How to make a voice audible? Continuity and change of Kurdish culture and of social reality in postcolonial perspectives
Dr Joanna Bocheńska
The research project How to make a voice audible? Continuity and change of Kurdish culture and of social reality in postcolonial perspectives granted us by the National Science Center of Poland in the scope of SonataBis1 program is the first Polish team research project devoted to the culture and socio-political reality of the Kurds. Until now Polish knowledge of the Middle East has been concentrated more on the context of the legally existing states such as Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria etc. and their cultures and realities. The Kurds were presented mostly from the perspective of those states, thus the knowledge of them was hampered and insufficient. However it is also extremely important to see the Middle East from the perspective of the Kurdish nation as one of the biggest Middle East minorities as well as one of the defeated nations – a notion used by the Kurdish writer Mehmed Uzun. It is crucial to understand the profound problems of the Middle East as well as its multiple and diverse reality.
The necessity of taking into consideration such perspective – of so called “subalterns” or „losers” – is also very much stressed by contemporary postcolonial studies, which are the starting point and the cohesive factor of this project. The main aim of the project is to analyze the continuity and the change processes of Kurdistan and the Kurds taking into consideration the complex dynamics of the postcolonial reality as many postcolonial theoretics define it. The goal of contemporary Kurdish writers, activists and politicians, who struggle to make the Kurdish issue visible in the area of world cultural heritage as well as international affairs suggests that the postcolonial theories should be applied. It is beyond question that the postcolonial theories first of all ask and search for the role of the subaltern groups’ voice, as G. Ch. Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Leela Gandhi or Ewa Domańska defines it. However, and it must be stressed at the very beginning that the situation of Kurdish people, their culture and activity is very special in some respect and it seems that the postcolonial perspective and methodology based on it can not be treated as the exclusive approach.
In this context a more thorough and complex analysis of chosen subjects will be proposed. It will concentrate directly on four dimensions starting with the role of literature and language in creating values, followed by the analysis of selected issues of cultural and social life of the Kurds and Kurdistan.
- Ethic and aesthetic values of Kurdish literature and culture (Dr Joanna Bocheńska’s project)
- The role of translation into Kurdish in creating new social, moral and cultural values. (Dr Marcin Rzepka’ s project)
- Socio-political role of Kurdish cultural institutions. (Dr Renata Kurpiewska-Korbut)
- Majority and minority. The relations between Kurds and christian minorities in Iraqi and Turkey part of Kurdistan. (Krzysztof Lalik)
- Social construction and negotiation of ethnic identity among Kurds in Turkey in every day and festive practices (Karol Kaczorowski).
Today it is the voice of Kurdish literature which creates a better, much deeper and sensitive dimension for studying the situation of Kurdistan and the Middle East. It concentrates not only on historical or sociological perspectives but tries to penetrate psychological, cultural or philosophical and even theological sides of problems such as power, domination, submission, free will, common and individual responsibility, the source of love and hate, of good and evil, cooperation and aggression, peace and conflict. It is the voice of culture which is to be raised by many Kurdish writers in order to enable it to influence the reality, making it “less militaristic and more human” as Suleyman Demir, one of the Kurdish writers, had stressed in the interview given to Joanna Bocheńska in 2009.
The voice of culture, and so called “human values” as many writers call it, has already started to penetrate Kurdistan and the Middle East gradually raising the impact on its reality. It is evident in the activity of newly established cultural institutions to give only one example of Mala Dengbêjan (The House of Dengbej – traditional singers/storytellers), which creation was not only the result of the demand of tradition but rather of the influence of contemporary ideas. Kurdish writer Mehmed Uzun, for example, has stressed the big role of dengbejs in the salvation of Kurdish language and culture. We can also observe some impact of the culture voice and of literary ideas in the changing attitude toward other minorities. Mehmed Uzun, Hesenê Metê, Jan Dost and many other writers have enhanced the importance of Armenian and Assyrian presence as well as the role of Kurdistan’s multiculturalism and religious syncretism. However, the influence of literary ideas seems rather indirect as reading books is still a new and not a very widespread phenomenon in Kurdistan. Institutions seem one of the most significant factors which can accelerate “the culture impact” on reality.
So it is so important to analyze the Kurdish reality – its dinamics and changes – in a more complex and multidimentional way being aware of many different phenomena. So, it is possible to study the continuous and changing interactions between thoughts, ethics, literature, and cultural, social and political reality of Kurdistan and in the Kurdish diaspora. Our aim is to carry out thorough research in the fields which are in focus of our individual interests as well as to cooperate with each other in some selected fields which are close or common to our research programs. Being the first joint research project in Poland to cover the reality of different parts of Kurdistan and Europe it will build a comparative perspective which now seems crucial for developing Kurdish studies. The Kurdish issue and Kurdish studies have been usually considered in the scope of national theories. Not undermining the role of the aforementioned theories, the main aim of this project is to look at Kurdish contemporary reality (cultural and social activity) in a more complex way in order to find deeper, multidimensional perspective for studying it. This can provide the thorough analysis of the continuity and the change processes of Kurdish culture.
The project, based on selected theories will deal with some dichotomies such as: tradition vs. innovation, West vs. East, religion vs. secularism, politics vs. culture as well as with the problem of Kurdish national identity rooted in 19th centuries changes of the whole Middle East. The project will bring a key contribution to the development of Kurdish studies in Poland. A ‘team project’, which can provide a thorough and interdisciplinary analysis of continuation and change processes in Kurdistan, taking into consideration different points of views and various academic perspectives. Kurdish studies are dispersive and need to be consolidated by pooling existing knowledge. Being one of the first team projects it will permit a more detailed and multidimensional perspective for studying the Kurdish issue but at the same time collating all information of the team’s field scholars bringing an important contribution to the process of Kurdish studies’ by consolidation. Being an interdisciplinary project it will also contribute to many different humanistic disciplines such as ethics, literary studies, postcolonial studies, sociology and political sciences.
It is important to stress that this project is a matter of significant importance due to the changes that have been taking place in the Middle East over the last few years as well as the growing multicultural dimension of the European community in which Kurdish representatives are among the most active figures. Until the beginning of the 21st century Kurds were known as one of the biggest nations without their own country (with an estimated 40 million people of the Kurdish population worldwide), desperate fighters for independence, poor and weak refugees and immigrants or, on the contrary, as cruel terrorists. However after the American intervention in Iraq in 2003 when the Kurdistan Region was formally established the Kurds became one of the driving forces of the democratic changes not only in Iraq but in the Middle East as well. The sociopolitical and cultural situation of contemporary Turkey also gives hope for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question in the immediate future. The changed reality in Turkey and especially in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region significantly influence the activity of Kurds in Iran and Syria being for them an impulse to fight for their own rights. It is worth mentioning that this factor is of crucial importance in these countries which still fails to provide basic freedoms and observance of human rights. The changed situation has created new possibilities of international cooperation for the Kurds in such fields as politics, science, civic organization, literature, film or fine arts. The activity of Kurds living in Kurdistan (i.e. Turkey, Iraq and Iran) as well as in European countries including Poland in the fields of politics, science, civic organization, literature, film or fine arts is now developing rapidly. Since it has definitely become more complex and sophisticated over the last twenty years it needs thorough attention and examination.
Institute of Oriental Studies UJ
Department of iranian Studies IO UJ
The Institute of Middle and Far Eastern Studies
Kurdish Center for Information and Documentation
Projekt Radość za jedno Spas
Poland Middle East and North Africa Trade and Cooperation