The Power of Living Memory: Ferzende Beg, Zapata, and Beyond

The 1950s film “Viva Zapata” brought the Mexican Revolution and its leader Emiliano Zapata into the annals of Hollywood. [1] It was a milestone because it was the first time a non-European revolutionary graced the silver screen, and Hollywood welcomed this visitor from afar with open arms. Under the masterful direction of Elia Kazan, the captivating screenplay of John Steinbeck, and the riveting performance of Marlon Brando, Zapata’s essence entered the collective consciousness worldwide.

When I first saw the film, I was deeply moved. But it was the final scene that left an indelible impression. In this final act, Zapata enters a building for a supposed meeting, unaware that he has been lured into a treacherous trap. As he enters the courtyard, those who beckoned him reveal their true intention: his downfall. In the center of the courtyard, Zapata discovers his stolen horse, which the soldiers had taken. He approaches and embraces the faithful horse. Sensing the impending danger, the horse instinctively jumps and gallops away. At that moment, hidden soldiers stationed on rooftops and balconies emerge from their hiding places and fire a barrage at Zapata.

In the midst of chaos, a soldier passionately urges his comrades, “Kill the horse! Kill the horse!” They now focus on the fleeing horse and their shouts echo through the air.

As the horse flees, Zapata collapses lifeless to the ground.

On one of the lifeless bodies two hidden figures rise and enter the macabre scene. One of them watches the horse flee and remarks, “There is madness among these people.” Another stares at Zapata’s bullet-riddled corpse and utters these words of solemn wisdom: “Sometimes a deceased becomes a terrible enemy.” Afterwards, one of them orders, “Display his body in the square for all to see his death.”

The soldiers bring Zapata’s lifeless body to the village square and throw it on the ground without feeling. The women of the village come first and lead a solemn procession in honor of Zapata, followed by the men. At the sight of his mortal remains, doubts creep over them and they wonder about the identity of the fallen warrior. One of them asks, “If this is not Zapata, where is he now?” Another answers with determined conviction, “He’s roaming the mountains. He is evading capture. But if he must, he will return” In their final moments, their shared gaze turns to the distant mountaintop where his horse stands gracefully, evoking a poignant mix of warm smiles and unwavering hope. This is how the film ends.

A few years later, in 2016, Dr. Metîn Yuksel presented an article at the Diyarbakir branch of the Ismail Beşikci Foundation that focused on the stories of Ferzende Beg and Besra. The article examined the colonial systems they used—armed with modern technologies, novel methods of control and domination, scientific production, and document manipulation—to put down uprisings in Iran and Turkey in the early twentieth century.

The article is inspired by the historical approach of Subaltern Studies, which compares the “archives and writings” of the ruling elites with the oral poetry of the oppressed:

Following Ranajit Guha’s thought-provoking analysis of peasant revolts in colonial India, both official records and state-centered narratives can be seen as ‘counterinsurgency discourses.’ Ferzende’s oral poetry is a testament to Kurdish poetics of resistance.” [2]

One of the oral poems carefully selected by Mamoste Metin was Shakiro’s composition dedicated to Ferzende Beg [3]. Line by line, he elaborated on the verses, showing how the living memory interwoven in the texts can counteract the ubiquitous “propaganda of the state.” The teacher referred to the Inspector General’s minutes of 1936, in which Ferzende Beg is described as a revered folk hero.

After numerous arduous battles in Iran, Ferzende Beg was finally captured in the sacred halls of Hawsha Ejam. The Iranian authorities feared that he might incite a rebellion and resorted to grave treachery by poisoning and killing him. To extinguish any spark of defiance, they gouged out his eyes, rendering him incapable of leading another uprising. Finally, at Basra’s request, the lifeless body of Ferzende Beg was handed over at the Qachar Palace in Tehran.

Besra burried Ferzende Beg all alone, and next to his name were engraved the poignant words “The Most Courageous of All Men” [4]. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll and these remains are now only vestiges of a bygone era.

When he finished his impassioned speech, there was an eerie silence in the hall, as if all those present, unable to breathe, were completely captivated by the story of Ferzende Beg and Besra.

But then, in the midst of the silence, Lutfi Baksi [5] raised his hand and revealed a fond childhood memory. His words just bubbled with memories:

I remember it vividly. When I was young, the news of Ferzende Beg’s passing echoed through our village. But the people refused to accept this news. They declared, ‘No! We are witnesses to his presence. Under the night sky, he rides his gallant steed through the mountains, preparing for new battles.”

At that moment, the final scene of the Zapata film came to my mind, which is strikingly similar at its core. The analogy surprised me and ignited a spark of inspiration to explore this topic further. During my preparations for this article, I had a conversation with Kamal Soleimani, an esteemed educator in Mexico. We delved into the film and the article to find out if such a myth was really widespread among the population. In search of answers, we turned to Mexican acquaintances. Professor Gilberto Conda, one such contact, shared his thoughts with us in a phone conversation, “Maybe. Like a cinematic narrative, such myths are a testament to the human imagination. However, I remain skeptical. The state therefore disseminated images of Zapata’s lifeless body and even published them in newspapers.” Professor Conda, however, consulted a confidant who gave a convincing answer:

“My grandfather Gabriel Ramírez Cuevas, a centenarian and brave soldier in Emiliano Zapata’s ranks, stated emphatically: ‘If one of Zapata’s descendants were to claim his death, we would vehemently deny it. We refuse to accept or entertain such claims. Although the government displayed Zapata’s body in the town square, numerous people paid the price for refusing to confirm the authenticity of the body or acknowledge Zapata’s death”

Why, despite the relentless insistence of the state and the mass of evidence, did these individuals defy death and steadfastly reject Zapata’s death? What does the lasting legacy of Zapata and Ferzende Beg mean?

In my opinion, the living memories of a population that forever remembers the days of resistance and holds the notion that their deceased heroes remain alive instills the greatest fear in those in power. As long as these memories live on in the collective consciousness, those in power can never claim unequivocal triumph. The memories of the fallen and the indomitable living memories instill deep fear and terror. This struggle, a war of living memory waged by the oppressed against the written archives of the state, will continue as long as that memory endures.

The narrative of Ferzende and Zapata, like the intertwined stories of the Kurds and Mexicans, can be seen as a common stance, a testimony to the historiography of the marginalized vis-à-vis the dominant historical narratives of the world.


[1] To access the film, visit:

[2] Metin Yuksel has already written an English article on this subject. The Kurdish version of the article is not available. Metin Yuksel, “On the borders of Turkish and Iranian nation-states: the experience of Farzende and Basra,” translated from English by Fehriye Adsay. Zarema, no. 8, 2017.

[3] Shakiro, “Ferzende Beg”

[4] Ekrem Malbat, “Ferzende Begê Heseni” https://

[5] In preparing this text, I had hoped to speak with Lutfi Baksi about this beautiful memory. Unfortunately, he was in the hospital and unable to get in touch. I sent him a message wishing him all the best and a speedy recovery.

This article was translated by Kamal Soleimani

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