Oxir be Rubar, oxir be Ser­vano!” (Rest in peace, Rubar, rest in peace you, the com­bat­ant) Kur­dish film direc­tor Ersin Çelik wrote on his Face­book page on Novem­ber 3 2019. Below the mes­sage appear pho­tos of a charis­mat­ic young man with a smile on his lips but seri­ous eyes. One of the pho­tos shows him in the garb of a PKK com­bat­ant while anoth­er was done dur­ing the film­ing of Ji bo Azadiye – The End­ing will be spec­tac­u­lar, a work of fic­tion released in 2019 that relates the resis­tance in the Sur neigh­bor­hood of Amed (Diyarbakir) in 2015–2016 under attacks by the Turk­ish army attempt­ing to exter­mi­nate activists who had declared the rule of self-government.

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rubar shervanA com­bat­ant turned actor for the role of a gueril­la leader in Sur, before falling as a mar­tyr on Octo­ber 25 2019 next to four oth­er com­bat­ants in con­fronta­tions with the Turk­ish army, Rubar Sher­van’s sto­ry intrigues. We asked Ersin Çelik to tell us more about him.

« Rubar Sher­van (Cihan Sev­er) is from Van, one of the cold­est towns in North­ern Kur­dis­tan (Bakur, a part of Kur­dis­tan occu­pied by Turkey). He left this icy region for one of the warmest regions of Kur­dis­tan, led by a pas­sion, a feel­ing and an objec­tive. He came to Kobanê in 2014–2015 in order to fight against ISIS, some­thing he nev­er stopped doing in Roja­va and in North­ern Syr­ia up until our meet­ing. I know he was wound­ed sev­er­al times.

We met in Kobanê in 2017 when prepa­ra­tions for the film were already under­way. We were look­ing for ama­teur actors because we want­ed to cap­ture authen­tic emo­tions with peo­ple as close as pos­si­ble both to what had hap­pened in Sur and to the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of the young peo­ple who fought there. We were thus con­vinced that only peo­ple who had lived sim­i­lar events could inter­pret this sto­ry. Thus, the actor inter­pret­ing the char­ac­ter had to be as close to him as pos­si­ble in real life.

This was no small mat­ter. There were very intense con­fronta­tions going on, the war against ISIS was still rag­ing in Raqqa. We were a group of film mak­ers, jour­nal­ists and indi­vid­u­als ded­i­cat­ed to the project and we were active­ly work­ing on writ­ing the script, scout­ing for actors and re-cre­at­ing the archi­tec­ture of Sur in Kobanê. Sur is a town built with black stone char­ac­ter­is­tic of its region, with walled-in nar­row alleys where­as more than 80% of Kobanê had been destroyed.

rubar shervan

We were prepar­ing a film, while already liv­ing one: we had planned to use a group of SDF com­bat­ants in Shed­da­di but they were called up to the front at the begin­ning of the oper­a­tion in Deir ez Zor since pri­or­i­ties were else­where. Kahra­man Amed was sup­posed to play a role in the film but he fell a mar­tyr in Raqqa a few days before film­ing began. Film mak­er and jour­nal­ist Mehmet Aksoy also fell a mar­tyr in Raqqa dur­ing an assault by ISIS.

Dur­ing the ini­tial prepara­to­ry phase we had nev­er dis­trib­uted the roles because we were busy orga­niz­ing and train­ing for the crew. This last­ed for three months and dealt with the dif­fer­ent aspects of cin­e­ma includ­ing the­o­ry, crit­i­cism, and dra­ma class­es. At the end of this train­ing, we start­ed work on the sce­nario and rehearsals for some of the key scenes. This is when the cast­ing became more pre­cise. As this was a film done by a col­lec­tive, it was impor­tant that the two-per­son teams in the sce­nario be com­ple­me­nary and, as I said, it was impor­tant that some of the char­ac­ters’ char­ac­ter­is­tics meld with the actor’s personalities.

The first time I saw Rubar, I told myself he was the one, and my opin­ion did not change dur­ing the three-month train­ing peri­od: he could play of the main roles, that of Çiyager, the leader of the resis­tance dur­ing 100 days in Sur-Amed from Decem­ber 2015 to March 2016. Rubar’s heart was a light as a feath­er, he was extreme­ly mod­est and always opti­mistic even when deal­ing with dif­fi­cul­ties. He smiled all the time and all eyes turned toward hm when he entered a room. His atti­tude was impres­sive. In short, he had all the char­tac­ter­is­tics of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader. He was exact­ly the way Çiyager was to be interpreted.

At first, he was­n’t too keen about being in the film. He con­sid­ered this was­n’t his role, that he had no the­ater or film expe­ri­ence. So he had to trust him­self, and us.

But it is admit­ted among polit­i­cal­ly-aware Kurds that par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Sur resis­tance is an hon­or, just as is the case for resis­tance in Kobanê and Shen­gal. Liv­ing or dying isn’t what mat­ters, what mat­ters is hon­or, resis­tance, free­dom and the inti­mate con­vic­tion that rev­o­lu­tion is not a dream. In short, one must be con­vinced that a new life is pos­si­ble. And like many oth­ers, Rubar had that con­vic­tion. For every rev­o­lu­tion­ary, life takes on an artis­tic and poet­ic dimen­sion. Only poet­ry and art can tell the tale of the jour­ney from a region where snow lies more than 2 meters deep to one where sum­mers are scorch­ing hot. Only rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies can take on the title role in a film while fight­ing against ISIS, the most orga­nized evil on earth. This is how Cihan became Rubar in Kobanê and played the role of Çiyager in the film Ji bo Azadiye.

Of course all these ingre­di­ents could not suf­fice because a film is a long and com­pli­cat­ed tech­ni­cal process and few peo­ple man­age to see the film behind the sce­nario, along with the cam­era, the light, the crew, the audi­ence. Ama­teur actors have a hard time get­ting accus­tomed to all these aspects, espe­cial­ly when you need to make sev­er­al takes. We man­aged to fin­ish the movie nonethe­less and it is tru­ly a film, even though it rests on real events. But real­i­ty is every­where in it. Two of the actors (Kor­san Ser­van and Haki) for exam­ple fought in Sur and we made sure that they played their own roles. It’s an impor­tant detail in the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma. Rubar Sher­van for instance won­dered if he would be able to inter­pret Çiyager.

rubar shervanOur film deals with a process that is still ongo­ing and fresh in every­one’s mind. Ruber felt this was not an ordi­nary movie and that he he would marked for life by this role.

My role as direc­tor was to main­tain every­one’s moti­va­tion and to pre­pare the emo­tion­al cli­mate before and after the takes. This was not suf­fi­cient because, at times, actors had to repeat the slight­est ges­ture. But every­one had entered into the project telling them­selves they had to give it their best. We kept say­ing “we can do bet­ter.” With this state of mind we man­aged to over­come the lack of moti­va­tion that could appear after sev­er­al takes. We for­bade our­selves the thought that we did not need to be as demand­ing in these con­di­tions, with actors and a crew lack­ing in suf­fi­cient expe­ri­ence for such a project. We are ama­teurs but we attempt­ed to think and to act as pro­fes­sion­als. Rubar trust­ed us as an actor, he took our request, crit­i­cisms and advice under con­sid­er­a­tion. He took part at a heavy cost.

Prepa­ra­tions last­ed for three months and so did film­ing. Rubar had scenes right up to the end, includ­ing the hard­est ones. There was no extrav­a­gance, no exag­ger­a­tion in this film, but the telling of a true, authen­tic sto­ry. Our actor com­rads thus went on a diet to lose weight, they remained dirty and with uncut hair, and Rubar did all this with­out any qualms. He left the set in March 2018.

We had last seen each oth­er dur­ing the sum­mer of 2019 when I showed him a first ver­sion of the film with tem­po­rary edit­ing, after which we lost con­tact until news arrived of his death on Novem­ber 2. From what I gath­ered from the media, he died a mar­tyr under bomb­ing dur­ing a con­fronta­tion with the Turk­ish army in Haf­tanin. He lived in right­eous­ness. He loved life to the point of sac­ri­fic­ing it. Our duty is to keep his mem­o­ry alive. »

Loez et Mah, novem­bre 2019

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Pho­to-jour­nal­iste indépendant
Loez s’in­téresse depuis plusieurs années aux con­séquences des États-nations sur le peu­ple kurde, et aux luttes de celui-ci.