Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Poetry of Mehmet Altun



I, (The) Wind!
Knocking on agitatedly closed doors
Swaying on sails, whirring on branches, am coming

I, (The) Wind!
Threatening your windmills, am coming
A purpose to your light, a maturity to your fight, am coming
I am coming from the North
From the traps you were caught in
To carry honey to the essence of an unripe fruit
I am coming to become the voice of an ant in the dark, the desire of fire in the light

A tornado in a wave, a hiss in a song, frost in the winter say you
But I, I am perpetually overcoming a forbidden place


I, (The) Wind!
Know the moisture of the green, sky green farms
The legend of the Mediterranean stone, and the chill of the fire in Rome 

, (The) Wind!
In penetrating rain, staring at a wet lover
Know the loneliness, that seeps into the tears of the eye and love
I am coming from the West
Knowing the chateaux’s that a thousand struggles seeds fed
The Renaissance of crime and punishment, the Reform of believing
The wall and the truths of the mind, is from where I’m coming
From the tragedy of a crown wet by Nero’s tears
Arenas, the savageness of lions
                                                                the women of revolution I know

Youth in Paris, history in Rome, the struggle in Istanbul say you
But I, I am perpetually coming from a love that destroys an era in fury 


I, (The) Wind!
Know all the directions of the world
Beyond the clouds, the rain, the sea I know

I, (The) Wind! I am coming from the South
From inside the consolation you find yourself
Passing between the breasts of a virgin
Through the sweat violating her
From the dark courtyard of an ancient temple I am coming

A storm in the sea, a blizzard in the snow, a thunderstorm in the dust say you
But I, I am perpetually coming from a love that flows to itself 


I, (The) Wind!
The cool of the balcony becomes my body
Through the sleep of the sun, not the night İ pass

I, (The) Wind!
Saw the waters steps, fishes in a thousand colours
My journey took me to the root of belief
I am coming from the East
The earth of the land you worship
From seventh heaven, the mud roof of Babel, I am coming
The flute of Tammuz I know, the hoof of the young goat grazing
The sadness of a mother with no milk
                                                                The chest of a lamb still hungry I know

Or that the first god was a shepherd
And that it stood at the volcano pit of the Upper Sea also

A curse on a mountain, a voice at the window, the boreas in spring say you
But I, I am perpetually coming from the place where a thousand faiths become one

Translation from Turkish Mehmet Aksoy

Ereternity –

                                                        Bring me two rivers born of pain

I swam in two rivers
Two fountains, flowed like two eyes
Two tongues gripped me, two embroidered kerchiefs, two fruit trees…
This is why I was born in Kurdish, why I love the universe in Turkish
My mother, for this reason
Is still a single coffee grain
A temple who’s door has never seen a lock
No pauper has been refused, no lamb hungry for milk

When the season opens to spring, it says the winter is war
It says the dead of winter
You will know from the burnt forest
You will know, that the spring is the house of the mushroom and blackberry
That before the crop wilts you will be satisfied by the lands gift
And chasing after partridge…
Trout, carp and…
You will be satisfied
By the smell of wild flowers, a neighbour’s tea
If the kernel flows, the grain’s ear pulls, the hour is evzel than the coin

It says;
-You recognise the winter, autumn is the birth’s midwife for this reason
And threshing the birth house
My mother I say, is Kurdish for this reason or
Kurdish my mother…

If crying, is the sibling of laughing
Every lifetime has a season, every language a garden
My tongue that carves love like a carpenter, my lover a calligrapher
You are not the land that feeds me, but the land I make love to
I say my lover, my lover for this reason
If I still sweat in your nights, still a city-dweller of sorts
Like a house sitting, or accepting an address
My lover I say, is Turkish for this reason or
Turkish the woman I love
This is why I say, the two faces of my identity
I carry two photograph’s within me, two times the tales…

They took me to two rivers
I chose two plains, two enclosed river basins…
Two ocean smells, two waves brought me up
I held two hands
With one I grew, with the other I multiplied
İf I still live each season twice
One is for my mother the other for my lover
If I multiply one life with two
It is for love and for birth, I know
My Kurdish, is my birth; my Turkish, is my love I say

Translation from Turkish by Mehmet Aksoy

Ereternity: The original name of the poem “Evzel” is a word made by the poet  from the words Evvel (before- ere)-Ezel (eternity) which means both, “ereternity is the word made up for the translation.

The Poetry of Charles Simic

Butcher Shop

Sometimes walking late at night
I stop before a closed butcher shop.
There is a single light in the store
Like the light in which the convict digs his tunnel.

An apron hangs on the hook:
The blood on it smeared into a map
Of the great continents of blood,
The great rivers and oceans of blood.

There are knives that glitter like altars
In a dark church
Where they bring the cripple and the imbecile
To be healed.

There is a wooden block where bones are broken,
Scraped clean--a river dried to its bed
Where I am fed,
Where deep in the night I hear a voice.

A Book Full of Pictures

Father studied theology through the mail
And this was exam time.
Mother knitted. I sat quietly with a book
Full of pictures. Night fell.
My hands grew cold touching the faces
Of dead kings and queens.

There was a black raincoat
      in the upstairs bedroom
Swaying from the ceiling,
But what was it doing there?
Mother's long needles made quick crosses.
They were black
Like the inside of my head just then.

The pages I turned sounded like wings.
"The soul is a bird," he once said.
In my book full of pictures
A battle raged: lances and swords
Made a kind of wintry forest
With my heart spiked and bleeding in its branches.

My Shoes

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:   
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins   
Smelling of mice nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth   
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read   
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility   
And the strange church I am building   
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,   
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The elegant dissidence of Leyla Zana

Today the Turkish Parliament began its new legislative season for the 24th term with an opening speech by the President Abdullah Gül. The President covered a wide range of issues in his opening speech, ranging from ‘terror to uhhh terror.’ However attention was centred on the oaths to be taken by Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MPs who had been boycotting Parliament since the election on June 12th. The boycott had begun because six of the elected MPs supported by the Labour, Freedom & Democracy Bloc were not released from prison, one, Hatip Dicle had his MP mandate revoked and mass arrests of BDP members  were ongoing. The reasons for the BDP’s boycott stand, MPs are still imprisoned and arrests continue; 11 in Istanbul last night. So why did the BDP return to Parliament?

I believe the answer is hidden in the oath read out by the Kurdish MP for Diyarbakir Leyla Zana. How? you ask. The oath is a set text and the same as everybody else’s, the same oath was taken by the MPs of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Justice & Development Party (AKP), so how is the answer for the return hidden in the oath? Let me start from the beginning.

Much can be said about Leyla Zana, many ‘radical’ adjectives have often been used to describe her; courageous, crazy, provocateur, militant and many more, both in a positive and negative sense. An adjective that has never been used however is elegant, and I wish to use it now, for the first time: the elegant Leyla Zana. I use this adjective both because of my experience in her presence, but more so because of her humanity, political style, speech, gait and dissidence during her personal and political history through the Kurdish struggle. Leyla Zana is elegant in a way only a Kurdish woman can be elegant; spare in dress, walking with a purpose, her feet firmly on the ground, her gaze timid yet proud, she speaks piece by piece lucid and clear, when she laughs or cries she can make the whole world laugh or cry.

Leyla Zana’s history is also the history of the Kurdish woman, bound up in thousands years of tradition, but also, the modern Kurdish Freedom Movement of the past 50 years as well, which has changed many things. Married against her will at 14 in accordance with tradition to well known Kurdish politician Mehdi Zana in 1975, the young Leyla learnt how to read and write on her journeys to and from prison. The September 12th military coup had imprisoned thousands of Kurdish revolutionaries, politicians and even religious figures and with them the whole of Kurdish society. Leyla Zana was one of many women who came to the vanguard of the Kurdish movement during this period to continue their imprisoned fathers’, brothers’ and husbands’ struggle and become their comrades. It was one of the darkest times in Kurdish history but the resistance against it pierced the darkness that had enveloped society to set the Kurdish struggle on its way to Kurdish freedom.

The intense struggle, resistance and organisation of the 80s reached its pinnacle in the early 90s and the state could no longer ignore the existence of the Kurds as they entered the Turkish parliament for the first time with their identities intact since the formation of the Turkish Republic. Leyla Zana became the first Kurdish woman MP following the 1991 election and it was in that year that she rose to prominence in Kurdish and Turkish politics. She created a scandal when she marched up to and stood at the pulpit with a headband made up of the Kurdish colours; green, red and yellow and spoke Kurdish on the floor of the parliament after being sworn in. Speaking Kurdish in the public arena was then considered a criminal offence in Turkey. Her remarks ended;
I swear by my honour and my dignity before the great Turkish people to protect the integrity and independence of the State, the indivisible unity of the people and homeland, and the unquestionable and unconditional sovereignty of the people. I swear loyalty to the Constitution. I take this oath for the fraternity between the Turkish and Kurdish people.

Only the final sentence of the oath was spoken in Kurdish: ‘‘I take this oath for the fraternity between the Turkish and Kurdish people.’’ Anyone who has seen the footage of this incident will have seen hundreds of Turkish ‘men’ banging their hands on benches to silence Zana and Zana’s defiant eyes and voice rising against the fascist crescendo of sounds. When I asked her a few years ago how she felt that day, Leyla Zana looked at me intently, her eyes moistened, she smiled and then kissed me on the forehead, like a mother kisses her child. I understood how alive the moment still was and how difficult it had been for her.

On that historical day the Turkish parliament were forced by the dissidence of Leyla Zana to acknowledge the existence of the Kurdish language, colours and also woman. Leyla Zana and her comrades paid the price for this by being stripped of their immunity and were sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason and being members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). At the sentencing Zana continued her resistance, looking directly into the eyes of the judge and speaking piece by piece she declared;
This is a conspiracy. What I am defending is perfectly clear. I don’t accept any of these accusations. And, if they were true I’d assume responsibility for them, even if it cost me my life. I have defended democracy, human rights, and fraternity between peoples. And I’ll keep doing so for as long as I live.

Leyla Zana went to prison in 1994 and was released 10 years later. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 and 1998 and awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament in 1995 during that time.

Now in 2011 Zana is back at the Turkish parliament, in her own words ‘more mature and prepared’ and this time to bring about a lasting peace to the Kurdish issue. But the elegant dissidence of Leyla Zana continues; today when taking her oath, dressed smartly in black with matching headband, rather than saying The Great Turkish People,’ Zana said, ‘The Great People of Turkey,’ thus promising that she will represent not just the Turks but also all the other peoples of Turkey as well. This is a different variation of her 1991 oath and also a sign of the change in the Kurdish Movement’s strategic and ideological stance which aims to be the driving force in the democratisation of Turkey as well as freedom of Kurdistan. This is where the answer to our question at the beginning lies. The BDP are back in parliament to continue the democratic struggle in the legal sphere despite all the attacks and marginalisation but also more importantly to gnaw away at all the inconsistencies, injustices and inequalities from within the ‘monster’s stomach.’ With fearless, intelligent, diligent, beautiful and elegant women like Leyla Zana, Sebahat Tuncel and Gültan Kışanak the Kurdish Movement can maintain its revolutionary fervour and continue being the vanguard for a democratic society.

Memed Boran


For more information and sources: