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On June 5 2015, the Kurdish film maker Lisa Çalan was seriously wounded in a double bombing attack in Diyarbakır, in southeastern Turkey, during a meeting of the HDP – The Peoples’ Democratic Party. The leftist, ecologist, feminist coalition defending minorities had been created almost three years earlier: soon thereafter, it was subjected to a ferocious State repression. The attacks left two people dead and some one hundred wounded: a suspect linked to ISIS was arrested. The young woman was amputated of both legs. This marked the beginning of a long struggle, as a “disadvantaged” person: this is the term she chooses to use insead of “handicapped”. Six years after this tragedy, we met with Lisa Çalan during the filming of a short film – while on June 21st, the Constitutional tribunal validated the latest indictment by the prosecutor requesting the dissolution of the HDP for “attempting against national unity”.
Mostly, I have struggled. When I still had my two legs, I struggled as a Kurdish woman. Now, I also struggle as a disadvantaged person. But I’m not tired yet. I don’t know if I will be, some day, or if I have a strength linked to the fact I was born a woman, and Kurdish, that gives me the capacity to go on fighting without giving up. I always find the required energy to make my own voice heard, but also that of thousands of people. But I have a difficult time describing the situation in which I now find myself. Difficult to describe the life I must tackle.
“I have always struggled. When I still had my two legs, I struggled as a Kurdish woman.”
I was born in Diyarbakır where I grew up. I studied cinema at the Aram Tigran municipal conservatory for two years.1 I then took a very active part in several projects and made my own short film [“Zimanê çiya, The language of the mountain”: it deals with assimilation policies put in place against the Kurdish language] I tried to orient my professional life toward the cinema but, following the HDP meeting in 2015, my life fell into a completely different road: I both had to struggle for my survival, and launch a judicial combat.
To this day, indemnities owed to families who were victims of the June 5 attack are in a quagmire. The State is now demanding that two families reimburse their indemnities.2 The hearings on the June 5 trials are chaotic, there are problems with the lawyers… whereas a penal trial involving questions of indemnities warrants close attention. Even if I find this heavy to bear, I’m not abandoning the other families. I was even fired from my job at the Diyarbakir City Hall [during the 2016 repression – editorial note]. Following this, I lodged a formal complaint which was turned down, because of a so-called technical problem… So you clear the table… and start all over again. We’ve launched a new judiciairy procedure. Some of our comrades were re-hired at City Hall but I have the impression my file is receiving a different treatment. I’m not the kind of person who bends over and who, after being fired, sits quietly in her corner waiting for the end of the procedure. If I’m subjected to an injustice, I raise my voice, even if if this puts me into trouble. This is why my struggle against City Hall will probably last for a long time. Perhaps things would be easier if I stayed quietly in my corner…
I tell myself I will have to spend my life in a tribunal in search of justice. It’s exhausting. At times, it becomes unbearable. Your body suffers – you must learn to live with it – but you are also subjected to a pain that is foreign to your body: that of injustice – and you attempt to face it. You can learn to live with a bodily pain, with the help of painkillers or through other methods, but it is very difficult to heal a pain that is not physical, that is caused by life. Binding, healing the open wound of the Kurds, especially that caused in the last six years, is something painful.
” Binding, healing the open wound of the Kurds, especially that caused in the last six years, is something painful.”
I have open wounds and I’m constantly searching for ways they can heal over. There are discoveries constantly. Each doctor says something different. Then, I suddenly find myself alone. In Turkey, the technique of implants is almost non-existent: I am the only patient. The doctors don’t know which solution to offer and the means are very limited – in fact, I couldn’t be operated in Turkey. There are many questions to solve, so I search, I constantly experiment new things. I still don’t know when my wounds will heal over, when I will no longer be subjected to surgeries… Complications show up and my leg becomes infected. These infections are never completely over since they leave open wounds. They fade somewhat at times, then come back, and so on. The same holds true for pain. There is no predictable calendar nor specific cause. It happens all of a sudden. No doctor has managed to explain it, nor have I.
So I’ve come back into cinema as a disadvantaged person with no idea of the difficulties ahead of me. For example, during the last project on which I worked, particularly during the film shoots in a village, I could not find washrooms everywhere. If society became aware of such difficulties, disadvantaged persons would not have to endure them. During these last six years, I never dropped cinema, even if I didn’t work in the active sense of the term…I read scenarios, participated in festivals. I supported friends’ projects, offered ideas, exchanged, attempted to watch good films. All of this was tremendously useful, I realized, when I worked on projects this year. When you are a distance away from practice, you think you are missing something: of course in cinema, the practical aspects are crucial, but making a film also involves a personal intellectual aspect. You first imagine the story in your head, define the outlines, determine the esthetics. This is how the notion of cinema expanded in my life.
I tried to become active again. I don’t say “I decided” because the decision did not only rest with me. I always had the desire to be active. But what is not an obstacle in and of itself can become one for a disadvantaged person. It is also a question of how friends in the cinema world see you, as well as my entourage and society in general. I take a critical view on this topic. In various places, a disadvantages person is considered as someone from whom something is lacking. I don’t think it is conscious. I’m not questioning intentions, but I do criticize the lack of awareness. Society truly perceives the absence of a leg, of a limb, as a lack. And you are discriminated against. Unconsciously discriminated against. When the discrimination is done consciously, you can talk about it, but it isn’t easy when it is unconscious. I’ve attempted to do it a bit everywhere, in the street… It’s even harder one’s closest circle. I understand my friends waiting for me to heal: they did not want to make my life even more complicated by giving me responsibilities. But perhaps I could have recuperated more easily with such responsibilities on my shoulders, being more active and contributing something to life, to cinema. This is why, once again, I had to take the first steps, to struggle. It turns into something odd: disadvantaged persons are forced to make efforts in order to prove to everyone the opposite of what others imagine about them. It’s sad, in a way.
“Society truly perceives the absence of a leg, of a limb, as a lack. And you are discriminated against.”
Following a workshop, I made a film with the 360° VR technique [virtual reality]. It is a short dealing specifically with disadvantaged persons. Then I was assistant-director on another project. With friends, we are currently working on film projects to be done in workshops. Of course, from time to time, the pains and the problems I encounter, along with the problems I encounter in the street or in the tribunal, throw my life off track. But like anyone else, I then try to pick up where I stopped. Perhaps, with a bit more difficulty.
In my film, I attempted to explain what I live through. How disadvantaged persons are alone and that existence is not only carried by two legs, but by a certain spirit. When I look around me, I realize that persons who have not managed to self-define intellectually, and those who have not lived through sufficient experiences have a great void in themselves, a missing dimension. And yet they have both legs, arms, eyes… They are valid and have the capability for reflection, but they sometimes find themselves unresponsive in facing life. It is one of the things that makes me angry. Between a healthy body and one that isn’t there is really a huge difference. The absence of a limb or of an organ can certainly keep you from moving, but they are not the elements that make for living and transform it. Ideas do that, what we create and produce, what we bring to the table. This is how I’ve attempted to compensate for the absence of my two legs. I’ve attempted to put my actions, my reflections in action. Perhaps I did not manage to reach a great number of people, but having managed to change the vision even of a few around me, this is already a revolution.
My interest in cinema dates back to a childhood wish: to create what does not exist, even what is not possible. Formulating what you dream about, everything you would like to see come true, and offering it up to people. Perhaps I chose cinema for a very childish reason: imagination. Of course, this can also be dangerous, for States know very well how to use media to convey the vision they wish of society. Nowadays, I feel I have a responsibility as a disadvantaged person. We are not very visible in society. Cinema takes on a new importance in my eyes: perhaps I can express, transmit this concern, my concern, more easily and in a clearer way through cinema. I can change certain things, transform them… I’m not talking here about cinema as a propaganda tool. All arts are important in order to change the world. The books we have read, the musics we have listened to have transformed us. But in the 21st century, cinema is the domain that has developed the most and the fastest. It allows you to pass on your ideas, your outlook, your musical tastes. A bit as if it were the result of all the arts – in my eyes, at least. In front of me, there is not only a rectangle with an image in it, there is a feeling, an idea… This is why cinema is very important. Even more so, for us, the Kurds.
“Our culture is threatened with disappearance, our language annihilated, but we can make them live through the arts.”
Kurdish cinema is quite recent but several of us have taken a step in order to regroup. Our culture is threatened with disappearance, our language annihilated, but we can make them live through the arts. Cinema allows one to reach the whole world. As a Kurdish woman, I see this as a responsibility. Because we are a people who have never ceased to struggle and because our story is disappearing. Cinema is an excellent means of transmittal for our stories, our life, in order to move people. And films can be archived. Memory is the main problem of societies. We lose our memory. Maintaining it alive is very important.
I have film projects, even if I dodn’t know if I will make them. I want to tell untold stories, raise voices that were never heard in films. I have a project on feminicides, again using the 360° VR technique. I also wanted to film a documentary on the June 5 explosions in Suruç and Ankara. What we experienced has not been sufficiently understood. I think there is no one better placed that I am to understand the people who were affected by these attacks: I’ve gone through the same trials. We have experienced the same pains, the same suffering. I must tell the world what we have lived through, our struggles. Because we are not only people who have suffered, we fight on also. We have told a lot about ourselves through our lacks: constantly, we list those who lost their lives. But the successive stages of survival are difficult. In my documentary, this is precisely what I would wish to talk about. How we, the survivors, go on living with this reality.
What we call a “handicap” is not the one affecting our body. The obstacles created by those who call us “handicapped” are the handicaps. This is why society must be made aware. Neither in Turkey, nor in Europe nor anywhere in the world is life organized in a way that takes disadvantaged people into account. This is why we must fight every harder than others. I hear a lot of people say that disadvantaged people are aggressive. We go somewhere, there are not toilets, there is no access… We must choose where we go depending on their layouts. Why should we be limited to two or three places? Why can we not travel alone?
All that is due, not to our own handcaps, but yet again, to those created by society, by States. If these handicaps did not exist, we would not have to face so many difficulties, including social ones. All living spaces are sources of difficulties. An ordinary person struggles: we struggle ten times more, a hundred times more to move forward. The prejudices are serious, but the struggle goes on: people must see this. Because giving up on the struggle is very easy. Not only tragedies must be transmitted to future generations, they must also know about the existence of the struggle we pursue.
Photographs and interview: Loez
Adapted in English for Kedistan from Naz Oke’s French translation for Ballast