Weysî Ermiş, a Kurdish singer and an active contributor to Kurdish folklore studies at the Mesopotamia Culture Centre, says “Dengbêj”, or the traditional Kurdish music genre of storytelling by singing, is of vital importance for keeping the Kurdish language and culture alive.
Speaking to the Mesopotamia News Agency, he said that while the significance of the genre was eventually recognised in the circles of Kurdish intellectuals after it came to the brink of disappearance due to increasing suppression of the Kurdish language following the 1980 military coup in Turkey, it has since then, been revived through the collective efforts of various cultural organisations.
“In order for a community to exist as a people, it ought to be able to speak its own language,” he said. “The means for the construction of language and keeping it alive must be available. And it’s always the language that has been banned first. We can actually say that the language is a living organism.”
Ermiş went on to emphasis that Dengbêj was essential in keeping the Kurdish language alive because of the method in which the stories are told:
“The language you speak is alive. It has memories, a culture. So you start thinking through that channel if you are a Dengbêj. You look at things with emotions existing in a society of Kurds… Emotions which emerged through an absorption of Kurdish traditions and culture; emotions which recall and enable one to feel and live that culture…”
Ermiş was detained last year on 27 September on the charge of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation” allegedly by posting the Kurdish songs he sang on various occasions on social media.
Whatever the Turkish state says, there is currently, a de facto ban on Kurdish language and Kurdish songs in Turkey. Recently, imprisoned former MP for the People’s Democratic Party, Leyla Güven, and eight other female political prisoners were deprived of family visits and phone calls as a disciplinary measure for the ‘crime’ of singing a song in Kurdish.
The oppression on Kurdish language and music including Dengbêj had peaked after the 1980 military coup when records and cassettes of Kurdish songs were destroyed and people were arrested and tortured for having them.