographic practice: the dichotomies between Self and Other, between fiction and reality, and between history and memory, whether political or personal. Through domestic ethnography, the director of Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed) generates an open, multi-accentual, and performative text about the personal effects of the war between the PKK forces and the Turkish army.

Notes * An earlier version of this article was published in Moment Dergi in 2015. 1 Translations from Turkish to English are by the author 2 I interviewed Mizgin Müjde Arslan once in April 9th, 2012, and another time in January 4th, 2014. 3 The KCK (Koma Civakên Kurdistan) (The Group of Communities in Kurdistan) is an organization founded by the PKK. In 2009 and 2010, hundreds of people were detained on charges of being members of the KCK.

Works Cited Arslan, Müjde. ed. 2009. Kürt Sineması: Yuırtsuzluk, Sınır ve Ölüm, østanbul: Agora. Hall, Stuart. 1992. “The Question of Cultural Identity.” In Modernity and its Futures, edited by Stuart Hall, David Held, and Anthony McGrew,

An Example of Domestic Ethnography


274–316. Cambridge: Polity Press in association with the Open University. Lebow, Alisa. ed. 2012. The Cinema of Me: The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary, London and New York: Wallflower Press. Renov, Michael. 1999. “Domestic Ethnography and the Construction of the ‘Other’ Self.” In Collecting Visible Evidence, edited by Jane M. Gaines and Michael Renov, 140-56. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. Rouch, Jean. 2003. Cine-Ethnography, edited and translated by Steven Feld. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. Russell, Catherine. 1999. Experimental Ethnography: The Work of of Film in the Age of Video. Durham: Duke University Press. Stoller, Paul. 1992. The Cinematic Griot: Ethnography of Jean Rouch. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Introduction1 Late in the evening on May 12th, 2015, a young woman raised her hand from amidst the wall-to-wall crowd at the Su Gösteri Merkezi in Aksaray, Istanbul, beckoning for the microphone. It was the third day of the Istanbul Kurdish Culture and Art festival, and many in the room that night were Kurdish. Speaking Turkish in a voice wavering with feeling, the woman directed her statement to a tall, bald man at the front of the room: “I just want to thank you for showing me my brother. I hadn’t seen him in years, and now I’ve seen him tonight. We don’t have him here, but I feel like he’s with our family again. Thank you so much.” Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu, co-director with Çayan Demirel of Bakur (North/Kuzey, 2015),2 the film that had ended moments before, evinced a rare, demure pause before replying: “Thanks for telling us. I hope you can greet each other face to face soon, but I’m happy you had a chance to see him.” This was the first public screening of the documentary tracing ceasefire activities of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê PKK) guerrillas in Turkey’s southeast—the “North” of an unratified, but nonetheless tangible, Kurdistan. And though the film would certainly have drawn interest on this night in any case, the massive crowd that gathered hours before the event, closing the street and far outstripping the hall’s capacity, was there in part because North had been censored the month before, just hours prior to its world premiere at Turkey’s key cinematic event, the Istanbul Film Festival (IFF).

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North’s ban by an increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalknma Partisi - AKP) was a crucible moment for two issues in Turkey: the question of Kurdish cultural and political rights on the one hand, and the rise of media censorship, particularly with regard to documentary film, on the other. In examining what happened to North and the movements it engaged, we can gain a sense of both the mechanisms for control of filmmaking in Turkey and some of the strategies for coping with them. This chapter begins with North and the people who made the film. It then moves to the festival circuit, tracing the ban at IFF and the crystallization that this brought to the fore concerning censorship between the government and the cinema community in Turkey. While the censorship struggle was waged primarily in legal terms, it was North’s political status that was exceptional, and it is the logic of this exception that is explored briefly in the coda.

The Film Running 92 minutes, North provides a glimpse into the lives of PKK guerrillas in three camps within Turkish borders and an undisclosed location in South Kurdistan. Tracing a path through the regions of Dersim (Tunceli), Amed (Diyarbakr), and Botan (Cizre), the film may be most original in its depiction of everyday life for those who have “gone up to the mountains,” as the euphemism for joining the PKK goes. Guerrillas make and break camp, share cooking duties, perform calisthenics, and play games ranging from capture the flag to volleyball to marbles before the camera, in scenes marked by collegial familiarity and humor, all of which humanizes a group most frequently portrayed as treacherous by mainstream Turkish media and heroic by the PKK’s own media sources. These everyday vignettes are interspersed with moments depicting the maintenance and organization of the PKK. We see recruitment and training practices, as well as the exhumation and ceremonial burial of fallen guerrillas in a well-kept war cemetery. The latter are referred to as “martyrs” with the specific term úehit—a word common to both Turkish and Kurdish that partakes of the sacred, and is bound to fall with uncanny weight on ears used to hearing only of Turkish soldiers in this vein. We are also given a glimpse at some of the infrastructures used by the movement, ranging from a tailoring studio for uniforms, to a surprisingly modern medical facility in an underground bunker, to a prison cell replete with inmates explaining their crimes and a warden detailing the organization’s philosophy of rehabilitation.


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Aside from shooting practice and the rifles carried by each guerrilla, the film shows few weapons and does little to detail wartime activity, a point that had Guardian critic Laya Maheshwari (2015) up in arms over whitewashing of the PKK. This and similar critiques ignore the strategic and social naïveté that a battle-focused representation would entail but, more importantly, they fall astray of the basic logic of the film. North was both made possible by, and undertaken in the hope of, a historic peace process negotiated by the AKP leadership in Ankara and Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. Filmmakers were able to move in the area because of an ongoing cease-fire, which has since ended, and the PKK had agreed to the filming as a result of Öcalan’s message of peace, broadcast at the Kurdish holiday of Newroz in March of 2013. That call is captioned early in the film, to provide a context for the PKK withdrawal from Dersim that many of the guerrillas speak about. And though there are no interviews with Öcalan in the film, his figure is ever-present, as his image appears in a multitude of posters and flags, and his name is invoked repeatedly. North is perhaps most powerful in its use of personal interviews with rank-and-file guerrillas, who describe their reasons for joining the movement, almost all of which include experiences of violence and exclusion at the hands of the Turkish Government. Among these are members of an all-women’s battalion, the YJA-Star, many of whom focus on the strong moves towards gender equality that the PKK has undertaken since the 1990s. And if there is irony to the fact that the party leaders who extrapolate on this theme from an official point of view are all male, it remains unremarked. In addition to the party’s evolution on gender issues, Bahoz Erdal, Murat Karaylan, Cemil Bayk, and Ali Haydar Kaytan describe the shifts the organization has undergone since its founding, noting the move towards autonomy rather than statehood as a strategic goal and their hopes for an end to the conflict. Both the informal and official interviews capture a sense of optimism about the movement, and this sentiment is made all the more tangible by the frequent return to an extemporaneous poetry performance, which serves as a chorus throughout much of the film. Male and female guerrilla poets jest in verse about the government in Ankara and extol, in particular, the figure of Öcalan, much to the delight of the crowd and leaders present. Such optimism is tinged with nostalgia in some of the individual interviews, as guerrillas in Dersim speak about their love for the mountains there, and the changes that withdrawal and the peace process may bring to what has become a way of life in the thirty-plus years since armed struggle began. We soon see that such nostalgia was short-lived, as

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the withdrawal is stalled midway through the film, in September of 2013, when the Turkish Government makes no reply to the overture. This stall takes on an air of ominous foreboding to anyone watching since North began screening.

Brief Contextualization While numerous documentaries have portrayed the PKK, North is one of the first professional documentaries to be filmed on PKK-controlled territory in Turkey, and this is certainly one of the reasons it sparked controversy. 3 In fact, North combines three of the most highly contentious factors in the contemporary Turkish political environment, any one of which might spell trouble. First, it is a documentary and, as filmmaker and Documentarist festival co-organizer Necati Sönmez (2015) has noted, the Turkish Government appears to have a straightforward fear of documentaries. Sönmez likens this to a phobia of mirrors, and says that cuts in documentary funding and harsher regulation of content are most clearly explained in terms of leaders not wanting the public to see what is happening in their own country. Second, North deals with the Kurdish question, and both films and filmmakers touching on Kurdish identity have always been subject to close scrutiny in Turkey. The censoring of Kazim Öz’s fictional short, Ax (The Land/Toprak, 1999), despite strong critical reception, and the arrest of filmmaker Mizgin Mujde Arslan due to work on her documentary, Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Ci (I Flew You Stayed/Ben Uçtum, Sen Kaldn, 2012), are just two of many examples. While the whims of AKP political goals have sometimes meant new openings for Kurdish films, particularly those that follow the state line on assimilation, North was far from that line. Finally, and closely linked to the latter, North is a political film and, especially since the Gezi Park uprisings that challenged AKP rule in 2013, political films of any stripe other than pro-state propaganda have been heavily policed. This point was reinforced in October of 2014, just months before North’s ban, when AKP-aligned officials attempted to remove Reyan Tuvi’s Gezi Park documentary Yeryüzü Aúkn Yüzü Oluncaya Dek (Love Will Change the Earth, 2014) from the Golden Orange Film Festival (AFF) in Antalya.4 Objections to this heavy-handed move expanded to the point that both the documentary jury and most of the films in that competition withdrew from the festival, leading to the cancellation of the competition and much speculation about future government steps to stifle cinema.


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Creators and Production Given this context, North was likely to face trouble from the outset, and neither of the film’s directors were strangers to controversy. Çayan Demirel’s first film, the documentary 38 (2006), focused on the massacre of Kurds by the Turkish Government in Dersim (officially renamed Tunceli) province in 1938. The film was effectively banned from screening and distribution when authorities sent it into legal limbo by claiming it was not a documentary and, therefore, could not be rated. Demirel’s next project, the 2009 documentary 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84), examined a notorious Diyarbakr prison house after the 1980 military coup. Kurds who had been politicized were brutally tortured there in an attempt to crack down on the incipient Kurdish rights movement, and Demirel brought the story of survivors to the screen. He then turned to the life of Dr. Sait Krmztoprak, founder of the first leftist Kurdish guerrilla movement, in the 2013 documentary Dr. ùivan. North was his fourth feature-length film. Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu, the film’s other director, is a journalist who spent eight years in prison on political grounds after the 1980 military coup. His investigative work has focused on the 1980 junta, counter-insurgent movements in Turkey, and the Turkish media environment. Though he had worked on a documentary short, Apoletli Adalet (Military Justice) in 2006, North was his first feature-length film. 5 It was Mavio÷lu who arranged for the shoot, having suggested the idea to PKK leader Bahoz Erdal while covering the movement’s reaction to Öcalan’s historic Newroz address in the spring of 2013. When word came that the PKK were willing, Mavio÷lu quickly contacted Demirel, and they set up a team. Bringing director of photography Koray Kesik and sound engineer Ahmet Aydemir on board, they set off for Dersim and filmed throughout Kurdistan in the summer and early fall of 2013. The film went into post-production under the eyes of producer Ayúe Çetinbaú and editor Burak Dal in 2014, and was nearing completion in January of 2015 when IFF representatives contacted Çetinbaú about a screening. Though Demirel’s production company, Surela Film, had been tightlipped about the project, word had gotten out, and representatives at IFF were interested. The festival had a history with Demirel, having screened his Prison Nr. 5 in 2009, and they were keen to see his latest. According to Çetinbaú, both Demirel and Mavio÷lu were skeptical about such a prospect. 6 They worried that IFF’s parent organization, The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (østanbul Kültür Sanat Vakf - IKSV),

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was too closely tied to its chief financial backers, the Eczacbaú family, business moguls who were unlikely to risk their political capital for a potentially controversial film. Everyone at Surela preferred an international premiere for the film but, despite promising discussions, North had not been selected for Berlinale, and other major festivals were months off. With IFF representatives offering full support and a large weekend gala at the festival’s premier venue, Atlas Cinema, Çetinbaú chose to accept IFF’s invitation, despite the doubts of the directors. In retrospect, Çetinbaú says that Demirel and Mavio÷lu probably relented because they were racing to complete a picture lock, and simply did not have time to argue. They finished that task on March 16th, just two weeks before IFF opened. Two days later Demirel suffered a severe cardiac arrest. His life was saved because an ambulance happened to be nearby when his heart stopped and, after multiple CPR attempts, he was revived in about thirty minutes. Nonetheless, lack of oxygen caused severe complications, and he remained in a coma for the next month. At IFF’s opening gala on the 4th of April, as festival director Azize Tan welcomed hundreds of participants, she spoke of her sorrow that Demirel could not be there and wished him a swift recovery. Four days later, as the festival moved into full swing, a small-type message towards the end of IFF’s daily bulletin noted that there would be a press screening for North the following morning. Whether by oversight or design, the original press screening had been set for after the gala; the earlier screening would allow critics to get word about the film out before its premiere.

Crystallization Word certainly got out. Reviews began to emerge on April 10th and, while the liberal press was generally positive, some critics from AKPaligned papers labeled the film terrorist propaganda.7 Interest escalated to crisis with quick staccato. On the evening of the 11th, less than 24-hours before North’s premiere, Azize Tan called an urgent meeting with Mavio÷lu, Çetinbaú, and director of photography Koray Kesik, insisting that Çetinbaú, who is married to Demirel, leave her emergency room vigil for the IFF offices. The Surela film trio arrived to find Görgün Taner, head of IKSV, there with Tan. Tan had received a phone call from the Turkish Cinema Directorate, a wing of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the night before, inquiring about plans for the film. 8 That call was followed by an email from the Directorate on Saturday morning. This message copied a 2014 memo


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Directorate head Cem Erkul had sent to festival organizers, reminding them that it was illegal to screen domestic films that had not undergone official registration (kayt ve tescil). North, like numerous documentaries and almost all of the short films in the festival, had not undergone this process, since the stricture was rarely enforced for festivals. Later that day, police showed up at the cinema itself, inquiring about whether the film would premiere as planned, and warning staff there that it was illegal. In short, Taner and Tan said they had no choice but to remove the film from the festival. Mavio÷lu, Çetinbaú, and Kesik insisted that a compromise should be worked out, but Taner and Tan had already heard Cem Erkul’s final word on the matter. Noting the bad press the film had received, he had threatened to shut down the festival if the screening went forward. He had, however, offered to streamline the registration process if they wished to apply for a certificate and postpone the premiere. That option was far from attractive, as the gala was just hours away, and honored guests and the general public had already made plans for the screening. These were not the only reasons the Surela group chose to reject Erkul’s offer, however. Official registration is the process whereby films headed for commercial distribution in cinemas or DVD are evaluated to receive certification and a rating from the Cinema Directorate. The current version of the procedure came into effect with the passage of cinema law 5224 in 2004, but festivals had been granted practical exemption for a number of reasons. Because many films shown at festivals do not go on to commercial distribution, the certification procedure ends up being costly, time consuming, and irrelevant, not only from the perspective of filmmakers, producers, and festivals, but also for the ratings board. Such is especially true in the case of documentaries and shorts, as festivals and the internet are often their only venues of exhibition. In addition, since films shown at festivals are frequently completed days or hours before the gala, there may be no time for certification. Sometimes the version shown is not even the final cut, and thus it makes little sense to start a procedure that will have to be repeated once adaptations are made. Beyond this, the law sets up a double standard for foreign and domestic content, since foreign films are officially exempt from the procedure for artistic events such as festivals.9 For years festivals had shown little interest in enforcing this double standard and, for the most part, the Cinema Directorate had taken the same stance. There had been exceptions, however, and in those cases the law had been used as a bludgeon for politically challenging films. It was, in fact, the registration process that sent Demirel’s 38 into limbo. Though the film

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was shown at a number of festivals, including the Antalya Film Festival, security officials prevented its screening at the Munzur Festival in Dersim in 2007, citing the lack of a registration certificate. (The film’s screening in Dersim, the location of the 1938 massacre that it explores, would have been a highly symbolic event.) Demirel then started the registration process, only to have the ratings commission pass it on to a higher council, which rejected the film with claims that it was not objective and could foment dissent. Though Demirel successfully appealed this decision, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism took the case to a higher court, and that court has failed to pass judgment on the matter in the many years since. In the meantime, the Ministry released a statement claiming that 38 is not a documentary because it does not contain enough documents, maps, and photographs and, furthermore, because its message is based on prejudiced opinions (ølkiz 2011). The list of films banned is small, but consistent, as the other prominent film to face a registration ban is Aydn Orak’s Destaneke Serhildanê: Bêrîvan (The Legend of Rebellion: Berivan, 2010), which actually screened at IFF’s 30th iteration in 2011, but was then denied registration and, thus, screening at other festivals. Berivan details the story of a Kurdish activist taking part in a 1992 Newroz demonstration that morphed into rebellion.10 Eventually, both Orak and Demirel made the choice to put their films online, as all other avenues for distribution had been blocked. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s clear concerns about North suggested that the registration process would spell a quick death for the film, particularly given Demirel’s history. It was with this in mind that Mavio÷lu, Çetinbaú and Kesik told Taner and Tan they would not seek a certificate immediately, and that they were counting on the festival to honor its invitation for the film’s world premiere. Under threat of closure, Taner and Tan refused, though they gave Çetinbaú until 10:00 a.m. to see if she could back-channel a solution. Thus began a night of Kafka-esque phone calls in which Çetinbaú learned that North had been labeled propaganda for the DHKP-C, a leftist organization that had executed a public prosecutor in Istanbul weeks before. The film has nothing to do with the DHKP-C but, by the next morning, with her list of contacts and options running out, Çetinbaú realized that the film had been blacklisted, regardless of its content. In the press circular that morning, North was no longer on the schedule. A further police visit to the festival reiterated the Ministry’s direct interest in the film and, hours later, the festival released a brief explanatory message noting that the Directorate had reminded them of a statute in the film law, and that North would therefore not be screened.11


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The statement also called attention to the double-standard brought about by the law, noted IFF’s efforts to have the certificate exemption applied to domestic films, and concluded by clarifying that other films without a certificate would also need to obtain one before screening. Word of mouth spread quickly amongst the film community, not least because so many people were in central Istanbul for screenings. An impromptu forum to discuss censorship was arranged at Atlas Cinema that afternoon—the place and time scheduled for North’s premiere. Would-be viewers joined with concerned directors and festival organizers, including Tan, in a conversation that spilled beyond the screening hour and had to be moved to a nearby venue. Topics ranged from the increasing censorship that the AKP government was bringing to the press, internet, and television, to the more particular attack on cinema that had begun the previous year with Cem Erkul’s “reminder” letter to festivals. The letter had been followed up with a distribution ban on Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013) and, later, an attack on Reyan Tuvi’s Gezi Park documentary Love Will Change the Earth.12 The latter film was of special concern because controversy over its censorship at the Antalya Film Festival in October 2014 had exposed two potential rifts in the film community. First, there was a split between those working in narrative film and documentary, as it was only documentary filmmakers and juries who chose to withdraw from Antalya in solidarity with Tuvi. Though jury members and filmmakers from the narrative competition did speak out against censorship, the difference between speech and action, echoed all too simply in the generic foci of narrative (fiction) and documentary (fact), became a source of critique that pitted filmmakers against one another. Beyond this, and closely tied to the political context of the moment, was a divide that coalesced around the poles of Kurdish and Turkish identity. AFF coincided with the struggle between ISIS and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel - YPG) over the Syrian town of Kobane. The YPG had much sympathy in Turkey’s southeast due both to its efforts to establish in Syria an autonomous Kurdish territory known as Rojava, and to its close alignment with the PKK. During the struggle for Kobane, the AKP government had worked to prevent support from reaching the YPG through Turkey, and President Erdo÷an had declared publicly that he saw little difference between the PKK and ISIS (HDN Staff 2014). Massive street protests by Kurds and Kurdish sympathizers followed. These tensions were reflected in Antalya, particularly at the awards ceremony, where presenters and recipients engaged in a back and-forth

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debate about whether to use the term “Turkish cinema” (Türk sinemas) or “cinema of Turkey” (Türkiye sinemas), with those in the former camp drawing on an assimilationist tradition of Turkish nationalism rooted in the denial of other identities. A number of awards went to Kurdish director Erol Mintaú’s Klama Dayîka Min (Song of My Mother/Annemin ùarks, 2014), and Mintaú, who won best first feature, came out strongly in support of “cinema of Turkey.” What is more, Aziz Çapkurt, who received the best supporting actor award for his work in Song of My Mother, paid tribute to those fighting to defend Rojava in his acceptance speech, receiving a mixed reaction from the audience. The friction and factions that emerged in Antalya had divided filmmakers who might otherwise have come together over shared concerns about funding, exhibition, distribution, and censorship. Six months later, the crowd that gathered to discuss North’s ban was keenly aware of the lessons from Antalya, and those present listened carefully to all who had a stake in the situation. Kurdish director, Kazim Öz, whose documentary Çnara Spî (White Sycamore/Beyaz Çnar, 2015) was in the festival, and who had faced censorship in a dizzying variety of forms, pointed out that the recent clampdown on expression had long been the norm for those working in Kurdish cinema. As a political documentary on the Kurdish issue that dealt with concerns of gender, North checked many of the key boxes for marginalized film in Turkey. If the film community united in Istanbul, as they had failed to do in Antalya, it would send a strong message to the government. After over five hours of discussion and debate, consensus was reached. Twenty-three films withdrew from the festival in solidarity with North, and their creators and others present signed a statement decrying the use of the registration procedure to enact censorship. Noting the unjust doublestandard for foreign and domestic content, and the fact that local films without a certificate had already been screened without issue, the statement called for an end to the certification requirement for festivals and for IFF to cease all screenings. This statement was released under the name “Sansürekarú” (Against Censorship), and a web campaign for signatures began immediately.13 The following day, April 13th, IFF held a press conference at which members of all juries—both local and international—withdrew in protest, leading to the cancellation of all film competitions. In addition, a number of international filmmakers withdrew their films from screening in solidarity with colleagues from Turkey. Azize Tan noted that this was an opportunity to speak clearly about the need for a new cinema law. (Such a law had been largely drafted years earlier, but had been stalled in


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Parliament in the midst of the AKP’s authoritarian shift.) While much of the discussion focused on the legal mechanism of censorship, the head of the domestic competition jury, Zeki Demirkubuz, did not mince words as he highlighted the political dimension of the ban: If I don’t say this nobody else will. The ban on North was a done deal. It was already decided. Some people looked at this film, at the theme, and they decided beforehand. The election has a role in this, as do the clashes and the killing of mules last week. The film is a pretext. I have a feeling that we’re just objects—that people are looking at us and deciding how we’ll lead our lives as if we’re part of some plot. Camus said that if a person is going to be beheaded you don’t tell them. Instead you say, we’re going to execute the law. And this is what confuses us.14

In referencing recent skirmishes between Turkish military and the PKK, as well as the military’s slaughter of pack mules used by Kurds, Demirkubuz was pointing to what many considered to be a provocative shift in policy by the AKP government. Though the party had pursued a peace process for years, making inroads to the Kurdish vote as a result, the process had begun to falter, most notably with the AKP’s hardline stance on Kobane. This stance was deeply unpopular with many Kurds, and it emerged in a political sphere still charged by 2013’s Gezi Park protests and the ongoing conflict between the AKP and its former allies in the Islamic Gülen Movement, all of which had shifted Turkey’s political calculus. The People’s Democratic Party (Halklarn Demokratik Partisi - HDP), a party with strong Kurdish roots and a focus on minority issues and human rights, was becoming increasingly popular among progressives and Kurds alike, and it stood a real chance of entering parliament as a fourth party in the then upcoming June elections. Such a result would threaten the AKP’s outright majority and might have far greater consequences for the party that had ruled single-handedly for over twelve years. On March 20th, perhaps in response to a recent taunt from HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaú, President Erdo÷an had shocked everyone, including AKP party leaders, by voicing disapproval of a key step in the peace process that had been agreed to long before—the founding of a monitoring commission. Though statute defined the presidency as impartial, Erdo÷an maintained all-but-official control of the AKP, and his statement signaled a marked shift in both rhetoric and policy on the Kurdish issue. The more recent killing of pack mules and the skirmishes Demirkubuz mentioned were perceived by many as the follow-through on Erdo÷an’s change of heart. Just days after the President spoke, on March 23rd, the Turkish military shot 25 pack mules used by Kurds in the southeastern

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ùrnak province, and the attacks continued in the days to follow (Alkashif 2015). When questioned about the issue, the AKP-appointed governor of ùrnak suggested that the mules had jumped off a cliff, despite numerous photographs clearly attesting to their slaughter by gunfire. Then, on April 11th, the day before a tree-planting ceremony planned by the HDP, Turkish military forces and PKK forces clashed near Mount Ararat in an event that HDP co-chair Demirtaú described as a “fake operation” and a deliberate “provocation” (HDN Staff 2015; Üzüm and Klç 2015). The emergence of subsequent footage showing HDP members helping the injured soldiers after the clash, and the soldiers suggesting they had been sent on the mission by those higher in the chain of command, would appear to corroborate this claim (T24 Staff 2015). For those checking the political winds, there was little doubt that Kurds were once again the prime target in the government crosshairs. While no one denied what Demirkubuz said at the press conference, he was correct in his assessment that few would say it publicly. Of the two discourses emerging over North’s censorship that day, the “legal” would prove far more compelling than the “political” to the bulk of activists—at least on the domestic front. One reason for this is that filmmakers were united by the legal concerns, while approaches to the Kurdish question, as Antalya had shown, were far less unanimous. A second, linked to the dynamics of power and the aforementioned shifts in policy, was made clear the same day, as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism put out a press release about the situation. 15 It is a striking statement for a number of reasons, not least because it contains phrasing reminiscent of Orwellian doublespeak. One sentence, for example, seems to suggest that censorship equals freedom: “Freedom is the most important value that can be guaranteed only under the application of the law, and it is the responsibility of all people and organizations without exception.” The only “law” mentioned is the registration code, which had clearly been applied to suppress a particular film. More importantly, the statement attempts the challenging task of occupying contradictory rhetorical positions. On the one hand, it denies any responsibility, claiming that IKSV willfully deceived the public by citing the Ministry’s involvement in censoring the film, and saying all fault lay with IKSV. On the other, it criminalizes those linked to the film, suggesting that North is a piece of terrorist propaganda and that any association with it casts doubt on the IFF and IKSV. In psychological terms, such a stance is what Freud called kettle logic: the use of multiple, mutually inconsistent arguments to defend a position. While such logic is laughable, it can also be dangerous, particularly when linked to


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nationalistic identity politics in Turkey. In the case of North, the criminalization of the film opened the door for state-sanctioned violence akin to the 2007 assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, or civilian attacks on Gezi Park protestors in 2013.16 The press release was not delivered by a spokesperson but was, rather, published directly on the Ministry’s web site, probably to avoid the flurry of questions that would have arisen regarding the meaning of obscure statements, the nature of the steps the Ministry had taken against North, and the reasons that other films without certificates were routinely ignored. Only in the wake of this accusatory statement did Azize Tan reveal the full extent of the Ministry’s contacts with her and its direct interest in North. This instigated a further tit-for-tat, as Ministry head Ömer Çelik repeated the insinuation of terror propaganda (Star Staff 2015), while Cinema Directorate head Cem Erkul claimed that North only came up in his phone call to Tan by chance, and that he had taken no special interest in the film. He also denied any knowledge of police being sent to the festival (Atlnok 2015). These two interviews appeared on the same day as stories in the pro-AKP press, detailing the “murderers” who appear in the film (Acar 2015), suggesting that the move to criminalize North in public opinion was well underway. It was with clear awareness of such strategies of vilification that activists tended to focus their discussion on the legal side of the issue. The day after the IFF press conference, 38 professional associations linked to the film industry held their own press conference in Atlas Cinema, open due to the cancellation of numerous screenings. Turkish actress Meltem Cumbul read a statement listing five key demands: adoption of international standards for film regulation, elimination of the certificate requirement for festivals, removal of the Ministry’s power to prevent films from commercial distribution, revision of the cinema law, and formation of an independent cinema institution of Turkey. Cumbul then started reading the names of signatories, numbering close to 400, but was stopped midway through by a restive audience. While many gathered had assumed that the statement would be the precursor to a forum on censorship, Cumbul and representatives from numerous professional associations made a hasty exit from an event that had clearly been designed with news blurbs in mind. A number of activists congregated under the screen and decided to hold a forum nearby. This meeting, like the few before and the many to follow, was a place for filmmakers and activists to organize collectively. The Ankara Film Festival was just nine days away, and many of the films from the IFF, including North, had been invited. Among various options discussed,

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activists considered a possible boycott of the Ankara festival, a march from Istanbul to Ankara, and a more localized march from the Ankara festival to the Ministry. As for North, numerous possibilities for informal screenings were floated, but Mavio÷lu and Çetinbaú, already wary of their film being on the verge of criminalization, preferred not to invite trouble from a government that was all too willing to react with force. The ultimate decision was to hold an anti-censorship march down Istanbul’s central østiklal Street, followed by an open-air screening of the documentary Yollara Düútük (We Hit the Road, 2014). The film, one of those withdrawn from the IFF in protest, is director Deniz Yeúil’s account of the five-daylong march from Istanbul to Ankara by cinema workers protesting censorship and outrageous work conditions in 1977. (It was this march that had inspired the suggestion of a reenactment at the meeting.) The screening, which was followed by a lengthy public forum, took place in Abbasa÷a Park in Beúiktaú, evoking the legacy of numerous community forums held there during the Gezi Park uprisings in 2013.

Aftermath The Ankara Film Festival became the next theater of struggle. The day before opening, organizers announced that the documentary and short film competitions were cancelled because the festival had been forced to uphold the certificate law—something that had not happened in its twenty year history. Though some films did have a certificate, a number of those selected for competition, including North, did not, so the competitions were off, and neither North nor other films without certificates would screen. Protesting the certification law and the general state of film censorship, the jury for the national competition, comprised mainly of narrative films, then withdrew. That move was followed by seven films, including many from the national competition, also withdrawing. Of particular interest at Ankara is that one narrative film did screen without a certificate. Cinema Directorate head Cem Erkul granted a special dispensation for mockumentary O.H.A. (Oflu Hoca’y Aramak/In Search of Oflu Hodja, 2014), which had received awards at the Antalya festival.17 The day after the screening, director Levent Soyarslan publicized this exception, calling for equal treatment for other films, including North. This led both to Erkul’s resignation and O.H.A.’s unconditional barring from the Eskiúehir International Film Festival in May. 18 The cascade effect of North’s ban would touch every festival to follow, as each was forced to take a stance on the certificate law. Festivals tied to municipalities or to major corporate sponsorship, such as Eskiúehir,


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Adana, and Antalya, sided with the government, leaving numerous documentaries out in the cold. (In Antalya, owing both to the previous years’ experience with Love Will Change the Earth, and anticipated trouble in the wake of North, the documentary category was simply cancelled before submissions began.) The Cinema Directorate also introduced the ad hoc category of a non-commercial certificate for films never intended to go beyond the festival stage. This streamlined procedure, which is not codified in law, allows the Directorate to maintain oversight of far more films than in the past. Some smaller and more independent festivals such as the Worker’s Film Festival and Documentarist chose to screen films without a certificate, the latter even creating a special category for censored films. One festival, 1001 Documentaries, postponed the entire event, citing not only restrictions imposed after it had accepted North, but also the increasingly polarized social atmosphere in the country, much of which revolved around the Kurdish issue that had returned to the fore at the time of North’s ban. Despite all of the tensions, opportunities to see the film did begin to emerge. On May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day, simultaneous byinvitation screenings were held in Diyarbakr at the Cegerxwin Culture Center and in Istanbul at Bo÷aziçi University. There was no police interference with these screenings, and organizers of the upcoming Istanbul Kurdish Culture and Art festival opted to take the film on board as well, scheduling what would become its first fully public event. Demand was far greater than space, however, as less than half of those who showed up were able to squeeze into the packed room. A month later, Documentarist hosted its screening as part of the censored films series in a much larger venue and, once again, hundreds who showed up simply could not find room to sit or stand. The date was June 15th—six days after parliamentary elections that saw the AKP lose its outright majority, while the HDP passed a major election threshold to enter parliament as a party for the first time.19 From June through September, North appeared at special screenings in Batman, Diyarbakr, Mardin, Mersin, Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul without incident. In October, massive bombings at an HDP rally in Ankara killed over 100 and injured 400 more, signaling a shift in political atmosphere that left Çetinbaú and Mavio÷lu far more cautious about domestic screenings of North. On the international front, however, the film continued to travel. The international premiere took place at the Montreal Film Festival in September of 2015, and this was followed by a screening at Dok Leipzig Film Festival in October, which caused such a stir that the festival decided to have a focus on Turkey in 2016. Other screenings took

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place at the Festival dei Popoli and the Trento Film Festival in Italy, Visions du Reel in Switzerland, as well as festivals in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Brussels, and Cologne. As of May 2016, the film had also secured a distribution deal for release in Germany. Domestically, North continues to be the watershed moment for the movement against censorship in Turkey, both because of the de facto shift in the system brought about by the ban, and because of the solidarity shown by the cinematic community. And although some filmmakers have since reluctantly accepted the more invasive regime, there have also been key moments of resistance. In April of 2016, the documentary Bîra M’têtn (I Remember/Hatrlyorum, 2015) was forced out of the Ankara Film Festival in a situation that could not escape direct comparison with North. Director Selim Yldz refused to apply for a certificate knowing that the film, which references both the aforementioned mule killings of 2015 and the 2011 massacre of Kurdish civilians in Roboskî by the Turkish military, would be rendered illegal in the highly likely event that the application was rejected. Documentary competition jury member, and Documentarist co-organizer, Necati Sönmez, resigned from the jury in protest, citing the de facto censorship masquerading under “procedural” terms that has been in place since North’s ban (Aydn 2016). The movement is not likely to end there.20 Reflecting on how North crystallized the struggle over censorship, producer Çetinbaú is bittersweet: North has a very symbolic meaning for the cinematic community. At this same time I’m sad because we never got to talk about the film itself. It was censored before it was even seen and lots of false and ridiculous news stories about it came out first thing. People say that we got a lot of advertising from this and they seem to think it’s great, but I honestly don’t see it that way. When this happened I was in the hospital with Çayan [Demirel], and trying to handle the constant phone calls and dealing with the aftermath at the festival was incredibly difficult. But aside from all that, it’s quite important for the cinema sector and for cinema history. The thing that affected me the most is this: on the day of the ban, we held a press conference and called the cinema workers. They came and they quickly signed on. No one said ‘but.’ ‘But what is this film about,’ ‘but who made it,’ or something like that. There, all the right wingers and left wingers— well I won’t say right wingers entirely, there weren’t a lot of AKP supporters—but the kinds of people who wouldn’t normally sign something for a film like North signed in this case because it was a very open case of censorship, coming with one day to go. And this was a beautiful thing. It wasn’t for another film, it was for North and this is very


Chapter VIII significant. That’s the thing that affects me the most. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting something like that.21

Though the moments for discussing North as film rather than focal point have been limited, they do occur from time to time. The young woman who recognized her brother in the film’s first public screening in Istanbul brought one such moment, and the lively conversation at Dok Leipzig, where Çetinbaú and Mavio÷lu encountered an audience who knew little about politics in Turkey, opened another of a very different sort. Beyond its key place in the anti-censorship movement, North’s role as political film spans a wide spectrum of experience and interest. A telling testament to this interest comes from co-director Demirel himself. In April 2015, at the height of the censorship struggle, he woke from a month-long coma and began the slow but steady journey to recovery. Though his humor, interests, and passions were still intact, he had lost much of his recent memory, including all recollection of North. As Çetinbaú spent much of her time at his hospital bedside, handling fallout from the ban on the phone, Demirel inevitably heard about the film. At one point he became curious, asking, “wow, that sounds like a great project. Who did it?” When Çetinbaú explained that it was his own work, he was incredulous. She described in detail the people he had interviewed, the places he had traveled to, the events he had experienced, but he insisted that he had not been there and he did not recognize anything she was talking about. Then she played the film for him. Though damage to his brain’s visual center meant that he had lost most of his sight, he could listen and, with the first scene of guerrillas playing capture the flag, the fragments of voice he had spent hours compiling at the editing bay struck a familiar chord, coaxing his memory shot by shot. He was able to recite the rest of the film word for word. True to the spirit of its intent, North had become a compass to recovery.

Coda: North, homo sacer, and the logic of unacknowledgement Both times I watched North in Turkey—at the Istanbul Kurdish Culture and Art festival and at Documentarist—there was a gasp from the public as we saw Hevala Gulan (“Friend Gulan”) appear towards the end of the film. By this point, her ageless face and glimmering eyes are familiar, as she has spoken with care and wit throughout but, in this

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parting shot, a line has been added beneath her name: “martyr of Kobane.” The moment brings to the forefront one stark reality of the guerrilla’s lives that we may have been tempted to ignore, and with it the political shifts in Turkey and beyond that have taken shape since the hopeful project of North began. As I write, just over a year after the ban on North, hope has become scarce in Turkey. A brutal internal war tears cities of the southeast apart, while the war in Syria rains bombs, shunting those fleeing them towards the border; refugees and their plight have become a bargaining chip, allowing the AKP to dictate terms to the EU and negating what little oversight the stagnant membership process offered in the way of securing human rights; businesses deemed “oppositional” by the government, including media outlets, are expropriated with impunity; academics who call for peace are arrested, intimidated, and investigated; Kurdish and Turkish reporters who deviate from the pro-government line are jailed, while foreign reporters are deported, all in the name of a nebulous “war on terror” and, though hardly analogous to the AKP war against it, terror in the form of bombings has become an everyday reality as well. Turkey has become a state of exception. Discussing cinematic censorship in India, William Mazzarella (2013) uses Carl Schmitt’s notion of the state of exception with reference to the perpetual rhetoric of development. 22 The process of preparing the population—educating the masses—to participate in a modern world provides a ceaseless rationale for protecting them from media that they are not wise enough to understand. Development legitimizes the state of exception—in this case the exception to the right of free expression. Such a logic contains an inherent divide between those who are wise enough to be exempt from censorship (these are the exception within the exception) and those who must be “protected” from their own base instincts by the censor’s blade. This rhetoric and logic are equally present in Turkey and, indeed, found fertile ground at the dawn of the republic in the now infamous motto “for the people despite the people.” Today, they are evidenced in the ubiquitous discourse trope of the “ignorant” (cahil) audience, codified in the regulatory oversight granted to bodies such as the Cinema Directorate and the Radio and Television Supreme Council (Radyo ve Televizyon Üst Kurulu - RTÜK). But there are degrees of exception, and the weight of development rhetoric is slight in comparison to the state of exception justified by the tripartite formula of terror, internal enemies (traitors), and external enemies (schemers). It is within this latter state that we must place the ban


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on North, one of the most salient aspects of which is that it never officially occurred. For, although North was both addressed and accused by the government, no formal sentence has yet been carried out against it.23 The doublespeak of the Ministry statement on North—denying any responsibility for a ban, while simultaneously criminalizing the film—was possible and effective because of the double-bind the filmmakers faced: register and be officially banned, or do not register and be effectively banned. Given the precedents of films like 38 and Berivan, it is no surprise that the filmmakers opted for the latter. What is somewhat surprising at first glance is that, in the fragile year that has elapsed between North’s ban and this writing, the government never cracked down on the film. There were numerous screenings, some of them highly public, and yet force was never employed by a government far from shy about its use. It was in the wake of the Ankara bombings, with the clear recognition that extra-governmental forces might target North and its audiences, that Çetinbaú and Mavio÷lu decided on a more cautious approach to the screenings. Such fear is not only well-grounded on a practical level, it also points to North’s unique liminal status. In a first pass at issues of sovereignty and the state of exception, Giorgio Agamben (1998) provides an account of a liminal character from Roman law: homo sacer. This individual, made “sacred” by expulsion (banning) from the realm of political life, can be killed by anyone with impunity, but is exempt from ritual sacrifice and, as such, cannot face an official sentence of death. For homo sacer, liminality itself, including its attendant risk, is the sentence. The figure has a unique place with regard to the law, being inside and outside its reach simultaneously and, as such, represents the exact inverse of the sovereign, who is both subject to the law and can warrant its exception. Agamben links this mirrored relationship to the ban, noting, “The ban is the force of simultaneous attraction and repulsion that ties together the two poles of the sovereign exception: bare life and power, homo sacer and the sovereign” (110). While Agamben is ultimately interested in claiming that the state of exception has become the norm, and that “we are all virtually homines sacre” (115), in the case of North, I see a more discrete application of the figure. The film’s liminal status is analogous to that of homo sacer: both in terms of standing inside and outside the law, and in terms of the real danger implied by such a stance. A question that arises when pursuing the issue of the ban, then, is what force ties the two poles of the sovereign exception here? To put it another way, why was the film dealt with so heavy-handedly and yet allowed to survive through continued screenings?

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Phrasing the question of this relationship from yet a third perspective: what was the nature of North’s crime? While claims of “terrorist propaganda” were quick to critics’ lips, North is, at a fundamental level, a film about the promise of peace. The film itself was made possible by a peace process in which the AKP was intimately involved, and it represents very clearly both the hopes and concerns of the PKK as this process started taking effect. The film was banned as part of the shift away from the very policies it lauded. Political calculations determined (almost certainly correctly) that war and nationalism were far more useful than peace for an AKP that wished to hold onto power, and North quickly became an awkward reminder of what had been left behind—the remainder of a different mindset. The tie between sovereign and homo sacer in this case is literally one of reflection—insofar as the film represents what the AKP had sanctified and then elected to abandon. And it is perhaps for this reason that the film has, thus far, been left to its liminal existence rather than persecuted head-on. Unacknowledgment offers the relative ease of not engaging with the film’s message, of leaving behind the embarrassment by association and, ultimately, in line with the rhetorical criminalization of the film, the possibility that others might take cause to act against it.

Notes 1

This research was made possible through support by a fellowship with the Istanbul Studies Center at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, the Sansürsüz Sinema (Uncensored Cinema) collective, and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida. I am grateful for the support of all these organizations. In addition, I would like to thank the filmmakers, censorship activists, and festival organizers who spoke with me, and the editors of this volume, Can Candan and Suncem Koçer, for their helpful comments on my work. 2 Here and elsewhere in this text I place the original title first, followed by the English and, then, Turkish titles for Kurdish films with Turkish titles. I use the English titles after the first instance. 3 Erwann Briand’s Les Femmes du Mont Ararat (The Women of Mount Ararat, 2004) is another. As of May 2016 a review of that film was available at the following link: http://kersplebedeb.com/posts/les-femmes-du-mont-ararat-the-womenof-mount-ararat/. 4 The festival, one of the three major international festivals in Turkey, was renamed the International Antalya Film Festival in 2015. I hereafter refer to it in short as “Antalya” or “AFF” in this chapter. The other two major festivals are the


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IFF and the Adana Film Festival. Like Antalya, the Adana film festival changed its name in 2015. Previously it had been called the Golden Boll Film Festival. 5 Apoletli Adalet does not have an official English title, so this is an approximation. The literal translation would be “Justice With Epaulets.” 6 Personal communication. 7 Chief among these appears to have been the daily Vahdet, known for its sensational attacks on cultural liberalism. The original piece on North, which maligns the directors and calls attention to the festival, actually appeared on the same night as the press screening (Vahdet Staff, 2015a). Both Cinema Directorate head Cem Erkul (Atlnok 2015) and Vahdet itself make reference to the importance of its original article—the latter with an April 14 headline reading “Vahdet wrote it, the Ministry blocked it [the film]” (Vahdet Staff 2015b). 8 This detail, and those that follow, were not immediately made public, but did emerge over the next few days. An April 14th article from daily Radikal (Radikal Staff 2015) includes many of these details, though my own account is also based on statements made by Mavio÷lu, Tan, and Çetinbaú in the numerous forums on censorship that followed North’s ban, which I attended, and on a personal interview with Çetinbaú that took place well after the fact. 9 In 1988, the government attempted to censor five films at the eighth iteration of the IFF. A group of filmmakers led by Elia Kazan, head of the international competition jury, protested with a march on Istiklal Street that ended with a public statement delivered in Taksim. The jury declared their refusal to watch censored films, thereby winning a temporary reprieve for the films at the festival. This decision was then expanded with an exception to the cinema law (of 1986), which stated that international films were exempt from censorship while being shown at festivals (Yücel 2014). 10 Berivan’s story contains a further fascinating twist because the Ministry of Culture and Tourism was actively promoting the film from its information booth at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 2011, a month after the film had been banned domestically. Not only did Berivan feature prominently in the Ministry’s catalog, with a first-page write-up, but DVD copies of the film were also distributed at the booth. For director Orak, this was a clear case of “being despotic and trying to appear democratic internationally” (Foça 2011). 11 The English version is as follows: “The Cinema General Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism has sent an official letter to the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts reminding that as per Item 15 of the Regulation Pertaining to the Basis and Procedures of Evaluation and Categorisation of Film Products, films produced in Turkey need to have obtained a formal registration certificate in order to be screened at festivals. “As per the statute, festival participation requires that ‘films produced within the country are registered and recorded.’ Screening of films produced in Turkey without this certificate results in legal sanctions, therefore Istanbul Film Festival will not be able to screen films that don’t have the aforementioned certificate. “As such, the screening of Bakur/North directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu, announced to be realised at 16.00 on Sunday, 12 April at Atlas Movie

Regarding North: Bakur and the Crystallization of Censorship in Turkey 161 Theatre, will not be made. A future screening date of the film will be announced on the condition that it acquires this registration certificate. “Films produced outside Turkey are exempt from the scope of this regulation. Istanbul Film Festival believes that this exemption should apply for films made in Turkey as well. Istanbul Film Festival has been holding talks regarding the extension of this exemption to locally produced films as well and will continue these talks. However the statute that requires the registration certificate is still in effect. Therefore other films produced in Turkey that are in the festival programme also need to obtain this certificate.” As of May 2016, the Turkish and English versions of this statement were available on the IKSV web site at the following links: Turkish - http://film.IKSV.org/tr/arsiv/haberarsivi/p/1/1119 English - http://film.IKSV.org/en/archive/newsarchive/p/1/1119 12 Nymphomaniac had been shown at festivals in Istanbul because it was exempt from certification as a foreign film, but it was not granted a certificate for commercial distribution on the grounds that it was “pornographic.” More information on this ban and the reaction to it is available in Carney (2014). 13 As of May 2016, the statement was available at the website: http://sansurekarsi.org/ 14 Translation mine. I have condensed and edited his statement for efficiency and clarity. 15 The full statement of that text reads as follows (my translation): “We feel the need to give the public true information about the statements and related news reports claiming that the decision to remove the film Bakur/Kuzey [North] from the festival organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) came from our Ministry. IKSV’s statement quotes a message sent by the Ministry, saying that the screening had been canceled and censorship had been applied because the film did not have an official registration document. But the message in question was simply a copy of a message originally sent as a general statement on legal responsibilities on 9 January 2014. The festival directors’ treatment of this as if it were a new statement is unacceptable and was an intentional act. “Letting things get to this point as a result of the failure to apply procedure, despite all their information and experience, simply shows the weakness of the festival organizers, and the situation is obviously incompatible with the meaning of responsibility. “In this situation, the fact that the festival organizers are attempting to hide their shortcomings and their failure to apply the law by referring to the Ministry in their statements as if it applied censorship only makes their irresponsibility more obvious. “Freedom is the most important value that can be guaranteed only under the application of the law, and it is the responsibility of all people and organizations without exception. “Furthermore, the news about the film has characterized it as a ‘PKK documentary,’ and propaganda for a terror organization is not compatible with


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democratic values or universal freedom of thought. The fact that it is called a ‘PKK documentary’ is also of interest with respect to the foundation and festival organizers. “Before all of this, it is important to note that neither the festival organizers nor the producers began the legal proceedings necessary to show the film and furthermore acted as if such proceedings did not exist. “That there are those who are hiding their own shortcomings and continuing in a series of mistakes to attempt to portray our Ministry as an institution that applies censorship is, in the lightest of terms, a lie. “With regard to this situation, claims to the contrary are incompatible with reality. “This is reported with respect to the public.” The original was available as of May 2016 at: http://basin.kultur.gov.tr/TR,134568/basin-aciklamasi-13042015.html. 16 In addition to the well-documented police attacks, which constitute state violence, there were many instances of civilians attacking protestors with impunity. 17 This film has not been given an English title, so I have translated it loosely. The Turkish name is a play on words in which the abbreviation O.H.A. spells out the word “oha,” which loosely translates to “wow” or “whoa.” 18 Erkul was not the only one to resign over the North controversy. Azize Tan would leave her post at IFF in August 2015, after nine years as director. 19 Prior to this, politicians from the HDP and its predecessor parties had run as independents, knowing that the party’s chances of passing the 10% threshold were low, and failure to pass would mean no MPs from the party. 20 I Remember was shown at the Documentarist festival in May of 2016, where director Yldz earned the jury prize for best new talent. 21 Personal communication. 22 For Schmitt, sovereignty is defined by the ability to bring a state of exception (to the law) into effect. The proof of sovereign action is the suspension of law. 23 This is not to say that a sentence is unlikely. In March of 2016, officials from the Directorate of the Struggle Against Terror in Batman contacted Demirel’s phone (handled by Çetinbaú) about a screening of the film in Batman the previous May. They are currently investigating Demirel, Mavio÷lu, and Dicle Anter with regard to the “screening of a terror propaganda documentary.”

Works Cited Acar, Bedir. 2015. “Katil Film Festivalinde [Murderer at the film festival]." Star, 15 April. Accessed April 22, 2015. http://haber.star.com.tr/sanat/katil-film-festivalinde/haber-1020845. Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Soveriegn Power and Bare Life. Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Regarding North: Bakur and the Crystallization of Censorship in Turkey 163

Alkashif, Shahdi. 2015. “The Mules Targeted by Armed Forces.” BBC, 3 May. Accessed May 25, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine32554496. Atlnok, Melih. 2015. “Bakur’u Kim Makaslad? [Who cut off North?].” Star, 15 April. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.sabah.com.tr/yazarlar/melihaltinok/2015/04/15/bakurukim-makasladi. Aydn, Sevda. 2016. “Necati Sönmez: Prosedür De÷il Sansür Diyece÷iz [Necati Sönmez: We're not going to say it's procedure, we'll call it censorship].” Evrensel, 26 April. Accessed April 30, 2016. http://www.evrensel.net/haber/278506/necati-sonmez-prosedur-degilsansur-diyecegiz. Carney, Josh. 2014. “‘Nymphomaniac’ Latest Pawn in Turkey’s Battle over Censorship.” Variety, 21 March. Accessed March 21, 2014. http://variety.com/2014/film/international/nymphomaniac-latest-pawnin-turkeys-battle-over-censorship-1201138229/. Foça, Mehmet Atakan. 2011. “‘Berivan’ Belgeseli Cannes’da: Bakanlk Önce Tantt, Sonra Red Etti [The documentary “Berivan” at Cannes: ministry first advertises it then rejects it].” Accessed March 8, 2014. Bianet, 4 August. http://bianet.org/bianet/sanat/131939-bakanlik-oncetanitti-sonra-red-etti. HDN Staff. 2014. “PKK, ISIL Same for Turkey: President Erdo÷an.” Hürriyet Daily News, 4 October. Accessed October 5, 2014. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/pkk-isil-same-for-turkey-presidenterdogan-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=72533&NewsCatID=338. —. 2015. “First Election Debate Comes Amid Clashes with the PKK.” Hürriyet Daily News, 12 April. Accessed April 15, 2015. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/first-election-debate-comes-amidclashes-with-thepkk.aspx?pageID=238&nID=80951&NewsCatID=338. ølkiz, Fikret. 2011. “Dersim 38 Belgeseline Kültür Bakan Açklamas [Ministry of Culture's statement on Dersim documentary 38].” Bianet, 24 January. Accessed April 24, 2016. http://bianet.org/bianet/toplum/127352-dersim-38-belgeseline-kulturbakani-aciklamasi. Maheshwari, Laya. 2015. “Counter-punch: Why Turkey's Ban on PKK Documentary North is a Waste of Time.” Guardian, 20 April. Accessed April 22, 2015.


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http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2015/apr/20/turkeycensorship-north-documentary-istanbul-film-festival-kurdistanworkers-party. Mazzarella, William. 2013. Censorium: Cinema and the Open Edge of Mass Publicity. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. Radikal Staff. 2015. “Festival Baúkan Tan: Kültür Bakanl÷'ndan Telefon Geldi [Festival director Tan: a phone call came from the Ministry of Culture].” Radikal, 14 April. Accessed April 22, 2015. http://www.radikal.com.tr/kultur/festival_baskani_tan_kultur_bakanlig indan_telefon_geldi-1335430. Sönmez, Necati. 2015. “Belgesel Korkusu: Documentaphobia [Fear of documentary: documentaphobia].” Bianet, 15 April. Accessed April 22, 2015. http://bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/163813-belgesel-korkusudocumentaphobia. Star Staff. 2015. “Bakan Çelik’ten ‘Bakur’ Açklamas [‘North’ statement from ministry head Çelik].” Star, 15 April. Accessed April 22, 2015. http://haber.star.com.tr/sanat/bakan-celikten-bakur-aciklamasi/haber1020946. T24 Staff. 2015. “øúte A÷r’daki Çatúmann Ardndan Çekilen Görüntüler [Video shot in the wake of the Ararat clash].” T24, 12 April. Accessed April 15, 2015. http://t24.com.tr/haber/iste-agridaki-catismanin-ardindancekilen-goruntuler,293361. Üzüm, øpek, and Ali Aslan Klç. 2015. “Controversial Fatal A÷r Clash with PKK Sparks Doubts and Questions.” Today's Zaman, 12 April. Accessed April 15, 2015. http://www.todayszaman.com/national_controversial-fatal-agri-clashwith-pkk-sparks-doubts-and-questions_377801.html. Vahdet Staff. 2015a “øúte O Hain PKK Filminin Yönetmeni [Here is the traitorous PKK film's director].” Vahdet, 9 April. Accessed July 5, 2016. http://www.vahdetgazetesi.com/yasam/iste-o-hain-pkk-filmininyonetmeni-h17182.html —. 2015b. “Vahdet Yazd Bakanlk Engelledi [Vahdet wrote it the Ministry blocked it].” Vahdet, 14 April. Accessed May 2, 2016. http://www.gazetevahdet.com/vahdet-yazdi-bakanlik-engelledi17624h.htm. Yücel, Frat. 2014. “2000’lerde Sansür Dosyas: Festivaller ve Sansür [File on Censorship in the 2000s: Festivals and censorship].” Altyaz, 6 November.


Introduction When, in the late summer of 2009, the Golden Orange pre-selection committee announced the Turkish films selected for 2009, the producers at Mesopotamia Cinema, a Kurdish film collective in Istanbul, were shocked to discover that their latest production, Demsala Dawi: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim: ùavaklar, 2009), was not one of the twenty-five documentaries on the list.1 Indeed, before the news arrived at the company, director Kazim Öz had seemed very confident that his film would make it to the national competition at least as a documentary, if not as a feature film. A feature-length documentary film, The Last Season: Shawaks revolves around a semi-nomadic tribal family in eastern Turkey. With dialogue mostly in Kurdish, the film documented the social and cultural make-up of the Shawaks community, their day-to-day life, their struggle with harsh natural conditions, and their subsistence methods over the course of four seasons. Sitting astride the boundary between documentary and fiction film, The Last Season: Shawaks had competed in European film festivals and been well received in artistic circles abroad as soon as it was released in 2009. Disappointment turned into aggravation soon after Golden Orange’s rebuff arrived at Mesopotamia Cinema. Furious at the selection committee, Kazim Öz grabbed the phone to call the festival director but was unable to reach him. Pacing up and down the hallway he fumed, “obviously, this is censorship! We need to issue a protest remark immediately.” Within an


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hour, a text was collectively crafted to be sent to the company’s media contacts. The press release alerted Turkish media about the film’s exclusion and posited a transnational public that appreciated The Last Season: Shawaks’ artistic merits. The exclusion of The Last Season: Shawaks, an internationally appreciated documentary film, which was co-produced by the French television channel ARTE, and which had been the opening film at the Corsica Documentary Film Festival just the week before, was shocking. Having premiered in the Swiss Visions du Reel, one of the most prestigious international documentary film festivals, The Last Season: Shawaks had competed and been acknowledged not only in documentary film festivals, but also along with fiction films in important European festivals, such as in Mannheim. The film’s increasing international success indicates the political nature of its exclusion from the Golden Orange. As revolutionary and alternative filmmakers, we draw your attention to the political censorship executed by the Golden Orange committee towards Kurdish films that depict realities outside of the official ideology.2

By juxtaposing the exclusion of The Last Season: Shawaks from the Golden Orange Film Festival with the praise the film received at international film festivals, Mesopotamia Cinema underlined transnational circulation as a point of leverage in their press release. In doing so, they hailed European publics with supposedly better artistic taste and cinematic vision than Turkish film authorities, and they sought to unravel the political nature of their exclusion from the Golden Orange festival and to reinforce their stance in protesting the marginalization of their films within the national media culture. Kurdish media producers, marginalized in mainstream Turkish cinema culture, move between national and transnational media worlds in order to advance their media practices and social and political agendas. A significant goal of their activities is to create and maintain transnational publics that reinforce further circulation of their media texts. Transnational circulation is significant for politically engaged Kurdish filmmakers for two reasons. First, because of their controversial content and/or their filmmakers’ political reputations, their films do not circulate widely in Turkey; transnational exhibition venues have historically been primary outlets for these films. Second, in Turkish national media circles, the existence of European audiences for Kurdish films and their successful transnational circulation function as leverage against political censorship, exclusion, and marginalization. Mesopotamia Cinema’s press release in protest at the Golden Orange selection exemplifies this.

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


In this chapter, I identify the historical dynamics embedded in Kurdish media circulation in Turkish media worlds and explore the ways in which Kurdish filmmakers publicize, globalize, and seek to circulate their films transnationally. Publics come into being in relation to texts and the ways in which they circulate (Warner 2002, 50; Lee and LiPuma 2002; Himpele 2008). The ways in which cultural objects, such as films, are discursively characterized may accelerate, decelerate, or inhibit their mobility through space and time (Urban 2001). As The Last Season: Shawaks journeys through film festivals in Europe, its director, Kazim Öz, accompanies it and, by producing discourse, he attempts to increase and accelerate the transnational circulation of his film. In festival settings, Öz carefully tailors his encounters with international audiences and positions his film and filmmaking within a circumspectly crafted discourse during question and answer sessions that follow film screenings. Through several “technologies of publicity” (Torchin 2006), he erects his discursive authority, relates his film and filmic material to his audiences, mediates his identity politics, and interweaves a political statement within his narrative about the Shawaks, The Last Season: Shawaks, and the making of The Last Season: Shawaks. In doing so, Öz seeks to accomplish two intricately related social ends: to advance an interest in his filmmaking, and to stimulate European attention regarding Kurds in Turkey, both of which, in relation to one another, he anticipates, would accelerate the circulation of his films.

The Last Season: Shawaks: A Documentary Film Set to Circulate The Last Season: Shawaks is a ninety-three minute long documentary film with dialogue in Kurdish and Turkish and with subtitles in English and French. The film depicts the daily life of the Shawaks over the course of a year. With a population of roughly 3,500, the Shawaks (also called Shekaks) are a transhumant herding population spread throughout fifteen villages in the Dersim area in eastern Turkey (Sykes 1908; Andrews 1989). Punctuated by the transitions between seasons that mark the different phases of transhumance, the film opens in winter with the narration of a folktale about the cycle of life in the village. As spring arrives, snow melts and life reawakens. Shawak families prepare for the journey into the Munzur hills. The camera singles out an extended family as their migration begins with the loading of belongings and stock animals onto trucks. Once the family arrives at the highland area, they establish a tent encampment called an oba. They resume their daily activities: milking


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and herding the livestock, trading with nearby merchants, baking bread, and taking care of children. As fall arrives, the family packs up again to begin the migration back to the village. The film ends with folktales narrated by elderly women in the village during the winter nights. My first encounter with The Last Season: Shawaks and its director, Kazim Öz, explicates the ways in which Kurdish media produced in Turkey are often imagined as predestined to circulate outside of Turkey. In the summer of 2006, I came to Istanbul to conduct pre-dissertation research on Kurdish media and identity politics. Based on my earlier work, I was well aware of the significance of a particular Kurdish community locale for my research. A shrine of Kurdish cultural production since the 1990s, the Navenda Çanda Mezopotamya / Mezopotamya Kültür Merkezi, or Mesopotamia Culture Center (MKM), had attracted numerous Kurdish youths to participate in its artistic and cultural activities since its launch in 1992. The center’s most active branch had been its cinema unit, the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective. Established in 1996, the Collective produced, distributed, and exhibited several films and videos over the subsequent fifteen years. Many of these films were funded internationally, and some of those received acclaim at international film festivals. A particular filmmaker from the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective developed a reputation, in Turkish as well as Kurdish and international cinema circles, for his cinematic talent and explicit tendency to cultivate political messages in his films. Upon arrival in Istanbul for my pre-dissertation research, I had heard that Kazim Öz, at the peak of his career, was preparing to shoot his next film, a documentary about a Kurdish community in eastern Turkey. Having made an appointment with Kazim Öz on the phone, I knocked on the door of the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective’s offices one afternoon that summer. After a short wait in the lobby, Öz welcomed me into his study. As I introduced myself as a PhD student in the United States with an interest in Kurdish filmmaking, he interrupted me disinterestedly: “You study in America. So you read and write English.” He reached into the drawer of his desk to take out a roll of paper. Handing me the papers, he said: “This is the pre-purchasing contract ARTE France sent us for my new documentary. Can you translate this [from English to Turkish] for me?” A bit surprised by Öz’s informality, I said sure and sat down in the next room to translate the text. When I handed Öz the translated text in an hour, Öz showed me the demo of the film that he had sent ARTE. As I watched the two-minute-long, beautifully shot and edited video, he said, confidently and light-spiritedly, “with this film, I am going to need your translation services frequently.” Also instructive vis-à-vis the mechanisms

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


of participant observation, the occasion concretized my questions about Kurdish media production in Turkey. How and why would ARTE France, a European television channel, have pre-purchased a documentary by a Kurdish director? How would the involvement of a French partner have affected Öz’s perception of a Kurdish community that was the subject of the documentary? What did a documentary on Shawaks reveal about the Kurdish identity movement with which Öz had been strongly associated? Translating the pre-purchasing contract and, later, many other documents as Öz had predicted, I entered into a constellation of ethnographic encounters where I sought answers to these and several other questions in the upcoming years. The next year, in the late spring of 2007, I drove with Öz and his documentary crew, consisting of a production assistant and a sound technician, in a rented car off-road through Dersim, a province in eastern Turkey. Coming from Istanbul, the crew headed east on the first of several production trips into the Munzur hills and the surrounding villages where the Shawaks live. The mountain roads slipped under the car, leaving the Keban Dam behind and overlooking the beautiful Munzur hills ahead. Having lived there until he was seventeen, Öz seemed to have known what to expect in the Shawak village and the Munzur highlands. During production preparations in Istanbul, he had repeated that this project was near to his heart; with this film he was returning to a childhood in which he had naively tended his family’s goats in the hills. In production meetings at the Mesopotamia Cinema offices, Öz had also stated repeatedly that The Last Season: Shawaks would reach large audiences in Europe not just because it was pre-purchased by the French ARTE TV and funded by a Dutch documentary agency, but because it bore a universal currency as a work of art. He had rightfully anticipated then, even before shooting took place, that The Last Season: Shawaks would enjoy significant transnational circulation. Between 2006 and 2011, I followed the Mesopotamia Cinema Collective members, especially Öz, the production practices they engaged in, and the media texts they produced between different localities, including Istanbul, the Dersim highlands, and European film festivals. I translated numerous documents, participated in production meetings, interviewed subjects on the documentary set, and mediated between the documentary director and his international audiences in Europe. Based primarily on my research at more than a few international film festivals through which The Last Season: Shawaks circulated in 2009, in this chapter I analyze the ways in which a politically oriented Kurdish filmmaker from Turkey relates his film, media practice, and identity


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politics to European festival audiences. At these festivals, in addition to research activities, I translated for Öz between Turkish and English. As the translator, not only did I act as a mediator between Öz and his audiences, but I also had to assume a particularly active participating role in the festival settings, as I often helped Öz schedule his appointments, attended industry meetings with him, and accompanied him in taking care of the details of the screenings. Introducing me as a member of his production team, Öz often enjoyed my company during the screenings and the other festival events. The multiple roles of ethnographer, translator, and documentary producer provided me with an especially productive, if difficult, standpoint for participant observation. Considering the film festivals in Europe as the primary, if not the sole, outlet for his products, Öz geared his conversations with cinema professionals and audiences in film festival events towards creating and solidifying a network which, according to Öz, would open up new pathways of production and circulation for his films.

Circuits of Censorship and International Circulation for Kurdish Films For Kurdish filmmakers, the idea of Europe as a primary node in film production and circulation is nothing new. Marginalized within nationstate bound media worlds, these filmmakers have operated at the interstices of local, national, and transnational cinema industries (cf. Naficy 2001). As Pierre Bourdieu writes, the conditions of cultural production, which are the products of history, produce “individual and collective practices, and hence history, in accordance with the schemes engendered by history” (Bourdieu 1977, 82). Sociopolitical forces, and their historically dialogical relationships with each other, circumscribe, enable, and complicate not only the practices of Kurdish filmmaking, but also how agents characterize films discursively, seek to circulate them, and calibrate links and gaps between texts, practices, and audiences. Two interrelated historical and sociopolitical forces have profoundly demarcated the ways in which Kurds have produced and circulated films. First, Kurds lack a nation-state of their own in which the conditioning and regulation of national art and cultural production may occur. Kurdish filmmaking came into being, and continues to constitute a discursive space in which Kurds may imagine a national existence, against a backdrop of the ruptures imposed on such imaginings by Turkish, Iranian, and Iraqi nation-state projects. Due to its very nature as a visual medium dependent on circulation, film/video has borne the potential for Kurds to contest the

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


official histories, identities, and hegemonic construction of Kurdishness. This field of cultural production has historically been highly politicized. Second, in the absence of a state to regulate a national cinema, Kurdish cinema, as a discursive space, is transnational by nature. In addition to the Turkish, Iranian, and Iraqi film industries, Kurdish filmmakers have navigated global production and distribution avenues in order to enable and retain their media practices. Moreover, in a dialogical relationship with the political nature of Kurdish cultural production, transnational circumstances have, in part, generated the conditions for the politicized subscription to a Kurdish identity and the nationalization of Kurdish culture and language. For instance, the films by Yılmaz Güney, the legendary Kurdish director who was exiled to Europe, had widely circulated abroad during the 1980s. Only in France did Güney overtly define and endorse his Kurdish identity as critical to his excommunication in Turkey. While Güney’s films were banned from public showings in Turkey until the late 1990s, his most famous feature, Yol (The Road), received international praise, including the award for best film at 1982 Cannes Film Festival (Naficy 2001; Kennedy 2007). The filmmaking practice of Bahman Ghobadi, a Kurdish director from Iran, further reveals the transnational nature of Kurdish films, as well as the transformative nature of transnational media circulation (cf. Lee and LiPuma 2002). Ghobadi completed his first feature film, Zamani Barayé Masti Asbha (A Time of The Drunken Horses), in 2000. The film narrates the tragic story of Kurdish children who struggle to earn a living by smuggling on the war-torn border between Iran and Iraq. In 2000, Ghobadi received the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes, which established his film’s artistic worth and facilitated its appearance at over forty international festivals in 2000 and 2001. Critics applauded the director for a simple yet powerfully realistic portrayal of “the hardships of a family of Kurdish children living in a remote, mountainous area near the Iran-Iraq border” (McLarney 2004). In fact, by the 2000s, before A Time of The Drunken Horses reached European film circles, Kurds had already become a topic of international politics and public curiosity, particularly because of the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the PKK resurgence, Turkey’s EU accession, and the increasing visibility of Kurdish communities in diaspora. Later, the 2003 American bombing of Iraq, and the subsequent emergence of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, attracted further attention to the region. Such interest established the means for the discursive circulation of films about Kurds and by Kurdish filmmakers. Ghobadi’s film, as a critic noted, successfully supplied “faces to go with news stories about the Kurdish


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peoples of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey” (Ebert 2000). A Time of The Drunken Horses functioned as “[a repertoire] of images, narratives, and ethnoscapes to viewers throughout the world, in which the world of commodities and the world of news and politics are profoundly mixed” (Appadurai 1996, 35). Cultural circulation is not “simply a movement of people, commodities, ideas, and images from one place to another,” but a process that transcends objects moving through space and time (Goankar and Povinelli 2003, 391). In interviews with the international press, Ghobadi frequently highlighted his Kurdish identity, the censorship he faced in Iran, and the existence of Kurds as a disjointed people whose political status had borne tragic stories (Kutchera 2000). Such discourse helped globalize the notion of “Kurdishness” in international cinema circles. The circulation of Ghobadi’s films, as with Güney’s, stimulated a transcending cultural process that electrified a cinema culture based on Kurdish identity politics. Kazim Öz’s filmmaking has built upon the international work of these directors. During his career, European screens were often the first outlet for Öz’s films, primarily because of political censorship against his films in Turkey. Ax (The Land), his breakthrough short fiction in 1999, is a case in point. Revolving around an old man who refuses to leave his otherwise evacuated village in Kurdish Turkey, Ax is a film about the forced deportations of Kurdish villagers. When completed, Ax was expurgated and prohibited by the state from public screenings due to “its secessionist content.” Soon after being banned in Turkey, Ax found its way to festivals in Italy, Spain, and Germany. However, getting the 35mm print of Ax into Europe entailed further problems. Mesopotamia Cinema did not have the financial resources to ship the print. They asked a friend of theirs who was traveling to Europe at the time to take the print with her. At the airport, the police arrested the young woman, accused her of being a dispatch courier of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) attempting to sneak the 35mm print of Ax, “a secessionist film,” into Italy, and confiscated the copy. Only after the film reached Europe and received awards in film festivals was the ban on Ax lifted in Turkey. National censorship has inhibited the immediate mobility of Öz’s films since his debut. On the other hand, the discourse about censorship has, ironically, helped globalize Öz’s filmmaking and created pathways for the circulation of his films, especially in Europe, but also in Turkey. For instance, the fact that Ax had been subjected to the Turkish state’s censorship contributed to the film’s wide and fast circulation in Europe. When Ax reached Italy, and later Spain and Germany, it made European

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


headlines, which brought Öz significant publicity as a Kurdish director whose films were strictly censored in Turkey. During the following years, as Marit Kapla, the director of the Goteborg Film Festival, noted in our interview, Öz’s reputation as “a young Kurdish director, who gives voice to an oppressed people via his talented filmmaking, has grown in European film circles.” Especially within the last few years, his films have received further attention and a considerable amount of production funding from a number of cinema institutes and grant awarding agencies in Europe. The Last Season: Shawaks is Öz’s fourth feature length project. During its production, Mesopotamia Cinema filed several applications for funding from national institutions, such as the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Unable to obtain national support, the company financed the documentary through international agencies, a path not unexpected for financing Öz’s films. A transnational TV network, ARTE, sponsored a significant part of the production budget in exchange for broadcasting rights. More than a financial partner, the network and its endorsement of the project represent a critical node in the documentary’s transnational circulation. First, ARTE is reputable as a European artistic and cultural institution that airs high quality international programming. Based in both Germany and France, the network is transnational by its very nature and targets “audiences from different cultural backgrounds, in particular French and German” (www.arte.tv). The channel’s sponsorships are highly competitive and, because of its prestigious standing, partnerships with ARTE, by default, publicize the films the network sponsors. ARTE’s support characterizes The Last Season: Shawaks as a film with cultural and artistic quality and international currency, tailored especially to European audiences. Second, having relationships with ARTE connected Öz and Mesopotamia Cinema with significant artistic networks in Europe, including major international film festivals. These connections often helped boost the film’s circulation in Europe. The international premiere of The Last Season: Shawaks at the Swiss Visions du Reel Documentary Film Festival in April 2009 is a case in point. To get The Last Season: Shawaks a good head start in its journey around the festival circuit, Luciano Rigolini, commissioning editor at ARTE TV, had advised Öz to premiere the film at Visions du Reel, a festival geared especially towards documentary professionals, festival organizers, and commissioning editors (www.visionsdureel.ch). The film’s premiere in the competition section of this festival was possible only after the head of the documentary department at ARTE had talked to his friend Jean Perret, the director of the Visions du Reel Film Festival. Having already received hundreds of


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film submissions for the festival, Perret agreed to make an exception for this ARTE co-production and screened a DVD of The Last Season: Shawaks, which was mailed from Mesopotamia Cinema to Nyon, Switzerland weeks after the deadline for submissions. Two weeks later, having seen and liked the film, Perret called Mesopotamia Cinema to invite The Last Season: Shawaks to premiere in Nyon. In the spring of 2009, an attendant for guests at the Swiss Visions du Reel Film Festival drove Öz from the Geneva airport south to the city of Nyon. Öz was invited to attend the international premiere of The Last Season: Shawaks in the historic Nyon cinema that night. Having arrived in Nyon a couple of days earlier than Öz, I observed that the tickets for the films in competition, including his, were sold out. At that night’s premiere, Jean Perret introduced The Last Season: Shawaks as an experimental documentary film about a Kurdish community in eastern Turkey and “a cosmic ode to a yet unchanged world” in front of a full theater. In the following few days, the documentary drew a lot of attention from the Swiss press. One journalist referred to the film as “a poetic film by a Kurdish political activist” in an article he penned for a daily newspaper. The prestigious premiere in Nyon clinched “the universal artistic quality” that ARTE’s endorsement attributed to the documentary. In the following months, Mesopotamia Cinema received numerous emails from several festival acquisition agents who invited The Last Season: Shawaks to their film festivals. Seeing such invitations as opportunities for publicity, Öz travelled to these festivals, some of which were geared exclusively towards the documentary film market. The Corsica Documentary Film Festival, where The Last Season: Shawaks was invited as the opening feature, was one of them. Other festivals held separate sections for documentary and feature film genres. In the 32nd Paris Cinema Film Festival in France, and the 58th Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival in Germany, The Last Season: Shawaks was included in international competition as the only documentary film and competed with feature films. In Mannheim-Heidelberg, the film received the international jury award in the international feature film competition, a significant accomplishment for a documentary film, as was acknowledged by the German press. International film festivals are mediascapes (Appadurai 1996), which create circuits of production, distribution, dissemination, and consumption that enable the transnational mobility of images, ideas, and identities. Successful transnational circulation and critical acclaim provide media producers with platforms to establish professional networks and achieve further exposure for their films in international film circuits. More

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critically, such international attention, transnational circulation, and critical acclaim help Kurdish filmmakers expose the political nature of their marginalization and gain leverage back home in national media circles. As seen in the Golden Orange press release, Öz juxtaposes the national censorship against his films with the international praise they receive. According to him, European interest in his films sits in stark contrast with the persistent neglect and censoring of his work in the national context. International interest, on the other hand, does not just emerge by default because Öz’s films endure circulation difficulties in Turkey. As Greg Urban notes, “The interpretation of culture that is intrinsic to metaculture, immaterial as it is, focuses attention on the cultural thing, helps to make it an object of interest, and hence, facilitates its circulation” (Urban 2001, 4). Having a decade long international career and experience at European film festivals, as a Kurdish filmmaker from Turkey, Öz carefully harnesses the pathways of transnational circulation by discursively globalizing The Last Season: Shawaks, relating it to festival audiences, and flagging the politics of Kurdish media production.

Festival Screenings and the Politics of Discursive Authority Film festivals are cultural performances (MacAloon 1984) where not only are media texts put on display, but also identities, political projects and media production narratives are also exhibited (Iordanova 2008; Dayan 2000). The ways in which festivals are crafted, presented, and experienced diversify according to participants’ agendas and the festival’s position in the global film arena. While certain film festivals are geared more towards the film production markets, others are cinema events tailored mainly for local audiences. The festivals in which The Last Season: Shawaks circulated during 2009 ranged from historical, marketoriented, and high profile festivals, such as the Mannheim-Heidelberg, to smaller, low-budget local ones, such as the Corsica Documentary Film Festival. Kazim Öz had predetermined ideas about each festival to which he travelled. His ideas were based both on earlier experiences at festivals and preconceptions about the historical relationship between Turkey, Kurds, and Europe, as well as the festival’s home country. In German or French festivals, for instance, he expected participants to be familiar with Kurdish identity politics because of those countries’ large diaspora communities as well as involvement in Turkey’s European Union accession. On the plane


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to Ajaccio, Corsica, on the other hand, Öz said that many Corsican people lived on mountains and subsisted on transhumance, so that the festival audiences there must be familiar with the Shawaks way of life. In Visions du Reel, he did not seem taken by surprise when participants were mostly cinema professionals. In each festival, however, Öz presented himself to festival organizers, fellow filmmakers, and audiences in similar ways. Especially while constructing his verbal performance during the question and answer sessions after film screenings, he followed a routine. For instance, in festival settings, he was frequently already recognized as a Kurdish director from Turkey who engaged in political filmmaking. Before he issued an overt statement about the Kurds in Turkey in the question and answer sessions that followed film screenings, he carefully mediated his political views and worked to position himself as a bridge between the filmic material and the viewers and his film as a cultural document with artistic value concomitant with European standards of filmmaking. The questions from the audiences consisting of film professionals, European cinephiles, and often a few Turkish and Kurdish immigrants residing in or around town, functioned as a means to his narrative. He always concluded his performance with a statement about Turkey’s Kurdish question and the national media worlds it entailed for politically-oriented Kurdish filmmakers like him. Production and reception of verbal performances at festival settings are “moments in a cycle rather than two poles at the opposite ends” (Barber 1997, 358). A verbal performance is “a link in the chain of speech communication, and it cannot be broken off from the preceding links that determine it both from within and from without, giving rise within it to unmediated responsive reactions and dialogic reverberations” (Bakhtin 1986, 94-95). Thus, the production of utterances involves considering both the addressees’ immediate responses and the historical, dialogical ramifications of their anticipated responses. The overarching motivation that drove Öz’s performance was the interweaving of a political statement within the narrative of his filmmaking and the cultivation of an audience potentially already aware to some degree of the politics of Kurdish identity and that paid attention to the issue through his filmmaking. Through two distinct methods of publicity, Öz first geared his discourse to establish discursive authority over his filmmaking as a representational practice with aesthetic value, and established that his film and filmic material were relevant to European audiences. The first of these techniques was an adept management of a simultaneous distance and proximity to the filmic material. Öz is a Shawak Kurd himself, yet he has not lived with the

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


community for most of his life. This dual status, a position both inside and outside of the community, helped build his discursive authority. The second was that The Last Season: Shawaks sat on the experimental border between documentary and fiction film genres. Having blurred the genre boundaries in his films, Öz demonstrated his mastery of both forms, a capacity that many applauded within European film circles. These means of publicity set the stage for Öz’s last method of garnering publicity, censorship, by which he addressed and, by virtue of addressing, constructed a European public sensitive to the Kurds of Turkey.

The Last Season: Shawaks: A Pendulum between Contrasting Worlds At film festivals, a moderator opened the screenings with a short introduction about the film. At the Corsica Documentary Film Festival, festival director Annick Peigne-Guily introduced the film, saying, “Tonight’s film by Kazim Öz is one, which poetically documents the visceral and panoramic journey of the Shawaks in eastern Turkey.” A question and answer session with interested audiences followed screenings and lasted between half an hour and an hour each time. Questions usually commenced with the moderator’s simple inquiry about the subject matter of the film. Öz started the conversation by articulating the film’s synopsis, introducing the Shawaks community, and highlighting the structural elements of the narrative: The Last Season: Shawaks is a cultural journey; it is a window to the Shawaks’ way of life. The film narrates the story of the Shawaks, which is a pastoral community in Kurdistan, over the course of four seasons. The film documents the relationship between humans and nature, humans and animals, and the relationships among humans themselves.

A communicative device Öz skillfully deployed to erect his discursive authority, draw attention to his filmmaking, and address a European public during his verbal performance was the change in his “footing” (Goffman 1981, 128). Erving Goffman explains that a shift in footing “implies a change in the alignment we take up to ourselves and the others present as expressed in the way we manage the production or reception of an utterance” (Goffman 1981, 128). In his statements early in the sessions, such as the one above, Öz laid the ground for his upcoming changes in footing by doing two things. First, he shied away from making any political statements and presented the film as simply a cultural


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documentary. Second, he maintained a discursive distance between himself and the filmic material. Such distancing that is the separation between the self as the performer and the self as the commentator in an utterance (Goffman 1961) engendered a rather dramatic effect when Öz shifted his footing through a remarkable “embedding” around the second or third question, which inquired about his relationship with the community. In illuminating his relationship with the filmic material, Öz embedded his self within the world of the Shawaks. This highlighted his insider status in the community and rendered him a character in the filmic world: I am coming from the exact same life that you saw in the film. I spent the first seventeen years of my life as a Shawak living within this community. I was a shepherd myself.

Once embedded in the filmic world of the Shawaks as a shepherd, someone from the community, Öz attained “an astonishing flexibility” (Goffman 1981, 147) in the production of his utterances. Within the same utterance, for instance, he gradually changed his footing back to the discursive temporality he had held earlier: At the age of seventeen, I left my village to attend university in Istanbul. After I met with cinema, I wanted to keep this way of life alive [by way of making this documentary]. This was something I owed to my past, to my memories.

Describing how he moved to Istanbul and came to make The Last Season: Shawaks, this utterance positioned Öz back again among the urban European audience in the movie theatre. Through these shifts in footing, Öz oscillated between the two worlds he occupied simultaneously: the world of the Shawaks, which was being spoken about, and the world of the European film festival, which generated and circumscribed the act of speaking. The act of filmmaking both enabled and conditioned the pendulum between these worlds. Central to Öz’s discursive authority that emerged based on the pendulum between the two worlds was the contrasting nature of these social worlds in relation to one another. Having simultaneous access to these worlds in disaccord with one another had required of Öz more hypothetical effort and ability. The differences between the Shawaks’ living conditions and the modern, urban way of life had already registered with the viewers who just seen the documentary. Öz highlighted the contrast further:

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


It is both very difficult and wonderful to be a Shawak. For instance, the kids there do not have any toys or any opportunities like the ones here in cities. Yet they have the power of their imagination. They are freer than the modern kids are. I doubt that the kids in the city are better off with no imagination, trapped in apartment buildings.

The contrast between the two worlds between which Öz shifted his footing warranted him discursive authority for two reasons. First, he built and highlighted a gap between the difficult yet romantic and authentic Shawak world and the prosperous yet degenerate and restless European world. In doing that, Öz highlighted his access to both worlds. Second, his narrative portrayed this gap as occluded by his filmmaking, an act, which further nuanced the split between the modern and the premodern (Russell 1999) and with which he could carry the cultural world of the Shawaks into Europe. Yet why would Europeans have cared about having access to the Shawaks’ way of life? Öz’s narrative offered significant reasons: the Shawaks, whose culture was about to expire, represented the earliest stages of humanity and civilization. In producing the utterance that related the Shawaks to such a perception of humanity, Öz located the Shawaks community at the very beginning, and European culture at the very end, of the civilization scale (c.f. Fabian 1983). As such, Öz identified himself with his European viewers. Bracing his footing in the discursive temporality of the movie theatre, Öz shifted his tone from a personal narrative (“I was a shepherd”) to a justification for documenting the Shawaks’ way of life: When I look back at the Shawaks’ life, I can better understand how we got alienated from ourselves, how we got detached from nature, and how the chaos began…The Shawaks’ life is the most primitive and pristine form of humanity… I wanted to document a vanishing way of life, a life, which is the basis for, and the beginning of, all humanity.

To bridge the gap between the Shawaks and the modern world was not only something Öz owed to his past in the mountains. To salvage a disappearing culture was also important to everyone, especially to Europeans, who occupied a position at the end of the civilization scale. In Öz’s narrative, the interrelated processes of modernity imposed detrimental effects on the Shawaks and lead to the expiration of their culture. A major reason for the decay in the Shawaks’ culture involved the processes of capitalism, which insinuated the policies of the Turkish nation-state, as Öz observes:


Chapter IX Although counted in hundreds of thousands a few decades back, today Shawaks are only around a few thousand. The younger generation migrates to the west in increasing numbers because of the Turkish state’s policies towards Kurds and the exploitation by the merchants encouraged by the Turkish state. Merchants buy the Shawaks’ produce for very low prices and make large profits. We become part of this crime when we buy cheese without asking who were exploited in the process…Our modern ways of life create the very disruption to the Shawaks’ way of life.

What is remarkable in these utterances is the use of the subject pronoun “we,” which indexed a shared stake and a common responsibility for the well-being and the decay of the Shawaks’ culture. Such collective responsibility would have led to the construction of a text like The Last Season: Shawaks, which salvaged the Shawaks community, the Kurds, and the cultural traces of all humanity, even if on camera. This was not only because the Shawaks were the ancestors of all humanity, but also because the civilized world shared responsibility for their extinction, and therefore had an obligation to aid in their preservation. In the production of these utterances, Öz cultivated a specific relationship to the filmic material and managed his simultaneous distance and proximity to the Shawaks community by establishing “metadiscursive links and gaps” (Briggs 1996, 448). These links and gaps helped him speak with an accruing authority. As Charles Briggs explains, representing tradition involves creating simultaneous connections and disjunctions between the past and the present. The claims to represent the past entail a construction of the past and the present as processes that are intricately linked, yet incommensurable in their entirety. In such a construction, only the bearers of the relevant tradition can act as the link between the past and the present (Briggs 1996, 449). Yet, assuming a position too close to the tradition deprives the interlocutor of the objective distance, which is required of the agent in order to link the past to the present. In his utterances above, Öz aptly managed his productive proximity to the cultural material in hand through the “techniques of shaping the amount of distance” (Briggs 1996, 459). As he shifted his alignment with the filmic material, he constructed a coherent narrative by which he related the Shawaks community to European audiences. As Benjamin Lee writes, “Narration is constituted by a semiotic reflexivity between the event of narration and the narrated event whose coordination reveals the locus of a new type of subjectivity, that of the narrator” (Lee 1997, 321). Having mastered the cultural codes and values of both the Shawak world he narrated and the European world in which the event of narration took place, Öz successfully coordinated his emergent subjectivity and

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constructed himself as eligible to bridge the gap between the two contrasting cultural worlds through his filmmaking.

A Pendulum between Documentary and Fiction Film Genres Film circulation “is a cultural process with its own forms of abstraction, evaluation, and constraint, which are created by the interactions between specific types of circulating forms and the interpretive communities built around them” (Lee and Li Puma 2002, 192). The circulation of films in international film festivals is contingent upon how well they fit within the framework and the conventions of the films consumed favorably by the interpretive communities in the festivals. An emerging trend in the international documentary film marketplace is to cultivate authentic stories through experimentation in form. The documentary genre is now considered to have transcended the generic limits of a learning kit, as the global theatrical marketplace has welcomed artful entertainment and cinematic spectacle in the form of documentary films (Aufderheide 2005). The praise The Last Season: Shawaks received in the European film festivals stemmed partly from its experimental nature. Straddling the boundary between documentary and feature film forms, The Last Season: Shawaks challenges the conventional forms of representation through its narrative structure and aesthetics (cf. Russell 1999, 3). For instance, in documenting the daily life of the Shawaks community, the film wrenches the linear understanding of time and space and constructs a form of “folkloric time” (Bakhtin 1981, 214). The narrative posits an idyllic chronotope (Bakhtin 1981). That is, it revolves around the cyclical temporality of four seasons, which is central to the Shawaks’ comprehension of life. The film starts in the Shawak village in winter. In spring, the Shawaks move to the highlands. They spend the summer there. In fall, they start their journey back to the village. The film ends in the village where it began in winter. In the opening and final scenes, the village elder narrates two tales that underwrite the cyclicality of life. The content of these tales that frame the cyclical construction of the film’s narrative supplements the structural representation of the Shawak cosmology in the film. A significant trait in the formal structuring of The Last Season: Shawaks is its reflexive mode, which results in the de-centering of the stereotypical subject-object relationship observed in canonical documentary, contributing to its experimental nature (cf. Ruby 2000; Nichols 1991). Throughout the film, we encounter such reflexive inscriptions on three


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distinct levels. First, Öz imprints his own filmmaking image, as he frequently and intentionally captures his and his camera’s shadow in the frame. Second, he highlights that he used to be (and partly still is) an active member of the Shawaks community by excerpting his own dialogues with local individuals. Third, he registers himself as a displaced individual, longing for his homeland and his past through the elegy-like whistles he performs, and the poetic inter-titles that intermit the four seasons represented. One of these titles, which carries the narrative cycle back to the wintertime beginning, reads: “The winter, once again…The silence of my heart, once again…Sweet sleep, once again…In my distant country.” These reflexive inscriptions in the documentary were always items of curiosity and appreciation for the festival audiences. At the Corsica Documentary Film Festival, during the question and answer session, a middle-aged woman who had a hard time believing that the whistles in the film were performed by Öz himself stood up amongst the viewers to applaud his “extraordinary performance.” The portrayal of animals in The Last Season: Shawaks, however, attracted more attention from the audiences, industry professionals, and film critics in Europe than any other aesthetic and stylistic characteristic of the film. In September 2009, a French journalist entitled his review of the documentary “An Animal Melodrama” and highlighted how the film narrativized the animals in a way that they are perceived to be close to humans. Consistent with the idyllic chronotope that structures human life as symbiotic to nature, the documentary portrays animals among the main characters of the film. Central to Shawak life, animals, from mules to sheep to sheepdogs, occupy a significant narrative space as they are juxtaposed with, and aesthetically treated similarly to, human characters in The Last Season: Shawaks. One particular sheep functions as the structural glue of the film. The cyclicality of Shawak life revolves around the life cycle of that sheep, born in spring and slaughtered in fall. Footage from its infancy is parallel-edited with the Shawak kids playing in the village, whereas the close-ups and point of view shots construct the sheep as if it holds human agency. At the end of the fall, as the Shawak family packs to move back to the village, the older son of the family takes some of the herds to a nearby town to sell them. The protagonist sheep is among the sold bunch, whose lives end in a slaughterhouse. The scene in which we see the slaughter of the main sheep along with the others often induced sobs and sighs from the festival viewers, justifying the French journalist’s animal melodrama commentary. In the film circles of Europe, experimentation with form and conventions of different genres is highly respected, according to Luciano Rigolini, the

Circuits of Censorship in Kurdish Documentary Cinema


commissioning editor of ARTE France. Several times during our encounters, Rigolini praised Öz’s talent to crosscut documentary and fiction film by wielding the aesthetics from each genre. In festival forums, Öz persistently underlined this attribute. During the question and answer session in Visions du Reel, he said, I do not separate documentary form from fiction. Documentary is to make fiction out of reality and fiction can be totally based on reality. I experiment with form a lot in my filmmaking. For instance, my latest fiction film, Bahoz/Frtna (The Storm, 2008), feels like a documentary and The Last Season: Shawaks is almost like fiction. I use the liberties of each genre in making my films.

Although Öz worked to sustain interest in his experimental style of filmmaking, he nevertheless held his footing in the documentary genre and made sure he maintained an understanding of reality, which he had already constructed through the discourse of preservation. Öz further reinforced this position by referencing his methods of shooting, a significant aspect of which was cultural immersion. In response to the question posed by Vision du Reel’s director about the how Öz made The Last Season: Shawaks, he said, My aim is always to be immersed within the culture that I document. Only after a filmmaker becomes a part of the reality in focus, does he have the right to make a film about it. That is why I did everything to get closer to the reality of the Shawaks.

With this utterance, Öz swung towards the other side of the pendulum, where the documentary genre is located. He also braced his footing within the discursive space of the movie theatre. Having moved to the modern world years ago, Öz had to be re-immersed in the world of the Shawaks. However, the immersion was not an easy process at all: What we [the crew] had to go through during shooting can easily be material for another film because the conditions in this geography are extremely harsh. For instance, it was impossible to carry those large electricity generators up to the mountains. Sometimes, we just had to quit everything else and help the family out. In that one scene, in which the mules got stuck in snow while passing over a hill, we had to leave everything aside and help them pull the loaded mules out of the snow.

The scene to which he refers documented perhaps the most difficult part of the Shawaks’ journey to the highlands. In the middle of the


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summer, the Shawak family relocated their oba (the highland settlement) to a higher elevation. The trip to the new settlement location required walking with herds, small children, and loaded mules for a day. The snowcovered mountains made the journey even more difficult because the heavy mules would often get stuck in the snow. Once, the crew members set shooting aside to help the family free their stuck mules from the snow. At the end of that day, almost all of the crew members had fallen ill. The difficulties the documentary crew had to endure during shooting accentuated the idea of “reality,” a state one could attain eventually, albeit only after immense suffering. The idea of reaching “reality” after withstanding hardships helped ally the project of The Last Season: Shawaks with “the discourses of sobriety” associated with the documentary genre (Nichols 1991, 50). While positioning his film within this genre on the one hand, Öz highlighted the experimental characteristics of the film on the other. He thus drew attention to his mastery of both genres and demonstrated his capacities to play with aesthetic conventions, while simultaneously constructing a coherent narrative. When asked if any preceding or contemporary filmmaker influenced his aesthetic views in filmmaking, Öz reasserted that he had lived in the mountains until seventeen years of age. Thus, he did not know many directors who might have influenced his filmmaking aesthetics when his cinema life began. Given the fact that media had not entered Öz’s life until much later, his conscious experimenting with form implied a mastery of genre conventions through self-taught creativity and talent. The way in which he framed his talented filmmaking within a narrative of his life story highlighted his aesthetics as a technology of publicity by which he further erected his discursive authority.

Addressing a European Public Only after establishing his status as an interlocutor between the worlds of Turkey, the Shawaks, and the Europe of his audiences, as well as between the genres of feature film and documentary, did Öz take an overt stance and address his audiences directly about the politics of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. The final part of Öz’s verbal performance yielded a critical merger between the Kurdish issue in Turkey and the politics of his filmmaking. In many forums, a particular scene in the documentary functioned as a vantage point for his impending utterances about the Kurdish issue. In that scene, the camera follows the convoy of trucks with which the Shawaks family is traveling with their herds to the mountains in the springtime. As the last truck is about to wander out of the frame, a

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military vehicle passes by and gets caught on camera. At the back of the vehicle are Turkish troops, with their backs turned to the Shawaks’ truck and indifferent looks on their faces. The brief passing of the vehicle in and out of the frame is slow-motioned, creating a space for the viewers to register the soldiers. The sequence signifies the military presence in the region and was chosen by Öz as an index to the war and the Kurdish issue. During the question and answer session in Mannheim, he operated this index as follows: Many of you in this room already know about the situation in eastern Turkey. Today there is a Kurdish problem in Turkey. It stems from the state’s denial of the Kurds as a distinct nation… hat scene refers to the ongoing war…This war is because the Kurds are not accepted as a nation…This might be difficult to imagine for you Europeans but Kurds cannot speak their mother tongues freely.

Addressing this utterance to a “you” marked a significant shift in the kind of the relationship Öz had established between himself and the audiences in front of him. Until that point, Öz had posited the politics of his Kurdish subjectivity only subtly, when, for instance, he gave background information on Kurdish migration towards the west. With the utterance above, on the other hand, addressing the audiences as “you,” he engendered himself as part of a “we” on the opposite side: “we the Kurds,” the objects of “already knowing.” Second, the addressing of this utterance to a “you” sought to instill a transition in the audiences from being strangers into being a public. Warner writes that a public, which is the social space that circumscribes people who are otherwise strangers, comes into being as an entity only when addressed in relation to circulating texts, objects, and ideas (Warner 2002). He explains the process of turning from strangers into a public by virtue of being addressed via Althusser’s notion of interpellation (1971): “In the moment of recognizing oneself as the person addressed [by the police], the moment of turning around, one is interpellated as the subject of state discourse. Althusser’s analysis had the virtue of showing the importance of imaginary identification—and locating it…in the subjective practice of understanding” (Warner 2002, 58). The way in which Öz encased his utterance within the pronoun “you” not only interpellated the audiences, but further created a distinct role-category for the viewers to inhabit, a metadiscursive label that assigned them certain roles and responsibilities, the preliminary of which was “to already know.” Marked by the statement of “many of you already know,” Öz’s utterance above was subsequent to his evaluation of the background of his


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addressees’ perceptions of his utterance (Bakhtin 1986, 95). Öz anticipated a certain degree and a particular form of responsiveness from his audiences. His expectations were shaped mostly by the history between Turkey and Europe in relation to the Kurds of Turkey. The relationships between the speaker and his or her addressees, and the ways in which he or she imagines the listeners, are “always embodied in historical processes in the sense that they are played out through time” (Hanks 1996, 169). By accentuating the relevance of Turkey’s Kurdish issue in a European context, Öz telescoped historical processes into present utterance and anticipated, accordingly, a certain level of responsiveness from the addressees. In doing so, he connoted a reflexive discursive space, by which he assumed his audiences in the movie theatre to be a public with a degree of historical consciousness about the Kurds in Turkey. In the act of addressing audiences, performances compose those audiences as a particular form of collectivity and “audiences themselves, by choosing to participate, constitute themselves as members of a collectivity” (Barber 1997, 354-355). Perceptive to the current developments in Turkey, audience members, especially in places like France and Germany, where Turkey’s Kurdish issue has become a public matter for the last few decades, usually posed questions to Öz, such as “are there not any changes for good in the Kurdish situation lately?” Öz evinced: Yes, it seems that the state is taking some steps lately…However, this is not exactly the state’s initiative but of the Kurdish people who insisted on protecting their culture, their language despite all the pressure, torture, and assimilation policies. Can you imagine that you are taken into custody by the police just because you speak Kurdish publicly? This happened in Turkey for many years. But Kurds did not give up. Yes, now the state acknowledges the Kurdish existence but because it had to, not because it wanted to.

Central to this utterance was that the political agency of Kurds had forced the Turkish state to take some steps about the Kurdish issue. Soon after, Öz embedded his self within the world he described. He was one of those Kurds who “did not give up:” Although the film is not a political but a cultural one, we cannot ignore the war as an aspect of the Shawaks life. In fact, we were shooting this film in the middle of that war…The state even took me into court for hanging out in the mountains. They even accused me of being an accessory to terrorism.

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The state’s approach to artistic endeavors, such as shooting a documentary film, proved that not much has changed in Turkey when it came to freedom of expression, especially by a filmmaker who was overtly associated with the Kurdish political movement and its institutions: There is now a line between “beyaz Kürtler” (the white Kurds) and “esmer Kürtler” (the dark Kurds). The white Kurds repeat what the state and its official ideologies tell the masses about the Kurds. However, the dark Kurds are alternative, revolutionary, and defiant to the official ideologies in their film production. Whereas, in the recent past, Kurds without exception had been excluded from the artistic public sphere, today the dark Kurds are marginalized by the mainstream cinema culture.

According to Öz, national media circles acknowledged and accepted the white Kurds and their films, which were not necessarily artistically better than his films. In conjunction with the current government’s approach to the Kurdish issue, the Turkish mediascapes, including the national film festivals, in fact, had embraced Kurdish-themed content and/or media produced by Kurds more than before. At the 2009 Golden Orange festival, for instance, a few films received national publicity. This, according to Öz, was a reflection of the government’s “insincere” approach to Kurds on the national cinema stage. He underlined this diligently in festival venues: The state still prevents free artistic expression about and by the [the dark] Kurds…Although there are no legal limitations, the mainstream Turkish TV stations never ever air my films, for example. My projects never get funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture…The national festivals, moreover, ignore my films; they execute censorship. They disregard my submissions for their events because I do not say what they want to hear.

Via his answers to these last questions, Öz connected the larger picture he drew about the Kurds in Turkey to his cinematic practice and the difficulties he faced within the mainstream Turkish media world. His utterance posited his film making as the embodiment of a difficult practice, that is, making films about Kurds that are not compliant with the state’s ideologies and the government’s policies against the backdrop of political pressures, financial difficulties, and censorship.

Conclusion Cultures of circulation both create and are created by particular forms of opportunities, rules, and constraints. This chapter focused on the ways


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in which Kurdish media producers, marginalized within Turkish national media worlds, seek to enable transnational pathways of circulation for their media texts. Constitutive to the culture of transnational circulation, national censorship both forces and enables the transnational mobility of Kurdish films. The national and international mobility of Kazim Öz’s films has been intricately contingent upon the circuits of national censorship that have stymied them in Turkey. The discourse of censorship has created pathways for the circulation of Öz’s films, especially in Europe, but also in Turkey. Walking the pathways of transnational media circulation, politically engaged Kurdish filmmakers like Öz strategically tailor their encounters with transnational audiences to grant further circulation of their media texts. The metanarrative that Öz crafts during discourse with festival audiences about The Last Season: Shawaks provides a significant vantage point onto the ways in which he harnesses the pathways of transnational circulation. Here, in particular, I explored the ways in which Öz discursively globalizes his film, relates it to festival audiences, flags the politics of Kurdish media production, and seeks to construct a European public sensitive to Turkey’s Kurds. Basic to his utterances, which forecasted responsiveness from European listeners, is the persistent assessment of the public, which his address simultaneously assumed the existence of and intended to construct.

Notes *

An extended version of this article was originally published in American Ethnologist in November 2013. 1 From here on, for readership ease, I use only the translated English title for the film. 2 All translations between Turkish to English are by the author.

Works Cited Andrews, Peter, comp. and ed. 1989. Ethnic Groups in the Republic of Turkey. With the assistance of Rudiger Benninghaus. Weisbaden: Ludwig Reichaet Verlag Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions in Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Arslan, Müjde. ed. 2009. Kürt Sineması: Yurtsuzluk, Sınır ve Ölüm. Istanbul: Agora. Aufderheide, Pat. 2005. The Changing Documentary Marketplace. Cineaste. Summer.

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Bakhtin, M. M. 1986. “The Problem of Speech Genre” In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, 60-102. Austin: University of Texas Press. Barber, Karin. 1997. Preliminary Notes on Audiences in Africa. Africa 67(3): 347-362. Bauman, Richard. 1977. Verbal Art as Performance. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press. Bauman, Richard and Charles L. Briggs. 1990. “Poetics and Performance as Critical Perspectives on Language and Social Life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 19:59-88. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Briggs, Charles L. 1996. “The Politics of Discursive Authority in Research on the ‘Invention of Tradition’.” Cultural Anthropology 11(4):435-69. Dayan, Daniel. 2000. “Looking for Sundance: The Social Construction of a Film Festival.” In Moving Images, Culture, and the Mind, edited by Ib Bondebjerg, 43-53. Luton: University of Luton Press. Ebert, Roger. 2000 October 27. “A Time for Drunken Horses.” Chicago Sun Times. Accessed January 1, 2013. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20001027/R EVIEWS/10270309/1023. Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Objects. Columbia University Press. Goankar, Dilip Parameshwar and Elizabeth A. Povinelli. 2003. “Technologies of Public Forms: Circulation, Transfiguration, Recognition.” Public Culture 15(3):385-397. Goffman, Erving. 1961. Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. —. 1981. “Footing” In Forms of Talk, 124-159. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Hanks, William F. 1996. “Exorcism and the Description of Participant Roles.” In Natural Histories of Discourse, edited by Michael Silverstein and Greg Urban, 160-202. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Himpele, Jeff D. 2008. Circuits of Culture: Media, Politics, and Indigenous Identity in the Andes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Iordanova, Dina. 2008. “Editorial: Special Issue on Film Festivals.” Film International 6(4):4-7. Irvine, Judith T. 1996. “Shadow Conversations: The Indeterminacy of Participant Roles.” In Natural Histories of Discourse, edited by Michael Silverstein and Greg Urban, 132-159. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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Kennedy, Tim. 2007. Cinema Regarding Nations: Re-imagining Armenian, Kurdish, and Palestinian National Identity in Film. PhD Thesis, Department of Film, Theatre, and Television at the University of Reading, U.K. Kutchera, Chris. 2000. “Kurdistan Turkey: Yılmaz Güney’s Last Film.” Accessed January 1, 2013. http://www.chris-kutschera.com/A/Yilmaz%20Guney.htm. Lee, Benjamin 1997. Talking Heads: Language, Metalanguage, and the Semiotics of Subjectivity. Duke University Press. Lee, Benjamin and Edward LiPuma. 2002. “Cultures of Circulation: The Imaginations of Modernity.” Public Culture 14(1):191-213. MacAloon, John J. 1984. Rite, Drama, Festival, Spectacle: Rehearsals Toward a Theory of Cultural Performance. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues. McLarney, Mike. 2004. “A Sobering Struggle of the Human Spirit.” Movie Freak. Accessed January 1, 2013. http://www.moviefreak.com/reviews/t/timefordrunkenhorses.htm Naficy, Hamid. 2001. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Nichols, Bill. 1991. Representing Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ruby, Jay. 2000. Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Russell, Catherine. 1999. Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video. Durham: Duke University Press. Sykes, Mark. 1908. “Kurdish Tribes of the Ottoman Empire.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 38:451-486. Torchin, Leshu. 2006. “Ravished Armenia: Visual Media, Humanitarian Advocacy, and the Formation of Witnessing Publics.” American Anthropologist 108(1):214-220. Urban, Greg. 2001. Metaculture: How Culture Moves through the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Warner, Michael 2002 “Publics and Counterpublics.” Public Culture 14(1):49-89.


Introduction Although research on media and conflict is thriving, few studies have addressed media production that takes place at the core of violent conflicts by people that are actively involved in them. If one reason for this is the relative scarcity of such media, another is the fact that the study of the relation between international politics and media has been largely dominated by journalism studies. This has started to change in the last years, since we can now observe a growth in media produced within violent conflicts. Andén-Papadopoulos argues that, while the frames of media and military elites remain powerful, there is today an “explosion of vernacular imagery of international conflict” (2009, 25). Examples include videos and photos created by active duty soldiers (Andén-Papadopoulos 2009, Christensen 2008, Kennedy 2009), or by citizens in war zones (Andén-Papadopoulos 2014; Rodríguez 2011). As such media content increasingly surfaces, and starts playing an important role in shaping these conflicts, new perspectives and methodological approaches have emerged, including media ethnography and studies that look beyond “media elites” and focus on everyday life experiences, media production and conflict. Inspired by this new current in research on alternative non-elite framings, we wish to revisit the medium of film as vernacular imagery in violent conflicts. Due to the current attention on the role of social media in violent conflicts, filmmaking has been largely understudied, except for a handful of studies on specific directors (e.g. East German film director Konrad Wolf, see Silberman 1990), amateur films by soldiers prior to digital technologies (Boyle 2009), or filmmaking in revolutionary movements (e.g. Buchsbaum 2003, on film and revolution in Nicaragua).


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We also believe that focusing on film as vernacular imagery can serve a broader mission of documenting and analysing contemporary imaginations of resistance and conflict. Today, still, countless filmmakers draw heavily on the legacy of “engaged” filmmakers, and the vernacular imagery has influenced a range of productions in diverse areas of cultural production such as postcolonial filmmaking or diasporic and exilic filmmaking. Our entry point to conflict and film as vernacular imagery is Halil Da÷ (born as Halil Uysal, Kurdish: Xelîl Uysal), an important figure in Kurdish filmmaking. Kurdish film has emerged in recent years as both a “discourse” (Koçer 2014) and a transnational film movement. Kurdish film is born out of conflict and resistance, especially since the 1980s and 90s, when the Kurdish diaspora took a more political and organized shape in in the West, particularly in Europe. In recent years, there has been growing attention on Kurdish filmmaking, both academically and in cultural circuits (e.g. film festivals, exhibitions). Halil Da÷ is, perhaps, one of the most iconic Kurdish filmmakers, occupying a special position among the transnational Kurdish cultural movement. Yet it seems that his role within the broader historicization of Kurdish film is more complex and ambiguous, as he is not always included in historical overviews. Throughout this article, we will dwell on this paradox of recognition and obscurity that is so characteristic of Da÷. In the next section, we will first sketch the context for Da÷’s filmmaking by discussing the Kurdish conflict and the culture of resistance that is born out of it, specifically focusing on media. After some reflection on the data that we used, we will move on to discuss Da÷’s life and work, and his impact on contemporary Kurdish filmmaking. We will conceptualize his films beyond traditional genre categorizations, instead focusing on the activist and imaginative aspects of his work.

Kurdish conflict, cultural resistance and media To understand the significance of Halil Da÷, it is necessary to look first at the Kurdish conflict, resistance and media from a broader perspective. The ongoing conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK (Partiya Karkêren Kurdistan, English: Kurdistan Workers’ Party) has been regarded as one of the biggest challenges to the Turkish state in the twentieth century. Having emerged from the revolutionary left in Turkey in the first half of the 1970s under the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK has not only functioned as an insurgent movement. Since the 1970s, the movement has gone through different phases, evolving from a small, clandestine organization to a transnational social-political movement,

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containing an armed wing of thousands of guerrilla fighters, an extensive mass media complex of satellite TVs, radios, newspapers and periodicals, and various grassroots organizations in Turkey as well as in many European countries. As such, since the 1990s, Turkey has witnessed a very powerful Kurdish existence in social and political life on the basis of Kurdish identity politics, for which the PKK has acted as the main agency. Since its inception, but especially after the beginning the guerrilla warfare in 1984, a lot of young men and women joined the PKK, including many Kurds living in Europe where, at the beginning of the 1990s, a relatively new Kurdish diaspora had been politically very active. Mass media have played a crucial role in shaping Kurdish nationalism, and most of the Kurdish media today can be regarded as being part of a culture of resistance against the hegemony of national states and the dominant historiography of Kurdish ethnicity from a Middle Eastern perspective. This culture of resistance has boomed in the last two decades and includes TV broadcasts (Hassanpour 2003), humorous popular culture (Grabolle Çeliker 2009), cinema (Çiçek 2011), literature (Galip 2015), music (Eccarius-Kelly 2010) and a plethora of websites and online networks (Candan and Hunger 2008, Sheyholislami 2011). In 1994, members of the Kurdish diaspora in Europe developed a project, with limited resources, to launch a satellite TV channel. The world’s first Kurdish satellite channel, MED-TV, was launched in April 1995 under a British license. The channel had a very symbolic reputation for many Kurds, as Hassanpour (2003) has described it, while also instigating political and diplomatic issues in Turkey and Europe (Ayata 2011; Sinclair and Smets 2014). In the realm of cinema, the Kurdish diaspora has played an equally important role. Koçer (2014) has demonstrated how the notion of Kurdish cinema has achieved “cinematic currency,” largely thanks to the transnational and diasporic efforts since the early 2000s. She argues that “Kurdish cinema as a discursive space has always been transnational by nature, in the absence of an official national state that creates and regulates a national cinema industry to enable film production” (Koçer 2014, 485). Diasporic and exile filmmakers, as well as film festival organizers, have essentially defined what is currently understood by the term, Kurdish film. The on-going transnational construction of what national Kurdish cinema entails seeks to define it as a genre, a discourse, and a political feat. Moreover, as Koçer (2014, 486) argues, “Kurdish cinema activists reclaim certain films as Kurdish, interlink them with one another, and craft a Kurdish cinema by defining conventions, setting boundaries, and ordaining inclusions and exclusions.”


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A note on methods Before moving on to our discussion of Halil Da÷, we would like to briefly reflect on the nature of this study. It originates from informal discussions, during which we gradually discovered a mutual interest in media, conflict and resistance. Looking at the Kurdish conflict from very different perspectives—from a media and cultural studies angle and a political science perspective, respectively—we were eager to combine insights from various disciplines in order to better understand mediated cultures of resistance and the Kurdish conflict. When the name of Halil Da÷ was mentioned, we began to notice the peculiar paradox of his obscure yet prized reputation. At this point, we embarked on a more structural investigation of Halil Da÷’s life and work, gradually expanding our scope to Kurdish film and the relation between filmmaking and conflict more generally. Besides the highly relevant case that Halil Da÷ offers both theoretically and empirically with regards to conflict and vernacular imagery, we were also motivated by the fact that we had access to unique data. Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya, co-author of this chapter, has previously worked in Kurdistan as a journalist and editor for the first pro-Kurdish daily newspaper, Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) and for the first Kurdish satellite TV, MED-TV. He met Da÷ during a trip in 1995, closely watched his later works, and had also spent some time with Da÷ in Iraqi Kurdistan between 1977 and 1999, when Akkaya was working as a correspondent for MED-TV. Later he kept in contact with Da÷ via personal correspondence. Due to years of experience as a professional journalist and news editor, as well as a researcher on the Kurdish movement, Akkaya has also acquired a unique perspective on the relation between activism, armed resistance and media. Our analysis of Da÷ and vernacular imagery in violent conflict is thus nourished by auto-ethnographic experiences, which were later refined by our own discussions and literature review. In doing so, we have aimed to fully benefit from the unique data and auto-ethnographic perspective while, at the same time, retaining a reflexive position that is in tune with recent academic writing on the matter. In addition to the correspondence with Halil Da÷ and the ethnographic notes taken by Akkaya during his years as a journalist, this paper relies on some additional resources. We draw from Da÷’s memoir (2009), including a collection of essays published in various Kurdish media outlets and containing his reflections on filmmaking and activism. Additionally, we have made a qualitative content analysis of Da÷’s major films, primarily looking at narrative structure, the use of symbols, landscape and time.

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Moreover, we have conducted in-depth interviews with several experts in the field of contemporary Kurdish filmmaking, particularly focusing on respondents with an outspoken activist profile. The respondents included Özgür Amed, writer, activist and film teacher at the Cegerxwin Culture and Art Centrum in Diyarbakr, and several filmmakers involved in the Kurdish film collective, Yapm 13, located in Istanbul.

Halil Da÷: a life devoted to film and Kurdish resistance Da÷ was born in Germany in 1973 as Halil Ibrahim Uysal, to a father of Turkish origin and a mother of Kurdish origin. After having completed primary school in Germany, he was sent to a private college in Izmir, in western Turkey. When he returned to Germany in the early 1990s, a politically engaged Kurdish diaspora was taking shape not only in Germany, but also in different Kurdish communities across Europe. While working as a labourer, Da÷ started taking additional training as a photographer. Up until that point, as he later stated, he had no specific awareness of his Kurdish origin. However, through an uncle, Da÷ was introduced to a local Kurdish association that sparked his interest in the Kurdish movement. Da÷’s story echoes that of many migrants with Kurdish roots, who “discovered” their Kurdishness as a politicized ethnic identity in Europe (see Ba‫܈‬er 2013, 9). When a Kurdish satellite channel was launched in Europe in the early 1990s, Da÷ was among the handful of crewmembers, all young, politically motivated men and women. Due to his knowledge of photography, and his newly emerging political affiliation to the Kurdish movement, Da÷ was engaged as a cameraman for MED-TV. The turning point in Da÷’s life came during his visit to the Syrian capital, Damascus, in March 1995. Damascus was then the political center of the PKK, its leader Abdullah Öcalan having been stationed there since 1979. The PKK also ran a political/ideological training center on the outskirts of the city. Da÷ travelled to Damascus as an assistant-cameraman with the aim of recording some programs for the soon-to-be-launched Kurdish channel MED-TV, including an interview with Öcalan. However, Da÷ never returned to Europe. After having shot Öcalan’s interview, and various programs on the lives of Kurds in Syria, he decided to join the PKK as a full-time militant. Da÷’s crewmate, a German cameraman, returned to Europe by himself. It was during this 1995 trip that Akkaya met Da÷. Akkaya returned in April 1995, at that point working as a news editor for MED-TV in Brussels which, soon thereafter, started its satellite broadcasts. In his notes, Akkaya recalled this period as follows:


Chapter X We needed a lot for our own-made programs. I have been very much influenced by Halil and his German crewmate since they had an incredible enthusiasm. I was always saying to my friends at the channel that they will have brought a lot of programs satisfying our needs and they would provide a huge contribution to our works. […] Mid-May 1995, we have been informed that our team will return from Syria. I personally went to the Brussels airport to meet them. However, only our German cameraman appeared at the gates and I asked where Halil was. He answered me tearyeyed: “He preferred to be a freedom fighter.”1

Da÷, from his side, later reported on this period in his writings in the following way: I decided to stay there and to go further after our interview with Abdullah Öcalan, which was a very meaningful work for me. I now remember very well that I had then decided to go further into the depths of the Middle East, not to return again. I was feeling that what I had been in search of until then was there, waiting for me. So I jumped into a geography about which I knew nothing, mingled freely with a people who I do not know at all, and I went to a country in which a language I do not understand any word is spoken (Da÷ 2009, 19-20, this and following translations by Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya).

Thus, a new life began for Da÷. After spending six months in the political-ideological training camp in Damascus, he crossed the border between Syria and Iraq as a guerrilla fighter. From late 1995 onwards, Da÷ was part of the PKK guerrilla units stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the PKK had various camps to cover the area from the Syrian-Iraqi border to the Iraqi-Iranian border, stretching alongside south-eastern Turkey. Da÷ was mostly active in the press unit of the organization, filming the guerrilla actions, as well as producing programs on different aspects of the guerrilla life. These were broadcast through MED-TV. His work became increasingly known among the audience. In June 1997, he shot the fall of a Turkish military helicopter after it had been hit by the first guided missile used by the PKK, and his images became a huge media event among militant Kurds. In this period, Da÷ also wrote short articles for proKurdish journals. These usually dealt with the personal histories of guerrilla fighters, a fascination that also affected his future films. By capturing the personal lives and stories of these fighters, Da÷ sought to make them immortal: “I made a promise to myself when I went to the mountains for the first time: I would not have exchanged any words or faces that I grasped in the mountains with anything” (Da÷ 2009, 21). On

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the basis of these works, he became known in the Kurdish movement and among the followers of Kurdish media. When, in February 1999, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured in Kenya and subsequently brought to Turkey, the course of the Kurdish movement changed. Starting with the abduction of its leader, the PKK experienced severe difficulties, but it managed to reinvigorate itself through a series of transformations (Jongerden and Akkaya 2011). The period between 1999 and 2004 was a time of crisis and repositioning, during which the guerrilla forces stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan sought opportunities to express themselves other than by fighting. Besides the ideological transformation that this required, the movement also started focusing more on cultural activities, such as writing memoires, and shooting films. For this purpose, a specific school in the form of a guerrilla camp for cultural activities was set up, the ùehit Sefkan Kültür ve Sanat Okulu (Martyr ùefkan Culture and Arts School), named after one of the early PKK guerrilla fighters, Celal Ercan (nom de guerre “Sefkan”), who was also a singer and composer. Da÷ became a member of the school, by that time increasingly showing interest in filmmaking. Between 2000 and 2005 he worked on several films, later recalling these years as follows: “Those five years when I made the films were the best years of my life. They were the most beautiful and the most fruitful years. I was physically at ease and I was mentally calm” (Da÷ 2009, 239). After his last film, made in Southern Kurdistan in 2006, Da÷ was pursuing new projects, including a film on the legendary Kurdish guerrilla commander, Agit (Mahsum Korkmaz) (personal correspondence, 13 August 2006). In 2007, he initiated another new and very daring project, in which he would film a very long journey of guerrillas travelling from Southern Kurdistan to the Dersim area (in Turkey), normally lasting almost two months. To cross the Turkish-Iraqi border, he had to stay in the area of Botan, between ùrnak and Hakkari. When the clashes between the Turkish army and the Kurdish guerrillas escalated, Da÷ was wounded and saved by one of his fellow comrades (on which Da÷ later reported in articles, see Da÷ 2009, 158-182). However, Da÷ never managed to complete the journey to Dersim, as he was killed in a clash with the Turkish army on April 1, 2008 in Besta, near ùrnak.

Da÷’s films: human interest stories and activism When Da÷ eventually shifted his focus to film, he found the medium that enabled him to combine his interest in human stories with political activism. His ventures into filmmaking were very much inspired by his


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experiences in the mountains as a member of the guerrillas. “I never thought that someday I would make a film. I never dreamed about it,” Da÷ writes, adding that, “If I hadn’t have gone to the mountains to become a guerrilla, if I hadn’t met guerrillas and witnessed their lives, I could not have made the films. The cinema is my journey in the mountains, which started with photography” (Da÷ 2009, 20). Da÷ stated that, after a certain point, photography fell short of telling the stories he had accumulated until then. To him, filmmaking started to feel like an obligation. Akkaya recalls that Da÷ was trying to read everything on cinema that he could find in the mountains. His favourite books were by the famous Soviet director and film theorist, Sergei Eisenstein, especially The Film Sense and Film Form. Da÷ had collected many stories and portraits among guerrilla fighters, and he saw these stories as the real capital behind his films: “[…] indeed, the stories on which my films are based are far greater than my films themselves” (Da÷ 2009, 27). He was part of these stories, having witnessed many of them. While initially it seemed that his experiences and stories were an advantage for him when making films, he later noticed that it had become a huge burden on him because he felt a responsibility to reflect on what happened. This is particularly understandable because Da÷ was one of the few “insiders” with a camera and the skills to make a film. “I was timid for a long time since I was afraid of not working sufficiently on my stories…However, I believed that I should start from somewhere and, in time, I would make the best of it. In this sense I had to give up my first stories. I still suffer from this. Therefore, I want to revive my [debut] film, Tîrej” (Da÷ 2009, 28). We want to emphasize here the cohesiveness of Da÷’s films. His work is founded on the overarching themes of conflict, resistance and the daily life of guerrilla fighters, and the same visual language and modes of production can be observed throughout his films. For some films, Da÷ worked with a co-director, but usually he was the main creator. In total, Da÷ has produced 6 films, varying in length between 29 and 162 minutes. In these films, Da÷’s experiences as a guerrilla fighter collide with the highly symbolic and allegoric filmic language that he started to appreciate through his study of film theory. Some of these productions can be labeled as documentary films, such as Kilamek ji Zagrosé (A Ballad for Zagros). They offer a unique inside perspective on the lives of guerrilla fighters, covering different aspects such as training, leisure time and living conditions. Guerrilla fighters from different ranks and backgrounds are interviewed. The natural environment, and how the fighters find harmony in it, is an essential part of these documentary films. Close-up shots of flowers and animals (particularly birds and mountain goats) and wide

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panoramas of the Kurdish mountain landscapes are edited between scenes of fighters and their camps. His other films are more narrative, or rather docu-fiction, in style, such as Tîrej (Ray of Light, 2002), Eyna Bejnê (Big Mirror, 2002), Firmeskên Ava Zê (The Tears of Zap, 2005) and Berîtan (Beritan, 2006). While built around a fictionalized narrative, there is still an important documentary aspect to these films since they are set in the same realistic settings of the guerrilla camps. Moreover, they are largely based on true stories or events. All actors are fellow guerrilla fighters, who often acted for the very first time. For the productions, Da÷ was able to use unique locations, sets and equipment provided by different PKK units. Tîrej, Da÷’s first film, is based the life of a fellow guerrilla fighter. According to Da÷ in his writings, the fighter was a medical student who decided to join the guerrillas. Da÷ met Tîrej on a pathway in the mountains during the last moments of his life. Tîrej had shortly before been wounded in a clash with the Turkish army. Da÷ reportedly witnessed his last words to his comrades in another post, as he saluted them through the walkietalkie: “[…] salute to all comrades. My condolences to all Kurdish people.” These last words became Da÷’s inspiration for his first film in 2002. The film is a heroic portrait of young fighters, showing them as humane and vulnerable individuals, in an intense and ever-lasting conflict. In the same year, Da÷ produced another film, Eyna Bejnê. The film is about a very young female guerrilla fighter named Sakine who has never seen a tall mirror and dreams about seeing herself in such a mirror. Her comrades decide to bring one from a nearby village to the mountains as a birthday present. Through their voyage to get the mirror, the film shows different aspects of the guerrilla life, as well as Sakine’s life story. Da÷ had already written about Sakine’s family in one of his articles. The family had to flee from the oppression of the Turkish state in the early 1990s and took shelter in the area controlled by the PKK in northern Iraq. Later, Sakine and her two older sisters became guerrilla fighters themselves. Sakine’s oldest sister, and Sakine herself, died in clashes with the Turkish army in 1997 and 1999 respectively.2 Touched by the family’s story, Da÷ wrote that “this is the fourth sister from the same family whom I have followed.” In this film, he wanted to make a tribute to her by eternalizing her dream of seeing herself in a tall mirror: “I never believed that she died. I always kept her image embedded in a tall mirror in my memory and soul” (Da÷ 2009, 87). In his next production, Firmeskên Ava Zê, a short film from 2005, Da÷ again focuses on an individual guerrilla fighter, but this time the story is more allegoric and loaded with symbolism. The film tells the story of Gabar, a fighter who gets separated from his unit and gets wounded during


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a clash with the Turkish army. In what is seemingly a long dream sequence, he follows a mountain goat through caves in the mountains, eventually reaching a large underground cave where he meets a goddess, supposedly Ishtar. The goddess saves Gabar, and helps him to get rid of his stammer. Although the film is rather short in comparison to Da÷’s other films, Firmeskên Ava Zê contains a rich assemblage of symbols and references. While in his other films impressive mountains dominate the scenes, here another aspect of the mountainous Kurdish landscape is shown: the refuge and safe haven that the mountain caves offer for (wounded) guerrilla fighters during their operations. The mountain goat that helps Gabar find his way through the caves is a key feature of the film, and clearly refers to the Kurdish mountain goat that is an often-used symbol in Kurdish folklore. It is supposed to refer to power and strength. The goddess of Gabar’s dream, Ishtar—the goddess of love, war, fertility and sexuality in Neolithic (northern) Mesopotamia—is a popular symbol in the Kurdish national movement and Kurdish activism. Öcalan has referred to Ishtar in his writings at different occasions, presenting her as a heroic role model. By employing such references, they aim to legitimize and historicize their struggle within a historical context. Indeed as Ça÷layan (2012, 6) writes in a study about ideological and political discourses of the Kurdish movement, the myth of Ishtar, among others, “emphasize[s] the historical continuity from the prehistoric peoples of Mesopotamia…and thereby allow[s] the construction of a continuous identity of Kurdishness.” Moreover, goddesses and heroines are evoked in order to emphasize the important place of women in the Kurdish national movement. Finally, Da÷’s last and best-known film, Berîtan, was made in 2006. Da÷ considered it his “first real film” (personal correspondence, 12 May 2006). The film is a tribute to female fighter, Berîtan (nom de guerre of Gülnaz Karataú), who has become a well-known martyr in the Kurdish movement. Karataú joined the PKK in 1990, and died in October 1992, throwing herself off a cliff in order not to surrender to fighters of the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq, with whom the PKK has been in conflict in Iraq). KDP fighters had attacked PKK guerrilla troops, in collaboration with the Turkish army. Like Da÷’s previous films, the film is almost entirely set in natural locations and in actual guerrilla camps. There is no life outside the guerrilla, and there is no reference to Berîtan’s life before joining the PKK. Instead, the film shows training, fights, and daily activities of guerrilla fighters, all of which serve to demonstrate their determination, courage and solidarity. Moreover, the focus on the female character, Berîtan, and her female comrades underlines the PKK’s rhetoric

Conflict and Resistance on Screen: On the Films of Halil Dag


in which women are a powerful symbol of power and resistance. The film’s dramatic finale, showing Berîtan’s death, is followed by scenes of a death procession during which comrades pay tribute to Berîtan, as well as pictures of the actual Gülnaz Karataú. As Da÷ was an autodidact with very limited resources, the technical qualities of his work remained modest. In various writings, Da÷ recognized this, describing his films as challenges and “exercises.” Some technical progress can be perceived in his successive films. While his first film, Tîrej, contained some technical errors, showing mainly static theatrical scenes, his later films are more complex with diverse characters, locations and storylines. As his reputation grew, Da÷ also managed to assemble a larger team with better equipment. Da÷ also aimed to make his films the product of collective efforts. For instance, some friends in Europe carried out parts of the post-production of his first films on the basis of his instructions. For his later work, particularly Berîtan, the postproduction was entirely done by Da÷ in the mountains after his family sent him a computer from Germany as a gift (personal correspondence, 13 August 2006). In line with the exceptional production mode of Da÷’s films, his work has circulated largely outside the traditional channels of film distribution. With the PKK being listed as a terrorist organization not only by the Turkish state, but also by the EU and the US, there was obviously a severe limit on the distribution options for Da÷’s work. His films were not up to the required technical standards in order to be released at film festivals and, to our knowledge, there were no attempts on Da÷’s part to do so. Another factor is the relative recent professionalization of Kurdish film production and distribution, which companies such as the Berlin-based mîtosfilm (founded in 2004) that mainly focus on independent or “art house” films. Instead, Da÷’s films have mainly circulated via the satellite broadcasts of MEDYA-TV and ROJ-TV, two diasporic Kurdish channels, and through illegal copying and streaming. Da÷’s films can easily be found online through platforms such as YouTube or peer-to-peer networks. Moreover, copied DVDs of his films, particularly Berîtan, have circulated through informal networks in Kurdish community centers and Kurdish shops, both in Turkey and among the Kurdish diaspora. These practices were very much welcomed by Da÷. As he put it, referring to the widespread pirating of his last film: “Piracy and Berîtan match well. The state banned the film and in this way it did circulate. Besides, we were not after making money from it. We wanted to reach people. If it [pirating] was done, that was OK for us” (Da÷ 2009, 259).


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Da÷’s ideas and influence on Kurdish filmmaking Da÷ has formulated very clear ideas on Kurdish film that are echoed today among other filmmakers. While his films may be described as amateurish, they were very much in accord with Da÷’s ideas of what Kurdish filmmaking should be. These ideas were consistent with the framework that he had identified for himself. In the first place, this meant that the filmmaker should approach the Kurds as a Kurd himself, “not as a foreigner from the West, Tehran or Istanbul” (Da÷ 2009, 24). Another principle was the collective effort that filmmaking ought to be. Breaking with traditional filmmaking practices, Da÷ tried to subvert the production hierarchy by collaborating with comrades (for instance for the editing process) and training them as cameramen and –women and actors for his films. Furthermore, the spatial element is a key marker of Kurdishness in the films: the mountains ought to play a key role, and it is only in the mountains that Kurds and their struggle can be fully understood. Finally, the practice of filmmaking should be based on anti-colonial liberation, a struggle that should bring forth liberated men and women. In that sense, Da÷’s ideas on Kurdish filmmaking share some ideological elements with the notion of “cinema of militants” described by Solanas and Getino (1973): the animators of a cinema of militants do not seek only to work on cultural decolonisation, or the recuperation of a national culture, but are proposing a revolutionary politics through their militant activity…that leads to the destruction of neo-colonialism, the national liberation of our countries and the national construction of Socialism (Getino 2011, 53).

Da÷ considered himself a militant of the Kurdish struggle, seeing his films as part of the struggle against assimilation and oppression. He was well aware that his films would be criticized for the lack of professionalism. “I know that nowadays cinema is a matter of the market and it needs huge financial resources,” he wrote (Da÷ 2009, 31). However, he saw Kurdish cinema as something separate from such market logics: “In my view, Kurdish cinema should exist outside of these market relations. I would prefer the Kurdish youth watching my works secretly at home or in the streets; it is better than being an orientalist material in the market” (Da÷ 2009, 31). In this last passage, it also becomes clear that Da÷ made his films mainly for sympathizing Kurds, not for outsiders who had to be convinced of the legitimacy of the Kurdish resistance. Da÷ has been regarded as a role model for other Kurdish filmmakers, and he is seen as one of the foremost cultural heroes of the Kurdish

Conflict and Resistance on Screen: On the Films of Halil Dag


movement. This may best be illustrated with some brief examples. Firstly, in our interview with Özgür Amed (7 July 2014), a film teacher at the Cegerxwin Culture and Art Centrum in Diyarbakr, the importance of Da÷’s example was emphasized. According to Amed, there are two role models for aspiring Kurdish filmmakers like the students that he teaches: Ylmaz Güney and Halil Da÷. Posters for events on Kurdish film sometimes use images of both filmmakers, placing Da÷ next to Güney, the renowned film director who won the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. When entering the offices of the Orta Do÷u Film Akademisi, there are also prominent pictures of Da÷ and Güney at work. In our interview, Amed emphasized that these are the only pictures from Kurdish cinema in the institution. In the film center, filmmaking in the spirit of Halil Da÷ is encouraged, following Da÷’s statement that “we only have our cameras and our comrades when making a film.” Moreover, Da÷’s films are discussed and screened regularly in events that aim to cultivate the Kurdish cinema scene, in different parts of Kurdistan as well as in the diaspora—for instance, in Batman, Van, and Hamburg (see e.g. Yeni Özgür Politika 2015). Recently, some young directors have explicitly mentioned Da÷ as a source of inspiration and as someone who has opened new terrains for Kurdish filmmaking. Some of the directors that are inspired by his work include Haúim Aydemir, director of a soap opera broadcast on the Kurdish satellite channel, Stêrk TV (Altay 2014), Ömer Altaú and Cihad ølbaú, whose 2014 short documentary Navê te çi ye? (What Is Your Name?) addresses the issue of Kurdish names that have been banned in Turkey, Zeynel Do÷an (who codirected the award-winning Dengê Bavê Min [My Father’s Voice] with Orhan Eskiköy), and Piran Baydemir, whose short film, Fecîra, was awarded best documentary at the 2013 Golden Orange Film Festival in Antalya. Also, in our conversations with members of the Yapm 13 film collective, Da÷ and Güney were repeatedly mentioned as role models and pioneers for contemporary Kurdish filmmakers. More recently, Çayan Demirel and Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu much-discussed documentary Bakur (North, 2015) opened with a quote from Da÷. Their documentary gives an insight into the daily lives of the guerrillas, and is thus a clear continuation of Da÷’s mission to film the Kurdish resistance. Another example, demonstrating the symbolic currency of Da÷ for the transnational Kurdish movement, is the fact that Da÷’s portraits can be found in several Kurdish community centers in Turkey and Europe. Figure 1, for instance, shows in the center an image of Halil Da÷ among other portraits of heroes for the Kurdish movement, in a Kurdish community center in east London (set up in January 2014). Similar portraits were


Chapteer X

found in othher communityy centers (of different d ideollogical branch hes of the Kurdish movvement). Porttrayed in a guerrilla fighterss’ outfit whilee taking a picture, the iimage grasps the essence of what Da÷ is remembered for.

Fig. 10-1 Daa÷’s portrait in a Kurdish comm munity center inn Dalston, Lond don (UK).

Concllusions It is clear from ouur discussion of Da÷’s liffe and work k that he transcends ttraditional geenre classificaations. Insteaad, his films combine elements of documentaryy, journalism, fiction and prropaganda. Raather than trying to forrce his work innto either one of these categgories, we arg gue that it represents a hybrid type of filmmakin ng, which we can situate within w the

Conflict and Resistance on Screen: On the Films of Halil Dag


cinema-conflict nexus (see also Smets and Akkaya 2016). The case of Da÷ confronts us with the difficulty of categorizing his kind of filmmaking. The works of filmmakers dealing with (the effects of) violent conflict are often studied using diverse frameworks such as transnational, accented, exile or diasporic cinema. Specifically for the Kurdish case, young filmmakers who are inspired by Da÷ have also used the label “mountain cinema.” Yet, it has found little resonance beyond the Kurdish cultural circuits. Being completely immersed in a conflict, his films are the artistic expression of his ideological involvement. His films share some features with other concepts, combining production-related elements from “guerrilla filmmaking” (designating practices of independent filmmaking, working with very low budgets or without official permits and a strong sense of “immediacy”: see Jones and Jolliffe, 2006) with the ideological elements that call on viewers to revolt and resist, as observed in “rebel cinema” or “Cine Insurgente” (an Argentinian film collective and social movement: see Krichmar, 2011), or “Cine Rebelde” (revolutionary cinema in Cuba: see Stone, 2006). We thus argue that Da÷’s films represent a particular instance of vernacular imagery that both documents and shapes the violent conflict it deals with. As indicated above, we observe a contrast between Da÷’s symbolic importance for the Kurdish movement and the filmmakers affiliated with it, and his rather marginal position in the on-going canonization process of Kurdish cinema. We believe there are two reasons for this. One, it is thinkable that Da÷’s ideological profile is too closely linked to the PKK, and thus to the most militant side of the Kurdish movement. As we wrote above, Da÷’s films were, in the first place, meant for sympathizers of the PKK, and his work has probably found less resonance (and even disapproval), among some other segments of the Kurdish movement, including some intellectuals and artists who are involved in shaping the cultural resistance of the Kurds. A second reason has to do with Da÷’s amateur mode of production and stylistic approach that is not up to the standards of contemporary independent “art house” filmmaking. Those envisaging Kurdish cinema as part of the ever-growing realm of “world cinema”—in vogue in the international film festival scene—are thus less inclined to include Halil Da÷ in it. In that sense, Ylmaz Güney, having won international film awards, is a much better point of reference for aspiring Kurdish filmmakers. Indeed Güney is often cited as the main source of inspiration by young Kurdish filmmakers. While these considerations are understandable, we want to call for a more nuanced recognition of Da÷’s work because it embodies the unique exchange between cultural production and socio-political engagement that has been


Chapter X

going on in the Kurdish movement. Rather than separating Da÷ from the wider range of Kurdish filmmakers, we argue that Da÷ represents one of its strands, that is, one that is most directly involved in the violent conflict that is so determining for Kurdish cultural resistance.

Notes 1

All translations are the authors’ unless stated otherwise. The family’s second daughter, Deniz Frat, was killed in Iraq in August 2014 while working as a journalist for Kurdish television while she was covering the clashes between Islamic State (former ISIS or ISIL) and Kurdish guerrillas in Maxmure, between Mosul and Erbil. Their youngest sister is now a guerrilla in the ranks of the PKK.


Works Cited Altay, Gökhan. 2014. “‘Ref’ dizisi Stêrk TV ekrannda.” Yeni Özgür Politika, 23 May 2014. Accessed November 25, 2014. http://www.yeniozgurpolitika.org/index.php?rupel=nuce&id=30941. Andén-Papadopoulos, Kari. 2009. “US soldiers imaging the Iraq War on YouTube.” Popular Communication 7(1):17-27. —. 2014. “Citizen Camera-witnessing: Embodied Political Dissent in the Age of ‘Mediated Mass Self-communication’,” New Media & Society 16(5):753-769. Ayata, Bilgin. 2011. “Kurdish Transnational Politics and Turkey’s Changing Kurdish Policy: The Journey of Kurdish Broadcasting from Europe to Turkey.” Journal of Contemporary European Studies 19(4):523–533. Ba‫܈‬er, Bahar. 2013. The Kurdish diaspora in Europe: identity formation and political activism. Istanbul: Bo÷aziçi University TÜSIAD Foreign Policy Forum. Accessed November 23, 2014. http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/28337/Bahar_Baser_RR_0 1_2013.pdf?sequence=1. Boyle, Stephanie. 2009. “Amateur Film and the Researcher: Alternative Perspectives of Australian Soldiers in Vietnam.” Australian Academic & Research Libraries 40(3):223-233. Buchsbaum, Jonathan. 2003. Cinema and the Sandinistas: Filmmaking in Revolutionary Nicaragua. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Ça÷layan, Handan. 2012. “From Kawa the Blacksmith to Ishtar to Goddess: Gender Constructions in Ideological-political Discourses of the Kurdish Movement in post-1980 Turkey. Possibilities and Limits.” European Journal of Turkish Studies 14(2):2-23.

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Candan, Menderes and Uwe Hunger. 2008. “Nation Building Online: A Case Study of Kurdish Migrants in Germany.” German Policy Studies 4(4):125-153. Christensen, Christian. 2008. “Uploading War and Peace: YouTube and Military Propaganda.” Media, War & Conflict 1(2):155-175. Çiçek, Özgür. 2011. “The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey.” Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media 1(1). Accessed September 18, 2015. http://www.alphavillejournal.com/Issue%201/ ArticleCicek.html. Da÷, Halil. 2009. Beni ba÷úlayn: Da÷ yazlar & Botan günlü÷ü. Second edition. Neuss: Mezopotamya Yaynlar. Eccarius-Kelly, Vera. 2010. “Nationalism, Ethnic Rap, and the Kurdish Diaspora.” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 22(4):423-431. Galip, Özlem. 2015. Imagining Kurdistan: Identity, Culture, and Society. London: I.B. Tauris. Getino, Octavio. 2011. “The Cinema as Political Fact.” Third Text 25(1):41-53. Grabolle Çeliker, Anna. 2009. “Construction of the Kurdish Self in Turkey through Humorous Popular Culture.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 30(1):89-105. Hassanpour, Amir. 2003. “Diaspora, Homeland and Communication Technologies.” In The Media of Diaspora, edited by Karim H. Karim, 76-88. London: Routledge. Jones, Chris, and Genevieve Jollife. 2006. The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook. New York, NY: Continuum. Jongerden, Joost and Ahmet H. Akkaya. 2011. “Born from the Left: The Making of the PKK.” In Nationalisms and Politics in Turkey: Political Islam, Kemalism and the Kurdish Issue, edited by Marlies Casier and Joost Jongerden, 123-142. London: Routledge. Kennedy, Liam. 2009. “Soldier Photography: Visualising the War in Iraq.” Review of International Studies 35(4):817-833. Koçer, Suncem. 2014. “Kurdish Cinema as a Transnational Discourse Genre: Cinematic Visibility, Cultural Resilience, and Political Agency.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46(3):473-488. Krichmar, Fernando. 2011. “Cine Insurgente/Rebel Cinema (Argentina).” In Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media, edited by John D. H: Downing, 95-96. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Rodríguez, Clemencia. 2011. Citizens’ Media Against Armed Conflict: Disrupting Violence in Colombia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.


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Sheyholislami, Jaffer. 2011. Kurdish Identity, Discourse, and New Media. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Silberman, Marc. 1990. “Remembering History: The Filmmaker Konrad Wolf.” New German Critique 49:163-191. Sinclair, Christian and Kevin Smets. 2014. “Media Freedoms and Cover Diplomacy: Turkey Challenges Europe over Kurdish Broadcasts.” Global Media & Communication 10(3):319-331. Smets, Kevin and Ahmet H.Akkaya. 2016. “Media and Violent Conflict: Halil Dag, Kurdish Insurgency, and the Hybridity of Vernacular Cinema of Conflict.” Media, War & Conflict 9(1):76-92. Solanas, Fernando E. and Octavio Getino. 1973. Cine, Cultura y Descolonización. Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno. Stone, Rob. 2006. “Mother Lands, Sister Nations: The Epic, Poetic, Propaganda Films of Cuba and the Basque Country.” In Remapping World Cinema: Identity, Culture and Politics in Film, edited by Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim, 65-72. London: Wallflower Press. Yeni Özgür Politika. 2015. “Halil Uysal Sinema Günleri ile Anlacak.” Yeni Özgür Politika, 2 April 2015. Accessed April, 3 2015. http://www.yeniozgurpolitika.org/index.php?rupel=nuce&id=40682.


Introduction This chapter aims to find a proper description for the unique and particular position of Kurdish documentaries produced in Turkey since the late 1990s. To that end, I will analyze Kurdish documentaries through two different approaches: the general field of video activism, and the common ground shared by theories of “accented,” “minor” and post-colonial cinema.1 In doing so, my main point of reference concerning the recent production of Kurdish documentaries will be Min Rastî Nivîsand-Deftera Lîceyê (I Wrote the Truth–The Notebook of Lice/Gerçekleri Yazdm: Lice Defteri, 2012 ) by Ersin Çelik.2 First, I will investigate the nature of Kurdish documentaries as a form of documentary activism and analyze the main concepts that have been developed in recent years in Turkey as a means of defining video activism. Then, I will consider some concrete examples, focusing on the Ankarabased collective Karahaber (Black News) as I try to build a bridge between the two. I will use Hakkari’den Ankara'ya Ka÷t Toplayclar (Scavengers from Hakkari to Ankara, 2007), a documentary film made by Alper ùen from Karahaber, as an example of video activism because of its participatory and emancipatory characteristics. This documentary is one of the most prominent examples of Karahaber production, as the social actors themselves used the video camera and produced their own representations. Second, I will investigate the issue of Kurdish documentaries through the lens of Accented Cinema, a concept theorized by Hamid Naficy (2001). This will also help me reflect on the possible common ground Kurdish documentaries share with post-colonial cinema. One of the questions I ask is: Can Kurdish cinema be considered an example of post-


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colonial cinema, if, according to Ismail Beúikci, “Kurdistan is not even a colony of Turkey” (2013, 16) Beúikci developed his analysis more than twenty years ago, defining Kurdistan as a territory that had not even been “awarded” the status of colony because of the Turkish state’s refusal to recognize a Kurdish identity. However, according to Gilles Deleuze, the crucial starting point of modern political cinema is the fact of addressing “the people who are missing” (1997, 216) Thus, this new form of cinema does not aim to politicize, awaken or grant consciousness to a people because its subjects do not exist yet. Indeed, this specific form of cinema helps these people invent themselves. Modern political cinema also erases the borders between the private and political, just as minor literature does. In this way, the private immediately becomes political. In this sense, as in the case of modern political cinema, the simple notebook of a villager (in The Notebook of Lice) can become not only a fundamental memory document, but also a bridge between past and present, a “traveling” between writings and images.3 In this way, it contributes to a possible definition of a self-conscious, minoritarian Kurdish identity.

The meanings of video activism The appearance of video cameras in the late 1960s (Boyle, 1992: 67) constituted a turning point for film and documentary makers, allowing them to develop new features in their contributions to social change via media: “A heterogeneous mass of ‘hippies, avant-garde artists, studentintellectuals, lost souls, budding feminists, militant blacks, jaded journalists’ were immediately excited about the opportunities of video” (Boyle 1985, cited in Mehrabov 2010, 36). The introduction of video thus gave subaltern and “underrepresented” people the opportunity to create their own visibility and representation from their own point of view. Those were also the years in which documentary filmmaking found new means of expression and new research was carried out regarding its forms: “It is no wonder that with the first introduction of video devices to the consumer market, video has been extensively used as a film device by documentary film makers. In this sense, video and documentary filmmaking have common grounds on which their structures are built” (Nichols 2001, 61). Harding argues that the difference between video activists and conventional video-makers is that “the former want to bring about change by gaining power for a group working in a community whereas the latter want to bring about change by advancing their careers and earning money” and thereby empower themselves (Harding 2001, 20). At this point, I would like to ask: Are there not documentary filmmakers

Kurdish Documentary Activism as a Means of Existence


whose main aim is to create transformation and social change in the same manner as video activists? So, would it be possible to consider Kurdish documentaries as examples of video activism or, as I would like to define it, “documentary activism”? According to Harding, a video-activist is “a person who uses video as a tactical tool to bring about social justice and environmental protection” (Harding 2001, 1). The camcorder can be used for various purposes, but it becomes a tool of video activism when its users “realize the power of the visual image and use this power to bring about change in their communities” (Harding 2001, 2). Feminist video artists were the first to use the tool for liberating purposes. They pointed their cameras at their own bodies which, until that time had only been a colony of the cinema industry and mainstream media. Thus, they were able to look at themselves in the way they desired. The social change function of documentary cinema has been more concrete after the camera revolution at the end of 1960s, brought about by the appearance of Portapaks and UMatics cameras which were easier to use and cheaper. Especially during the 1970s, a new type of “guerilla” video-maker (Harding, 2001, 4) began to produce videos, going out in the streets to record. This new attitude also continued during the 1980s but, in the 1990s, video activism started spreading from the United States to other parts of the world, and it was used in several ways within the context of various struggles and social movements. Video activism eventually acquired crucial importance after the Rodney King case, in which a witness had by chance recorded policemen brutally beating Rodney King, an Afro-American who had been stopped for speeding. These images rapidly spread throughout the world’s media and played a major role in triggering enduring riots in Los Angeles in 1992 and eventually bringing two policemen to justice. According to Harding, there were three main reasons for the rise of the video activism movement in the 1990s: “a new wave of activism had come into being, the mainstream media failed to adequately cover the new environmental and social justice movements, and video equipment became more readily available and improved in quality” (Harding 2001, 4). After the Rodney King case, the ideas “video for change” and “video advocacy” were introduced as a means of finding solutions to human rights abuses. Video advocacy consists of “the use of video as an essential tool in social justice activism—one that can be deployed as strategically and effectively as more traditional forms of “advocacy,” referring to the range of ways to exert pressure for a defined goal of change, including persuasion, relationship-building, lobbying, organizing, and mobilizing” (Gregory 2005, xiii). One of the pioneering organizations in this regard


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was the U.S.-based Witness Project, which disseminated the idea of making videos as a part of campaigns through the belief that “video builds on other complementary activities and helps to achieve a common goal” (Gregory 2005, xiii). The Witness Project gave cameras to human rights defenders worldwide and trained them so they could “create lasting change by using powerful imagery and testimony from the front lines of human rights struggles to connect with, and then move to act, audiences near and far” (Gregory 2005, xiv). The Witness Project has collaborated with different organizations for different causes, such as child-soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, juvenile prison reform in the U.S., massive displacement and human rights abuses in Burma, slave labor in Brazil, and torture and impunity in Mexico. These groups provided their footage to tribunals and Truth Commissions, as well as to television channels and human rights organizations. In this way, their images could be used for institutional purposes of justice. Apart from the Witness Project there have been many other pioneering video activist groups and collectives all over the world: Appalshop, Papeltiger and Whispered Media (U.S.), the Chiapas Media Project (Mexico), CEFREC (Bolivia), the Drishti Media Collective and Indian People’s Media Collective Kritika (India), Undercurrents and I Contact Video Network (UK), Labor News Production (South Korea), INSIST (Indonesia), and Candida (Italy). In terms of the dissemination of information, there are two main categories of video activism: guerilla television and community video (Mehrabov 2010, 60). The first, which is more focused on the distribution and exhibition of videos, aims to take a stance against mainstream media by accessing and manipulating mass media. Video guerillas announced their plan to decentralize television so that the medium could be made for the people by using “from within the crowd, subjected and involved” practices (Boyle 1992, 71) Collectives like the Raindance Foundation, Videofreex and Global Village proposed that television could be used for revolutionary purposes instead of commercial ones. They sought to give citizens the equipment they needed to produce independent forms of expression and information. The second main category of video activism is community (participatory) videos, which tell their stories from their own points of view in order to create change and solve problems: This “collaborative and negotiated use of video” where community members identify the topic of the video production, create the content, plan the production, learn to handle the equipment, and finally make a production themselves has considerable transformative potential, not only in terms of the action it may generate, but also in terms of the structure of relationships within the

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society (Kindon 2003 in Mehrabov 2010, 65). Harding points out that there are three different types of video activists. The first is the “insider,” in other words “a member of a campaign/community group who uses video as part of the group’s work.” The second is the “freelancer”, that is to say an “individual who provides video support to a number of campaign/community groups.” Lastly, the “trainer” is an individual who “supports and trains other video activists” (Harding 2001, 19)

Video activism in Turkey: a brief introduction In Turkey, attempts to document demonstrations and other political actions as conceived by the Genç Sinema (Young Cinema) movement in the late 1960s can be seen as the first examples of media activism. In its quest for an independent means of cinematic production, this Marxist group, equipped with very limited means, started to document workers’ demonstrations so they could be screened at universities, trade union meeting, and in rural areas, and their aim was to make their own contributions to contemporary social movements. In those same years, the group also discussed the tools and forms of organization needed to produce independent “films as actions” in a monthly magazine called Genç Sinema-Devrimci Sinema (Young Cinema-Revolutionary Cinema). After the 1971 coup, which abruptly stopped the activities of Genç Sinema, media activism ground to a halt in Turkey until the early 2000s. This does not mean that, in Turkey, there has been no documentary film or video production concerning social and political issues for nearly thirty years; certain “'freelance”' media activists such as øshak Iútan and Hilmi Etikan have, indeed, been active. Iútan produced different documentary films on workers’ struggles during the 1970s in Istanbul, and has founded the cinema collective called the Halkn Sinema Grubu (People’s Cinema) in an effort to develop collective ways of film production. Etikan started filming workers’ demonstrations when he was living in Paris in the mid1960s, and, when he came back to Turkey, he founded the photo-film center of the Türkiye Devrimci øúçi Sendikalar Konfederasyonu or DøSK (Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions of Turkey) for filming and archiving the workers’ political and social activities. But I assume these works to have been the product of certain individuals willing to produce a testimony of the social struggles taking place in their period, not an organized collective movement recognizing the power of video activism in producing social change. In Turkey, video activism in the full sense was born in the early 2000s in Ankara through the collective called Karahaber (Mehrabov 2010, 2),


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which began working on various issues such as laborers, student demonstrations, environmental struggles, LGBT rights and the Kurdish issue. Karahaber members have positioned themselves as a third eye, creating an alternative to police cameras and the mainstream media.4 In fact, as mentioned above in a quotation from Harding, the fact that the mainstream media happens to always work in conformity with the dominant ideology induces video activists to produce their own reliable information. The main aim of Karahaber, in accordance with their motto, “From the image of action to the action of image”, was to investigate how moving images could contribute to social action and change. Apart from using audio-visual material for legal purposes in line with the “video advocacy” practice mentioned above, the main goal of Karahaber was to reflect on the nature of images and discuss their potential concerning historical, sociological and anthropological issues. Not content with limiting themselves to the value of images as testimony in video advocacy terms, the members of Karahaber started to investigate the other potentialities of images and the possible connections between images, ideas and action. If we want to understand the origins and development of the Karahaber group, it is necessary to take into account the fact that most of the founders of the group were students at METU (Middle East Technical University) in Ankara, where they were attending courses taught by groundbreaking professor Ulus Baker, who made a strong impression on them with visual art theories that were imbued with the political legacy of Dziga Vertov. The first work of Karahaber was produced in 2000, a time when widespread hunger strikes were taking place in prisons all over Turkey to protest the inhumanity of high security prisons in Turkey. After this initial experience, Karahaber members realized how important powerful images could be for political struggles and decided to start recording issues concerning workers’ movements and other struggles and demonstrations in a more systematic manner.5 As the group became stronger, they started to film a variety of social movements by joining different groups and filming demonstrations from inside the action and taking multiple points of view. In more recent years, with video recording devices having become more common, Karahaber preferred to let the workers and demonstrators make the recordings themselves, inviting them to look at their struggles with their own eyes and follow events with their own cameras so that, eventually, they could produce works of video activism. The example of the scrap paper collectors which will be analyzed in the next section is one of the few examples in this regard, and it will help us build up a connection between video and documentary activism. As Mehrabov notes, given the activists’ choice to work mostly

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individually, generally not using participatory techniques, and disseminating information only via their own websites, the works of Karahaber are neither part of guerilla television nor community videos (Mehrabov 2010, 119). Following the work of Karahaber, video activism in Turkey has been developing rapidly. It acquired widespread popularity during the Tekel Resistance in February 2010 in Ankara, and during the Gezi Resistance in June 2013, when recording, documenting and uploading recorded materials to the internet became a way to call people to join the resistance, and this was almost a natural reflex for most of the people taking to the streets.6 Several video activist collectives and groups as Videoccupy, Seyri Sokak and Kamera Sokak came into being in Turkey in this period, taking advantage of the extensive use of internet connection, also including through mobile devices, thus providing new opportunities for wider distribution.

Hakkari'den Ankara'ya Ka÷tçlar (Scavengers from Hakkari to Ankara 2007) Karahaber initially produced works about topics for which they wanted to gain greater visibility. But the fact that they were filming people from a different social class created a distance between their work and their subjects. Also, their videos were only disseminated via the Karahaber website (and some film festivals) and hence reached very few people. In short, their contributions to social change were limited. Indeed, the main aim of Karahaber had been to research the potentiality of action through the association of images. It was more like a form of intellectual research and, up to a point, the works they produced to document social struggles were not entirely satisfactory. However, when Karahaber decided to give cameras to the subjects who were the ones involved in the issues, their effectiveness improved. The work relevant here for our analysis is Scavengers from Hakkari to Ankara, concerning several dislocated villagers who established a fruitful relationship with the Karahaber group after having been dispossessed of their land. The protagonists of this video activism work were young Kurdish men who were forced to abandon their villages in the mountainous area of Hakkari in 1994 after they were burnt down and destroyed by the Turkish army in the early 1990s to punish villagers and prevent them from providing any further help to PKK fighters. After moving to Ankara in despair, and finding that they were unable to support


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themselves, they found that the only way they could survive was by becoming scrap paper collectors. In 2001, Karahaber member Alper ùen, who had been keen on the idea of filming scenes of ordinary street life, ended up establishing a relationship with some of these paper collectors and started filming them. After a time, he started encouraging them to make use of the camera in their struggle, and eventually he decided to provide them with some cameras so they could film fragments of their own daily lives and interview each other. On this occasion, unlike other Karahaber members who generally worked as freelancers, ùen played the role of “trainer.” In this work, the documentation of change took place via the tangible issues of the scrap paper collectors by means of video. By the end of this process, the people involved managed to win their struggle. Scavengers from Hakkari to Ankara is about the condition of dislocation and the impossibility of return, something that had forced the subjects to live in a hostile urban environment. It should be pointed out that, after suffering forced evacuation from their villages in the mid 1990s, the paper collectors had also been victims of a process of expropriation as, some years after coming to Ankara, they had been evicted from the first neighborhood in which they had settled. They filmed the different phases of their struggle, and one of these videos showed how municipal officials had tried to burn down their storehouses. After several struggles with the authorities, they were able to give visibility to their cause in their own way, providing their footage directly to the independent television channel Hayat TV.7 In the end, because of the visibility acquired on media and the spreading of their own images, they were able to draw public attention to their difficult situation, eventually convincing the local public authorities to grant them an official position as “environmental volunteers.” It is very interesting to note that the most effective result of Karahaber’s video activist practice came about when the concerned subjects took control of their representation, thus finalizing a process of collaboration between a video activist collective, a group of scavengers producing audiovisual material, and an independent media capable of making this material public through a more traditional channel (here, television). After the scrap paper collectors won their case, ùen transformed their raw images into the documentary Scavengers from Hakkari to Ankara. In terms of the pressing situation of the paper collectors, those images were useful for their testimonial value. After achieving their aim, however, it became clear that they could also take the form of a documentary and thus acquire new meanings.

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In this documentary, it is difficult to understand who the actual owner of the images is. While it is true that the people who filmed and were filmed are the same, the anonymous nature of the filmmaker gives this documentary a unique character. ùen declared that he put the camera in the hands of the paper collectors not because of an aesthetic choice, but because he wanted to give the images a sense of having been dislocated. Because it was a story about people without property, he thought that the images themselves should similarly not have an “owner.”8

Making documentary cinema in Kurdistan A few years ago, I tried to make a news feature for Channel 4 News about the 3 million Kurdish refugees who had been forced out of their villages and had their homes burned by the Turkish army. However, the then foreign editor said: “I am not interested in Turkey, I want African stories.” That was that (Harding 2001, 8).

What pushed Harding (as with many other activists) into video activism was the lack of space given to specific topics within mainstream media. Since one of the primary aims of video activism should be to give voice to people suffering injustice, Harding was driven to fill a void regarding the representation of Kurds. But those Kurdish refugees mentioned by Harding, the ones forced by the army to leave their villages, have started to tell their own stories. Indeed, in recent years, we have seen that those displaced individuals who were children during the dirty war in Turkey’s Kurdistan in the 1990s have taken up cameras and made their voices heard through their own means, without waiting for the approval of a commissioning editor. It is also evident that these video makers, apart from making their voices heard, also want to produce concrete change. Because of this, they often take charge not only of the production, but also of the distribution of their works via local television channels, neighborhood and village screenings, and regional, national and international film festivals. They act in a way that is very similar to community filmmakers and, when it comes to the creation of “facts,” they are the “insiders.” Apart from the technological developments that have made this possible, there are other social factors that have played a role in this process. Blatant state efforts to ignore and erase a long history of violence have, conversely, bolstered subjects’ desires to record the reality of facts and rewrite their histories, and, as stated by Mehmet Hadi Sümer, a member of the Komeleya Akademiya Sînemayê ya Rojhilata Navîn (Middle East Cinema Academy), a Diyarbakr-based cinema academy, in an interview


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with Vardar (2013) “to use mostly documentary to achieve those ends.” Using a camera to investigate an unresolved issue in history, or trying to find solutions for today’s problems by locating the living witnesses of the past and inviting them to talk, are indicative of the specificity of such documentaries. The directors often witnessed the brutal events of the 1990s as children or teenagers and subsequently decided, in the relatively freer environment of the 2000s, to start exploring the memories of the elders of their families. In doing so, they were able to bring to the surface several issues that had been repressed and hidden from official and mainstream discourses. We can thus state that Kurdish documentaries, after gathering momentum in the 2000s, are now starting to consolidate by following a path that runs parallel to the Kurdish liberation movement and are adopting the idea of “cinema as activism.” Directors have been able to transform production, screenings, distribution and public appearances into different forms of action, while at the same time trying to implement a collective and independent manner of organization in every stage of production.9 In fact, most of them (especially in Kurdish cities) refuse the financial support of the Turkish Ministry of Culture in order to be completely independent from state institutions and pressure, even though this means they will have a limited budget. Furthermore, the importance conferred upon the Kurdish language in such documentaries has constituted a vital contribution to the struggle for the revitalization of a language that had been officially banned for decades and was thus in danger of being forgotten. This movement from the margin to the center brings to mind the definition of “accented cinema” developed by Hamid Naficy (2001) to describe the films produced by directors originally from Third World or postcolonial countries who moved to urban centers in Western countries.10 According to Naficy, these displaced subjects generally operate independently, outside the studio system and mainstream film industries, using interstitial and collective modes of production (2006, 11). Thus, in Naficy’s view, the common point shared by these films (despite the fact that they are marked by several differences due to the heterogeneity of the directors’ homelands and host lands) is their liminal subjectivity and their interstitial location within the society and the film industry (2006, 11). In light of these points, applying the accented cinema theory in analyses of Kurdish documentaries, while noting common points and differences, would appear to be a very useful way of understanding them and how they function. Just as in accented cinema, we can see a movement of displacement from the periphery to the center in Kurdish cinema. What makes this

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movement different from the typical dynamic of postcolonial countries, however, is the issue of forced displacement and forced migration. Because of the oppressive violence applied by the state in the region, and the army’s destruction of at least 3,000 villages in the late 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Kurds were forced to migrate, either to large Kurdish cities like Diyarbakr and Van, or to other cities in Turkey such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. In addition, several thousand Kurds decided to emigrate abroad, especially to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and other Northern European countries. Although the dynamics of Kurdistan may differ from the ones expressed by Naficy, the resulting movement from the periphery to the center happens to be very similar: Because of their displacement from the margins to the centers, they have become subjects in world history. They have earned the right to speak and have dared to capture the means of representation. However marginalized they are within the center, their ability to access the means of reproduction may prove to be as empowering to the marginalia of the postindustrial era as the capturing of the means of production would have been to the subalterns of the industrial era (Naficy 2006, 112).

Kurdish documentary cinema is just one of the several means of resistance capable of transforming the subaltern subject into a main actor who can rewrite history with his or her own outlook and point of view. The issue of looking at the world and themselves through their own eyes is explained by the Middle East Cinema Academy in the following terms: We think that it’s necessary to create a language and a form of art that is sensitive to social reality and that, instead of definitions and narrations brought from outside, is based on a local understanding of society and culture. Rejecting the hegemonic monopoly of art, we believe in an art that rather than trying to define or exclude the other, aims to develop tools for the mutual and common understanding.11

At this point it should be asked if the Kurdish issue and Kurdish cinema can be analyzed via a postcolonial framework. Even if, within the framework of cultural assimilation, Kurdistan can be considered to be an (inner) colony of Turkey, and the recent Kurdish liberation movement can be seen as being similar to a process of decolonization, reading the whole process by directly applying postcolonial theory raises several problems. According to Loomba, colonialism can be defined as “the conquest and control of other people’s land and goods” and


Chapter XI it was not an identical process in different parts of the world but everywhere it locked the original inhabitants and the newcomers into the most complex and traumatic relationships in human history (Loomba 1998, 2).

At the same time, she also suggested that it would be more helpful to think of postcolonialism “not just as coming literally after colonialism and signifying its demise, but more flexibly as the contestation of colonial domination and the legacies of colonialism” (Loomba 1998, 12). Ismail Beúikci, who dedicated several studies to describing Kurdistan as a colony of Turkey, argues that, during the mass arrests and the socalled “Eastern trials” of the 1970s, the Kurdish people began to interrogate the notions of identity, people, society, history, language, culture and the literature of Kurdistan. According to Beúikci, one of the most important and meaningful results of this period was the “thesis of the colony,” developed by Kurdish political actors on the topic of Kurdistan and its inhabitants (Beúikci 2013, 14). A very interesting point here is that usually, in modern history as we know it, it is the colonialist country that proclaims a place to be a colony while, in our example, it has been claimed by the colonized society, i.e. the Kurds, who have come to realize and announce the fact that their lands are a colony. This came about after a process of awakening and questioning. But, on this point, Beúikci puts forward an engaging idea: “Kurdistan is not even a colony of Turkey” (Beúikci 2013, 16). By saying this, he wants to point out that Kurdistan has been a country deprived even of the “privilege” of being awarded the status of colony, thus becoming a territory and nation without an identity. What happens to be a specificity of the colonial experience of Kurdistan, apart from the usual exploitation of natural resources, is a very strong assimilation factor. The description of Kurdistan as “not even being a colony of Turkey'” clearly expresses how Turkish authorities have tried to avoid recognizing Kurdish culture and identity. However, as stated by Deleuze, (…) the moment the master, or the colonizer, proclaims “There have never been people here”, the missing people are a becoming, they invent themselves, in shanty towns and camps, or in ghettos, in new conditions of struggle to which a necessarily political art must contribute. (Deleuze 1997, 217).

In those same pages, the French philosopher noted some crucial differences between classical and modern political cinemas. According to Deleuze, in classical cinema “The people are there, even though they’re

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oppressed, tricked, subjected, even though blind or unconscious.” (Deleuze 1997, 216). The idea is that “cinema, as the art of the masses, could be the supreme revolutionary or democratic art, which makes the masses a true subject” (Deleuze 1997, 216). Unlike classical cinema, modern political cinema creates a ground where the people “invent themselves” because they “no longer exist, or not yet...The people are missing”(Deleuze 1997, 216). Deleuze then claims that “art, and especially cinematographic art, must take part in this task: not that of addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of a people” (Deleuze 1997, 216). The relationship between the political and the private constitutes the other main difference between classical and modern cinema. As with minor literature, the private domain happens to be immediately political, and this could also be considered to be one of the characteristics of minoritarian cinema: “The private element becomes the place of a becoming conscious, in so far as it goes back to root causes, or reveals the ‘object’ that it expresses” (Deleuze 1997, 218). We can clearly see the presence of this element in the practices of Kurdish documentaries as well, as most of them take as a starting point a family issue, a childhood memory, or a personal diary, as a very detailed document/remembrance that provides testimony about the political events of a period, as is the case in the documentary I Wrote the Truth: The Notebook of Lice (Ersin Çelik, 2012).

Kurdish Documentaries as Activism I will now provide a more detailed introduction to a category of Kurdish documentaries, represented by works produced within the framework of cinema institutions, schools, and conservatories which, taking as a reference the Navenda Çanda Mezopotamya (Mesopotamia Cultural Center, founded in Istanbul in 1991), were established during the following years in Kurdish cities such as Diyarbakr, Van, Batman and Mardin. Apart from enjoying wide “grassroots” support, institutions like the Komeleya Akademiya Sînemayê ya Rojhilata Navîn (Middle East Cinema Academy) Akademîya Cegerxwin (Cegerxwin Fine Arts Academy) and Aram Tigran Conservatory, and many others similar to these, have been made possible in several Kurdish cities through the institutional support of municipalities managed by the Kurdish Party (called the DTP until 2009, then the BDP and, more recently, the HDP). The Kurdish filmmakers being considered here generally come from a journalistic background or were previously active in the cinema field, but


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they have been motivated by the specific necessity of recording a fragment of history that the state would like to have purged from people’s memories. In fact, in the early 2000s, young Kurdish directors discovered the crucial importance of telling their own stories from their own points of view. These documentaries, produced mostly with local resources by the people who personally witnessed the state of war in Kurdistan in the 1990s, have been able to tackle many diversified issues, such as: the education system (øki Dil Bir Bavul/On the Way to School, 2009, Orhan Eskiköy and Özgür Do÷an); journeys into one’s own childhood and family history (Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih/I Flew, You Stayed, Mizgin Müjde Arslan, 2012); memories of years spent in prison for political reasons (5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84/Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84, Çayan Demirel, 2009); unsolved murders Berxwedana 33 salan-Dayika Berfo (33 Years of Resistance-Mother Berfo/33 Yllk Direniú-Berfo Ana, Veysi Altay, 2013); the Dersim massacre of 193 (Fecira, Piran Baydemir, 2013; 38, Çayan Demirel, 2006); Kurdish storytellers and musicians (Welate me Kurdistan/My Homeland, Kurdistan, øbrahîm Yldrm, 2014; Dengbej, Mehmet Hadi Sümer, 2014); seasonal workers (He Bû Tune Bû/Once upon a Time, Kazim Öz, 2014); and guerilla fighters’ lives in the mountains (Lênûsa Botan/The Botan Diary, Xelil Da÷, 2007; Bakur (North, Çayan Demirel, Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu, 2015). However, it should be noted that all these examples represent attempts to look at forgotten spaces of history and bring to the surface oppressed memories and realities, thereby making them a valuable means of transforming the present. In this sense, Kurdish documentaries are quite different from how video activism has generally been practiced in Turkey. As stated above, Karahaber’s main concern was to grant visibility to groups engaged in struggles and raise awareness about them, and this often involved people who belonged to a different social class.

The stories which are telling us In her video November, the contemporary artist, Hito Steyerl, tells the story of her best friend Andrea Wolf, a German activist who joined the PKK in the mid-1990s and was killed by the Turkish army in 1998. Hito Steyerl shows that there was a series of connections and relationships that existed, in particular highlighting the situation of Kurdish immigrants from Turkey who are now living in Germany, and she emphasizes the fact that, after the end of the Cold War, Germany supplied the Turkish army with “leftover” guns and tanks that were then used against the Kurds. She also

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reflects on the connections and relationships concerning the images of Andrea, images which move through several forms of media and different geographies. At the beginning of November, we see Andrea acting in Steyerl’s first film (a biker-jacketed heroine in a feminist martial arts movie) and then, a few minutes later, we see her on a local Kurdish channel clad in guerilla attire, uttering words of hope. After her death, she suddenly became an icon for Kurdish migrants in Germany, and images of her often appeared on posters during demonstrations. In the final scene, Steyerl appears wrapped in a Kurdish flag while being filmed by a German television crew during a protest against the war in Iraq. At that point, Steyerl finds herself involved in the story she was trying to tell, and she describes her newly discovered condition with these very meaningful words: “We’re all part of the story, and it’s not that I am telling the story, but the story is telling me.” In Ersin Çelik’s film, I Wrote the Truth: The Notebook of Lice (2012), the diary of a peasant allows us to become witnesses to the events that have taken place during recent decades in Turkey’s Kurdistan, in the province of Lice. In fact, since 1945, villager Ahmet Tektaú has been writing about “ordinary” life in his hometown, Lice, without applying any hierarchies in his descriptions of events; rather, he has simply spoken the “truth” about what was happening. He has been writing about small details, like a neighbor who bought a cow, or fluctuations in the price of sugar, and also about major events such as the large earthquake of 1975, police raids on the village, young people being killed by the police, and the burning of the village by the army in 1993, after which, we are informed, many people were forced to leave their village. In the film, the events Ahmet describes are given visual correspondence through local television footage from the period, making it possible for elements of memory to find immediate visual reflection. During the shooting of the film, while Ahmet is speaking, a military jet happens to fly past low in the sky, and its sound is so loud that the villager has to stop talking for a while. Although random, this fact happens to reveal how current the topic still is today. As in Hito Steyerl’s November, the images we see in The Notebook of Lice circulate through the past and present, and take on heterogeneous media forms, such as a notebook, local TV channels and documentary footage. Taken individually, they could be considered to be simple elements, but once they come together they construct a new, different form and constitute an action. At one point in the documentary, we see that the villager is writing in his notebook: “Today, the cameramen arrived,” he writes. “They took a shot of my notebook with their cameras.”


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Fig 11-1. A still from I Wrote the Truth: The Notebook of Lice: “I started to write this diary in 1945”.

Fig. 11-2 (left). A still from I wrote the Truth: The Notebook of Lice. The pages of the diary are testimonies of different massacres of the 1990s. Fig. 11-3 (right). A still from I wrote the Truth: The Notebook of Lice. Ahmet Tektaú writes: “Today, the cameramen arrived. They took a shot of my notebook with their cameras.”

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Ahmet Tektaú’s notebook represents a very significant case of the private becoming immediately political. It is a diary that speaks of a long struggle to exist, a permanent resisting and inventing of oneself. Tektaú chose to write and preserve the truth in order to exist, and this very private notebook has transformed itself into a political mechanism, eventually raising the suspicions of the police who seized it for a while, but eventually gave it back to its owner. Just as the members of Karahaber sought to make images communicate among themselves in order to find spontaneous new ways of taking action, Ersin Çelik’s documentary shows how effective writing and images, past and present, old and new can be juxtaposed to create a new and immediate act. The local television footage that was hidden away for several years, having only been previously accessible to a very limited audience, can, in this way, re-emerge in a new form and create new meanings.

Conclusion As I have argued, the most remarkable examples of video activism in Turkey have been the works created by Karahaber and most of the recent Kurdish documentaries produced in Turkey. They share the same goal of documenting, seeking out the truth, creating change and transforming social realities. In the case of Karahaber, this intention has remained more utopic and intellectual while, in the case of Kurdish documentaries, it has been made more effective by revealing and putting together hidden stories that have been fragmented in the memories of the Kurdish people. Indeed, the main difference between Karahaber and Kurdish documentaries is that, in the first case, the filmmakers film social groups to which they do not belong (but want to make visible) while, in the second case, the boundary between the video makers and subjects has been erased. It is not by chance that the most effective work created by Karahaber was Scavengers, as the filmmaker understood the crucial importance of eliminating the distance between the maker of a video and the subjects at hand. Similarly, in Kurdish documentaries, the subjects happen to film themselves and try to control their own representation. In this way, the gap between representing and represented subjects is progressively reduced, and this constitutes one of the most important elements of the nature of these films. Nonetheless, in order to completely reduce this gap, one further step should be needed, as we will see below. The case of Steyerl “being told by the story” can be considered to be a metaphor for many Kurdish documentaries. The fact that Steyerl found herself involved in the story she was following, and that director Ersin


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Çelik found himself included in a page of the Lice Notebook he was filming, is notable. Despite their different backgrounds and intentions, the similar approach of Steyerl and Çelik to the issue of representation has made the two directors end up not just telling stories, but rather being told by them. To conclude, I would like to take Steyerl’s statement one step further and mention Mark Nichanian’s work on catastrophe. According to the literary theorist’s conceptualization, instead of extorting information or truth, the real aim of violence is to eliminate the subjects and ultimately drive them to a point where they cannot recognize themselves anymore. Thus, violence is applied not only to bodies, but also to souls, hence eliminating the identities of the subjects. It also creates a strong feeling of guilt that forces the subject into silence; once subjects start to tell their own stories, they may feel like they are betraying them, as the entirety of the facts can never be described. That is why, according to Nichanian, the victim of violence cannot be capable of truly explaining what happened. In this way, the strongest effect of violence is that “it kills its subject” (Nichanian 2011, 26-30). Because of this, Nichanian states that literature can be a tool of mediation that makes it possible to tell that which is untellable, as it places distance between the fact and its description. In the specificity of the Kurdish case analyzed here, images reveal facts by giving subjects and witnesses the chance to talk. Consequently, these images, as unowned and nomadic as their subjects, “travel” in different directions and through different media such as local television channels, newspapers, and venues, created via video or documentary activism; the latter can simply be realized via the Internet or local, national and international festivals. Kurdish stories are reflected in these images that are emerging one by one, from the past to the present. As noted by Nichanian, catastrophes kill their subjects and, likewise, for years, the Kurdish people have not been able to tell their own stories. Now, however, the images constitute a means for those witnesses who were killed in the disaster to speak, and they give them the chance to “invent” themselves. As in Karahaber’s motto “from the image of action, to the action of the images,” in this case, too, images speak to their subjects, images speak to us, and images create their own actions. Kurdish directors who are trying to tell their own stories come across themselves, just as the filmmaker eventually appeared in the pages of Lice Notebook. Today, video is one of the most powerful tools that the Kurdish people have to show that they exist, that they have a memory, and that they are ready to act and change reality.

Kurdish Documentary Activism as a Means of Existence


These days, a new regional project launched by the Mezopotamia Cultural Center, called Cinema Commune, is aiming to spread the practice of filming in different neighborhoods and villages in the territory of Turkey’s Kurdistan because, to date, such projects have only been realized in urban centers.12 It was self-criticism that arose within the Kurdish documentary filmmakers that led to this decision, as there were concerns about the risk of alienating perceptions created by cinema as an urban, institutional form of art. In order to bring cinema closer to the people, and to reduce as much as possible the gap between representing and represented subjects, and apart from screening films in villages, the initiators of this project wanted to take on a role similar to that of the “trainers” of video activists and allow subjects who live on the margins to learn how to use the video camera so that many other hidden stories can be revealed. There are still so many notebooks, stories, memories and subjects on the margins, to be witnessed by documentaries and become actors in history. Kurdish documentaries allow subjects who were silenced by catastrophes to speak about themselves in a way that is only possible with images. And Kurdish documentary images are, in and of themselves, actions.

Notes 1

Here, I use the term “accented” as defined by Hamid Naficy (2001), and the term “minor” as developed by Gilles Deleuze (2005) to describe the characteristics of modern political cinema analogous to his theory of minor literature based on Kafka’s work. 2 Lice is a town in the province of Diyarbakr, in the Kurdish region of Turkey. 3 I use this word with reference to Hito Steyerl and the idea of “Traveling Images” in her video work called November. 4 Oktay Ince, one of Karahaber’s members, expressed these words in a video activism workshop organized as part of the 4th Which Human Rights? Film Festival, held on 7-9th December, 2012. 5 Karahaber’s video activism extended to different social movements. The antimilitarist movement was represented by “17, gay-lesbian rights movement by 16, feminist movement by 10, and the environmentalist movement by 7 videos. Other categories which can be identified and their respective numbers of videos are: protests against the F-type prison system, 15; the struggles of the Sinan villagers, 12; the Kurdish movement, 9; and, scrap paper collectors, 8. The peak for Karahaber seems to have been reached in the years 2006 and 2007; respectively, 57 and 52 new videos were uploaded in those years” (Mehrabov 2010, 90). 6 Tekel Resistance was a large-scale workers strike that took place in Turkey in February 2010 against the privatization of a public enterprise producing tobacco,


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cigarettes and alcohol. Gezi Resistance was a nationwide uprising that took place in June 2013, starting in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, in reaction to plans for urban transformation of the park. 7 Hayat TV is an independent television station run by members of EMEP (Emek Partisi, or Labour Party). 8 ùen expressed these sentiments in a panel called “What if? Revisiting the Images”, that took place in Berlin on 9/2/2015 as part of the 65th Berlinale. 9 When Mizgin Müjde Arslan was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the Turkish Cinema Awards organized by the 45th Siyad (Cinema Writers’ Association), she dedicated it to the families of soldiers and guerrilla fighters who had been killed. When Piran Baydemir was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the 50th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, he made his speech in Kurdish and dedicated the award to Sakine Cansz, one of the founders of the PKK, who was killed in Paris in 2013 together with two other Kurdish women activists, and also to the Rojava revolution. Kazim Öz, when his film was awarded the Best Documentary prize at the 33th Istanbul Film Festival, complained that he wanted to make his speech in Kurdish but there was no Kurdish translator available. 10 Naficy states that accented directors use their “accents” in two different manners: first, towards the cinema industry and the imperialist forms of production and, second, towards the hegemonic language (the language of the host country) and its “flawless” use. Accented directors use collective forms of production in opposition to an industrial one and an imperfect accented version of the hegemonic language instead of its standardized use. Using a form reminiscent of minor literature, they try to undermine the impeccability of the hegemonic language. 11 http://www.sinemaakademi.com/?page_id=198 12 The main ideas of Cinema Commune were expressed by Ilham Bakr in an interview published in the newspaper Ozgur Gundem on 13th February 2015: We should bring cinema to villages through the commune (Sinemay Komünle Köylere Taúmalyz).

Works Cited Baker, Ulus. 2002. Video Üstüne. Accessed January 1, 2010. http://www.korotonomedya.net/kor/index.php?id=21,147,0,0,1,0 Bakr, ølham. Sinemay Komünle Köylere Taúmalyz. Özgür Gündem, February 13, 2015. Beúikci, øsmail. 2013. Devetleraras Sömürge Kürdistan. Istanbul: Roni Basn Yayn. Boyle, Deirdre.1992. “From Portapak to Camcorder: A Brief History of Guerilla Television.” Journal of Film and Video 44:67-97. Collective 2012, 1. Mîhrîcana Fîlman A Navnetewî Ya Amedê (1st International Amed Film Festival) Festival Catalogue, October 29th – November 4th 2012, Akademiya Cegerxwîn, Diyarbakr.

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Collective (Genç Sinema activists), 1968, “Bildiri.” In Genç Sinema, Devrimci Sinema Dergisi 1(1), Demos, T. J. 2013. “Hito Steyerl's Traveling Images.” In The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis, 7489. Durham & London: Duke University Press. Deleuze, Gilles. 1997. Cinema 2, The Time-Image, 215-224. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Gregory, Sam. 2005. “Introduction.” In Video for Change-A Guide for Advocacy and Activism, edited by Sam Gregory, Gilian Caldwell, Rnonit Avni and Thomas Harding, xii-xvii. London: Pluto Press. Harding, Thomas. 2001. The Video Activist Handbook, London and Chicago: Pluto Press. ønce, Oktay (as one of the participants of) video activism workshop In 4th edition of Which Human Rights? Film Festival, December 7-8-9 2012, Istanbul. Loomba, Ania. 1998. Colonialism Postcolonialism, New York: Routledge. Mehrabov, ølkin. 2010. Video Activism in Turkey: Empowerment of Oppressed or Another Kind of Surveillance? The Case of Karahaber. Master diss., Middle East Technical University. Melitopoulos A, A. ùen, and O ønce. 2015. “What if? Revisiting the Images.” In Forum Extended Panel, 9/2/2015, 65th Berlinale, Berlin. Naficy, Hamid. 2006. “Situating Accented Cinema.” In Transnational Cinema, The Film Reader, edited by Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden, 111-13. New York: Routledge. Nichanian, Mark. 2011. Edebiyat ve Felaket. Istanbul: Anadolu Kültür A.ù. Nichols, Bill. 2001. Introduction to Documentary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage. Vardar, Nilay. 2013. Kürt Belgesel Sinemas Ata÷a Geçti. Accessed January 1, 2014. http://bianet.org/biamag/toplum/146751-kurt-belgesel-sinemasi-atagagecti


A Context for a Platform by Alisa Lebow By way of background, we, the organizers of Visible Evidence XVII (2010), convened the panel on Kurdish documentary, the transcript of which follows this introduction, as one of only two plenary panels at the conference. 2010 was to be the first time Visible Evidence, an annual, peripatetic, international documentary studies conference, was to be held at the very easternmost borders of Europe. Since its inception in 1993, all editions had been held either in North America or in Western Europe, with only two exceptions (Australia, 2001, and Brazil, 2006). Furthermore, documentary scholarship, at least that which is published in English, had tended to overlook the work of practitioners in many parts of the world, including the region in which Turkey finds itself, loosely speaking at the intersection of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Our idea was to take the opportunity to introduce the mostly European and North American scholars who attended this conference to the documentary culture of the region. Some participants, of course, would be familiar with it, and some indeed hailed from the region itself, but the majority of scholars, who were and remain, after all, the main voices publishing on documentary film in English, were long overdue in learning about this thriving area of cultural production. The conference was held in the blistering August heat of 2010

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


on the South Campus of Bo÷aziçi University, overlooking the Bosphorus Strait. Obviously, we thought of having a panel on Turkish documentary but, upon closer reflection, we realized then (and this is just as true now), that some of the best and most innovative documentaries emerging from Turkey were being made by Kurdish filmmakers. While it felt premature to offer any theories as to why that may have been so, we were convinced that a platform to consider the development of Kurdish documentary in Turkey would be a useful start. It was, in a sense, an event that prefigured—and perhaps even paved the way for—the volume you are reading now. At the time, Ayça Çiftçi, organizer and chair of the panel, was able to couch her introduction in terms that would indicate that the “hot war” against the Kurds was in the past, and in its wake had arisen this new wave of films that insisted on a recognition of Kurdish culture and claims. Unfortunately, as I write this framing introduction six years later, the conditions of “hot war” have seemingly returned, with all of the tragedy and uncertainty that entails. After a significant period of relative calm, tensions have again erupted, and the Kurdish population of Turkey finds itself again embattled by the state. The difference between the last period of violent repression and this one may be that the genie of Kurdish selfrepresentation has come out of the bottle, and no amount of brutality and intimidation can force it back in. Documentary production has long thrived in places where mainstream representation has failed to be either adequate or appropriate for a given community, culture, or identity configuration. In regions where there is an over-mediation of a conflict, for instance in Palestine or Iraq, the representation is generally heavily weighted on the side of hegemonic power. The tendency thus arises for the indigenous or local population to strive toward self-representation, as if the camera—in the right hands— can redress the omissions and misrepresentations of the mainstream media. Sometimes, this results in a journalistic style corrective, a one-to-one correspondence of images, where one set of images is meant to override another. This strategy is often necessary and quite justifiable. However, it is rarely where the creative interventions occur. The creative interventions, in the form of documentary, always occur to one side or the other of journalistic reporting. They may take up an historical event, but they always do more (or other) than report. And indeed, in the case of Kurdish documentary, both then and now, there is a strong creative current that allows for a range of filmic expression well beyond the simple message of opposition to the policies and actions of the Turkish State.


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As Çayan Demirel stated in his comments on the panel, Kurdish cinema has emerged even in the absence of sustaining mechanisms and institutions (he included museums, libraries, or archives, and I would add, universities and film schools), let alone dedicated support (financial or otherwise) that would enable its expression. He argues in his talk that it is even difficult to identify, strictly speaking, what might constitute Kurdish cinema given that some of these Kurdish films are made in Turkish, and that the identity itself is subject to a complex and contradictory set of effects due to years of repression of Kurdish language and cultural expression. Nonetheless, thrive it has, even in the most adverse conditions, and it is this irrepressible fact that led us to convene this panel. It should be noted that several of the films made by the filmmakers on this panel, and those of other Kurdish filmmakers, have been subjected to censorship by the state. It would be irresponsible and inaccurate to perpetuate the impression that there is an open field in Turkey for making and exhibiting films by Kurdish filmmakers about the Kurdish experience in Turkey and the struggle for cultural, if not political, autonomy therein. In fact, this struggle is played out in the arena of cinema as much as it is in other facets of society. In April of 2015, four and a half years after our panel at Visible Evidence, Çayan Demirel and Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu’s film, Bakur (North, 2015), was subjected to tacit censorship at the Istanbul Film Festival, when the government decided to arbitrarily enforce a generally ignored law requiring a screening certificate in order to show the film (the certificate would almost surely have been denied). Under extreme pressure, the festival decided to cancel the screening, and that unilateral decision led to the withdrawal of all of the submissions from Turkey, both fiction and documentary. All of the jury members resigned and, effectively, the festival was shut down, maintaining only the thinnest veneer of operation by showing the international films from the program and nothing else. It is not the first time Demirel’s films had been subject to such interference (his film, 38, which he discussed on the panel, was subjected to a three year ban), but it did mark the first time other directors from Turkey, most of them non-Kurds, showed unanimous support for a Kurdish film and took a firm stand against the arbitrary enforcement of a clearly repressive law. Mizgin Müjde Arslan spoke eloquently on the panel about the motivations behind the “new wave” of Kurdish Cinema, about its urgency, and what amounts to its language of death. It is a bold and committed movement, united not by aesthetics or technical prowess, but by the very need to speak. Arslan makes a strong case for Kurdish filmmaking as oral history, as an aggregated memory, adding to the historical record “drop by

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


drop.” In conditions of historical repression, it is that much more vital, and indeed imperative, that film is used to record and testify to that which would otherwise be silenced. This is perhaps not saying anything particularly new, and yet one feels it must be articulated yet again in this context. One of the important points that Arslan raises is the personal imprint that can be found in many Kurdish documentaries. This can, in part, be explained by the fact that, while they may indeed be moved to represent their community’s experience, they have not been authorized to do so by any hegemonic force, state or otherwise. Thus, they speak from their own situated position, lending a unique vantage point to each articulated vision. While by no means comprising the dominant modality of Kurdish documentary, there is a distinctive tendency toward first person filmmaking, as seen most clearly, in fact, in Arslan’s films, both the one she mentions in her talk, Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy/Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalk, 2009), and the impressive film she finished a few years later, entitled Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flew You Stayed/Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldn, 2012), where the filmmaker searches for traces of her guerrilla fighting father, whom she never knew except by voice, transmitted to his daughter and family via audio cassette. Like Demirel, Arslan reminds us of the difficult conditions in which Kurdish filmmakers find themselves in Turkey and suggests that, at times, they are forced (whether by virtue of external pressure or internalized oppression) to take recourse in obscure metaphors. And, while I am certain some of those metaphors have gone over my head, I want to suggest that it is this recourse to metaphor that, at times, has elevated Kurdish cinema, and documentary in particular, in notable ways. A film not yet made at the time of this panel, Caner Canerik’s moving film Was (Grass/Ot, 2013), is a case in point. The film is ostensibly about two elderly co-wives, one of whom is deaf and dumb, the other too old and enfeebled to manage the difficulties of life on her own. The film observes their daily struggle to protect the small stash of hay needed to feed their one cow against the incursion of their neighbor’s trespassing cows, who feed off of their limited resources with impunity. Few documentaries have effected so sensitive a portrayal of the precarity of co-existence and the fragility of human inter-dependency, speaking at once and with such tenderness on the micro-level about these obscure rural characters’ lives and at the macro-level of geopolitical tensions writ large. No mention of the larger context is ever made, which makes the helicopter roar overhead that we hear midway through the film that much more intrusive. The outer world and its pressures are played out in this mini-drama as effectively as


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any Shakespearian allegory. That such a quiet and unassuming documentary could achieve this feat is indeed a testament to the skill with which Kurdish documentarians have learned to speak in the language of metaphor while maintaining a clear and embodied commitment to the politics of the land. Kazim Öz’s Demsala Dawi: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim ùavaklar, 2009) is another film that operates on this level, and Arslan describes it as communicating silently, finding a way to narrate the complexity of the Kurdish experience by deceptively simple means: through observation. Kazim Öz was, in fact, the final speaker on the panel. Öz was at the time, perhaps, the most accomplished filmmaker of the three, having worked in both fiction and documentary, and taking some of the greatest formal risks in his work. He spoke briefly, but pointedly, about the need to ground Kurdish cinema in the experience of the culture. He indicated, following both Demirel and Arslan, that this is no easy feat for Kurds in Turkey, as they have been forcibly alienated from key aspects of their culture, such as language, for generations. There seems to be no end to the myriad linguistic and cultural occlusions that such an elemental forced substitution sets in play. Öz began his talk by admonishing the academy for not having attended to the phenomena of Kurdish cinema long ago. Buried strategically in this complaint was the recognition that what we were doing at Visible Evidence, however belated, was ground breaking. And that recognition, as well as that admonition, which, after all, needed to have a platform in order to be aired, makes me very proud to have been part of the team that produced this historical event.

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


Speaking Out: Kurdish Documentary (Plenary Panel)

Fig. 12-1 The Visible Evidence Plenary Panel, Bo÷aziçi University, Istanbul, August 11, 2010.

AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: Hello everyone. Thank you very much. I really want to thank those who have worked to put this panel together. Before I hand over to the directors, it would be good to offer a short introduction to the atmosphere of which this panel is a product. There is, of course, a long social account in which the Kurdish documentaries that we’ll discuss today are nourished from and, in fact, became famous. However, we don’t have that much time now. So, if we look for a brief way to summarize this long history, we can find it in how the nation-state that is the Turkish Republic identifies itself. Starting off with a homogenous national history, which was inscribed only through Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, throughout its history, ignored Kurds, the existence of a language called Kurdish and, essentially, all that was recognized apropos Kurdishness. An extension of this absolute denial policy has been a brutal repressive policy towards Kurds. In the words of Abbas Vali, an important scholar on the Kurdish issue, “modern Turkish historical discourse has learned to host this silence and perpetuate the absence thus hiding away the Kurds from history.” According to Mesut Ye÷en, another important scholar on this


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issue, “Within the period between its foundation until the early years of 1990s, the Turkish Republic has been in a deep silence about the Kurdish issue as if such a problem didn’t exist.” So, to move on from these quotations, the most fundamental knowledge regarding the Kurdish issue, and also for this panel, is that the Kurdish issue has been a matter that has been both silent, and forcibly silenced. Of course, this very essential explanation gives us the reason why Kurdish films are in some way late in emerging. For the reasons I’ve mentioned, the documentaries we have watched are the products of a new dynamics. What allows us to discuss Kurdish documentaries, and what allows Kurdish directors the chance to produce for the cinema, is a new era in the power relations in Turkey that started towards the end of the 1990s. The “hot war” period, starting from 1984, has clearly been an era of heavy losses from the viewpoint of Kurds. However, at the same time, it is a period in which they have greatly gained with regard to social status. We can say that ultimately, at the end of the 1990s, and after more than a decade of war, there opened up a new period in which the absolute denial policies that were set down in the foundation of the republic were reconsidered and, in fact, were forced into reconsideration. This balance of a new social dynamics that was shaped by losses and achievements triggered a ground in which it was possible, albeit partially, to talk about the issue. One of many dynamics that rose on this ground was Kurdish films and thus cinema. Starting particularly in the second half of the 1990s, films emerged whose directors openly expressed their Kurdish identity, films in which the Kurdish issue was examined and Kurdish was spoken as language. These films gradually increased in number during the 2000s. Eventually, they reached such a capacity that it was impossible to dismiss or ignore them. Of course, this is the reason why this panel was organized. Thus, availing themselves of the camera, Kurdish directors immediately began to tell the story of Kurdishness. They started to produce their films with the intent to tell, one by one, all that couldn’t be told for years, each taking up where the other left off, completing each other’s stories, as it were. Documentary, among these directors, has become prominent as one of the essential forms of expressing oneself through cinema. The prominence of documentary as a narrative form for Kurdish directors is linked with the relation between concepts such as documentary, the real and reality. What I mean is that documentary is a genre capable of allowing Kurds to state, “what I remember as truths are not the same as what you present,” and to fill this breach. Therefore, through the directors who will speak here in a little while, we now have a chance to see silenced topics, truths that were hushed up

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


and that remained unseen on the white screen. An ignored language declares its existence. We can now hear the traumatic words added to the vocabulary of a language that was forbidden for years. In fact, we can also see what memories nourish the collectivity that still vivifies this language after all this time. These documentaries bring singular individual Kurds together with the multiplicity of Kurdish collectivity, render them members of a community that may refer to itself, one that is imagined through shared memories. They incorporate these singular experiences and these singular individuals into a collective memory of this community, and in this sense, what these documentaries document does indeed have great significance. While the war is still going on, while the future of the Kurdish issue remains uncertain, in order to construct this future, it is utterly important for us to see, listen to and watch how Kurds construct their past. These documentaries, which represent another truth regime that destabilizes the truth regime of the nation-state at its core and documents memories to which Kurds refer to picture themselves, essentially propose to work through the recent history of Turkey. Now at this point, where working through the past is mentioned, I would like to hand over to Çayan Demirel because he has two documentaries which are about two utterly important events in Turkey’s history that should be faced. Çayan Demirel first worked as production director on Bir Bilim Adamyla Zaman Enleminde Yolculuk (Voyage with a Scientist on the Latitude of Time, Özcan Alper) in 2002. In 2006, he made a documentary called 38, which was about a well-known massacre in Dersim in 1938. This documentary, which was screened at various festivals, brought the issue to the fore, and thus Çayan Demirel essentially made his name. Most recently, he made a documentary called 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr.5: 1980-84) in 2009. The documentary was about what happened in Diyarbakr Prison after the coup d’etat, and it won the Best Documentary award at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, which is an important award in Turkey (it shared the award with another film). Now, I would like to give the floor to Çayan Demirel. ÇAYAN DEMøREL: Hello to everyone. I would like to thank the friends who organized this panel. I would really like to speak Kurdish to you but, unfortunately, I don’t know Kurdish, even though we’ll talk about Kurdish documentary. But I would like to welcome you all in my mother tongue. (Welcome in Zazaki). Before I talk about my documentaries, I would like to present a narrative about Kurdish cinema and some descriptive complexities surrounding it. As we all know, defining Kurdish cinema presents us with a series of


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difficulties. For example, there are various positions about what constitutes Kurdish cinema: how and whether to regard films whose language is not Kurdish as Kurdish cinema, do we regard films whose subject-matter concerns Kurds as Kurdish cinema, do we include films into Kurdish cinema just because of a director’s Kurdish identity, why are some of the films whose language is not Kurdish mentioned within Kurdish cinema and others are not? In fact, these discussions show how new Kurdish cinema is. I think that these discussions are also useful for the development of Kurdish cinema. Moreover, the difficulty of a mutual development in art in view of the fact that Kurds are spread over four different countries causes contrasts between the development of the art of Kurds in other countries and of Kurds in Turkey. In my opinion, if we talk about Kurdish cinema, language has primary importance for sure. Kurds, that is we, should of course make our films in our own language first. Here, I cannot but remember a remark of Karl Marx: Language is the very thought. But, it should be remembered that these discussions, in the first place, were not problems stemming from the development process of Kurdish cinema. This problem has existed in a historical process and remains until today. It will become meaningful only as it is analyzed sociologically and discussed within the colonization process of Kurdistan and Kurds. Because the endeavor to build a future through bringing fundamental problems of a society to consciousness is intertwined with finding the historical backdrops of that social structure. Of course, I will not descant on history here. We all know that Kurds have been perpetually confronted with assimilation policies since the foundation of the Republic and up to this day. We also very well know that Kurds have been resisting these assimilation policies since their formulation. In short, there has been a parallel development of literature, art, science, and cinema alongside existing political life. In this sense, Kurdish cinema has concurrently constituted both a pillar of the Kurds’ struggle to survive, and formed the language of dissent. In this respect, Kurdish cinema developed in parallel with Kurdish political life. The first known film about Kurds is Zare, which was made in 1926 by Hamo Beknazarian in Armenia. After that film, Kurdish cinema was in stasis until the 1970s. Starting from the 1970s, years marked by highly active political activity, Ylmaz Güney, a leading name in Kurdish cinema, left his mark on the period. With the 1990s, there emerged important films and directors in cinema alongside the Kurdish movement. Hence, I think that, despite Kurdish cinema and diverse definitions of it, in the course of this historical development, all these works done for the development of genuine and self-reflecting Kurdish cinema carry importance and value in terms of

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


forming a shared memory, like a relay race, and constitute a totality. For me, this problem can be overcome by Kurds through forming a state. Otherwise, some individual works will be meaningful, but there will be problems apropos the continuation of them and the transfer of the skill of Kurdish filmmaking will face problems. A long tradition of oral culture is imprinted within Kurdistan society and generally a limited part of knowledge of past events has survived up to today through the narrow capacity of these cultural means. In addition to that, in light of the fact that Kurds don’t have any national archive, museum or library that would somewhat compile and preserve knowledge about the history of their own society, that there aren’t any scientific institutions such as universities or institutes that would undertake research on this matter yet (or the ones that exist are quite new and insufficient), the works on studying and learning Kurdish cinema and Kurdish documentary have indeed proved a toilsome endeavor. Although I individually take a stand against the phenomenon of state, building a state is an important phenomenon for Kurds in order to secure the transmission of their values, produced as a people, from one generation to the next. This circumstance will reveal for Kurds the capability of practicing literature, science, art, and cinema with their own language instead of with the language of others. As I said at the beginning, since I don’t know Kurdish, I’ve had to make my two documentaries in Turkish. Of course, someone would come up and ask me this: “In your film 38, you tell about how people in the Dersim region, in today’s Tunceli, are turkified by implementing genocide, and you do that in Turkish. Also, Diyarbakr Prison is a prison in which the progressive elements of Kurds are turkified by force and through systematic torture. However, you also tell that story in Turkish.” Actually, this is what I tried to explain. I am also a product of this political system and an unclear definition of what Kurdish cinema is. I cannot speak with my mother in the same language because I don’t know my mother tongue. But, at the same time, I think that Kurdish cinema, unfortunately, will develop in this way. I believe that demanding education in one’s mother tongue gains its legitimacy at this very point. After this general evaluation, I would like to talk about my two documentary films. But before that, we have a short trailer of 38. Let’s see that first, and I will continue my words from there.


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Fig. 12-2 Poster of 38

In 38, we endeavored to tell the genocide on the Kurdish nation in Dersim due to the intolerance toward differences in the state-building process during the founding years of the Turkish Republic. The film develops around interviews done with the elderly witnesses of the period. It narrates, through testimonies and evidence from the newspapers of the period, how Kurdish people were exterminated by the state without regard to whether they were old, young or children. I think that it’s important in

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


the sense that it is a genuine work made by our own means, and that it is the first work done about this subject in this country. Moreover, the interviews with the witnesses of the period allow us to see it as an oral history study. After completing it in 2006, we sent it to the Ministry of Culture in order to receive the Ministry of Culture’s Operating License, but the ministry didn’t give it to the film. The film has been banned for the last three years (2008-2011). Two weeks ago, the ban was lifted. So, we couldn’t screen the film for three years. At the same time, there emerged discussions about 38. After Onur Öymen, from the Republican People Party said something like “didn’t mothers cry in Dersim?”, even the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdo÷an, showed the courage to call Dersim a massacre. However, meanwhile, this documentary had been banned by the government for three years, and we could only lift the ban through a court decision. So, banning this film by the government is a clear indication of the insincerity of the prime minister’s remark and of how even this matter became material for playing politics. Of course, I cannot but remember an African proverb here: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” It is quite a true proverb. For me, 38, on which we worked in the period between 2003 and 2006, is important in the way that most of the interviewees are not alive any longer, and they were faced with the tragedy they experienced. That 38 couldn’t have been screened up to this day in Dersim, in today’s Tunceli, where all this happened, grieves me as an artist who feels the suffering of its people at heart. Now, I would like to say something on 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84). A short narrative. But before that, we will do a short visual presentation again.


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Fig 12-3 Poster of 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84)

I want to say a few words about this film. The documentary tells what happened in Diyarbakr Prison between 1980 and 1984, and what happened is a phenomenon of turkification, like in 1938. So in this sense, there is factual continuity within history. So we can talk about a historical continuity between 1938 and the 1980 coup d’etat. In this documentary, we endeavored to tell the Turkification operation undertaken towards Kurds in Diyarbakr Prison. After the September 12th coup d’etat, the tendency to oppress all dissident movements had shown itself most

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


strongly at Diyarbakr Prison, and this prison has become a symbol for the darkness of the era. Together with testimonies, the film tries to communicate what prisoners went through in a prison where there was an attempt to force them to reject their Kurdish identity in favor of a Turkish one, through various torture methods such as making prisoners eat rats and excrement, beatings, and where even mothers who knew only Kurdish were prohibited from using their mother tongue during visiting times. I was just warned that I should conclude in general now due to time limits. Of course it is difficult to create these documentaries. Because, as I’ve just said, since Kurds do not have a national archive, and you are always confronted with various sanctions by the state during your work (for instance, after you’ve made a documentary like 38, it is then banned), showing the courage to tackle a similar topic, casting aside interference, involves plenty of challenges. Consequently, I would like to summarize thus: In this documentary, we interviewed 80 people. I believe that these works all have a great importance with respect to transmitting to the next generation and culture a way of working through the past. In a sense, I feel responsible for this history and the present we live in, and the works I’ve done in this domain sort of originate from this. I want to briefly say this, something in which I believe: If a society doesn’t work through the past and come face to face with it, it is not possible for it to build a future, develop and progress. Every society absolutely must work through whatever happened in the past. The culture of forgetting and the culture of working through are two opposite cultures. These two cultures form a dialectic totality. Those who side with capital and the order, side with the culture of forgetting. They would say, “Well sir, what’s the use of reviving all this again, talking about this again; it is better to erase this from social memory.” However, those who want society to progress and develop should consider working through the past. That is to say, we should keep the culture of working through the past alive, and we have to witness, we have to put forward all that we live and see in order to do so. In this sense, we happened to have chosen documentary cinema on behalf of the culture of working through. As I’ve mentioned earlier, although it is important to form a state for Kurds, in order to develop further, the need to accumulate and institutionalize all of these contributions made by individuals is undeniable in the current situation. In the final analysis, I think that Kurds who make films, music, theatre or literature for the same goal should be supportive of others who work for the same goal. I thank those who labor in every domain.


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AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: Thank you. Now I would like to give the floor to Müjde Arslan. Müjde Arslan worked as journalist and editor for various agencies, newspapers and magazines. She wrote articles on cinema and literature. She made her short film called Lîstika Dawî (The Last Game/Son Oyun) in 2006, and it won both national and international awards. Subsequently, she made two shorts, Nora and Tov (The Seed/Tohum, 2009). In 2009, she directed her first documentary, Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy), but Müjde Arslan is not someone who only directs. She also writes on the works she does. One example is that she edited Kurdish Cinema: Statelessness, Boundary and Death, the first book that discusses Kurdish cinema in Turkey. Now, I will hand over to her. MøZGøN MÜJDE ARSLAN: Thank you. First of all, welcome and thanks to those who contributed their efforts to put this panel together. I feel, now, that this is very valuable work. I will tell you about my personal history. Maybe it would also leave you with questions about Kurdish documentary. My name, in fact, is not Müjde as Ayça said (laughs). My name is Mizgin. I was born with that name and was given the name Müjde at the age of eleven. As a matter of fact, I haven’t personalized or internalized that name and don’t particularly like it. But I didn’t abandon it either. I mean, when I had the chance to change it, I didn’t. Because for me, just like the discourse states, it is a part of the oppression, exploitation and history I carry in order not to forget. I mean, I have had a lifetime with the name Müjde and I, in fact, carry it upon me. I thus use Mizgin Müjde. I learnt Turkish in school. Now, I am able to speak Turkish better, but I can also speak Kurdish. However, it causes me some dismay that my Turkish is better than my Kurdish. Today, the geography where Kurds live, regardless of its name (it is called Kurdistan historically, but this word is prohibited, so I will try to refrain from using it), unfortunately is in a relentless war and witnesses the death of thousands of our young people. I don’t know whether you are aware, but we witness the killing of at least ten people and of various numbers of our youth on television every day. The mountains are bombed, the forests are burnt down, children who throw stones at soldiers are crushed beneath tanks, and all this is repeated over and over again every day. When I first went to Diyarbakr, I was disturbed by the sound of jets. But as it was repeated and repeated, you become inured to it, because it’s just the way it is. A large portion of the Kurdish population has been assimilated. Çayan mentioned this a little. This assimilation is still going on. Only the villages with rough roads can speak only Kurdish. Fortunately, my village is one of

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


them. Thousands of Kurdish politicians are still in jail, a lot more of the population is in exile, including those of us who live in Istanbul. Every one of us has nostalgia about a country, and it is a shared nostalgia. Not of a country that is named or unnamed, prohibited or not. But every Kurd has a dream of Kurdistan. In the meantime, Kurds are subjected to poverty, ignorance and tribal traditions. The documentary that I will talk of later essentially tells about this. It narrates today’s Kurds through the eyes of women. It looks at the present-day situation. When I was born, my father joined the Kurdish liberation movement and, against the wishes of my grandfather, who warned me to keep this information to myself, I was always known as the daughter of a “terrorist.” It was, of course another kind of violence. Because it’s not a particularly easy word. It is not lived as easily as it is said. It is unlikely that I would have ever directed a film if this had not been my experience. But with such a heavy historical responsibility, every step you take and every word you utter adds to the burden and expression becomes a greater and greater necessity. I define it this way: I come from a place where everybody is blind, mute or deaf, and I might be the only one who has a talent as such. I talk about my own family, my own village. Consequently, I have to speak, I have to tell. The fundamental matter for Kurds has to do with truth today; they want to express their own truth. I mean, neither Turks, nor Kurds, nor other peoples in Turkey are really aware of the matter. I mean, some of them, those who arrive at the threshold of awakening, know a part of it. However, even we are not fully aware of the whole story, and we who make documentaries or write books, or participate in these panels and conferences have the duty to transmit it, or to try to do so. After all the death we’ve witnessed, nobody in the Kurdish territories is afraid of death. I’ve been to Armenia where Kurds live, to Iraqi Kurdistan (I myself am from Mardin), to Diyarbakr, and that’s what I’ve seen most. Really, I had a fear of death a year ago, I was afraid of flying. Now there is no such a thing as death anymore. What I mean is that it allows you to reconcile with death, and it acquires a place in our films as a very strong metaphor. Kurds really make the cinema of death, and that’s also why we named the book Death, Statelessness and Boundary— because those three constitute the key pillars. Those were my reasons, but these also are the pillars of Kurdish documentary. I suppose that’s what we all share here. We can define Kurdish documentary as a documentary wave, a new wave that resists as if fighting, speaks conscientiously, tries to destroy the century-old official history. It is not just in terms of Kurds. I believe that it heralds a new era of documentary filmmaking with regard to


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the cinema of Turkey, and brings it forward to the future. I mean, documentary as a language, as a style and as a stance. Speaking about this brings to mind the Third Cinema of Getino and Solanas that emerged at the end of the 1960s. But it is not exactly the same. Though they share many similarities, they diverge in many instances. Kurdish documentary has no manifesto. But vis-a-vis content and style, directors might be likened to each other in terms of their stance. Although the collectivism of that era is not present, we can speak of a group of filmmakers who are informed about each other and support each other. So, Kurdish directors are not merely directors. They do not limit themselves by artistic criteria. They are simultaneously activists. Aesthetic, technical competence is important for sure, but making a film is more important than anything. Kurdish directors, in contrast to the Third Cinema directors, make more personal films in the present phase. We might look into that. The means of communication that we’ve availed ourselves of, as I’ve said, has created the notion of a Kurd. I mean, it was not that Kurds didn’t exist in Turkish cinema. Earlier, Can [Candan] mentioned something in this regard. Kurds occupied an important place. Many of the main characters in key films were Kurds. But their name was not Kurd. The agha of the village with his baggy trousers in comedy films, those who migrate or work in the cotton fields, those featured in the films of Ylmaz Güney; even in Hudutlarn Kanunu (The Law of the Border, 1966), one of the first films by Lütfi Akad there were stories of Kurds. But they are never named as such, and they represent a fictionalized type: uneducated, ignorant, dirty, and debasing women. So, Kurds are essentially a second-class people in Turkish cinema, and this is reproduced each and every day. And, as a matter of fact, it has had a huge influence on our self-perception, in how Kurdish is not spoken today, how a Kurd is embarrassed about his/her own identity. Because you all know better than me how it is a hidden process. In this context, what does the Kurdish documentary filmmaker aim and struggle for? We talked about how the potential to make a film has increased since the 2000s. So far, there have been sporadic feature films. Mostly, documentaries are made. I think that what’s at stake in Kurdish documentary filmmaking today is visual documentation functioning as remembrance, as memory. This is done sometimes through television image, sometimes through sound. For example, in two feature documentaries by Kazim Öz, Demsala Dawi: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim ùavaklar, 2009) and Dûr (Distant/Uzak, 2004), silence occupies a tremendous place, and he tries to form a narrative language through the

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


eye. As such, with different methods, we can say that directors essentially develop their own version of auteurism. This mostly stems from the obligation to express oneself using obscure metaphors. What I mean is that what we tell is often not the same as what may be understood. So, that is the fear of being banned, or of protection; yes, it is a protection instinct. Because, we unfortunately still love this country, want to live in it and, if we want to live, the limits are clearly drawn. Consequently, we try to express our perspective through obscure metaphors. The importance of documentary as a genre might originate from its ability to record a history. Sadly, Kurds do not have a visual history. The furthest we can go back is Hamo Beknazarian’s Zare and another film of his called Yazidi Kurds, in 1926 and 1932 respectively, but we mainly go back to the year 1995, when Med TV was founded. Med TV is a Kurdish television channel where we essentially witnessed the culture and life of Kurds for the first time. Kurdish directors, in my opinion, pursue their relation to documentary films in their relation to fiction films as well. Even if the narrative is fictional, they are intricately associated with today’s reality and time. There are two recent feature films: Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr/Ben Gördüm), directed by Miraz Bezar in 2009 and Azadîya Wenda (Lost Freedom/Kayp Özgürlük, Umur Hozatl, 2010). Both films are situated in Diyarbakr, shot on location, in the actual streets with real street children. On the audio track, real jets and warplanes can be heard. We talked about some similarities between Kurdish documentaries. I would like to elaborate on that. What I feel, I mean, in Kazim Öz’s films or others’, what manifests itself is a point of view in terms of country, more specifically, a nostalgia for a country. What emerges in these films is a land which it is not possible to go to and which it’s not possible to live freely in if you do go. In the documentary films we recently watched, communicating a bitter history and revealing an unofficial history distinguish themselves. A people, which has seen too much yet has remained unseen, attempts to show itself in these documentary films. It is not uncommon that directors have a personal relationship with their own films. In my film, I’ve told the story of my aunt through polygamy. But in the same way, other friends see their villages, their grandfathers or fathers. If you have watched the films, I think that this must have attracted your attention as well. My explanation for it is that it is a way of returning home with a camera in hand. For directors who are far away from home, cinema is the ticket back. And in fact, maybe it is to speak our truth first and foremost with ourselves. I mean, first discussing this truth with our mother, our father, our grandfather then, later on,


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passing on to second and third channels. We’re speaking about such an important thing called truth, but there is the difficult question of how to show truth. Since the September 12th, 1980 coup d’état, we know that the demand for a serious history and archive has increased in Turkey. In this respect, what documentary filmmakers do today is an oral history. In fact, history gathers drop by drop. This is what Çayan [Demirel] has done in his film. He offers us a drop of history, and we add new drops and make new additions on top of that. We write an alternative history together, in the same way we live in a war. But Kurdish directors do not only film the war. They now want to document, and actually document everything, from flowers, insects, to elders, women, their traditions, the rituals of sheep milking, etc. As a Kurdish woman documentary filmmaker, the other issue I would like to share with you has to do with the women’s question. Because, just like I mentioned at the beginning, unfortunately Kurds essentially treat women as second sex somewhat because of tribal structure and those ruthless circumstances where religion and ignorance meet. And in this type of society, it is really a great miracle to even go to school as a woman, let alone to be a filmmaker. The women’s question of course is a traditional problem, but I, for instance, tried to tell the difference with respect to Kurds while tackling the problem. Actually looking at how Kurds approach it contains a quality of self-criticism from my angle. In the film, I was telling the story of my aunt Emine because she cannot speak due to the effect of the violence she was exposed to, and she now lives paralyzed. I felt obliged to tell her story. I mean, it was essentially the point where I was going to start one day: first and foremost, her story. For I myself was feeling broken without telling her story. I was feeling remorse, and I was always thinking that, if I could speak and tell it, I would tell other things. This is a self-criticism and, in fact, I received criticisms about this. You know, for badly displaying Kurds. Whereas, for me, self-criticism is loving one’s country and a responsibility for an artist. If the main problem of Kurds is having no country, not being able to form a nation and loss of language and culture, the other problem is the women’s question, and these are all connected with each other. I mean, since we are not liberated in terms of identity, we are not liberated as women either. Lastly, I would like to say that Kurdish directors in this long war will carry on engaging in a guerilla action with their cameras as weapons, and be assured that the truth Kurds are experiencing, that truth we cannot tell, is so strong and cruel to such an extent that the films we have made up to this date have shown far too little of it. Now we will see a segment from the film.

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


Fig 12-4 Poster of Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy)

AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: Lastly, I want to give the floor to Kazim Öz. Kazim Öz works at Yapm13, a production company which he founded in 1996. He directed his first short film, Ax, in 1999. The film has been screened in various national and international festivals. He has won many awards. He completed his first feature film Fotograf (The Photograph/Foto÷raf) in 2001. After his first feature documentary, Dûr (Distant), won further awards, he completed his second feature film, Bahoz (The Storm), in 2008,


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and his feature documentary project, Demsala Dawi: Sewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim: ùavaklar), in 2009. With the latter film, he won the Special Award of the International Jury at the Mannheim Heidelberg Film Festival. KAZIM ÖZ: Thank you very much. Hello everyone. Thank you for showing Kurdish documentaries at such a conference. In fact, I want to begin my speech from that point. I want to first dwell upon how academia addresses such a subject. I think that it is a long overdue matter that a plenary panel on Kurdish cinema within an academic conference should have started and occurred within the academy. My friends here on the panel have more or less told you about Kurdish cinema and its documentary filmmaking. We are talking about a cinema that has authentic aspects, an interesting history and distinct conditions. Therefore, I think that this matter should have been discussed by the academy from the beginning, and such conferences should have occurred long ago. Although Kurds don’t have many universities and really experience huge educational problems, they in fact have made their own conferences such as this in small rooms and basements, despite their insufficiency. But, since organizing such events in such big halls is brand new, I wanted to start with a criticism of the academy. The importance of such an event is undeniable, yet there is an interesting aspect. Having a discussion here, after the powers that be, the state, or let’s say classes, take a certain initiative, is also an indication of belatedness. I don’t know, I think academic freedom, in this context, is quite questionable. Without the Kurdish initiative, would we have been able to organize this panel even three or five years ago, would academics be receptive to this topic? These are the questions I want to ask. Now, we are speaking about an important issue, about Kurdish documentary or Kurdish cinema, and I would like to talk now about the problems of Kurdish cinema, rather than its sources or history. To begin with, pressures, obstacles, censorship, self-censorship to which Kurdish directors expose themselves, lack of knowledge of Kurdish topics and Kurdish people on the part of Kurdish directors, not fully understanding and grasping one’s own truth—these are all important problems of Kurdish cinema. In 1991, I was among the first employees in a Kurdish cultural center founded in Istanbul. I am a civil engineer, but I decided to go into theater in order to establish a better dialogue with people and develop socially when such a cultural center was opened at the time. When I went there, it was the first time that I had encountered Kurdish theater, and I found myself on the stage, someone who had never

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


watched a play (laughs). We performed a play on which we had worked for six months. During performances, some people from the audience left the play crying just because they finally, perhaps for the first time, heard a dialogue in Kurdish. You know, they couldn’t believe such a thing could happen. They were really quite moved. Well, this is a result of approximately 30-40 years of a really huge struggle, and it in fact allows us to use the name Kurdish documentary at this conference. Even using this concept really meant paying a heavy toll. In fact, there is an interesting incident from the 1940s to show this: a lawsuit in which someone was punished for years just for whistling in Kurdish. Quite apart from the foreign visitors here with us, we ourselves are indeed faced with a strange little problem that is really quiet distinct and authentic. Çayan just spoke about it. You know, being unable to communicate with his own mother. His mother doesn’t know Turkish, Çayan doesn’t know Kurdish. It’s really difficult to explain. But in terms of cinema, maybe for Çayan, it might be carrying an important potential, and we are faced with something very important that he needs to tell. Before I get too far into my talk, I wanted to show a brief segment of my film. Let’s watch it now and I want to carry on later.


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Fig 12-5 Poster of Demsala Dawî: ùewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim ùavaklar)

What you have just watched is the last scene from Demsala Dawi: Sewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim:ùavaklar). After a screening in Germany, about the scene, a young woman said, “As a matter of fact, this communicates our reality.” She commented: “In fact, Kurdish reality is hidden in this scene.” It is essentially a very striking comment. It

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


is possible that some scenes, some images simultaneously have very different meanings, messages, aims. But it was a very important assessment. If we debate Kurdish art, Kurdish cinema, Kurdish documentary, we must first grasp Kurdish reality. I mean, this in turn points to the fact that we can really only talk about an authentic art, an authentic cinema, if what we all experience concretely, what Kurds experience today politically and culturally in the geographic area they live in, is grasped in a very scientific manner, in historical terms and is worked through. From this angle, I essentially consider intellectual questions as the most important questions of Kurdish documentary and cinema. To grasp this reality, to see where you stand with respect to it—as Müjde said, maybe it is necessary to start with self-criticism. Powerful works will emanate in this way. I myself consider these works done at the moment to be just a start; a beginning, a childhood phase, an infancy in Kurdish cinema. Nonetheless, it is an extremely important phase. If we can regard all these topics we’ve mentioned with a liberated gaze, we might be able to attain a language that is not an imitation of any cinema, commercial or otherwise, and one which really tackles human being, looks from a humane point of view, even looks from a point of view of nature and animals and flowers, by transcending it. I think that mass production, factory production, in Kurdish cinema is not important. What is important is to really produce films like poems. You know, I think that we should arrive at a cinematic language that overcomes the existing television technique or scientific research, that addresses global audiences and transcends borders, despite having a lot of borders in that respect. I also think that the works that have been emerging in this manner give hope. I can later carry on in a Q & A session if there are any questions. AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: So, we still have time for any questions you want to ask to our directors. QUESTION (in English): Thank you very much to all the directors and for the panel. And I wanted to ask about the kind of support that you’ve seen in your development. Personal characteristics might encourage you to express your voices, or is it something that perhaps is coming more as a deep drive, personally. So, I am curious to know if there is a combination there? And the second related question: If there were a Kurd who wanted to be a filmmaker, but not look at Kurdish issues, how would that be viewed?


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ÇAYAN DEMøREL: Of course, everybody finds inspiration from different sources. In this sense, it is possible that the three of us have distinct sources to nourish us, both in artistic terms and in terms of life. However, our shared problems and concerns have driven us to make mutual works. In this respect, I don’t know whether my development process parallels with my friends’ processes here. I studied economics. But I had to develop a skill and language to tell these concerns. For this end, I’ve chosen documentary cinema. I’ve been active in documentary filmmaking for about ten years. I didn’t start out with education from teachers, university or any type of academic education. Rather, I can say that I’ve developed through an apprenticeship. So, briefly, that is all. MÜJDE ARSLAN: The process from my angle, when I ask myself how I started out in cinema, was in fact like this: I had a pen and was writing when I was little. Then I’d get my camera and take photographs. Then I’d do theater as well. Or I’d have a go at different types of literary text. And then that day suddenly came without me being aware of it. I started out in 2004, and I found myself daydreaming of making a film. But I also did a masters degree in cinema. So I think that that emotion was much stronger. I believe in the existence of such a thing called visual ability. Well, you know, as a matter of fact, I was thinking that I had such an ability in that respect since my childhood. Because you know, colors or those little details. For example, I am extremely fussy. When I closed my eyes...you know, it was springing out from literature. But then, in effect, it worked better with images and everything developed step by step in such a manner. And of course, I solidified that knowledge through education. You know, the example of Third Cinema that I mentioned excites me a lot. Or the development process of that wave, their cinema, certainly thrills me. It works for us as well to draw similarities with it and make use of their experiences. But ultimately, it is necessary to forget it all and do something new. So that’s how my development process happened. KAZIM ÖZ: My education in general in Kurdish art, in the conditions I’ve mentioned, rather happened in alternative culture centers, where courses were organized (since academia, generally, was closed to this issue). I was in one such center. So, I come from a method of studying where I was both a student and teacher. For example, a friend from a group of 8-10 people would research the French New Wave and present on it to the others. One day, one of us would bring up a cinematic technique, and so on. So, I come from an alternative education method. In this respect, my first film, in fact, was a film called Rengen Bi Keda Destan

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


(Groping for Colors/El Yordamyla Renkler, 1996).So, at least now, I think that the point that I’ve arrived at so far comes from trial and error, from fumbling around. The second question was what would happen if a Kurd tackles other topics. Well, that would work as well. MÜJDE ARSLAN: May I add something? My next documentary was to be about African migrants in Istanbul. I am not concerned to tackle just Kurdish issues. I take them seriously, and I think we should start from there. Because, you know, it hasn’t been discussed not much yet. Really, there is a lot to discuss, you know, we would be able to present a new thing here, even if we make film without ceasing for ten years. But I’ve met with African migrants and with the president of the association somehow, and I was moved by the same silence, the same assimilation, the same gaze in their eyes. So, I wouldn’t be content unless I were to tell their stories with the same zeal. And the strange thing is that I was not aware of what race I was coming from, whether Kurdish or something else. You really forget it. But my main duty at that point was to give a voice to them, to be a mirror to their silence, and I’ve tried to do that. I didn’t bring a clip of it since it was not our topic. ÇAYAN DEMøREL: I want to give a brief answer to this question. We are not the kind of people who regard life just from there—I myself am not. Partly, I live in Turkey. So, the problems of oppressed people in Turkey also concern me. Partly, I am also a European in a sense. Even the problems of Europe concern me. Partly I am a Middle Eastern. Their problems concern me as well. So, in this respect, what concerns me is not solely Kurds. But the capability to be a human is connected with showing firstly the ability and faculty of laying claim to our sufferings. In this sense, I at first show the ability to lay claim to myself so that I then can feel like a citizen of the world and tell it. I don’t think that I can tell anybody properly without feeling myself like this. But I can briefly say this: For example, my first contact with documentary cinema occurred in 2002 through undertaking a biography of a philosopher of science, Ylmaz Öner, with a group of friends. When you look at the ethnic identity of Ylmaz Öner—not that I am interested in ethnic identity of people, but since I was repeatedly asked whether I make films about Kurds, he is Turkish—but what concerned us was his being a scientist. In this sense, I take science seriously, and to produce a work on it and make his biography was important for us. Therefore, I think that every trouble and problem in life concerns us.


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AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: Any other question? QUESTION (in English): Thank you for sharing your stories with us. My question is for the whole panel. In some of our discussions at the conference, it’s been sort of inferred of Kurdish themes or filmmakers, that they’ve got an easier path regarding financing or production funds. So would you mind talking a little bit about your thoughts on production funds and how you are able to access funding for your films, from internationally organized funds. AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: Is there any other question? Let’s take a couple more questions and answer them together because we then want to wrap it up. QUESTION (in English): This question is for Müjde, if I correctly pronounced your name. I am very drawn to your film and I feel that there’s such a pain connecting…I haven’t seen the whole film. I've been to the screening and watched a part of it. I felt that the way the men are shot in the film, there is some, sort of brutal honesty in what I saw. It prompts me to ask you whether you have shown your film to the women who you’ve filmed, and I am very interested in their responses. If you connect to my comment, to what degree? I’d appreciate it if you want to comment on whether this process worked as you were filming. Thank you. QUESTION (in English): Hello. I want to ask a question about the dissemination of your films and, in particular, the relationship with Turkish television, contrasted to the large Kurdish diaspora throughout the world—and I am sure that, at film festivals, Kurdish diaspora are there. But what about television, which is still predominantly used by most people in Turkey? AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: I think these questions will be enough for our remaining time. You can start with any question you want. ÇAYAN DEMøREL: About financing. I’ve not received any support economically or institutionally from anywhere for either of the two documentaries I’ve made, 38 and 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84), and also the one on Ylmaz Öner. We’ve found support rather in economic terms by mobilizing our relations individually, and that was how we made the film. So it was a collective work, in the manner of cooperation. When I was making 38, I didn’t have a camera. I borrowed Kazim’s when I first went to Dersim. I completed 38 by collecting all the

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


equipment from different sources. The film has expanded our network of collective work, and that’s how 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84) was made. In this sense, I’ve never had any concern for seeking out institutional funding. It was a preference in some way. I can say that we didn’t prefer the other way. So, whether it would be found and would interest somebody if we would have sought it, all I can say is that I don’t have much knowledge about it. There is a difficulty with distribution, as I’ve talked about earlier. One necessarily needs to talk about oneself. Because 38 was banned for three years. Consequently, we couldn’t show it around by printing or presenting it at mass screenings. It was put onto the Internet by somebody else and circulated a lot. But I can say that we made 38 as a documentary and, as I’ve mentioned, after Onur Öymen made a statement about 38, it aroused interest. People started trying to watch it via the internet. KAZIM ÖZ: Did Onur Öymen give support to the distribution? ÇAYAN DEMøREL: We can say that Onur Öymen supported the distribution in a sense. Actually we can say that he supported not the distribution but its screening. Because it was not distributed. 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84) will distributed as a DVD. So, it will be present in the market in a sense. If we can manage it, we want to turn all 80 interviews with people from Diyarbakr Prison, those oral narratives, into a book and a CD for distribution. Instead it was screened at festivals and the special screenings I’ve arranged. Thank you. MÜJDE ARSLAN: Just like Çayan, I was not very ambitious while doing my first film. I wanted to see first whether it would make a film or not. You know, I first want to see whether it would make a film. I made my first short film and, when it received an award, or when people said “yes, you’ve done it,” I then started to study cinema and make other ones. That’s why I always made them without money, and I was working to earn money in between all the time. I was working as a journalist and editor. We were paying travel expenses with a credit card and, for example, we made Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy) in a week and for a ridiculous amount of money. I mean, we didn’t even spend a thousand Turkish lira. Not even a thousand lira! But it goes without saying that we were extremely exhausted, extremely fatigued. I wanted to give up. Especially after we completed the film, for the editing process, I didn’t have editing equipment, and we were puzzled about where to edit. I was working during the day between eight and six. I was an editor. I edited all


Chapter XII

night long, with a great devotion, and my friends worked with such devotion as well. I still haven’t made money as a filmmaker. But I think that I hopefully will (laughs). Just like I said, documentary is somewhat a kind of action. I mean, we are making a living somehow, receiving a salary from somewhere, and we make films. I have a different problem at the moment. Firstly, I am not interested in its commercial aspect. But I am preparing to make a feature film and, unfortunately, I need money in order to do so, and I’m recently learning about these relationships. In the distribution phase, I was sending it to whoever wanted it. We sent it to some of the festivals we’d chosen. I mean, I didn’t work with a professional distributor on the distribution as well. I never had a professional company. Well, how can I define this? As a matter of fact, I was rather interested in filmmaking at the time, and I didn’t receive any professional help. But we made a television sale. A part of the film you just watched, Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî, (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy) was sold to a television channel in Turkey for a minuscule amount of money. This was the first time something like this had happened. I don’t have anything more to say. Thank you very much for your comments. They gave an astoundingly good feeling. Because you understood the story, because you felt it. I cannot remember whether there was any other question. KAZIM ÖZ: I’ve made applications to the Ministry of Culture for almost all of my films. But I didn’t receive any backing. I feel sorry for the money I’ve spent on mail, paper and photocopies (laughs). Those occupied a place in my budget as well. Again, I made applications to Eurimages. You know that one costs a lot more money to apply for it. Preparing documents is really a great cost. We could have made ten movies like Müjde’s with the money we’ve spent there. We didn’t get any result from there either. Since it’s a fund created by states, a natural intervention from Turkey obstructed support for Bahoz (The Storm) in a way. Some of my films were sold to some channels abroad, like Germany, France, Austria, Hungary in Europe. However, none of the projects we have done so far was sold to any television outlet in Turkey. For the last one I did, which you just watched, Demsala Dawi: Sewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim: ùavaklar), just like I mentioned, we start among ourselves first. We sold that film to another company, thinking that maybe they would receive support if they apply. We indeed gave the film and they applied. They received distribution support from the Ministry of Culture. This is, of course, a good thing because of our contract. We can say that we received the support as well. You know, as a matter of fact, a friend just said an interesting thing. You know, about Kurdish production

The Plenary Panel on Kurdish Documentary Cinema


finding more support as it were. There is such confusion now. It is a new thing. There is another interesting situation here as well. Most probably, since my films were not supported that much, for example, Demsala Dawi: Sewaxan (The Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim: ùavaklar) was not accepted to the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival or the Adana Film Festival, and my penultimate film, Bahoz (The Storm) to neither, and to the festival in Bursa and to the festivals that have important major awards, despite the fact that it was accepted to many international festivals. What this evokes in me is this. Nowadays the state has rather taken an initiative on the Kurdish issue. But while taking this initiative, it carries on with placing obstacles and its censorship, a stance against those who stand more organized and are closer to the Kurdish liberation movement. It continues it implicitly. On this matter, we just experienced something two weeks ago. Turkey censored my film Fotograf (The Photograph/Foto÷raf) at a festival in Poland. You know, at the festival, there was a section called cinema of Turkey under the sponsorship of Turkey. So the film was prevented from being screened at the festival by saying, that if you show this, we will withdraw our support. The festival naturally didn’t show the film. So, there is a dual circumstance at stake. In fact, on one hand, there is a definition of freedom; on the other there is a circumstance of giving support. For instance, Müjde and I recently talked about how a large portion of the productions supported by the Ministry tackle Kurdish stories. But, on the other hand, there is censorship. As I said, it has to do with the political atmosphere. It is about support in accordance with the political atmosphere and stance. Yet, it sometimes is about—you know, they opened a Kurdish television channel called TRT6 in Turkey— attracting a Kurdish audience to it, but also thereby distinguishing between, dangerous Kurd and danger-less Kurd. There is probably an approach that arbitrarily distinguishes. We are having trouble because of this. Thank you. ÇAYAN DEMøREL: So now we are the danger-less Kurds, right? MÜJDE ARSLAN: But we are dangerous. KAZIM ÖZ: No, friends, this doesn’t mean a distancing from the Kurdish movement. No. This is a logic politically created by the system. It is of course a false logic.


Chapter XII

MÜJDE ARSLAN: There was a question on openness of women, sincerity and distance, right? I want to say something about it. Since I went to my own village, to my home and since the story was an open story, I in fact wrapped myself up in invisibility. I mean, there was already that sort of trust between us. There was also an alliance of being of the same sex and the both of us have experienced that matter and I wanted to tell that. That’s why they cooperated with me. I mean, on the need to tell this, they took my side, and the film was indeed realized with their support. Because if they hadn’t have replied in a clear and honest way, everything would have been up in the air and meaningless. That is to say, in a way, I describe this like this: I went and lay on my granny’s or other women’s knees, and they told me their stories. AYÇA ÇøFTÇø: Thank you very much to Çayan, Müjde and Kazim. Thank you all for listening.

Acknowledgement We thank Sena Yapar for the transcription of the audio recording of the panel and ølknur Bilir and Arda Çiltepe for the translation of the transcript from Turkish to English.


Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya is a PhD candidate in Political Science, affiliated to the Middle East & North Africa Research Group (MENARG), at the Department of Conflict and Development Studies, Ghent University, Belgium. His thesis examines the emergence and development of the PKK. His main research interests are in Identity and Nationalism, Insurgency, and Social Movements. In his previous professional capacity as a journalist, Akkaya produced a documentary series on the history of the PKK, shown on Kurdish satellite TV and released as a DVD under the title of “Ateúten Tarih.” He has (co)authored several articles and book chapters on the PKK among which are The “Palestinian Dream” in the Kurdish context, Kurdish Studies, Volume: 3, No: 1, pp. 47 – 63, May 2015) and The Kurds (PKK) in The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism (edited by J. Stone, R.M. Dennis, P. Rizova, A. D. Smith and X. Hou). They have also appeared in two books in Turkish language: PKK Üzerine Yazlar (Vate Yaynlar, 2013) and øsyandan ønúaya: Kürdistan Özgürlük Hareketi (Dipnot Yaynlar, 2015). Can Candan is a documentary filmmaker and faculty member at Bo÷aziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies in filmmaking and media arts in the USA (Hampshire College, 1992; Temple University, 1999). His films Boycott Coke (1989), Exodus (1991), DuvarlarMauernWalls (2000), 3 Hours (2008) and My Child (2013) have been screened internationally and have won awards. He has taught film and media arts and studies at various universities and institutions in the USA until 2000, and has been teaching and writing on history & theory, documentary cinema in Turkey, and mentors film-related projects and theses in Turkey since then. He is also a founding member of docIstanbul Center for Documentary Studies which organized the 2010 Visible Evidence International Documentary Studies Conference in Istanbul. Currently he is working on a feature documentary film, entitled Nuclear alla Turca.



Josh Carney is a postdoctoral scholar in Communication at the University of South Florida. He received a PhD in Communication and Culture and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies (Turkish Studies) from Indiana University in 2015. His dissertation, A Dizi-ying past: Magnificent Century and the Motivated Uses of History in Contemporary Turkey, examines the circulation of and controversies surrounding the Ottoman period costume drama Muhteúem Yüzyl through an ethnographic investigation of the producers, distributors, cultural intermediaries, and publics for the popular TV show. His most recent project deals with censorship at film festivals in Turkey between 2014 and 2015. His other areas of specialization include visual culture, nationalism, the history and culture of modern Turkey, media ethnography, reception studies, and media production. Özgür Çiçek holds a BA degree in English Language and Literature and an MA degree in Film Studies. She is also a PhD candidate at Binghamton University, New York, in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture program. Her PhD dissertation is on Kurdish Cinema produced in Turkey and it draws upon theories on national/transnational cinema, auteur theory, and Kurdish fiction and documentary films. Ayça Çiftçi received a BA in Film and TV and an MA in Cultural Studies, both from østanbul Bilgi University. She completed her PhD in the department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London, with a dissertation entitled The Politics of Text and Context: Kurdish Films in Turkey in a Period of Political Transformation. She is a film critic and works as an editor for Altyaz monthly cinema magazine. Suncem Koçer is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication at Kadir Has University. She received her double PhD in Anthropology and Communication & Culture from Indiana University in 2012. Her dissertation focused on identity politics and media production as a transnational platform for the Kurdish culture movement in Turkey. Koçer’s research interests include cultures of news making, transnational publics, cultural politics, new media discourses, and media production and circulation processes. Her articles have appeared in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, American Ethnologist, and New Media & Society among others. At Kadir Has University, Koçer teaches courses on persuasion and propaganda, news culture, media policy and politics, communication campaigns, public speaking, and world cultures. In 2009 and 2010, Koçer co-produced two documentary films, and she has

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey


produced and anchored TV programs about cinema and media culture since 2011. Alisa Lebow is a Reader in Film Studies at the University of Sussex. A documentary filmmaker/film scholar, her current research is concerned with questions of “the political” in documentary. Her books include The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film, co-edited with Alexandra Juhasz (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), The Cinema of Me (Wallflower Press, 2012) and First Person Jewish (UMN Press, 2008). She has published articles on the relationship between the camera and the gun, the “unwar” documentary, the political ramifications of first person documentary, and more. Her most recent research project is the Leverhulme Trust funded interactive database documentary about filmmaking in Egypt since the revolution: www.filmingrevolution.org (2015). Kevin Smets is Assistant Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), where he mainly teaches theoretical courses on media and visual culture. He also holds a postdoctoral fellowship from the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen) as a member of the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Antwerp. He obtained his PhD at the University of Antwerp in 2013. He has been a visiting researcher at Bilkent University in Ankara (2013), the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (2014), Bilgi University in Istanbul (201415) and Freie Universität, Berlin (2015). While his previous research mainly dealt with media consumption and reception in diaspora communities, he has recently focused more on the relations between media, migration and conflict, including issues such as ethnic conflicts, diasporic mobilization, media freedoms and radicalization. Louise Spence has taught cinema studies and cultural studies in the U.S. and Turkey. She has published many articles in scholarly journals and anthologies, and is the author and co-author of several books, including Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning and the award-winning Writing Himself into History: Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films, and His Audiences (both Rutgers University Press). Professor Spence has also edited and co-edited special sections of Cinema Journal and Rethinking History: Journal of Theory and Practice.



Ali Fuat ùengül is an assistant professor in the Department of Cinema and Television at Mardin Artuklu University, Turkey. His research area covers cinema and national modernization, documentary studies, social theory, visual anthropology and media and culture in the Middle East. His research on Kurdish and Turkish cinemas has been published in various journals and edited books. He is currently working on a monograph on the contemporary cinema cultures in Turkey, which deals with the intersecting trajectories of Kurdish and Turkish language filmmaking and the discourse of national cinema. Nagehan Uskan Selvelli lives and works in Istanbul, dealing in different fields with the topic of experimental and political documentary cinema. She studied cinema at the universities of Bologna and Lyon 2, and is currently a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, researching on the topic of activist documentaries in Turkey after 2000. She is a member of the organizing committee of th Documentarist Film Festival, and she is also the co-founder and art director of Istanbul Silent Sinema Days. Zeynep Yaúar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research interests include media reception studies, film exhibition and movie going, trans/national cinemas, media ethnography, and cultural citizenship. Her dissertation project, entitled Reframing the Cinema of Turkey: Circulation, Publics, and Urban Film Culture in Istanbul, examines the contemporary public identity of domestic cinema in Turkey, produced and maintained via complex practices of distribution, exhibition, and movie going in Istanbul, the country’s politically turbulent cultural capital. Yasar’s articles and reviews have been published in the Istanbul-based film magazine, Yeni Film, where she has also served as an editorial board member since 2008.


38. Directed by Çayan Demirel. 67 minutes, 2006. 5 No’lu Cezaevi: 1980-84 (Prison Nr. 5: 1980-84). Directed by Çayan Demirel. 97 minutes, 2009. Adana – Paris. Directed by Ahmet Soner. 74 minutes, 1994. Apoletli Adalet (Military Justice). Directed by Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu and Sedat Ylmaz. 26 minutes, 2006. Ax (The Land/Toprak). Directed by Kazim Öz. 27 minutes, 1999. Ayrl÷a Dü÷ün (Wedding to Severance). Directed by M. Namk U÷ur and Mustafa Sa÷lam. 38 minutes, 2003. Azadîya Wenda (Lost Freedom/Kayp Özgürlük). Directed by Umur Hozatl. 91 minutes, 2010. Bahoz (The Storm/Frtna). Directed by Kazim Öz. 156 minutes, 2008. Bakur (North/Kuzey). Directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertu÷rul Mavio÷lu. 97 minutes, 2015. Berîtan (2006). Directed by Halil Da÷. 162 minutes, 2006. Bertij. Directed by Caner Canerik. 95 minutes, 2010. Berxwedana 33 salan-Dayika Berfo (33 Years of Resistance-Mother Berfo/33 Yllk Direniú-Berfo Ana). Directed by Veysi Altay. 53 minutes, 2013. Beúikten Mezara (From Cradle to Grave). Directed by Bülent Aslan. Collectively produced at the Diyarbakr Cinema Workshop. 28 minutes, 2004. Bir Bilim Adamyla Zaman Enleminde Yolculuk (Voyage with a Scientist on the Latitude of Time). Directed by Özcan Alper. 57 minutes, 2002. Bîra M’têtin (I Remember/Hatrlyorum). Directed by Selim Yldz. 38 minutes, 2015. Bûka Baranê (Rainbow/Gökkuúa÷). Directed by Dilek Gökçin. 68 minutes, 2013. Büyük Adam Küçük Aúk (Hejar). Directed by Handan øpekçi. 120 minutes, 2001. Çek Çek (Pull Pull). Diyarbakr Cinema Workshop Collective. 20 minutes, 2003. Çnara Spî (White Sycamore/Beyaz Çnar). Directed by Kazim Öz. 83 minutes, 2015.



Close Up Kurdistan. (Yakn Plan Kürtler) Directed by Yavuz Yüksel. 104 minutes, 2007. Daye Dibe Aúitî (My Mother Wants Peace/ Annem Barú østiyor). Directed by Aziz Çapkurt. 52 minutes, 2011. Demsala Dawi: ùewaxan (Last Season: Shawaks/Son Mevsim: ùavaklar). Directed by Kazim Öz. 92 minutes, 2009. Dengbej. Directed by Mehmet Hadi Sümer. Zal Yapm. 49 minutes, 2014. Dengê Bavê Min (My Father’s Voice/Babamm Sesi). Directed by Zeynel Do÷an and Orhan Eskiköy. 98 minutes, 2012. Dengê Derî (The Knock on the Door/Kapdaki Ses). Directed by Halil Frat Yazar and Metin Çelik. 59 minutes, 2012. Destaneke Serhildanê: Bêrîvan (The Legend of Rebellion: Berivan/ Bir Baúkaldr Destan: Berivan). Directed by Aydn Orak. 50 minutes, 2010. Destên me wê bibin bask, emê bifirin herin (Our Hands Will Become Wings, We’ll Fly Away/Ellerimiz Kanat Olacak Uçup Gidece÷iz). Directed by Kazim Öz and Dorothie Kiest, et al. 15 minutes, 1996. Displaces Voices. Directed by Sevim Metin. 17 minutes, 2001. Do÷u Anadolu’da Bir Dünya Tapna÷: Ahtamar (A World Temple in Eastern Anatolia: Ahtamar). Directed by Mazhar ùevket øpúiro÷lu and Adnan Benk. 12 minutes, 1959. Dr. ùivan. Directed by Çayan Demirel. 108 minutes, 2013. Dûr (Distant/Uzak). Directed by Kazim Öz. 55 minutes, 2004. Em her tim koçberin (We’re Always Migrants/Biz Her Zaman Göçmeniz). Directed by Zülfiye Dolu, et al. 18 minutes, 2000. Eúkya (Bandit) Directed by Yavuz Turgul. 128 minutes, 1996. Eyna Bejnê (Big Mirror/Boy Aynas). Directed by Halil Da÷. 99 minutes, 2002. Ez Firiyam Tu Mayî Li Cih (I Flewed You Stayed/Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldn). Directed by Mizgin Müjde Arslan. 81 minutes, 2012. Faîlî Dewlet (Official Murders/Faili Devlet). Directed by Veysi Altay. 57 minutes, 2011. Fecîra. Directed by Piran Baydemir. 40 minutes, 2013. Firmeskên Ava Zê (The Tears of Zap/Zap’n Gözyaúlar). Directed by Halil Da÷. 29 minutes, 2005. Fotograf (The Photograph/Foto÷raf). Directed by Kazim Öz. 66 minutes, 2001. Gelecek Uzun Sürer (Future Lasts Forever). Directed by Özcan Alper. 108 minutes, 2011. Geçmiú Mazi Olmad (The Past is Not in the Past). Directed by Mehmet Özgür Candan. 52 minutes, 2011.

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey


Gitmek: Benim Marlon ve Brandom (My Marlon and Brando). Directed by Hüseyin Karabey. 93 minutes, 2008. Gomgashtei Der Aragh (Marooned in Iraq). Directed by Bahman Ghobadi. 108 minutes, 2002. Good Kurds Bad Kurds: No Friends but the Mountains. Directed by Kevin McKiernan. 72 minutes, 2000. Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack. 71 minutes, 1925. Güneúe Yolculuk (Journey to the Sun). Directed by Yeúim Ustao÷lu. 104 minutes, 1999. Hakkari'den Ankara'ya Ka÷t Toplayclar (Scavengers from Hakkari to Ankara). Directed by Alper ùen. Artk øúler. 70 minutes, 2007. Hay Way Zaman: Dersim'in Kayp Kzlar (Unburied in the Past: The Missing Girls of Dersim). Directed by Nezahat Gündo÷an. 95 minutes, 2013. He Bû Tune Bû (Once Upon a Time/Bir Varmú Bir Yokmuú). Directed by Kazim Öz. 82 minutes, 2013. Hevi (Hope/Umut). Directed by Yüksel Yavuz. 82 minutes, 2013. History and Memory. Directed by Rea Tajiri. 32 minutes, 1991. Hudutlarn Kanunu (The Law of the Border). Directed by Lütfi Akad. 74 minutes, 1966. Iúklar Sönmesin (Let There Be Light). Directed by Reis Çelik. 82 minutes, 1996. øki Dil Bir Bavul (On the Way to School). Directed by Özgür Do÷an and Orhan Eskisoy. 81 minutes, 2008. øki Tutam Saç: Dersim’in Kayp Kzlar (Two Locks of Hair: The Missing Girls of Dersim/Du Bisk Por- Keçên Dêrsimê yên Winda). Directed by Nezahat Gündo÷an. 60 minutes, 2010. øsmi Güzide (Vendetta Song). Directed by Eylem Kaftan. 52 minutes, 2005. Kalo. Diyarbakr Cinema Workshop Collective. 29 minutes, 2007. Karkerên Avahiyan (Builders/Yapclar). Directed by Özkan Küçük, Savaú Boyraz, Hülya Yavuz and Turan Cihanbeyli. Collectively produced at Mesopotamia Culture Center. 23 minutes, 1999. Kêl (The Endless Grief/O øklimde Kalrd Aclar). Directed by Cenk Örtülü and Zeynel Koç. 66 minutes, 2015. Kilamek ji Zagrosé (A Ballad for Zagros) Directed by Halil Uysal and Hasan Salih. 49 minutes, 2007. Kirasê Mirinê: Hewîtî (A Fatal Dress: Polygamy/Ölüm Elbisesi: Kumalk). Directed by Mizgin Müjde Arslan. 45 minutes, 2009.



Klama Dayîka Min (Song of My Mother/Annemin ùarks). Directed by Erol Mintaú. 103 minutes, 2014. Kurdy-ezidy (Kurds-Yezids). Directed by Amasi Martirosyan. 52 minutes, 1933. Lakposhtha Parvaz Mikonand (Turtles Can Fly) Directed by Bahman Ghobadi. 98 minutes, 2004. Lênûsa Botan (The Botan Diary). Directed by Halil Da÷. 46 minutes, 2007. Les femmes du mont Ararat (Women of Mt. Ararat/A÷r Da÷’nn Kadnlar) . Directed by Erwann Briand. 85 minutes, 2004. Li Serxaniyên Diyarbekirê (On the Rooftops of Diyarbakr/Diyarbekir Damlarnda). Directed by Özkan Küçük. 27 minutes, 2005. Lîstika Dawî (The Last Game/Son Oyun). Directed by Mizgin Müjde Arslan. 13 minutes, 2006. Mamoste Arsen (Master Arsen/Arsen Usta). Directed by Özkan Küçük. 29 minutes, 2005.Maya. Directed by Rodi Yüzbaú. 27 minutes, 2012. Mem û Zîn (Mem and Zin). Directed by Ümit Elçi. 83 minutes, 1991. Min Dît (The Children of Diyarbakr/Ben Gördüm). Directed by Miraz Bezar. 102 minutes, 2009. Min Rastî Nivîsand - Deftera Lîceyê (I Wrote the Truth – The Notebook of Lice/ Gerçekleri Yazdm - Lice Defteri). Directed by Ersin Çelik. 41 minutes, 2012. Miraz (Hope/Umut). Directed by Rodi Yüzbaú. 58 minutes, 2010. Navê te çi ye? (What Is Your Name?). Directed by Ömer Altaú and Cihad ølbaú. 35 minutes, 2014. Nemrut Tanrlar (The Gods of Nemrut). Directed by Aziz Albek and Sabahattin Eyubo÷lu. 17 minutes, 1964. Nora. Directed by Mizgin Müjde Arslan and Erol Mintaú. 9 minutes, 2007. Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light). Directed by Patricio Guzmán. 90 minutes, 2010. November. Directed by Hito Steyerl. 25 minutes, 2004. Nû Jîn (New Life/Yeni Yaúam). Directed by Veysi Altay. 25 minutes, 2015. NymphomaniacǤ‹”‡…–‡†„›ƒ”•‘”‹‡”ǤʹͶͳ‹—–‡•ǡʹͲͳ͵Ǥ O.H.A.: Oflu Hoca’y Aramak (O.H.A.: In Search of Oflu Hodja). Directed by Levent Soyarslan. 94 minutes, 2014. Pîlava Binok (Rice with Chickpeas/Nohutlu Pilav). Directed by Özkan Küçük. 45 minutes, 2005. Prdesur (Red Bridge/Krmzköprü). Directed by Caner Canerik. 90 minutes, 2008. PressǤ‹”‡…–‡†„›‡†ƒ–ǎƒœǤͳͲͲ‹—–‡•ǡʹͲͳͲǤ Reassemblage. Directed by Trinh T. Minh-ha. 40 minutes, 1982.

Kurdish Documentary Cinema in Turkey


Rengen Bi Keda Destan (Groping for Colors/El Yordamyla Renkler). Directed by Kazim Öz, Kadir Sözen and Özkan Küçük. 48 minutes, 1996. Ret 1111 (Refusal 1111). Directed by Cüneyt ùekerci and Hasan Çimen. 22 minutes, 2001. Rewúen. Directed by Cemil O÷uz. 50 minutes, 2011. Rezonse (Vintage/Ba÷bozumu). Directed by Piran Baydemir. 22 minutes, 2012. S21: La machine de mort Khmère rouge (S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine). Directed by Rithy Panh. 101 minutes, 2003. Semerci Fesih. Diyarbakr Cinema Workshop Collective. 8 minutes, 2007. Seyid-Hakikat Yolunda (Seyid – On the Path of Truth). Directed by Özkan Küçük. 80 minutes, 2010. Sözdar, She Who Lives Her Promise (Sözdar, Sözünü Yaúayan Kadn). Directed by Annegriet Wietsma. 70 minutes, 2007. Sürü (The Herd). Directed by Zeki Ökten. 129 minutes, 1979. Tîrej (Ray of Light). Directed by Halil Da÷. 52 minutes, 2002. Tov (The Seed/Tohum). Directed by Mizgin Müjde Arslan. 13 minutes, 2009. Türkçe Pekiyi (Turkish A+). Directed by Murat Bayramo÷lu. 27 minutes, 2012. Uçurtmam Tellere Takld (My Kite Got Stuck in the Wires). Directed by Ümit Kvanç. 64 minutes, 2010. Union Maids. Directed by James Klein, Miles Mogulescu, Julia Reichert,. 50 minutes, 1976. Vijdanên Kevirî (Brutal Consciences/Taúlaúan Vicdanlar). Directed by Cenk Örtülü and Zeynel Koç. 41 minutes, 2010. Was (Grass/Ot). Directed by Caner Canerik. 78 minutes, 2013. Welatê me Kurdistane (Our Homeland, Kurdistan/Vatanmz Kürdistan). Directed by øbrahim Yldrm. 48 minutes, 2014. Yaz Tura (Toss Up). Directed by U÷ur Yücel. 102 minutes, 2004. Yeryüzü Aúkn Yüzü Oluncaya Dek (Love Will Change the Earth). Directed by Reyan Tuvi. 90 minutes, 2014. Yllar Sonra, øúte Diyar- Bekir (Years Later, Here is Diyarbekir). Directed by Özkan Küçük. 70 minutes, 2003. Yol (The Road or The Way). Directed by ùerif Gören and Ylmaz Güney. 114 minutes, 1982. Yollara Düútük (We Hit the Road). Directed by Deniz Yeúil. 56 minutes, 2014. Zamani Barayé Masti Asbha (A Time of The Drunken Horses). Directed by Bahman Ghobadi. 80 minutes, 2000. Zare. Directed by Hamo Beknazarian. Armenia/USSR. 69 minutes, 1926.