12 March marks the anniversary of the death of Hozan Dilgeş. The artist holds a dear place in the hearts of Kurdish people with his voice and his music.
On 12 March 2017, legendary Kurdish musician Hozan Dilgeş lost his life. The epic resistance of the Kurdish people, fighting for freedom under siege and genocide, coloured much of Dilgeş’s work.
The singer came from a Yazidi family, who were also dervishes. He was born in 1952 in Nusaybin (Nisêbîn), Mardin (Mêrdîn), in a village called Fisqîn. Dilgeş’s family taught him how to play the saz, a traditional instrument like a long-necked lute, when he was barely walking. By the time Dilgeş reached the age of 14, he was already famous in the area.
He recorded nine albums in total. He wrote hundreds of songs, just short of a thousand. He went into exile in 1979. His music was loved by all. He loved his people.
“I am a patriot and a socialist. I believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat. I have remained loyal to this line of thinking when writing my songs,” he told journalist Firaz Baran in 2006.
Dilgeş sang of the People’s Liberation Army of Kurdistan (Arteşa Rizgariya Gelî Kurdistan – ARGK), and one of his most famous songs is about Bêrîvan, a Kurdish woman killed in Cizre (Cizîr), Şırnak (Şirnex).
Tu keça rind û ciwanê
Tu şehîda Kurdistanê
Tu sembola serhildanê
In his words, Bêrîvan was “beautiful and young”, a martyr of Kurdistan and a symbol of rebellion.
Dilgeş was critical of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved. He asked in song why he did not stand with the Red Army:
Tu xwediyê artêşa sorî
Çima tu lê nebû xwedî
Çima tu herdu çavan korî
And when, after coming to power in 1979, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini declared Kurds ‘infidels’, Dilgeş called him out: “Khomeini, you hide behind religion to feast on blood”.
Xumeynî tu xwîndarî
Ji bo xwînxwarî tu dîndarî
In the 1990s, Dilgeş stood against village chiefs (mukhtars) who joined Turkey’s village guards, a system of militia paid by the state to inform and fight against the Kurdish movement. He cursed the mukhtars, singing, “May your stamp be poison”. This was one of the most popular songs in Kurdistan at the time.
Muxtaro lo muxtaro
Mora muxtar lê bu jahro
Dilgeş spent many years in exile and missed his homeland terribly. He sang to his home town, his beautiful land. “I haven’t seen you for years”, he sang. “Dirty hands on you break my heart”.
Ax Nisêbîn warê delal
Min tu nedî ev bû çend sal
Li ser tene destê gemar
Ev dilê min bû birîndar
Another song, entitled On Both Sides of the Border, sings of the peoples of North Kurdistan (Bakur) and West Kurdistan (Rojava. “Our golden land is rich“, Dilgeş sings, “Adorned with traps, barbed wire and landmines. On both sides of the border, we are citizens of this country”. In this song Dilgeş advises people to “not forget those who gave their heads for Kurdistan”, as “scorpions and snakes rush to (his) country”.
Axa me zêr û zengîne
Hawir, têl, mayîn danîne
Li ser xetî û bin xetîne
Em tev xelkê welatîne
Ax û ofên me xedarin
Birîn kurin sed hezarin
Ser welat dupişk û marin
Dijmin pîsin çi barbarin
Ji bîr nekin wan şehîdan
Wan xweş mêr û wan egîdan
Ji bo welat wan serî dan
Bo Kurdistan wan serî dan
The last song for mention here is an ode to Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The song Ferman laments 15 February 1999, the day Öcalan was captured and brought to Turkey to be imprisoned for life.
“Mother, there is an order against us”, Dilgeş sings. “The hands that held the pen are in cuffs, the great leader, the Kurdish lion is in chains”.
Dayê li me fermane
Heyf sed mixabin
Çavê reş û belek bi paçika girêdane
Ew dest û tîliyê qelemê kelepçe dane
Serokê mezin, şêrê Kurdan dane haps û zindane
Vê carê fermane, me girane
Dayê li me fermane
Bavo li me fermane
Dilgeş’s songs tell tales of the pain and resistance of the Kurdish people, and those who lost their lives for them. “I shared a stage with Zozan, Seyîdxan, Xelîl Xengîn and Serdar many times during the 1980s and 1990s,” Dilgeş told Firaz Baran. “Once, in Münster (Germany), there were 15,000 people in the audience.”
This was when Dilgeş was working with art collective Hunerkom in exile. He said:
“I am lucky to have served my people with my art. I sang of their pain and joy. Our people fight for freedom, and I was a member of its army of the arts. I salute our leader Apo [Abdullah Öcalan], Cemil Bayık [a founder member of the PKK], those who resist in the prisons, and the guerrillas. They remain in my heart, always.”