CLOSE UP KURDISTAN : Interview with Director Yuksel Yavuz *

KurdishCinema - February 27 2009

What does this ‘Close-up’ mean to you personally?

As someone who was born and raised in Turkish
Kurdistan the "permanent war" has not gone past
me – even though I live in Germany since 1980. Over
the years I met many Kurdish refugees. Some of
them were prosecuted Kurdish intellectuals, others
close relatives who migrated to Europe, especially
Germany. Nevertheless I always felt that we here in
Europe do not know much about the dirty war in
Turkish Kurdistan.

Most of the people in Europe and the rest of the
world ignore the tragedy. Thus I wanted to take a closer look at the Turkish Kurdish conflict to
understand its dimensions.

How did you choose the protagonists of your film?

There are many facets of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. It affects everyone in the country, even
abroad and here in Germany. I wanted to show a range of people who had to suffer under the
conflict and still do. During my research I met many different people. And already during the
shooting I realised how firm, strong, convincing and authentic the stories of my protagonists are.

As a young Turk and student Dr. Ismail Besikci already got to know the Kurds –even before I was
born. This influenced his career as a scientist. He wrote many books about the Kurds. For doing
this he had to spend 17 years of his life in various prisons.

Most of the former soldiers with whom I spoke understandably didn't have the courage to tell the
truth about their military service in front of a camera. In the circumstances they have to fear
accusations for revealing military secrets. On the other hand the war has displaced many hundred
of thousands inhabitants of Kurdish villagers to the cities.

They had to leave their villages where they had lived since centuries. During the course of one
generation the have been completely derooted. A major part of the Kurdish way of living has been
destroyed.

Orhan Miroglu has been part of the Kurdish opposition
since the 70s, even before he has been jailed in the military
prison of Diyarbakir after the military coup in 1980. He had
to stay in that prison for six years. The prison of Diyarbakir
became a symbol of resistance for the Kurds.
Could you describe your position towards the
Turkish-Kurdish conflict and its connection between the
private and the political spheres?

War already begins in the minds and heads of the
people – even before one catches a weapon. I always
knew that the major problem of this conflict has been the
Turkish politics of assimilation: the denial of the existence
of the Kurdish people, their language and their culture –
this very denouncement.

I was born and raised in Kurdistan. I learned the Turkish
language in school not until I was six years old. I spent my
whole school days in Turkish residential schools up until I
came to Germany at the age of 16. These residential
schools, which have been everywhere in Kurdistan, were machines for assimilation, not schools
with a proper offer of knowledge. They just function to spread the Kemalist ideology of the state,
which says that everyone who lives in Turkey is a Turk.

In my film I wanted to experience what has happened to the people who have been born and
raised there like me, but who have continued to live there. I wanted to understand why a girl friend
of mine from my school days went to the mountains to become a guerrilla and never came back.

How would you describe the effects of the omnipresence of the Turkish state and its symbols in
Turkish Kurdistan to you and the Kurds who live there?

This land is in a "state of emergency" since 30 years. Nearly two thirds of the Turkish army is
stationed in the Kurdish area. Because of the explosive population increase since the 90s the
military barracks of Diyarbakir are now situated in the middle of the city. Many military fortresses
have been built in the mountains.

There are military controls everywhere. The only Turks in the provincial and district towns of
Kurdistan are members of the military forces, the police and the bureaucracy. The population is
under a state of siege; it is an "occupied" land. Even in the metropolis of Istanbul, which I visit
frequently, Turkish flags are everywhere. And they get bigger and bigger every time.

What importance does the music have for your film?

The music I remember from being a child was Kurdish. But during my time in the boarding
schools I was solely confronted with Turkish nationalistic songs. Like the language, Kurdish
music was forbidden for a long time.

It wasn't until the cautious liberalization during the 90’s that Kurdish music underwent a sort of
renaissance. Nevertheless the song "Kece Kurdan" ("The Kurdish daughter"), sung by the female
Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan, was forbidden in Turkey. I also used music from the Band "Kardes
Türküler". They sing and perform songs from various Turkish minorities which stand for the
original cultural variety of the country.

How was the editing of the film?

For me a documentary film principally
emerges at the editing table. The editing
process of a documentary film is much
more intensive and creative than that of a
fiction feature. I was lucky to work with a
very experienced editor who in addition
knew much about the themes of the film.

In my work the content generally
determines the form. On a narrative level
we initially had to find the motives of the
film. What is the essential? What do the
protagonists tell me and the audience?
How do they complement each other? It
was necessary to find answers to these essentials questions. After that the editing process
assumed a definite shape in which form and content determined each other.

All over the world armed forces look the same. They nearly wear the same uniforms, carry the
same weapons and use nearly the same equipment. Even if the soldiers of the Turkish army and
the Kurdish guerrillas have totally different goals to fulfill and different means to do so, they still
pass through the same military formation.

There are many tracking shots in the movie. Thus the film shows us the cities and the landscape,
but even more complex circumstances are illustrated by it, too. For me the film was a personal
journey into the recent past of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. By using many tracking shots I show
the cities and the landscapes I usually pass when I visit my parents.

They show the variety and beauty, but also the decay of this land. And when Dr. Ismail Besikci talks
about his numerous stays in prisons in different cities, he sure has passed many of the streets
the film passes.

While we traverse the Kurdish mountains we also pass places which have been scenes of heavy
fights during the war between the Turkish army and the Kurdish guerrilla. This is the area where
the German ex-guerrilla stayed during his time in Kurdistan. The Kurdish woman from the refugee
camp Maxmur in Iraq also comes from this area. There are destroyed and abandoned villages
everywhere, places which must have been a "paradise on earth" for many before.

At one part of the film the writer Orhan Miroglu describes his place of birth, the city of Mardin: Once
Assyrians, Kurds, Yezids, Arabs and Turks lived there together. One could hear three to four
languages which were spoken on the streets then. But now you see a big poster above main
street where you can read: "Turk, be proud, work and believe!" A quotation from Atatürk. You see
the very same slogan beneath a monument in the centre of Ankara.  Sadly they have killed the
cultural diversity which existed before.

* 10.12.2007
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