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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…

April 2021, Lisa Çalan is the assis­tant direc­tor on the film­ing of a short / Loez

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.

Lisa Çalan

April 2021, Lisa Çalan is the assis­tant direc­tor on the film­ing of a short / Loez

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.

Lisa Çalan

April 2021, Lisa Çalan is the assis­tant direc­tor on the film­ing of a short / Loez

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.

Lisa Çalan

April 2021, Lisa Çalan is the assis­tant direc­tor on the film­ing of a short / Loez

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

Adaptation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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