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Şeyhmus Diken was born in Diyarbakir and he is an educated political scientist at the University of Ankara. He has contributed articles to some ten Turkish papers and he has written more than twenty books in Turkish. His books have been translated to a number of languages. He is Diyarbakir representative for the Turkish PEN and he lives and works in Diyarbakir.

Credits Text: Şeyhmus Diken Translation into English: Joakim Wrethed Photo: Mehmet Özer May 11 2023

My people suffered a great deal for using their own language in the daily life before I was born, even before I was conceived, and yes, even long before that too! In the sixties, when I began going to school, all teaching was held in Turkish, not in our mother tongue Kurdish.

My family did definitely not speak Kurdish when we children were around. Every once in a while, when a guest or family member that did not speak Turkish or did not know it well enough was visiting, the adults spoke Kurdish in low voices so that we would not hear, or they went into separate rooms and spoke Kurdish that we did not hear at all. There were several reasons for that. My mother’s words were important in an oral study of history that I did for one of my books, Diyarbakir is my Home Town but I have lost it, Therefore I Suffer.

In our parents’ eyes, Kurdish could give us children troubles. And because Kurdish was mostly spoken by “Mountain Kurds” it was a useless language. In spite of that, it was also a scary language, associated with exile, suffering and massacres. There were also sanctions as punishments: fines were given per word of the one who spoke Kurdish and the money was collected immediately. In what way would Kurdish be able to help us children? It was the ‘clean’ Istanbul Turkish one should learn, and on top of that reel off, as a form of catechism, every day: “So happy and content the one is, who can say: I am Turkish.” The language of the ‘rebellious Kurds’ was also linguistically disputed. Therefore it was better if the children learned Turkish and thought in Turkish, in order to avoid all trouble.

When I during my summer holidays went with my grandmother and visited the villages in Diyarbakir I was, I must admit it, very much henpecked, made fun of and ridiculed because of my Kurdish: I did not master it and struggled with a few disconnected words. Later, when I was a student in Ankara, I tried to learn my mother tongue, and eventually developed a Kurdish awareness in the Turkish capital. Many years later, when I had become an author and wrote in a language that I could speak and write as well as ‘they’ could, in spite of not belonging to it, namely Turkish, I got the following question of Turkish readers: “Why don’t you write in Kurdish, when you are a Kurd?”

What, to whom would I tell it? Yes, I’m Kurdish! Yes, I was a published author whose books were published and distributed by big publishing houses! Yes, I was invited to many events at home and abroad, I did not keep my word! But the result of all of this was not worth anything! I wrote in another language, not in my native tongue. What was the purpose of my writing for Kurdish readers? For sure, I wrote in Turkish. For those who wanted to read books in Kurdish, it did not matter what I write, what mattered was which language I wrote in. This is a problem I must wrestle with in my current situation.

I experienced this is various ways when my book The City that Whispers its Secrets to its Walls, Diyarbakir was published in 2002. Up to now, it has been printed in eleven editions and fifteen years ago, it was published in a Kurdish translation. I was a Kurd, but my book was written and published in Turkish. The book was translated into Kurdish, my native tongue, and was published and handed over to me by a Kurd, as if it had been translated into a foreign language. I must admit that my eyes filled with tears and my powers failed me.

What shall I now say to politicians and decision makers in this country? Should I say that they should be proud of the political and social catastrophe they have created, or should I say that they ought to be ashamed of themselves? What difference would it make if I said that?

But now I write in Turkish, and in a strange mood, as a bitter writer; as concerns belonging, I see myself as a peculiar Kurd who does not sense a belonging to the Turkish literature or the literary world at all, but who cannot write in his native tongue Kurdish either. This is in truth a tragic dilemma.

August 7 2022

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