The relationship between Kurdish cinema and oral culture

The movie The Song of My Mom (Kilama Dayîka Min) begins with a scene in which a teacher tells the story of the crow and the peacock in a school in the village of Bazid in the Agirî district. “Ders: Türkçe” (Lesson: Turkish) is written in the lesson. But the teacher tells the story of […]

The relationship between Kurdish cinema and oral culture
The relationship between Kurdish cinema and oral culture
  • Yayınlanma13 August 2023 17:50
  • Güncelleme14 August 2023 09:03

The movie The Song of My Mom (Kilama Dayîka Min) begins with a scene in which a teacher tells the story of the crow and the peacock in a school in the village of Bazid in the Agirî district.

“Ders: Türkçe” (Lesson: Turkish) is written in the lesson. But the teacher tells the story of his advice to his students in Kurdish, and this story is about a girl’s desire to join the Tawisan. Meanwhile, the camera pans out of the classroom to show the school and the “White Toros Car” [1] approaching the school, putting the teacher in the car and driving away. It can be seen that one of the students who is running after the teacher out up the Turkish flag in half. In the following scene, a vehicle is seen in a long shot on a road that runs through the middle of a wide savanna. This scene, in which the teacher is forcibly thrustining in a white Toros, tells us an unexpected murder and loss. The film tells the story of Nigar (Zübeyda Ronahi) and his son Ali (Feyyaz Duman) who move to the Tarlabaşı neighborhood of Istanbul after this unexpected murder. The Song of My Mom sets out to find a lost song i.e. a singer named Seydoy Silo.

The film is about the native language, unknown murders, migration and evacuated villages. It is based on the collective memory of the Kurds, which connects past and present. The tape becomes a metaphor for displacement, a colonized geography, and the search for a lost past. The theme of this song/tape is the memory of Nigar. In this regard, the voice – an important recurring feature of Kurdish oral culture – envelops the story of the film and gives this non-diegetic information as a sign; the clear words of the hands, songs, lyrics, stories and legends convey the best feelings about the place, land and culture. They contain the most accurate and unbiased information about identity, history, and national belonging. [2] Remembering Nigar with sung texts, an important practice of Kurdish oral performance shows the longing for the voice of Seydo Silo, whose presence is unknown. In oral cultures, words are made of sounds. The song that Nigar seeks or tries to remember is the sound, the word, as WJ Ong says, “the word itself is an event, an action.” [3]

While listening to tapes, Nigar asks to return to his country. In the book of the Mehmet Uzun about Evdale Zeynike: Nigar is like the Caucasian Kurds who were driven out of their land: “Evdal was the sound of mountains, plains, rivers, and villages that they could only see from a distance, beyond the invisible borders. Evdal was a sacred place for those who were forced to leave their land due to war and massacres. The voice of Evdal was a divine breath that crossed and destroyed borders and insurmountable distances. [4] A film in the temporal and spatial realm can be understood as a vast imagination in which people travel. In this sense, cinema with its images creates a space in which one can move without a map.

The Dengbêj (who sing the type of the kilam that is sort of kurdish music), the enforcers of Kurdish oral culture, pass on their stories from generation to generation and over and over again. And the similarities and differences between Kurdish oral culture and the structure of Kurdish cinema can be discussed. It should be said that the social and political subjectivity of singers is one of the most important frames used by Kurdish directors in retelling their stories. The thematic features of Kurdish films are reproduced with different or similar themes, different forms, or different dialects, and these themes are represented. These structures of oral culture transmission become a common and collective memory. Apart from this similarity, cinema is a recording practice that distinguishes the two forms of reproduction. What I want to say here is not that both reproductions are the same. On the contrary, my intention is that the two forms of retelling Kurdish stories from the distant past to the present and from the present to the future are mutually inclusive. We see this as an example in the film, you can see in The Song of My Mom that Kurdish oral culture includes a vocal history. Here both the film and the sound recording become the places of different events where the Kurds live. Kurdish cinema as a new return/indicator of Kurdish identity under the influence of return styles based on sound tradition. [5] Therefore, the Kurdish directors try to connect these two forms of return with the events that happened to the Kurds and recreate the history that has been reversed.

The films of the Kurdish directors, based on their personal stories and the traumatic events caused by the state violence in Kurdistan, are not only personal stories. At the same time, these current recurrences and images are subjective experiences of colonial violence and affect the entire geography. In this regard, it is an important feature of Kurdish cinema that directors present a retrospective of their personal experiences and memories. They focus on a situation in which catastrophes, traumas, and experiences of violence have not only occurred in the past. Therefore, the memories of the past that the director received as a heritage in his childhood and in his family want to be returned so that these stories can be told to the present and future generations and become a collective memory. This situation [6] In this sense, this film; as films that think, discuss, and express themselves, has an atmosphere that cuts through the unified thought structures about the past or history and includes the representation of multiple thought structures. The film The song of My Mom on a tape whose presence and absence cannot be understood also forms the framework and tools of memory, migration, and a colonized space. Indeed, Kurdish cinema, both in this film and more generally as a means of representing Kurdish identity, has been significantly influenced by the song tradition of Kurdish oral culture and has given Kurdish cinema a visual face.

By and large, Kurdish films, especially the film The Song og Mym Mom, have different forms, understandings, and emotional tones. It can be said that these words, which have been widely used in the films of the generation of Kurdish directors in the 2000s, are embedded in the creation of a common memory and culture. In this sense, the events are recognized and become part of a common culture and memory thanks to the principle of repetition that prevents loss. In this way, the past and the present are linked and a historical recurrence is created. In this situation, the feelings and identity of the individual develop. The shared views, values and methods of creative culture, like oral culture, become an expression of the past and a shared experience. In this sense, the film The Song of My Mom opens the place of communication between memory and oral culture with voices as “special carriers of cultural memory, transmitters of memory” [7]. Communities that find no place in the official historical record are brought into an audio and visual medium thanks to the possibilities of oral tradition and oral history practice as a practice of counter-history. In fact, the important framework of Kurdish cinema and Kurdish directors; when they make and present examples of documentaries by researching the history of their stories, they both consider oral history as an essential element of their films and practice it reflexively, especially in their documentaries. [8] In this sense, I can say that one factor of Kurdish film is that film reflects on its stories, problematizes oral tradition, and creates an anti-historical practice.

Through Margalit, common memory is a unified concept. It connects the memories of all people who experience and remember a certain event. If the number of people who remember it in a society is very high, then we can call the memory of that event “collective memory.” [9] The memory form Nigar is based on shared memories and events and is done through communication. Both the shared memories and experiences made in the Tarlabaşı area and the communication memory gained through neighborly relations produce the collective social memory of Nigar. This situation becomes an indication of the collective organization of memory created by a social context that establishes and regulates the positioning of memory in the place.

Memory is activated when separation occurs. In fact, Nigar’s memory is revived by factors such as isolation due to migration, loneliness, and spatial pressure. One of the main signs of this is the voices coming from the side of Nigar’s apartment trying to find the woman, and Nigar thinks she has a problem. Learning and helping a woman is an important aspect of the social sphere from which Nigar comes. But the neighborly relationships that Nigar learned in his community no longer exist. Where they came from Tarlabaşı into an apartment, the daily practices in Nigar’s memory do not take place. Moreover, factors such as knowledge, experience, and testimonies of the past that Nigar received from the past simultaneously illustrate the structure of social memory based on intergenerational communication, which has a certain communicative value. In this sense, Nigar’s illness, and the tapes that he cannot reach, is like a sign of the past that cannot reach this place/Kurdistan and this history. It is not only Nigar’s body that is sick and dying, it is the symbolic expression of a generation and a culture that is slowly dying.

The singer Agit, whom Ali went to see the tape, said to Ali: “What are the singers (dengbêj) worth! If I die, these tapes will be thrown away by the municipality.” The shared memories and pasts embedded in the body of Nigar and singer Agit create a sense of loss. This situation is repeated in two scenes. In the scene where Ali tries out the audio cassettes he bought in the market while looking for the cassette of Seydo Silo, the group called Ferec plays the Helicopter. It will be seen. Moreover, his mother goes to the association where Ali works as a Kurdish teacher and they meet the soloist of this group. For Nigar, it is about the performance of a “şemate”. This “show” – heavy metal – is not included in her memory in the cultural education that she has achieved. Because the tension comes from here, from the words of the singers, which is the important performance practice of oral culture, and the modern practice of recording. In the situation that Dengbeg Agit laments, those who do not adopt the stories told are removed from the historical narrative and banished from history. This return and these stories are seen through the artistic and cultural return; by revealing the truth, the historical struggles and conflicts bring a collective and political memory to the agenda. This situation is based on “the memory and the silence of the oppressed, in the blind circle of history that happens” [10]. To give a place to the people/society removed from history and to remember the oppressors, this means including in our memory the witnesses, the losses, and the collective return. In this regard, the capacity of memory is what the singer Agit says in his desperate lament about events that disappear without witnesses; this situation raises the question of whether there will be eyes and ears to protect them. As Berger says, “Memories bring about an act of salvation. That which is remembered is saved from nothingness. What is forgotten is abandoned.” [11]

The story of the crow and peacock told at the beginning of the film is repeated at the end of the film in the association where Ali teaches Kurdish language. The film returns to the same story with which it began. The inscription Ali holds in his hand is a ritual to be hidden in the wall of the village house, and this inscription shows the existence of a village, a geography, and a past. This object also represents Ali’s break with the present, as a sign of faith in the past. For Ali, this situation is expressed in the words of Proust: “The past is hidden in an object we have never thought of, outside the realm of the mind, outside the power of understanding. Whether or not we come across this object before we die depends on luck [12] The seat Ali holds in his hand is thus an expression of the naming of a symbolic past in which the geography is filled with the ruins of colonial geography, which he reflects upon and silences. In other words, the catastrophe that Benjamin sees the “angel of history” looking at, “where we see a chain of events, he sees a catastrophe, a catastrophe that gathers ruins and throws them at its feet.” [13]

Bibliography :

[1] The stories of “death cars” as a phenomenon of forced disappearance in the 90s, with murders we see in these films; Press (Sedat Yılmaz, 2010), Min Dit (Miraz Bézar, 2009), Lost (Abdullah Yaşa, M. Sait Korkut, Ali Kemal Çınar, 2010), Lost Freedom (Umur Hozatlı, 2011), Falling From Heaven (Ferit Karahan, 2013), Storm (Kazım Öz, 2008), Gelecec Uzun Sürer (Özcan Alper, 2011). On state violence by the White Bull, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in collective memory, bnr. Adnan Celik (2015). “Savaş ve Bellek: Doksanların Zorla Kaybetme Phenomeni Olarak Beyaz Toros”. Toplum ve Kuram (10), 42-58.

[2] Mehmet Uzun (2020), Dengbêjlerim , İstanbul: İthaki Publications.

[3] Walter J. Ong (2007). Sözlü ve Yazılı Kültür Sözün Teknolojileşmesi . Chev. Sema Postacıoğlu Mrs. Istanbul: Metis Publications.

[4] Mehmet Uzun, Dengbêjlerim.

[5] Yılmaz Özdil (2017). Kurdish Sinemasında Kürdistan Manzarasının İnşası: Dol Filmi. Kurdish Cinema: Yurtsuzluk, Sınır ve Ölüm. s. 215-240. İstanbul: Agora Kitaplığı.

[6] Dear Silk (2016). Felakete Tanıklık Etmek: Kürt Sineması. Gözdeki Kıymık Yeni Türkiye Sinemasında Madun ve Maduniyet İmgeleri. (pp. 313-343). Istanbul: Metis Publications.

[7] Jan Assmann (2018). A cultural bell. Chev. Ayşe Tekin, İstanbul: Ayrıntı Publications.

[8] Dear Silk (2016). Felakete Tanıklık Etmek: Kürt Sineması. Gözdeki Kıymık Yeni Türkiye Sinemasında Madun ve Maduniyet İmgeleri (p. 313-343). Istanbul: Metis Publications.

[9] Sevcan Sonmez (2015). Filmlerle Hatırlamak Toplumsal Travmaların Sinemada Temsil Edilişi, İstanbul: Metis Publications.

[10] Özge Erbek Kaya (2020). Bulutları Beklerken’de Tarihin Hafızası ve Geçömin İzi: Bir Uzam Olarak Film Çözülemesi. Kültürötesi İmgeler Ulusötesi Avrupa Sinemasında Göç, Sürgün ve Aksan Tartışmaları (p. 389-443). Istanbul: Doruk Publishing.

[11] John Berger (2020). Bir Fotoğrafı Anlamak. Chev. Beril Eyüboğlu. Istanbul: Metis Publications.

[12] Marcel Proust (2010). Lost Time İzinde. Chev. Roza Hakmen. Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Publications.

[13] Walter Benjamin (2014). Passengers. Chev. Ahmet Cemal. Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Publications.

Translated by AI Tools (GTranslate, DeepL, Google IPA), edited and published by Botan Times