Race-Nation-Gender-Class-Nation: Forget it. Never Forget it

Pat Parker (1944-1989), poet, teacher and activist, wrote this poem: For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend  and had this wonderful line:

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

For any social difference that exists in any society, we can place it there, in the space of “Black.”   In any case, color-blindness, gender-blindness, mixed-space blindness, sexual orientation blindness, socio-economic class blindness, neighborhood blindness, body-size blindness, nationality blindness etc. etc. —  we have to pay attention to how quickly we may subsume, make invisible, refuse (ignore), make trivial, something that makes a difference.  Sameness is too valorized in the globalizing society.  It’s not about any particular choices we have in holding on and letting go—-because even this is an action and a series of action (holding or letting go, that is), that come from political positionings that rely on privilege, luck, ability, amount of trauma, fear, violence, and a host of other things that come from oppression and social constructions of society.

Let us not forget how completely and utterly different we are from each other.  This way, we truly understand diversity.  If we “understand,” then perhaps we do not understand difference at all.  We just consume, co-opt, and bring into our own history and culture and language and values, that OTHER.  This is a violence to that Other.

But in saying they are different, do we automatically become AFRAID?   Or do we automatically become ANGRY?  Do we automatically IGNORE?  Do we assume we can translate, communicate?   Yes we can communicate, but understanding its partiality is important.

Honor you.  Honor me.

In our difference.  Utterly different.  Utterly ourselves.  Yet somehow, we are related as humans, as that who has experienced pain.

Perhaps other things.  But do not assume equality.

Be human.

There . . . . . .  Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?

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Sezen Aksu: the Queen/Diva of Turkish Pop

Sezen Aksu (July 13, 1954 -) is the quintessential diva extraordinaire, of Turkish pop.  She is the indisputable queen diva of the Turkish pop music scene.  ‘Pop’ music, now worldwide, through the effects of American colonization, always mixes with its locales to create interesting hybrid music that also carries certain themes that repeats throughout the world.  Songs of falling in love, songs of loving what or who we cannot have, separation and longing, devastation and pride, sorrow and joy.  Also, to dance our butts off.  Sezen Aksu’s unique, rough voice carries emotions that many in the Mediterranean are attracted to.  She has influenced pop music in the mediterranean nations, the Balkans and changed the annual Eurovision Music Context with her protege, Ertab Serener.  From the 1970s through today, and continues to break barriers.

She is particularly attractive to me in other ways, making me like her music more.  Her life has not been comfortable, although her fame and fortune has helped her.  She has married and divorced several times, something Turkish society does not like and in some cultures within the Turkish nation, divorcing is a taboo that the woman pays for the rest of her life (although this is not unique just to Turkish sub-cultures).  She has also married an Armenian, works tirelessly and speaks out vigorously for women’s rights and gay rights, and for the rights of the Kurds.  She has been allowed to stay out of jail, even though she has sung songs in the ‘illegal’ language of the Kurdish people, Zaza cultures, and Armenian people  in Turkey, and has co-sung with some of these groups’ popular singers, raising the eyebrows and bringing much-needed discussions at Turkish dinner tables.  She dares the powers that be, to let democracy work, and to love who we love, and for singers and all artists, to express and to live.

I present a nice classical-tinged with a bit of Astor Piazzolla-esque ballad, and a rocking dance song by her.  The remixes of her dance music have been done by hundreds of different musicians.  The dance song ‘Rakkas’ has become a perennial classic in Turkish pop culture and also internationally it is one of the most ‘mixed’ songs in dance clubs by DJs from Spain, Greece, the UK, India, Germany, Hungary to Japan.

Sezen Aksu: wikipedia

Sezen Aksu official site

Kıran kırana

Rakkas

Comments on Joss Whedon’s blogpost regarding Women in society

This post is dedicated especially to those who struggle to live in a world dominated by heterosexism, patriarchy and its various violences (i.e. everybody).

Link to Joss Whedon’s excellent post follows my commentary.

Joss Whedon is perhaps most famous for his show-runner/creator role in the US for television shows such as ‘Angel’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.’ He enjoys a large cult following globally. I feel he is an excellent producer/writer. In a blog post he wrote May 20, 2007, entitled: “Let’s Watch a Girl Get Beaten To Death,” he speaks strongly about heterosexism and the control of women in the world. His words are sparked by the broadcasting of the stoning-death of a 17-year old Yezidi Kurdish girl from Iraq.

Dua Khalil Aswad, a 17-year old Yezidi Kurdish girl from Bashka Ninawa in Iraq, was stoned to death on April 7, 2007. Her death was broadcast on the internet via recordings from a mobile phone. Her stoning has been said to have sparked several ‘reprisal’ attacks and massacres by Sunni Muslim fundamentalist extremists against certain Yezidi villages. Dua Khalil was a girl from the Yezidi culture/worldview, which pre-dates Islam. Much like Alevism, Yezidism has also been a persecuted religion by certain more fundamentalist Sunni and Shi’a groups. The division between Sunni and Shi’a has also sparked some violent antagonisms through history. Let us not forget that fundamentalism and extremism create these licenses to torture and kill. For women and children, this is even more pronounced.

Fundamentalism and extremism exist everywhere and in many forms. In the US and Europe, most of it is hidden behind closed doors and plays out violently in domestic spheres hidden from the public or inter-personally, and in the more poverty-stricken neighborhoods where most news programs and citizens of wealthy countries do not spend much energy or time. Much of it plays out unseen to the public in policy-making wars in government. Exclusions and dominations are everyday aspects of our lives.

When I was doing research on Kurdish groups in Europe, the United States, and in their traditional homelands in the Middle East, I often questioned my Kurdish friends on ‘honor killings.’ I was always mindful to not blame or speak from a feeling of being ‘better’ as an American or Japanese, which is always the risk in bringing these things up when one is ‘a westerner.’ In most cases, most Kurds think of honor-killings as horrendous and needing to stop. In many cases, Muslims who did not agree with honor killings, were correct in understanding that certain tribes, pre-dating Islam, practiced these killings, much like certain tribes in Christian areas. Those traditions have been carried on in certain families and Islam cannot be the blame. In a few cases, there were those who were quite open with their anti-female attitudes and told me that if they are dishonorable, they should be punished. They sounded the same as some of my American friends who felt that all gays should die or that the ruin of the world was when women were allowed to vote and work alongside men. One can imagine the non-heterosexual boys and the girls who are being raised by these men. We, the other people, know what goes on.

Intensifying the questions and investigative energy that I acquired when asking my Kurdish friends about honor killings, various kinds of anger and blame had to be side-stepped in the name of academic research and my own willingness and desire to get through to depths beyond the superficial and the spectacular of such horrific actions as honor killings in society. In the west, sudden gun-shooting rampages, Columbine, and daily rapes and tortures unseen and unreported, are also questions I have spent the last decades on deciphering. I do not believe in original sin, so the sickness of humanity, as far as I know, is not because we are born sick and twisted and violent. Things develop. But things also have pre-texts, histories, traditions, legacies. We are born into these. My thinking/feeling is that as long as they have been developed in history, they can also be undeveloped, shifted, constructed differently, albeit most of the time, in slow trajectories through our small, urgent, and sophisticated actions.

When asking leaders of certain Kurdish, Islamic, or Persian organizations regarding the traditions of honor killings, they were quick to blame ‘poor’ and ‘uneducated’ people on this. It was interesting, then, to discuss how, in certain cases, their own family members practiced this on a sister, or a niece, or another female member. In some of my friends’ cases, they may have grown into certain middle-class wealth but originally came from poor villages. Others, had come from wealthy families where perhaps one or two of the boys participated in honor killings. In some cases, I have also heard of honor killings against men, most for being homosexual. This points to another aspect of the violence of our societies. Our heterosexism also plays into the ignoring of male-targeted violence and publicizing anti-woman, anti-girl violence. The invisible killings of gays in culture, whether spiritually or physically) and male-to-male violence are normalized and therefore unattended to, while in the western nations there is a certain glorification of our horror at violence against girls and women. This system keeps everything in tact.

When speaking of these intense issues of violence, what we hear cannot always be assumed to be ‘truth’ or ‘lies.’ It is difficult, at this juncture, to get a feel for when things were down-played or made to ‘sound’ democratic and caring, when in fact, they did not believe their own words in wanting to dispel honor killings; or whether they truly wanted it to end. After all, I was an American and they wanted to be seen in the best light. I have questioned US Americans on their gay-bashing weekends where they tortured a gay boy behind a bar, and they were sometimes apologetic but I did not believe them. I am sure in some cases, they did change their thinking on this, but one can never be sure in the reality of face-to-face politics. However, in knowing most of my Kurdish friends and being with their families, I am certain that they held nothing back in their belief in the respect of women, simply by watching the consistency between their actions and beliefs while I spent time with them and to watch how Kurdish girls and women responded to them.

One Kurdish political figure I interviewed, became angry with me for questioning her (yes she was a woman) on honor-killings among the Kurds. She accused me of being an American who always wanted to present Middle Easterners in a bad light. She said she was tired of it, and began to name events and attitudes of the Americans that would qualify as the same–the denigration of women and its structural elements in the present world society. She was a strong woman who worked among the Kurdish and Middle Eastern elite and worked for human rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and Kurdish rights in the diaspora and in the Middle East. She was right in the sense of the ‘honor killing’ concept to be barbaric, yet propped up differently in the West and often ignored. Women in the US are often killed ‘spiritually.’ Internalized oppression also plays into how women play these dynamics out themselves.

This brilliant political woman, also told me that honor killings was a general Islamic problem in certain areas and was not a ‘Kurdish problem.’ I found this comment to be half-true. Yes, it is not a Kurdish problem. I responded back: “But Kurdish girls, women (and some boys and men) are dying from this. So don’t you think Kurdish leadership should work on it within the Kurdish community?” She agreed but she said that it is at the risk of being accepted by the West. In her logic, she said that if they began to work on it as a Kurdish issue, the four countries that rule the Kurds at the moment, as well as Europe and the US, would use this as a way to demonize the Kurds in world politics, just as they were trying to form more Kurdish empowerment in the community. The West, she believed, would quickly allow the Arab countries to continue what they do, while they could get more oil from them, while blaming the Kurds for honor killings and strengthening Turkey and the other Middle Eastern countries in their efforts to annihilate the Kurdish culture. I would also add here that for Yezidis, Alevis, Dersimians, Christians etc. who are also Kurdish, there are even worse pressures to consider. Mainstream Sunni and Shi’a Kurds would also join with Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian mainstream Muslims in the denigration of them as ‘other.’ There is, in many cases, violences visiting them from other Kurds because of mainstream Islamic domination. In my experience, this was intense, as well as meeting many Muslim Kurds and Turks who felt that religion should be about peace and that those forcing violence on non-Muslims were wrong. In working on sexism and violence against women, as well as against gays and lesbians and non-heterosexually identified peoples in conflict zones, how do we respond?

She is right about the political strategy, I feel. But also, she was side-stepping the honor-killing issue. In the middle-class oriented culture of state-making, and elitisms, the honor-killings continue to work in many societies. It is not just a moral sexism issue. It becomes geopolitical, which holds racism and nationalism to be at play in this.

It is indeed easier for a westerner to criticize quickly and to not think of history and relations when intervening. Certainly we must criticize honor-killings and violence against women. But as a westerner, we must be respectful of painful family histories and politics. We can easily get someone killed even for speaking with us about these issues. We are easily racist and nationalist in having condescending attitudes toward those who practice honor killings. It has been a long road of violence. When a culture or community faces annihilation by western nations, dominant local nations (n this Yezidi case we can speak of the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as diasporic communities around the world) how can we intervene without the communities feeling encroached upon (western racism and moral high-grounds)? Do traditions easily change by our wishes in other communities? If not, do we just let things be? How do we work together? How can we empower stateless communities such as the various Kurdish cultures including the Yezidi, who are also oppressed by local communities? These are not easy answers. We must work urgently yet compassionately. Understanding histories and power-relations and thinking creatively would be a good start.

Photo of Du’a Khalil Aswad

In the West, women are, on the most part and often, still acting as objects of patriarchy and violence. This also allows male-to-male violence to be seen as ‘normal’ and ‘boys-will-be-boys’ continues unspoken and rarely paid attention to. At the point when the gun shoots, or the knife is wielded or the fist is thrown, it is too late. Hundreds and thousands of hours have constructed that moment. What I mean to say is that what people consider ‘violent’ is just the final act. Violence is in words, thoughts, motions, worldviews. Women also play into their own subservience through internalized oppression. Just today, I heard the ‘I’m sorry’ by women twenty times!!! For just stepping past me in the elevator or some other act I consider everyday. I consider this to also be a form of internalized oppression, internalized violence.

I remember a woman-friend in college who was always speaking of men being violent and macho and that just once, she would like sensitive caring men in her life. However, one day when she saw a man crying because his dog died, she called him a ‘fag’ for crying. I pointed out to her that a sensitive man was perhaps the last thing she could take. What would happen to ‘womanhood?’ When women take the place of the man in an already-patriarchal and violent system, do they become like men? What would be the requirements for de-violentizing our society? What would be required to live differently in a world not propped up by our own internalized oppressions and legacies? Our fears? And as we, perhaps, back-down from dreams and actions toward change and hope, we re-create the violences and oppressions. What are our choices? Can we respect women while disrespecting men and boys? How does this need to be shifted?

Joss Whedon’s excellent post from 2007, is an excellent example of admonishing ourselves to step-up, step-forward; not succumbing to brutalizations that happen through us in the largely heterosexist-dominant world systems into which we have been born. We have the power to change things. We must.

Read JOSS WHEDON’s excellent blog here:

http://whedonesque.com/comments/1327

For more information on Du’a Khalil Aswad: wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoning_of_Du%27a_Khalil_Aswad

Yezidi / Yazidi people/culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yazidi

Joss Whedon blog: http://whedonesque.com/

Debate regarding the August-September 2010 ROMA evacuations in France

Political bodies arguing. States and nations being more important than people currently, increasingly.

Political bodies arguing that institutions and processes are in place in many European nations regarding ‘how to deal with’ the Roma.

The Roma, having to assimilate into the ‘civilized’ European, North American and Japanese colonial systems…..is already a violence, an exclusion, a globally-mandated assumption of obedient minorities having to create themselves into something they are not. It is already a set-up. The fascisms are not acceptable now. But there are residues of fascism in every state, in certain attitudes of many individuals, ourselves possibly. When things go underground, they adapt to the current milieu and operate with new tactics. It is easier to follow an ideology or a fundamental structure in our minds, families and neighborhoods. Many of the scientists and thinkers of fascist governments were paid by the so-called democratic states, to survive and thrive and continue to create in the name of the elites. They are everywhere. The residues show up in people’s attitudes. As I write this, some people have wanted me dead. It is not a surprise. Ethics, love, negotiation, difference, intensity, and struggle, are seen as unwanted. It’s so much easier if everyone just obeyed. It takes lots of obedience to be civilized. It takes lots of obedience to be many things. It is a struggle to think creatively about our issues and what it is we want.

There is little talk of getting programs and institutions together, providing counseling and educational change and other activities, to address the prejudice, racism, violence, brutality, impunity, and aggression of the dominant attitudes and behaviors against the Roma and other minorities. It is a set-up. But there are many who are privately setting up creative ways of resisting the dominant flow of treating minorities like something to do surgery on, to assimilate. The issue is dominance and resistance.

Apparently, much like some of the US Americans I know who are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim (and whose families were probably anti-Japanese-American during WWII etc.), states have a right to keep the ‘other’ out. Who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’?? The lines are often justifications for our psychological/social violences to be played out. It is that division, that demarcation, where we give permissions of violence. Nations and national systems are that place, an extension or perhaps where it begins through histories of developing from tribalism to ethnic/sexual/gender/racial/religious identity and national identity currently.

Now it all plays out in its failures. Violent nationalism internalized into safe havens and names such as ‘our state’ and ‘our city’ and ‘our people’. Tribalism continues as democracy fades. But democracy isn’t fading for many. It is enacted and seen everyday. There are thousands around the world, millions around the world, right next to us, who understand the difficult struggle for democratic ethics in our lives. We cannot confuse permissions without ethics with democracy. We cannot confuse the boundaries of identities as demarcations of democracy.

The Roma, the Kurds, the Jews, the Armenians, the Dahlit, the Ainu, the Mayans, and millions of other bodies are forced into the isolation called ‘minority’ and are treated like chess pieces and diseases in the national systems now global. We must make our way in the violent world structured by the dominant system and we are supposed to listen to these people and bodies that have somehow assumed precedence. Even as those in governments are for justice, the system requires you to be a strong state, complete with strong militaries and economies and secret hiding places and hidden tactics and lots of money to pay the secret operators to make the state into a certain self-image, leaving certain ideas, cultures, ways-of-thinking and acting, out of the equation of this imagined state.  It’s an imaginary of violence, playing out with hollow words such as ‘rights’ and ‘diversity’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in many cases.

There are many people in world government, such as can be seen in this video snapshot of politicians arguing about what to do with the Roma people, who actually care and want peace.  However, justice cannot come in states where peace is about obedience to laws, no matter how lofty.  Laws, in most powerful states, ignore the brutality of how that state came into being in the first place.  Law is not justice.  Neither is law about anarchic violence and tearing down of all.  Justice is more of an attention to history and creative processes of negotiation through differences. But in positions of privilege, where a person or a body of people ‘decide what to do with others’ is precarious when the rules of law are interpreted in different ways. What is worse, as Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) himself, wrote the first writings on the term ‘genocide’ and watched about a third of the laws he proposed be left out when the genocide laws were implemented by the international body–because those laws that were too threatening to the so-called integrity of the state would make all states culpable and make the global national system criminal itself). The human rights system is a necessary group of policies, laws, and research and documentation bodies, do not get me wrong.  But no one can enforce them. There cannot be a human rights police.  So human rights are continually broken in the United States, the European Union, Japan and other nations.  All one can do is watch arguments or invasions.

What’s even more daunting is that the term ‘genocide’ has been coined as an event, a moment in time with a certain look, an obvious massacre and displacement and hatred. The issue is that genocides rarely happen as an event. Culminations in massacres happen, but the processes of cleansing in states and regions happen over long periods of time, due to intensifications of exclusion-wishing and creating our living spaces in certain ways that do not allow certain differences. Displacements may happen continually for centuries, making a certain group poor. Policies to exclude and keep them poor keep being passed, while institutions are set-up to ‘help’ these minorities. The help keeps that group in their particular circumstances and are designed to construct assimilation. Help is usually a form of surveillance and identity-making. It is created through the dominant’s will, not those who are marginalized. Propaganda can be created over decades, where racism and prejudice can strangle the look of a city or a state or a people into a  reality where certain people and communities and areas can only be seen through that lens of the constructed dominant instead of through a different lens. Criminalizating minorities and their actions is a tactic of killing the spirits and locking the men away, leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves. Since laws concern the privileged, what does survival look like for the already-vulnerable?  Genocide is not an event. The killing of spirits and ideas and lives happen over prolonged periods in all of the ways Raphael Lemkin has stated (in the complete version, not only in the edited version the international body has made public). So genocide may not look like genocide. For change in our world, we must intervene into these smaller structures of cultural killings before an event.  In fact, some philosophers have actually spoken to the everydayness of genocide. Our ignoring and going about our lives is an aspect of the killing of another community. Buying or not buying certain things can also play into killing ‘the other.’  We cannot wait for the ‘event’ that we recognize. By then it is usually too late.

These politicians can argue, but whoever has the biggest weapons currently controls whatever happens, regardless of human rights. States have more power than groups of persecuted peoples. States have become more important to maintain, rather than communities. Self-hatred begins to creep in as we think of ways to empower and resist. Making ourselves into ethnic groups, then wanting a state, seems to be a logical conclusion of ways to live, as the stronger states treat those within its boundaries that are not the dominant group, as well as weaker states and non-dominant peoples globally, as things to extract work from (exploit) and displace and make into problems at will. It is ugly. There is no secret. We all know individual people like this in our lives. But when it is larger, we may think they are nice people, but the structures will a certain pattern, a certain way for things to turn out. More and more people are no longer willing to take it, however.

Issues of dominance and dominant attitudes control the so-called ‘Roma issue’ and other minority peoples’ and stateless peoples’ living circumstances, continuing to be ‘cases,’ as can be seen in this video, in the early 21st century.  It brings up memories of World War II, fascism, and the current crisis of human, social, ecological systems at crossroads. They don’t fit it.  ‘They’ are nomadic, ‘they’ are communal and not individualistic, ‘they’ have ties to life-ways that are contradictory to the dominant globalizing state system. Where does difference come into play? What can be done? Must we/they obey to survive? Where is our creativity?

Dersim Images: from 2008 study trip to the Dersim Region, east Turkey

In 2008, kind friends and the anthropology program at CIIS, sponsored my research trip to Dersim (Tunceli on today’s maps) of Eastern Turkey.  I was lucky enough to visit diaspora in Europe, as well as in Istanbul and Ankara, and to visit Dersim/Tunceli proper, as well as to a village in the Ovacik district of Tunceli.  Each district of Tunceli is distinct in geography.  There is a ‘Dersim-ness’ in the predominantly Alevi worldviews and Kirmanc (Zaza) and Kurmanji (Kurdish) language and cultural histories, but many of the inhabitants are now Turkish and Kurdish urban people who have been sent there to live, in order to Sunni-fy (Islam) and Turkify the area, even though it is still dominated by Marxist brands of activism, primarily the Maoist type, with Turkish and Kurdish activists.  Many of the families that are originally from the area had been displaced since the late 19th century and continues today, with many of the locals visiting their elder family members or have summer village homes.  Their families live mostly in Europe and the Americas and visit their former homes in the summers.

I had part-time translators and I was able to get snapshots of stories and thoughts from the locals and the young diaspora.

It was an unforgettable experience.

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Mikail Aslan & Ahmet Aslan: Singer/storytellers of Dersim

Mikail Aslan (on the left of the photo) and Ahmet Aslan (on the right of the photo), although unrelated to each other by family heritage, are among the elites and considered amongst the most precious modern artists who work to tell, preserve and empower the people of the Dersim region of what is considered ‘Tunceli’ in eastern Turkey today. Through their songs, both modern and ancient, traditional and roots-fusion, the historical/cultural memory of spiritual traditions, loss, genocide, mourning, isolation, stigmatization, marginalization and state destruction, are woven into the hearts and minds of whoever will listen.

Their music is usually accompanied with the stories of the elders who’ve experienced the 1937-38 events that should be considered an aspect of the continual genocidal actions against the culture and people of the region. Or they would be songs of the displaced who fled the government forest and village burnings and purges during the 1990s, and the continual repression of its people and the collectively grieving population of Dersim, the music also tells their stories. Many of their songs are traditional songs, slightly modernized to adapt to the modern times, while other songs are left as they were sung centuries ago. Many of their songs are songs of mourning that would be sung by everyday people on the streets and roads of the villages while their relations were disappeared, imprisoned, and/or killed by government forces.

The Dersim region in Eastern Turkey, was told to the public to be the land of terrorism and propaganda had been created to present the region as dangerous and of outlaws. Certainly those who practiced non-Muslim worldviews such as Alevism and Christianity, often fled to the Dersim region, where the rugged mountainous territory was easy to protect from encroaching forces. The Ottoman governments, before the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, tried for centuries to subjugate the Dersim region. The people of the region refused to live via modernizing state laws and the Islamicization of their worldviews, They refused to pay taxes and send their sons into the Ottoman military forces because they felt the the government wanted to control them through these means. The Dersim region was very poor and because they were isolated, their subsistence also included banditry, while others we wealthier–benefiting from working the the Turkish state.

During the height of the Armenian pogroms and genocide, many Dersim Kurds helped thousands of Armenians by taking them into their homes, as they lived amongst them for centuries, in harmony. During the 1915 intensification of Armenian genocide, many Kurds assisted the American Protestant missionaries form an underground railroad to help Armenians escape out of Turkey into Russia.  Other more fundamentalist groups in Dersim took advantage of the pogroms and participated in assisting the Turkish state in the Armenian cleansings.  Today, some Turkish officials used Dersim’s Armenian connection as some sort of ‘negative’ trait, which shows the long history of animosity against the Armenian Christians who were a threat to mainstream Islamic officials.  For the most part, in Dersim, the Armenians and the Dersim Kurds lived side-by-side without issue.

The Dersimian languages were mainly Zazaki and Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish dialect) and they practiced a form of Alevi worldview and ritual that was distinct from the Bektashi Alevism that is being mainstreamed in Turkey today. Many Dersim Alevi religious terms have Armenian words and forms of worship, as well as pre-Christian, pre-Islamic forms, including Zorastrianism and Shi’a Islamic forms as well. The Dersim region was distinct in its cultural forms, held together by strong bands of men who knew the mountains well and were ruthless in defense of the region. However, they believed in diplomacy and negotiation and proper mediation in conflict. These were all betrayed by the early Turkish state. As early as 1925, plans to transform eastern Turkey and to split families and destroy the region, was planned. In the rest of Turkey, people learned of a ‘rebellion’ in Dersim and the need for the subjugation of the region. There was really never a ‘rebellion’ in the traditional sense of a wholescale anti-government movement. The early Turkish government used such terms to give it the go-ahead in a genocidal campaign that would destroy its leadership and split the villages and families apart and to assimilate the young into a particular brand of state Turkishness that even for many Turkish-identified people, has outgrown in its ‘cover’ and its place in modern Turkey.

Through their fine music and personalities, Mikail Aslan and Ahmet Aslan bring us the realities of grief, joy, mourning, memory, the strength, and the courage of the Dersim people and their efforts toward cultural survival.

For more information in English on Dersim, I have included a website that is Armenian. I include this because most of the information written about Dersim in the English language, begin with official state claims and versions, such as a ‘suppression of a rebellion’ which was a state propaganda version and pretext for ethnic/cultural cleansing for state-building. Please be careful when reading any historical texts, of cultures that we are not familiar with, as even well-meaning people may tow the state version of events and lives.

Truth of Dersim ’38 (from Armenian Weekly): http://www.armenianweekly.com/2010/01/24/kahraman-dersim-38-from-rebellion-to-massacre-a-state-project

Dersim’s Lost Girls film: http://www.kurdishcinema.com/DersimsLostGirls.html

Mikail Aslan.net : http://www.mikailaslan.net/website/index.php?lang=en

Ahmet Aslan.org : http://ahmetaslan.org/

Above Photo of a Dersim villager hunted and captured by the Turkish army during the 1937-38 genocidal campaign.

Lêa Qeraji (in Zazaki language)  by Mikail Aslan

Dilo Dilo (in Zazaki language)  by Mikail Aslan

Susarak Özlüyorum ( (in Turkish language)  by Ahmet Aslan

Veyve Milaketu (Dance of the Angels) (in Zazaki language)  by Ahmet Aslan



“Calling it Home” Documentary Video by Zeynep Uygun: Displacement & Democracies

Tarlabasi is a district in Istanbul, Turkey with a long history of housing non-Muslims and other displaced persons such as trans-identified persons, Armenians and Kurds, Christians, Romani, and others. There are a few neighborhood districts in the huge city of Istanbul that are like this. They are home to these thousands and provide safety and diversity in a city that is continually mobilized (in people’s minds and therefore actions) as one that tows the dominant ideologies and meanings of the Turkish state. The Turkish state has long afforded many of the elites with the controls to navigate its global identity through the late 19th century and early 20th century political worlds, imprinting it into the present. In that period in the 1800s and through the 1950s, the Turkish model of citizenship included everyone as long as they became ‘Turkish.’ The single mode of identity was crafted as a defense against encroaching European colonial powers in their times. But to the popular masses, no mention of ‘Turkishness’ was spread.  Only after the establishing of the republic in 1923 did the ideas of cleansing move into full force to create national unity.  Through tremendous and bloody wars against many fronts, the Turkish mono-identity politics was formed as a resistance to a certain domination. It was done at such costs considering the general poverty and exhaustion of the large Ottoman population that earlier, stretched from the edges of Spain and the African continent, into the edges of China and South Asia. Centuries of warfare left its people exhausted and wartorn. Yet, through tremendous efforts, it fought off completely being swallowed by the French, British, American, Greek and Italian encroachments, among others. The region’s peoples gained their strength of spirit, through warfare as defense of itself. In empowerment, how does this play out as identity? However, its ideological center, which usually creates the nationalist unities necessary in order for people to fight against something against all odds, was borrowed from those foreign ideologies that were popular and powerful at the time, which had totalitarian and fascist elements, mainly the French and Italian forms of ideologies and their forms of ‘science.’

These elements have been called ‘Kemalism’ –named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was the military officer who is credited for saving what was left of the former Ottoman Empire and creating it into the new Turkish Republic. This authoritarian form of rule, mixed with its secular Muslim Turkish ethnic identity written into the Turkish Constitution, has created its violent political clashes ever since. Although Woodrow Wilson’s democratic ideals were forced upon the new Turkish government, its wordings and its lack of protections created a diverse array of dominating tactics along mono-ethnic and mono-religious lines.  Difference existed in relatively more harmonious relations in the Ottoman period, have been hammered into violent political differences in the nation-state system of Turkey. Today, the diverse population tries to navigate and make life live-able with its diversity, while the laws and policies remain very typically staunch in its single ethnic, and particular forms of secular Islamic qualities that defined the earlier periods of Turkey. Those who have gained prominence and power in this system, will not let that go, even though their changes may bring about more love from some of its people. On the other side, it will bring about exile, imprisonment, and assassination at the turn of a dime, as have the many coups and right and left-wing assassinations in the streets and even in Europe, have proven, in the name of maintaining the structure of what is considered ‘the Turkish state.’

Tarlabasi is one of the beautiful, poor neighborhoods of Istanbul where the marginalized have crafted lives and learned to live with each other, complete with disagreements and harmonies, sharing and autonomies. While cities in modern nations are crafted, the marginalized are apparently equal to everyone else, and must find their own way. As those in this great video state, the neighbors know each other and respect each other. If they are displaced, how will they live? Where will they go? What will happen to them? Often, people do not realize how social ostracization works in countries where they are heavily more politicized than in, let’s say, the US or the UK. But even in these two western nations, the marginalized are still invisible and their voices are the last to be heard, if at all. Oh well, the city wants to build new apartments here. So we’ll give you a couple hundred or a thousand dollars, go find your new home….

Tearing people and communities apart is only the beginning of a series of fears, isolations, loneliness and the sheer exhaustions of starting over again in new places. In places such as Turkey, which are communal, much of the ways people survive are based on relationships formed, the places frequented, etc. In new places, without those places and people, starvation and stress and ill-health begin to form. In many nations, these are blamed on the poor and marginalized themselves. In effect, the elites and governing forces, along with the over, tacit or secret agreements of the more privileged, create these circumstances.

Please watch and listen to this wonderful video. This is a glimpse into Tarlabasi, but also a glimpse into a way of making and displacing and creating suffering, that is common in every nation, especially those that are ‘modern’ and supposedly civilized.

Photo by Tesstantrum at Flickr.com