Obituary: Musa Anter

Musa Anter, writer, born Nusaybin Turkey 1918, died Diyarbakir Turkey 20 September 1992.

MUSA ANTER was in many ways the grand old man of Kurdish culture in Turkey, a silver-haired, irrepressible symbol of the struggle to overturn Turkey's bans on the official use of Kurdish names, literature and language.

Anter was born into a merchant family in 1918, near Nusaybin, in south-eastern Turkey. He studied law in Istanbul and was ultimately the president of Turkey's first Kurdish Cultural Society, founded in Istanbul in April 1992. Even as a man of 74, he was always an activist. He was first sent to prison in 1937 as a schoolboy and court cases were still pending against him when he died. He was jailed after each of the three post-war military coups in Turkey, was arrested more than 50 other times and spent a total of nine and a half years behind bars.

Blunt language and a political agenda never made him a great novelist or film-maker like his fellow Turkish Kurds Yashar Kemal or Yilmaz Guney; his works were not usually translated abroad. But while Kemal, Guney and other Kurds expressed themselves in Turkish media - Anter himself usually wrote in Turkish as well - Anter kept his eye firmly on the right of Turkey's 12 million Kurds, however much assimilated, to express themselves in the dialects of their mother tongue.

He was the author of a Kurdish-Turkish dictionary, of Kimil, a book of poetry, Birinaresh, a play about a plague in Kurdistan, and hundreds of newspaper articles, usually in a humorous vein but sometimes edged with a heavy sarcasm.

His later combative style was marked in last article for the pro- Kurdish newspaper Yeni Ulke as he criticised a televised speech by Turkey's Chief Justice calling for the state to fight terrorism with terrorism. 'What you wanted to say was, 'A people kept under the fist can only be dealt with by the fist',' he wrote.

His status among Turkey's Kurds was perhaps best illustrated when he played the part of a wise old man in Mim o Zin, one of the first Kurdish films made in Turkey last year following the partial lifting of Kurdish-language restrictions. The plot was basically Romeo and Juliet but one could almost have made a film of the film. In a hangover from the old bans, actors and equipment were routinely confiscated during shooting.

In the black-and-white world of Turkish society, Turks often thought Anter supported a bloody Kurdish rebellion's goal of an independent Kurdish state. Anter did indeed hate the changing of village names, repression of national identity and uprooting of the fragile Kurdish culture, but his views were more subtle than radicals gave credit for.

'It's like a marriage. Even if we don't love each other, our interests are the same. We have the resources, they have the sea. But we don't want to be doormen while they are the bosses,' he said one evening at a hotel in Diyarbakir in 1988, when prominent Kurds from all over Turkey had gathered to meet Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of the French President.

Mme Mitterrand's visit coincided with a general awakening of a sense of Kurdish identity in Turkey and Western interest in the Kurds. As people talked openly in Kurdish all around him, then virtually unheard of, Anter said, 'We do not fear any more, because you came here and because we are in the right.' But in the end, his faith in his own bravery turned out to be tragically ill-placed. He was killed by an unidentified gunman on Sunday night in Diyarbakir.