When you speak and listen to two Kurdish legends in one week, a lot of food for thought is inevitable. Even more so when what they say, do, sing, perform, think and write all connects like crackling electricity. Behrouz Boochani and Ciwan Haco, both rooted in and building on what Boochani calls ‘resistance knowledge’.
This weekend, I found myself sitting in the first row at the London concert of Ciwan Haco, his first in many years. I was probably one of the first people to buy a ticket – I’ve been a fan for years, from the moment I first watched and heard Diyalog, recorded in the studios of Med TV decades ago. It’s powerful, sensitive, raw, it’s love, it’s politics, it’s everything and I will never get enough of it. How lucky I was to get a ticket upgrade to VIP, not only delivering me that excellent seat but also the chance to meet Haco afterwards and briefly talk to him.
What I immediately saw when he stepped on stage and sat down, was the huge smile on his face. Throughout the concert, it was obvious that he was deeply enjoying performing and that he was in it with everything he had. “You clearly enjoyed giving a concert very much”, I said to him afterwards, which he confirmed. I asked: “Why don’t you do it more often?” It was only a very short conversation, as there were dozens of other fans waiting for their photo moment, but from what I understood, he had been reluctant to perform because of all the politics around his, or any Kurdish music. He didn’t want to be drawn into any political camp.
The concert hall had been packed with very political Kurds. So I said: “But your audience is very political.” He said: “But I’m political too!” It was ‘needed’, he said several times, that he performed especially now, not getting into the details because the situation was rather chaotic and overwhelming. We took a picture, and that was it.
The only conclusion I could draw was that, well, I definitely need a real, long and quiet interview with Ciwan Haco. How does he really deal with the pressure on Kurdish artists to speak out politically in any other way than through music? His music is political and how couldn’t it be, but how difficult is it really to choose where and how to perform, to somehow try to find some ground where only your music speaks? Did he manage that in London? While I type this, my whole face is in a frown from thinking how to formulate these thoughts, these questions. What he said triggered me, he was willing to talk and God I’m curious about what he has to say.
I heard some criticism too from people who attended the concert and some Kurds who decided not to go. They were holding it against him that he hasn’t performed much in the last one and a half, two decades. Couldn’t he have made a bigger contribution to the struggle? Why didn’t he? Was he afraid to antagonise power? I don’t know, I can’t judge either Haco or his critics.
A few days before the concert, I had a podcast interview with Behrouz Boochani, which will be published soon here on Medya News. He is from Rojhilat (Kurdistan in Iran),and left because of his activism and journalism and was incarcerated in Australia’s refugee system for six years. His book about this ordeal, with highly interesting reflections on power structures, refugees, colonialism and more, was published in 2018 and this book, ‘No friends but the mountains’, became an international best-seller.
Eventually, Boochani was granted refugee status by New-Zealand and received a residence permit. He works as an author in different fields. When I started editing the podcast two days after the Ciwan Haco concert and listened to it again carefully, the connections started to crackle in my brain.
Boochani said that as a Kurd, he was born in a colonial system and grew up in it, and that he therefore started engaging in the struggle at the beginning of his life. That struggle defines his activism for refugee rights now, which he connects to different other groups in society that wage a struggle against their marginalisation by power structures. “In Kurdistan”, he said, “we created a resistance knowledge.”
He defined that term as the knowledge that a nation or a group of people create through resistance. Kurdistan has been struggling against central governments for over a century, fighting to keep their identity alive. “That struggle creates a memory, which we see in our poetry, our music, our culture, cinema. When you struggle for a hundred years, the struggle goes through generations and you rely on the generations before you and together you create a knowledge.”
Ciwan Haco and Behrouz Boochani are from different generations, Haco born in Rojava in 1957 and Boochani in Rojhilat in 1983. They are contributing to this resistance knowledge and at the same time building on what those before them have given, both part of the radical tradition that is so distinctive of the Kurdish resistance. A memory going back generations, with so many layers, so many different dynamics rooted in different places, dialects, migrations, societal structures and traditions, different kind of struggles and ideologies – how hard it is to find your position as an artist, to do justice to this memory, and to adjust to changing balances, being the legend you have become?
So many questions. And yes, I hope to sit down with Ciwan Haco and talk. I will keep you posted.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.