Diyarbakir conservatory fuels Kurdish cultural revival
Arts education in Kurdish has developed the fine arts and the language itself, musicians say.
By Nurhak Yilmaz for SES Türkiye in Diyarbakir -- 03/12/13
The positive atmosphere created by steps to solve the Kurdish issue is also fuelling interest in the Kurdish language, with Diyarbakir's first Kurdish-language music conservatory attracting the interest of local artists and youths.
The Aram Tigran Conservatory in Diyarbakir is the first in Turkey to teach exclusively in Kurdish. [Nurhak Yilmaz/SES Türkiye]
In addition to music, courses are offered in painting, film, folk dances and theatre. [Nurhak Yilmaz/SES Türkiye]
Graduates of the conservatory have won film awards. [Nurhak Yilmaz/SES Türkiye]
Many Kurds believe that their language must be made an official one in order to achieve a permanent peace. Several NGOs and municipalities are rolling out their own programmes to increase use of the Kurdish language. Students are showing interest in Kurdish language courses, and efforts to use the language in professional settings are also increasing.
One example is the Aram Tigran City Conservatory, opened by Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality in 2010. It offers Kurdish-language education in cinema, music, theatre, painting and folk dances. Named after an Aremian artist who made important contributions to Kurdish music, it is the first conservatory in Turkey to offer education exclusively in Kurdish.
About 300 students have graduated from the conservatory. Every department features two years of theoretical education and one year of applied education. The music, theatre and folk dance departments also offer children's courses.
Serko Kaniwar, a member of the conservatory's administration, told SES Türkiye it was founded to promote "the academic articulation of Kurdish culture and art."
"It's definitely time for academic education in our mother tongue, you might even say we're late. When we look at this from the standpoint of Kurds in Turkey, I see it as a revolution because we give education at the university level," Kaniwar said.
Most of the students are university students and recent graduates. Applications are accepted once a year, with hundreds competing for positions. Knowledge of Kurdish is a flexible requirement. Eschewing the traditional classroom model, courses are offered in the form of 10-day workshops. Some low-income students are allowed to attend for free, and Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality provides the conservatory's equipment.
Among the conservatory's founders is Zeynel Dogan, whose film "My Father's Voice" received the best film award at last year's Golden Boll festival. Dogan, who teaches in the cinema department, told SES Türkiye that language is a determining component of artistic production.
"Kurds received cinema education prior to now, but they weren't learning Kurdish in order to do so. In Germany, cinema students learned German. In Iraq, they learned Arabic, Farsi, Turkish or English. This naturally impeded the development of Kurdish cinema," she said. "Even if the era of 'national cinema' is over, we can say that for Kurds there were shortcomings or expectations on this score."
The conservatory has faced practical difficulties. When it first opened, teachers struggled to find written course materials in Kurdish. After considering translating sources from other languages, they decided to produce their own materials.
"We want to truly create a conservatory of Kurdistan," Kaniwar said. "We don't want to communicate only with Diyarbakir, but all places where Kurds live. That's why the materials we create also have to reach everyone, so we didn't want to rush too much on the issue of materials."
Dogan said the process of creating new materials and infrastructure created "a feeling of belatedness."
"When we first started at Aram Tigran, the problem wasn't only giving courses in Kurdish, it was that there were words Kurds were using for the first time. For example, in photography there's a concept called 'depth.' Until now, Kurds have used this concept in Turkish or English. But when you give cinema education in Kurdish, you're confronted with filling these sorts of gaps. It's a process that is both demoralising and exciting," Dogan told SES Türkiye.
Four years later, the artists report progress, saying they are now using self-created written materials in the cinema and music departments.
"After four years, we no longer debate whether or not we can teach cinema in Kurdish. We speak Kurdish in the class and on set, and it's the language we use in our daily interactions with students. What we debate now is the results of this," Dogan said.
"For instance, we're now training Kurdish-speaking cameramen and soundmen. This has positive implications for our production. An example is the increasing number of people doing Kurdish cinema. We've contributed to that."
Most of the teachers previously worked in the cultural departments of municipalities. The conservatory is also training its own teachers.
Hamdi Akyol is one of the first graduates of Aram Tigran's cinema department. Now teaching film and documentary-making, he told SES Türkiye the conservatory has made important contributions to academic education in Kurdish.
"In fact, 200 years ago, Kurdish was used in Kurdistan as a language of education in mathematics, biology and social sciences. As a result, it has an infrastructure for education in all disciplines. But due to assimilation policies, it has weakened and lost its self-confidence," he said.
"Kurds now have newspapers, TV stations, and publishing houses. When I started at the conservatory, I was uncertain if I could teach in Kurdish, but I later realised that this was unfounded."
Akyol added that students have shown increased interest in the conservatory as graduates have drawn praise for their achievements.
"In the last two years, graduates of ours have won awards at very important festivals in Turkey for their documentary, short, and feature-length films. The concept of Kurdish cinema has become a topic of debate thanks to these and other films," Akyol told SES Türkiye.
"Our students don't come here to fill their free time, or to pursue a hobby. They come to do Kurdish cinema in their own languages. We even have some who have dropped out of university to attend."
Dogan attributed her students' success to the fact that "Kurds have strong stories" to tell.
"Anyone who's lived here for the last 30 years has their share of stories. Cinema is a strong medium for us to share our perspectives, and when we find opportunities to do so, we hasten to account for the wounds of the past. Those who have witnessed the conflicts inevitably do political films," she told SES Türkiye. Forced migration, extrajudicial killings, and uneven urban development are all popular themes.
Dogan said she expects the conservatory to help increase use of the Kurdish language beyond its walls, as its "perceived value is increasing."
"We went through a period when Kurdish was only used in family settings and had no value in life outside of the home, but now someone who wishes to receive a decent cinema education in Diyarbakir needs to know Kurdish," she said. "Many applicants who are rejected because they don't know Kurdish come back to us a year later to re-apply after learning the it."
The conservatory has also injected fresh vigour into Diyarbakir's art scene. The last four years have seen four film festivals, in addition to theatre and music festivals. They help bring students' work to a broader audience, and introduce Diyarbakir art lovers to work from western Turkey and abroad.
How else can the arts be used to promote cultural awareness? Share your thoughts in the comments area.