Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Kurdish (Cultural) Opening

The New York Times (which seems to have discovered Turkey in recent days) has a good piece out about some of the interesting changes taking place on the Kurdish cultural front -- a move towards "cultural autonomy" as the article puts it. From the article:
A BALEFUL love song wafted from the Vizyon Muzik Market. Not so long ago playing Kurdish music over a loudspeaker into the streets here might have provoked the Turkish police. Just speaking the names of certain Kurdish singers at one time could have landed a Kurd in prison.

These days hundreds of CDs featuring Kurdish pop singers fill one of the long walls in the small, shoebox-shaped Vizyon Muzik. The discs face a few

dozen Turkish ones. Abdulvahap Ciftci, the 25-year-old Kurd who runs the place, told me one sunny morning not long ago that customers buy some 250 Kurdish albums a week. “And maybe I sell one Turkish album,” he calculated, wagging a single finger, slowly. “Maybe.”

Turkey is holding elections in a few days. For months pro-Kurdish activists have been staging rallies that during recent weeks have increasingly turned into violent confrontations with the police in this heavily Kurdish region of the southeast. Capitalizing on the Arab Spring and the general state of turmoil in that part of the world, as well as on Turkey’s vocal support for Egyptian reformers, the Kurds here have been looking toward elections to press longstanding claims for broader parliamentary representation and more freedoms, political and cultural.
(The full piece can be found here.)

The article hits upon an interesting paradox that I wrote about previously on this blog (see this post), which is that while on the political front Turkey's "Kurdish opening" has mostly fallen flat on its face, developments in the realm of culture have been much more encouraging. In terms of film, theater, music and books, Kurdish culture is becoming a much more visible and natural part the cultural landscape in Turkey, particularly in places like Istanbul, where this wasn't the case even a few years ago.

The question now, it would appear, is at what point does a move towards "cultural autonomy" start impacting or strengthening what is also a call in southeast Turkey for some kind of "political autonomy," mostly through the decentralization of the Turkish state, and how will the government respond to that?

(photo - poster for "Min Dit," a Kurdish-language film recently shown in Istanbul. By Yigal Schleifer)

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