Building our Country Word by Word

From Planet 229

by Ciwanmerd Kulek

Writer Ciwanmerd Kulek tells the story of his Kurdish publisher, and how its hopes and hardships have run in parallel with the Kurdish independence struggle, leading up to the 2017 independence referendum, and its violent suppression. He describes how his experience of translating the Mabinogi into Kurdish led him to reflect on global hierarchies of power, and the potential of translation to create a zone of equality across cultures.

In 2014 I moved to Istanbul from Diyarbakir, one of the biggest Kurdish cities in the east of Turkey or unofficial Turkish Kurdistan, where I had lived for most of my life and where my family is still based. Having changed city, I decided to find a new publisher for myself there. My works then began to be published and republished by Avesta, one of the biggest and oldest Kurdish publishing houses based in Istanbul. Throughout its short history from the mid-1990s, Avesta has been through gruelling times in parallel with the Kurdish problem in Turkey: trials of its authors and staff, books banned, threats and other kinds of calamity which could have been too grave for Avesta to survive if it was not for what I assume to be an extraordinary ambition for keeping the Kurdish language alive. When my first book was published by Avesta it was a relatively promising time for all of us. Partial acknowledgement of Kurdish identity by the Turkish state, the political will to solve problems through dialogue, and negotiations between the Turkish government (led by Erdoğan’s AK Parti) and major Kurdish political and armed groups had led to a peaceful atmosphere, triggering a new wave of optimism for the Kurdish language and literature. I remember how enthusiastic we were when the owner and executive editor of Avesta and I talked about future projects to promote language use and contribute to the cultural life of the Kurdish people. A year later, 2015, would mark the 20th anniversary of the launch of the publishing house and my editor was full of excitement about the parties and events he was planning for celebrating it.

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