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Not leaving children of this country without music”.
This is the motto of Ma Müzik in Diyarbakır.

In Turkey, the failed coup d’é­tat in 2016 offered an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the State to launch a wave of repres­sion that has­n’t stopped against dis­si­dent voic­es. Among them, Kur­dish voic­es in par­tic­u­lar have been gagged and muf­fled. Thou­sands of mil­i­tants and Kur­dish elect­ed mem­bers are now impris­oned. On Feb­ru­ary 14 2021, 700 of them were new­ly arrest­ed and tak­en into custody.

In Kur­dish regions, elect­ed may­ors belong­ing to the HDP (Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, a pro­gres­sive coali­tion of polit­i­cal par­ties among which the pro-Kur­dish DBP) were fired and gen­er­al­ly impris­oned, only to be replaced by “kayyum”, admin­is­tra­tors named by the State and charged with apply­ing its politi­cy deny­ing Kur­dish peo­ple all rights to auton­o­my and their own exis­tence, apply­ing a colo­nial approach to the treat­ment of Kur­dish regions that must meld into the mold of the Turk­ish nation. Besides the may­ors, a num­ber of work­ers in City halls were fired, includ­ing social work­ers, and those work­ing in cul­ture and edu­ca­tion. Among those remain­ing, many have cho­sen to leave, refus­ing the work under State-appoint­ed administrators.

The Aram Tigran cul­tur­al cen­ter, opened in 2010 by the munic­i­pal­i­ty of the peri­od is one of the struc­tures tar­get­ed by the repres­sion. This cen­ter’s mis­sion called for the devel­op­ment of the teach­ing and the dis­tri­b­u­tion of Kur­dish cul­ture in music, cin­e­ma and the­ater… Along with the loss of the employ­ment, the stakes have dou­bled for the work­ers at the cen­ter. They have had to find new sources of finan­cial sub­sis­tance for their dai­ly sur­vival and think out how to con­tin­ue the Kur­dish cul­tur­al action. Some of them have orga­nized in order to open pri­vate struc­tures col­lec­tive­ly to insure the pur­suit of the work done in the center.

Ma Müzik in Diyarbakır is one of these struc­tures. Ded­i­cat­ed to the teach­ing of Kur­dish music, it opened in March 2017. Arjin, vio­lin teacher who also han­dles the cen­ter’s admin­is­tra­tion and Fer­hat who gives Kur­dish lan­guage class­es and plays the kaval (an instru­ment in the flute fam­i­ly) explain Ma Müzik’s func­tion­ing and objec­tives. Both stud­ied there before become teach­ers them­selves, while pur­su­ing their own musi­cal apprenticeship.

How is Ma Müzik doing?

Arjin – The cen­ter will enter its fourth year of exis­tence in March 2021. Pri­or to that we had the Aram Tigran cul­tur­al cen­ter with a con­ser­va­to­ry. We were already here. We built Ma Müzik with sup­port from the fam­i­lies, after the arrival of the kayyum. We did every­thing with the fam­i­lies. Built the kitchen, installed the doors, all of us togeth­er. We also work togeth­er when defin­ing the cur­ricu­lum. With the sup­port of the fam­i­lies and advice we were giv­en, activ­i­ties at Ma Müzik devel­oped. We com­plet­ed our four years of study, fol­low­ing which each of us fol­lowed work in one’s own field. We devel­opped the projects, the music, the stran­bêji (song accom­pa­nied by instru­ments), deng­bêji (the art of the bards, a capel­la songs nar­rat­ing sories, sagas). Then we began class­es for young chil­dren and for old­er ones. The stu­dents come on the advice of the fam­i­lies, who pass on the infor­ma­tion through word of mouth. We devel­op slow­ly, one step at a time.

Fer­hat – Had you come four years ago, we were all stu­dents. Time has passed, things have moved on despite the neg­a­tive con­di­tions. Many left, we are still here. We con­tin­ued. It’s a sto­ry of resis­tance. When we received our diplo­mas, we inte­grat­ed the func­tion­ing of the cen­ter. Here, deci­sions are tak­en col­lec­tive­ly fol­low­ing a dis­cus­sion peri­od. If a con­cert is orga­nized, first we dis­cuss it, we exchange ideas, we make plans. From the house­keep­ing to the projects, this is how we oper­ate. For dai­ly tasks such as clean­ing, meals, we have rotat­ing sched­ules set up by our teach­ers. Final­ly, we take care of this place from A to Z with our friends and our teach­ers. You can see, this is how all this has been pos­si­ble. In order to do that, you need some­thing that car­ries you. We left the offi­cial build­ings, they were soul­less. There was no more cre­ation going on there. I can say that in the real­i­ty of Kur­dis­tan, that of Bakur (North­ern Kur­dis­tan with­in the Turk­ish bor­ders), we work as an insti­tu­tion so that Kur­dish music can reach the pop­u­la­tion. Beside us, hard­ly any­one does that.

Arjin – Our objec­tive is not to leave the chil­dren of this coun­try with­out music. This is our real slo­gan. We don’t think too much about the finan­cial aspect. We want to teach the chil­dren their own music, their own cul­ture. We have almost 200 stu­dents reg­is­tered in the class­es as well as stu­dents in the con­ser­va­to­ry. That a child wants to learn music is essen­tial. What­ev­er hap­pens, we make sure he or she can go to the end of the train­ing, no mat­ter if it involves instru­men­tal class­es, stran­bêji or deng­bêji. We teach the child’s cul­ture and lan­guage, no mat­ter what. In oth­er words, we do not impose the pay­ment of a reg­is­tra­tion fee. Because we are more or less famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion of fam­i­lies in our coun­try, and so no child will be penal­ized by that kind of limitation.

April 2017. Class in read­ing songs in kurmancî

From what social class­es are the stu­dents at Ma Müzik?

Fer­hat – In this neigh­bor­hood, Dicle Kent, we find most­ly well-to-do peo­ple. But we are not only open to the chil­dren around here. We have stu­dents from Şehit­lik, stu­dents from Bağlar (poor neigh­bor­hoods in Diyarbakır)…

When we found­ed this cen­ter, we told our­selves, “Her deri muzik, ji bo herkes muzik” (trans­la­tion: “Music every­where, music for every­one”). This is how we devel­op our project.

Only a few days ago, 700 peo­ple who are mem­bers or close to the HDP were arrest­ed. Do you also feel pres­sure from the State?

Fer­hat - How can I say… (laughs)

Arjin – (laughs) We can talk about it, not a prob­lem. Final­ly, in our insti­tu­tion as else­where, oppres­sion is present every­where. In the pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, for exam­ple. We see with Boğaz­içi Uni­ver­si­ty, we see with Galatasaray… In their case, the oppres­sion is enor­mous, imag­ine what it can be for us. (She laughs).

Fer­hat – I can say that Ma Müzik has a dif­fer­ent col­or for Diyarbakir. Because we do things out­side what already exists. And this some­times pro­vokes reac­tions from oth­er, uh, forces…

To answer this ques­tion in anoth­er way… hmm, how can I say…When we look out­side, at the poli­cies, there is an objec­tive to erase dif­fer­ences… they are not accept­ed… And as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a soci­ety, of a peo­ple, we attempt to trans­mit this music to future gen­er­a­tions. This is our strug­gle. Of course, this will bring on neg­a­tive things, reac­tions from the out­side, but we car­ry on despite the exist­ing prob­lems, despite the exist­ing violence.

Feb­ru­ary 2021 – A group of women rehearse in prepa­ra­tion for March 8.

There is also the pan­dem­ic. How do you work in the moment?

Arjin – Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, there were restric­tions with the cur­fews, the quar­an­tines, obvi­ous­ly our cen­ter had to close down. We attempt­ed to teach online. With the lift­ing of the pro­hi­bi­tions, even if we can’t say we are back to nor­mal, we have start­ed offer­ing class­es again by impos­ing very strict rules. But as there are cur­rent­ly many stu­dents in the con­ser­va­to­ry, we attempt to con­tin­ue online class­es, be it in Kur­dish, in stran­bêji or in deng­bêji. For the oth­er indi­vid­ual class­es, the stu­dents come here and we give the class­es while apply­ing dis­tanc­ing rules.

Fer­hat – Every­one has attempt­ed to con­tin­ue giv­ing class­es no mat­ter what. Be it in a house, or under a tree out­side. Of course, there have been delays and obsta­cles but our aim was to car­ry on with the teach­ing no mat­ter what. We had to reach the chil­dren, even dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. After that, we were able to meet here again. Indi­vid­ual class­es take place in the chil­dren’s pres­ence, espe­cial­ly for the instruments.

Your project of con­certs for Ami­da (Amid is the his­tor­i­cal name of Diyarbakır), is part of this com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing Kur­dish culture. 

*Fer­hat – The Amî­da con­certs are the voice of the past, of the past extend­ing to our days…It was the idea of the moth­er of one of our stu­dents, devel­oped fol­low­ing dis­cus­sions and exchanges. There are lit­tle known his­tor­i­cal sites in Diyarbakır. For exam­ple, although I’ve lived here for three years, there are still places I’m dis­cov­er­ing. And it so hap­pens that some peo­ple from this place have not seen them either. We are attempt­ing to make these places from the past known so that they can live on. (Note: in 2015–2016, dur­ing the war against the towns, the Turk­ish army destroyed an impor­tant sec­tion of Diyarbakır’s his­tor­i­cal cen­ter, the neigh­bor­hood of Sur).

Four con­certs have been broad­cast so far. We have planned a total of ten. Our objec­tive is to put togeth­er con­certs that cor­re­spond to the social fab­ric of the his­tor­i­cal site in ques­tion, with a Kur­dish, Turk­ish, Armen­ian, Iaz content…And we have a guest artist at each con­cert. At first we were con­cerned, we won­dered about the suc­cess of our project. But if we look at the enthu­si­as­tic respons­es, they are a suc­cess. Show­ing off the his­tor­i­cal sites in this way was a beau­ti­ful idea. If we could extend this to oth­er towns, that would be great.

Some new projects for Ma Müzik?

Fer­hat – We have a project called: “Zarok Ma” for chil­dren between the ages of 2 and 5. I say 2 to 5 years, but in fact, the musi­cal learn­ing begins in the moth­er’s bel­ly. The project is still in the plan­ning phase. We’ve launched a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. We hope to begin the class­es in March, per­haps at the end of March. It is a music teach­ing pro­gram with parental par­tic­i­pa­tion. There will also be art work­shops for very young chil­dren, as well as yoga class­es. Chil­dren will be able to become famil­iar with the music of their cul­ture already in their moth­er’s belly.

Arjin – As our slo­gan indi­cates, our objec­tive is not to leave the chil­dren of this coun­try with­out music. We will car­ry out this project one way or anoth­er, no mat­ter what the con­di­tions. Thus, we are launch­ing Zarok Ma so that chil­dren aged 0–5 years can learn their own culture.

(she laughs) Even if the financ­ing cam­paign fails, we will con­tin­ue the teach­ing as best we can, every­where, even in the street if necessary!

Feb­ru­ary 2021 – A group of women rehearse in prepa­ra­tion for March 8.

Feb­ru­ary 2021 – A group of women rehearse in prepa­ra­tion for March 8.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, in your opin­ion, what is the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion for Kur­dish music?

Arjin – There are new com­po­si­tions by Kur­dish artists. But not all Kur­dish musics are the same, styl­is­ti­cal­ly speaking…As an exam­ple in the stran­bêji and deng­bêji class­es, the lan­guage is Kur­dish and deep things are expressed but as they are “uzun hava” (a type of music with “free rhythm, hav­ing no rhyth­mi­cal con­straints. This gen­er­ates a slow, melan­col­ic melody), they are not lis­tened to very much any­more. In the cur­rent musi­cal envi­ron­ment, if we had chil­dren lis­ten to them, they would cov­er their ears and run off.

Our objec­tive is pre­cise­ly to devel­op Kur­dish music and to avoid being for­got­ten. You hear a song in a slow rhythm and all of a sud­den hip-hop melodies come into play. This may be a process of mod­ern­iza­tion. Artists look at what is pop­u­lar, they ask them­selves how they can be heard, and so they trans­form the song into anoth­er very dif­fer­ent one. A cer­tain num­ber of our musi­cians who played tra­di­tion­al Kur­dish music have turned toward opera, toward clas­si­cal music. Per­haps they tell them­selves they must mod­ern­ize to increase their audience…

In our songs, we talk about things expe­ri­enced, that are very deep. We see that when we speak about this music, many of us Kurds do not know it, don’t lis­ten to it but if we say opera, clas­si­cal, every­one is enthu­si­as­tic. Our objec­tive is to devel­op Kur­dish music. But I get the feel­ing that some of us want to do that while oth­ers, I don’t know but, it’s as if they want­ed to anni­hi­late it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it is hard join­ing into a com­mon effort and this puts Kur­dish music at risk of disappearing.

Fer­hat - In Roja­va for exam­ple, there is ongo­ing cre­ation. Here, the young peo­ple have moved away from their own cul­ture. With our class­es in deng­bêji which start­ed a year ago, we see there is a renewed inter­est. We now have young peo­ple who come to class­es, we also have chil­dren deng­bêj. We must trans­mit this cul­ture to the lit­tle ones also.

A final word?

Fer­hat – In 2018 we orga­nized work­shops in oth­er towns such as Adana, Mersin, Istan­bul, Sil­van, Silopi, Cizre. In the vil­lages of the Mardin dis­trict also. Dur­ing these work­shops, we saw the chil­dren’s ener­gy and enthu­si­asm, the light in their eyes. Here, we have become accus­tomed to chil­dren run­ning after us call­ing us “mamoste, mamoste!” When we first arrived in the vil­lages, they stayed away from us, but as soon as we talked to them in the lan­guage of their cul­ture, we start­ed estab­lish­ing almost fam­i­ly-like rela­tion­ships… They called us “Xalo (the uncle who is a broth­er of the moth­er), Apo” (an uncle who is the broth­er of the father), Mamo…” The word “mamoste” dis­ap­peared. When we think back on this kind of thing, we can’t help but see our activ­i­tiy as more than a job, but as some­thing vital. As long as we will see that glim­mer of light, we will con­tin­ue as hard as we can, for the future of our cul­ture.

Inter­view con­duct­ed by Loez
Answers trans­lat­ed by Naz Oke

You can also enjoy Ma Müzik’s cre­ations and con­certs on Youtube, sup­port their projects on Face­book, Twit­ter @mamusiccenter1, Insta­gram @mamusicenter, and bet­ter yet, by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. And here is the cen­ter’s inter­net address.

Translation from French 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.