Braveheart strikes chord with Kurds

European Times ISTANBUL
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The Independent Online
WHEN ABDURRAHMAN Celik saw the film Braveheart, he wrote a Kurdish translation. "Kurdish people identify with Braveheart," he says. "It is similar to our own situation." Mr Celik is a Kurdish poet, and the Istiklal area of Istanbul is the last place you'd expect to find him. Once the Ottoman diplomatic quarter, Istiklal is now Istanbul's answer to Leicester Square in London. American fast-food joints and cinemas showing Hollywood blockbusters flank the grand old consulates. This is modern Turkey's image of itself: a Western- style consumer society.

But in dingy offices overlooking the Istiklal crowds, Mr Celik and his friends are working to preserve a very different culture. They edit Brightness of Life, a monthly literary magazine published in Kurdish. The language is at the heart of the struggle between Turkey's authorities and autonomy- seeking Kurds, which has cost more than 30,000 lives. The Kurds always point to the restrictions on their language as evidence of Turkish repression. Kurdish cannot be taught in schools, and broadcasting it is illegal. So to find Kurdish literature being openly published on one of Istanbul's busiest streets is a surprise. "Because we are on Istiklal the Turkish authorities try to show Europe they don't forbid anything," says Mr Celik, 27. "But it's a big lie."

He is sipping a glass of tea in the smoke-filled cafe of the Mesopotamia Culture Centre (MKM), which publishes Brightness of Life. The centre was founded in 1991 by Kurd and Turk intellectuals to preserve Kurdish culture, which the MKM says the government is repressing.

Mr Celik complains that the MKM faces a constant battle with the authorities. He claims he and 62 others working here were arrested and held without charge for three days after the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in February.

Branches of the MKM in the south-east have been closed by the police, says Mr Celik. And in the Istanbul centre, the doors to the main meeting room are sealed - with police notices on them. According to Mr Celik, it was used only for concerts of Kurdish music and for showing films, including Braveheart.

The MKM's directors insist the centre has no connections with Mr Ocalan's Kurdish Workers' Party. The MKM, they say, is a target for "state-organised nationalism".

The centre may be a meeting place for Kurds, but Turks come here too. "We feel the same as the people who work here," says Nejla Tas, one of four Turkish women sitting at a table. "I think it's nonsense to talk of Kurdish independence, but Kurdish culture must be allowed to live in Turkey, just as Turkish culture lives."

Mr Celik is determined that his contribution to Kurdish culture will live: "I'm hoping to have a book published one day. I haven't written enough poems yet, but maybe next year."

Justin Huggler