Cinema serves as a mediator for Turkish-Kurdish conflict

Cinema serves as a mediator for Turkish-Kurdish conflict

Emrah Güler ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Cinema serves as a mediator for Turkish-Kurdish conflict


Call it the Peace Process or the Kurdish Initiative, the last half-a-decade has seen attempts at many fronts to bring Kurds more freedoms and rights, to bring an end to the war in southeastern Turkey that has left its mark in the area for the last three decades, and to help ending some deeply-rooted separatist notions.

The repercussions, at least, have been seen in Turkish cinema, both in mainstream Turkish cinema and in the emergence of an independent cinema by Kurdish filmmakers with distinctive voices making the rounds at major film festivals. History was made five years ago when one of the biggest cinema events in Turkey, the Golden Orange Film Festival, included two films in Kurdish onto its list of films running for the National Competition, for the first time in the 46 years of the history of the awards.

“İki Dil Bir Bavul” (On the Way to School) and “Min Dit: The Children of Diyarbakır” were both screened in the festival with Turkish subtitles. Co-directed by Özgür Doğan and Orhan Eskiköy, “İki Dil Bir Bavul” is a semi-documentary following the one-year of a hapless teacher in southeast Turkey, trying to teach Turkish to little students in a Kurdish village. The film became a surprise hit both in the box office and among the critics, and went on to win the Best First Film award in the Golden Oranges in 2009.

This week’s new release “Cennetten Kovulmak” (The Fall from Heaven in English, and Derbuyina Ji Bihuşte in Kurdish) by Ferit Karahan went even further, going on to win the Best Film award, along with two other awards, in last year’s Golden Oranges. Karahan’s debut feature follows two women, one Turkish and one Kurdish, from two distant parts of Turkey, whose lives intersect after similar tragedies.

The stories of the two women are reflected in the film as two sides of the mirror, where Emine (Ezgi Asaroğlu), an engineer working with Kurdish workers in a construction site, harbors hostility and prejudice against Kurds after her brother is killed in action during his military service. While little Ayşe (Rojin Tekin), the daughter of a Kurdish family in southeastern Turkey, sees her brother killed in guerilla action and her family forced to leave their land by the Turkish government. The prejudices come head to head as the lives of the two intersect.

Films chasing the rainbow

Director Karahan is not new to the history of the region on screen, as he was the assistant director in Sedat Yılmaz’s “Press” of 2011, the story of a group of journalists in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır during the early 1990s when Turkey topped the list of countries with the greatest number of journalists killed, and when the armed conflict in the region was at its most heated. The film also was a hit in the Golden Orange Film Festival, winning a special jury prize.

The Kurdish Initiative has also opened the way for some of the more powerful documentaries in the recent history of Turkish (and Kurdish) cinema. Mizgin Müjde Arslan was a name well-known in some circles with her award-winning shorts and books on cinema, like “Kürt Sineması: Yurtsuzluk, Sınır ve Ölüm” (Kurdish Cinema: No Country, Borders and Death).

In her haunting “Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldın” (I Flew, You Stayed) of 2012, Arslan takes on a journey to find her long-lost father. “I grew up hearing about my father, who joined the guerrillas a few months after I was born,” reminisces Arslan, taking on a harrowing journey to her hometown. The documentary might have cost her time in jail, but it served as a validation of her work: “Being taken into custody because of your work has the side effect of emphasizing the importance of your work. It emphasizes that you are taken seriously, that the work you do is feared.”

The 2013 documentary “Bûka Baranê” (The Children Chasing the Rainbow) has many underlying similarities with “Ben Uçtum Sen Kaldın.” Both are directed by female directors, with Dilek Gökçin directing “Bûka Baranê,” and both films follow journeys into homes in distant lands and personal histories embedded in war. The name of the film means the bride of the rain, the Kurdish phrase for rainbow, seen in the far corner of a primary school photo taken in 1989.

The film takes one of the students, İrfan, more than two decades later, to the village where most of the children in the photo still reside in. The journey to the village interchanges with a journey to the past, to the story of 10 of these children who have grown in the time of armed conflict between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish militants, as well as the emergency rule. These heart-breaking films, finding release, audience, and awards in some cases, serve as a testament that many in Turkey are ready to face recent history and unwarranted hostilities towards one another.