KurdîLit: Network for Kurdish Literature and Publishing in Turkey
Kurdish literature stands out as one of the key junctures for the flourishing and proliferation of the Kurdish language, an issue of central importance in debates over cultural rights and diversity in Turkey. The obstacles faced by institutions and people working in the field of Kurdish literature in Turkey, in conjunction with the environment of the thirty-year civil conflict, as well as the fact that these institutions and people have been unable to take advantage of the privileges offered to writers and publishers producing in Turkey’s official language, have prevented them from establishing sound communication with one another and with writers writing in other languages. In addition to facing the negative consequences of the environment of conflict, people and institutions working in this field also lack monetary resources. Despite these circumstances, Kurdish-language publishing has picked up speed, especially in the last ten years. Still, the limited visibility of Kurdish-language literature in Turkey and in the international arena continues to be a problem, both for producers and for readers.
Diyarbakır Arts Center (DSM), in conjunction with long-time collaborator Lîs Editions, has facilitated two literature events since 2011: Looking at World Literature and the Grand Masters from Amed (2012) and Diyarbakır Comparative Literature Days (2013). The discussions among audience members and panelists at these events highlighted the urgent need for projects to foster the development of writers and translators as well as readers in the field of Kurdish literature, which has been growing dramatically. After many engagements and interviews with institutions and people in Diyarbakır and its vicinity as well as in Istanbul and on the international stage that are interested in Kurdish literature, DSM and Lîs thus set about making preparations for an extensive project on literature. KurdîLit: Network for Kurdish Literature and Publishing in Turkey was designed by Diyarbakır Arts Center, Lîs Editions, and Literature Across Frontiers as a first step in a number of planned projects that aim to strengthen the visibility of Kurdish literature. This project undertakes to compile extant knowledge about Kurdish literature, which stands at a critical juncture of debates over cultural rights and freedom of expression in Turkey. In so doing, it aims to bring together and digitally archive basic information regarding actors (writers, translators, publishers, and periodic literary publications) operating in the field of Kurdish literature and publishing, and in time, to establish more solid networks of communication between these actors and actors operating in the international literary arena. We also believe that carrying out a project that aims to support the recognition and dissemination of Kurdish as a literary language, both in Turkey and across the globe, is of tremendous import in terms of reassessing the cultural rights dimensions of current political debates.
KurdîLit focuses on literature produced in Kurmanjî and Kurmanjkî, two dialects of Kurdish spoken in Turkey, because of the project’s framework and limitations. For this reason, the Soranî and Goranî dialects are being kept out of this project for the time being. Similarly, writers and translators who are native speakers of Kurmanjî and Kurmanjkî but who do not produce works in Kurdish are not listed on the website, in line with the project’s focus. Nonetheless, we to be able to broaden the project to include the other dialects of Kurdish and in this regard to establish new partnerships in due time.
This project, which began in February 2016 to generate a website that aims to promote the visibility of literature produced in Kurmanjî and Kurmanjkî, not only in Turkey but also in the wider region and the international arena, therefore making contemporary Kurdish literature part of a larger communications network. Accordingly, the project consists of three basic steps: research, data collection, and mapping the information collected through interviews. In the first phase, the staff of DSM, in charge of directing the project, and content advisor Lal Laleş (of Lîs Editions), interviewed actors engaged in the field of Kurdish-language literature and publishing in the cities of Diyarbakır, Istanbul, Van, Batman, and Mardin. In these interviews, these actors were presented with an outline of the website and asked for their opinions and recommendations. The details of the website’s contents took their final shape in accordance with these recommendations and discussions, and we decided to classify and organize the content under four primary headings, consisting of writers, translators, publishers, and journals.
In order to generate this content, we prepared a comprehensive list of institutions and people who are currently producing in the field of Kurdish literature, we contacted and provided information about the project to various institutions of language and literature along with 120 writers and translators, 22 publishing houses, and 14 representatives and editors of periodicals. We prepared curriculum vitae templates for actors in each field and shared them with all of our individual and institutional interlocutors. We compiled and organized information from the writers, translators, publishers, and journals that wanted their information to be listed on the website, and after translating and proofreading this information across three languages, we entered it into the website. As we added the data to the website, we tagged every profile page under each of the four headings to make it easier to search within the site. Introductory texts were prepared for each of the four headings in order to be able to provide the site’s visitors with the historical background of each of these headings, which pertain to institutions and people that continue to be actively producing literature in the present. These texts discuss writers and translators who left a historical mark on Kurdish literature, as well as publishers and journals that were active in the past. Additionally, the website features a Sources section containing a list of sources used in the preparation of the site and works accepted as basic references in the area of Kurdish literature; the website also features a Useful Links section that lists the websites and programs carried out by significant literary institutions in Turkey and Europe.
Alongside these efforts, we also conducted group, individual, and telephone interviews as well as email exchanges with literary producers working in this field, drawing on specific questions to gather opinions and predictions concerning the past, present, and future of Kurdish literature in Turkey. After evaluating the data, we prepared a written report on how people from the Kurdish literature community evaluated the state of affairs. Because of the project’s limits, we were unable at this stage to include interviews with other important actors in the dissemination of literature, such as booksellers, distributors, and online bookstores. In the next step, we plan to share our reports and compiled data at a meeting with guests from Kurdish literary actors as well as local government and public institutions where we will also explain how the website works. In the latter half of 2016, KurdîLit will be shared with European literary institutions at the Literature Festivals in Malta and Poland as part of the Literary Europe Live European Literature Platform. And we continue working on diverse initiatives to bring the website to literary actors working locally in order to increase the visibility of Kurdish literature in Turkey and internationally.
Project Coordination: Diyarbakır Arts Center
Content Coordinator: Lal Laleş (Lîs Editions)
Partner: Literature Across Frontiers (United Kingdom)
Supporters: EU Civil Society Program in Turkey, Literary Europe Live (Creative Europe)
Kurdish Translation: Kawa Nemir
Turkish Translation: Kawa Nemir
English Translation: Kawa Nemir – Nicholas Glastonbury
Kurdish Proofreading: Kawa Nemir – Lal Laleş
Turkish Proofreading: Müge Karahan
English Proofreading: Nicholas Glastonbury
Website Design: Duru Ajans
Logo Design: Fırat Şahin
Special thanks to:
Kurdish Writers Association, Kurdish Writers Association Batman Branch
Dawid Yeşîlmen, Ercan Alpay, Şeyh Hêsenê Nuranî Family (Işık Family) Archive, Ferid Demirel, Kawa Nemir, Murat Kartal, Omer Fîdan, Öykü Tekten, Patrick Lewis, Recep Seyhan, Roşan Lezgîn, Samî Hêzil, Serwet Deniz, Tehsîn Baravî, Yaqob Tilermenî