Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mehmet Uzun: On Diyarbekir/ From Pen's Article Archive

Mehmet Uzun: The Honor Of The Word Is The Honor Of Man, Diyarbakir Seminar

Author(s): Mehmet Uzun
Date: 31st October, 2005

1. This conference of yours here today reminds me of a speech made by a modern American novelist who questioned man's conservative behavior. William Faulkner spoke in 1949 given in a city that had experienced far too much pain like Diyarbakir, where there had always been racial and ethnic clashes, prejudices and so forth. From the point of view of modern literature too in that important speech Faulkner said, "Man is eternal, it is not because only he had an unquenchable voice among all the creatures, but also because he was courageous and because he found in his soul compassion and sacrifice, patience and endurance. The duty of the poet and the author is to write about these."

Diyarbakir is a courageous city; it is a city, which has in its soul the strength of compassion and sacrifice, patience and endurance and where people who have an unquenchable voice live. And it is a city that especially needs these kinds of international language, literature and cultural dialogue conferences and especially deserves dignity.

This conference in Diyarbakir sponsored by the International Pen Club and UNESCO is a total sign of the strength of human courage, sacrifice, patience and endurance that Faulkner talked about. Five or ten years ago one couldn't have even dreamed of thinking to hold such a conference in Diyarbakir. But now due to the strength of human patience and endurance in Diyarbakir perhaps in the city's history the first international word, narrative and dialogue conference has been realized.

Why is the situation thus? In order to both answer this question and to understand better where we are, there is value in briefly describing Diyarbakir's recent history. Diyarbakir, one of the world's oldest cities, was founded on the shore of the Tigris River, a river mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible that has been the home of countless civilizations, languages, religions, identities and cultures. What a pity that in the modern history of the last century it lived with the violence and pressure of martial law regimes. The fate of this city became death, murder, wholesale slaughter, violence and migration.

During the First World War in this city and its neighborhood around 150,000 non-Muslims Armenians, Assyrians, Suriyanis, Chaldeans, Nasturis, Yakubis and Yezidi were eliminated. (This information is official information; it is information that the Diyarbakir governor of that time gave. He was one of the bloody-handed Union and Progress pashas that held the Ottoman administration in their hands during that period.) After the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, the leaders of the Kurdish opposition that rebelled (approximately 50 people) were executed in 1925 in one of the most crowded squares of this city. After that day too Diyarbakir and its surrounds were administered by the Regional Inspectorate, a kind of military-civilian martial law regime. Kurdish, the language of the region, was forbidden, intellectuals and ruling families were sent into exile. The prisons were always filled with opposition members. When a military junta took over the administration in 1960, it became the region that first received its share of the junta's pressure and the exiles, arrests and pressure intensified. The military junta's first sacrifice, repeated again in 1971, was Diyarbakir; later a military detention building was constructed in the midst of the military garrison. Military coup courts were created and I, along with thousands of opposition intellectuals, writers, journalists, workers, villagers, gentlemen and tribal leaders were arrested, tried and given heavy sentences. The tradition continued of the military taking over governments. In 1980 there was another military junta, and the measures of 1971 were repeated, but there was continuing violence this time that boggles the mind and one came to the point of wishing to die. In the new military prison on the outskirts of the city nearly 100 of the region's best-known intellectuals were confined in that prison and tortured to death in its cells, thousands were maimed, tens of thousands were arrested and tortured. And the region quickly descended into civil war. During the civil war Diyarbakir totally became a ghost town; every day five or ten intellectuals, teachers, labor unionists, doctors, lawyers, journals, tradesmen and workers were killed through organized murders known as "unsolved crimes." At the time of those unsolved murders, in 1972, in the military prison, the first person to teach me to read and write in my forbidden language was the writer Musa Anter who was my mentor. He was 76 years old and one midnight he was savagely killed in a dark street on the outskirts of the city.

So Diyarbakir is the city of the totally oppressed; it is the center of unspeakable pain and grief for those who can't talk for themselves. In particular after the civil war the city began to grow quickly but in an unbalanced way and the problems of this city were even greater than its population as the unemployed rate was around 75%; 60% were unable to read and write. The districts on the outskirts where people who had gathered around the city were a complete disaster; urbanization was warped and irregular; the projects that the municipalities wanted to carry out at great sacrifice were snagged on the opposition of the prejudiced central system; and contagious infections, prostitution, theft, murder, begging, corruption developed in an unbelievable manner.

Diyarbakir, the pearl of Upper Mesopotamia that had been an important and attractive economic, cultural and social center of the region for 10,000 years is in such a condition today. And today our conference that can be seen as a miracle is taking place here. I interpret this step as Diyarbakir and the region now having left behind its unlucky fate. In this sense I feel I'm experiencing a serious change because international intellectuals and academicians, Kurdish and Turkish writers and poets are meeting here.

2. The reason why I gave brief information about Diyarbakir is not just to talk about Diyarbakir. Diyarbakir's situation can describe nearly all the region's cities. The Tigris River visits Cizre, Mosul-Nineveh, Samarra, Ur and Baghdad and unites with the Euphrates below Basra before emptying into the sea. The Euphrates River flows straight down from our West for nearly 100 kilometers and passes through the lands of Syria and after reaching Babel it shares the same fate as the Tigris. Most of Mesopotamia's most important cities that resemble Diyarbakir are generally in the vicinity of these two rivers. However the social, political and cultural influence of these two ancient rivers is not just bounded by Mesopotamia; it includes the whole Middle East from Beirut to Tehran. The fate of all the cities in this region is the same as if there is a verbal unity with these rivers. The cities from Diyarbakir, Hama, Humus and Aleppo to Baghdad, Tehran, Isfahan and Kabul are the same. Diyarbakir's perverse fate is the fate of these too.

The most indicative characteristic of this common fate is the captive cities that over the long period of time became impoverished in spite of being colorful in the real sense of the word -- multicultural, multilingual and home to many religions. Who was it who captured these cities? Totalitarian regimes, anti-democratic politics, centrist ideologies, religious fanatics, ultra nationalistic generals, ordinary patriots, the chiefs of fake legal suits, fascists who see the liberation of the oppressed in terror, dark movements, cheap political experts and merchants who have made money their god. One has to very openly declare one truth; in this situation the region today is the darkest in all the world.

It is possible to give thousands of concrete examples connected with this situation but unnecessary; today the whole region is in a situation as if it were cursed, as if the curse has become the fate of the region.

The topic is not just the sacrifice of this captivity; yes, the realities in the region were killed and replaced by lying official realities. But perhaps another sacrifice was more important than this -- words, narration, cultural heritage, dialogue. The captivity of the cities, the word, the narrative, the cultural heritage that covers all languages, religions and civilizations and dialogue between languages, religions and cultures were taken captive. In these lands that were the cradle of words, narrative and dialogue that words, narrative, culture and dialogue could come to such a state can only be described by one word, terrifying.

The region that is the spring of all words and narratives that form humanity's foundation from the story of Gilgamesh to Noah's Flood, from the Pentateuch of the Bible to the Qur'an today cannot express itself. Words and narratives, creative and universal structures born on the fruitful lands of the region can't reach us, can't enrich world literature and can't be an inseparable part of this. The powers that have taken over the region and the cities of the region are of course very different from each other but not surprisingly have common characteristics; they are impatient and totalitarian, towards others they are polite and self-confident and don't like to express themselves freely, they hate words, narratives and freedom of thought, they lie using prohibitions that they create with unbelievable intelligence and cunningness, censorship, impediments, prejudice and thoughtful, emotional codes and most of the time offer ego-ethnic centrist realities and definitely the truth and order that everybody must comply with. And those who don't comply are harshly punished in unbelievable ways.

What a pity that the understanding in the whole region is as follows: "In order to destroy the other, to not endure what is different, to see universals and absolutes that are sovereign, everybody has to sign on to this, to apply the reality that fits this wish, to change the past, to be able to create an absolute sovereignty and tie to ideological education, propaganda and to treat new information seriously. So to kill someone is to destroy a person's creativity and special moral qualities. To use sovereignty in a manipulative manner so that the dream that belongs to someone, while killing the narrative, is to make sovereign absolutist ideology, state, regime, politics, organizations and leaders, lying narrative and manipulation…"

Today the measurements that are sovereign in the region are not compassion and sacrifice, conscience and mercy, pity and justice, love and respect, equality and freedom. Quite the contrary, what opposes all these things are the things that block the individual, the rights and laws for the individual and his expressing himself. Today what the region is most in need of are the following: democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and thought, the possibility for everyone to express himself freely, eliminating the isolation that chains individuals, the breaking down of conservative walls and the uniting of the region with the civilized democratic world. In other words the region wants the measures and virtues that make man human, that bring humanity into the modern world and are the unsurprising truth about humanity.

The whole region has great need for interest, support, relations and dialogue.

So whatever it may belong to, it is necessary that the individual who draws his power through expressing himself be strengthened, encouraged and supported in his relationship with civilized, democratic and human virtues. Where there are examples of the individual being saved from prison and from indifference, hopelessness and the acceptance of hellish rules, one has to get together with the region, to listen to the individual in the region and to share his pain and fate. To support an individual's opposition and rebellion over human honor and the honor of the word that is man's most fundamental existence, to bring the individual to a freer and better respected place, to look sympathetically on democratic initiatives that will bring the human being to greater freedom and respect and to be of assistance in the search for an individual's rights, law, value, personal dignity, love, conscience, mercy, patience, friendship and dialogue is an important duty.

If no one else accepts this as a duty, we have to accept this as a duty as writers, academicians, publishers, translators and artists. Because we have a characteristic that separates us from everyone else; we know that the honor of the word and the narrative in every circumstance has become the honor of man.

So I see our conference as an important beginning.

3. Many years ago Goethe offered us a concept that was very important for the world of words and narratives – world literature. It is a universal literature that includes the entire universe, all languages, religions, civilizations, words, narratives and cultures. A colorful word that stretches from one corner of the world to the other is a narrative rainbow. Today in our new century and millennium, Goethe has to be thought of as a bequest and we have to remember this wish again perhaps more and more all the time because some who speak anew of disasters speak of the inability of East and West to unite. And some claim that the clashes that exist are the clash of civilizations, religions and cultures.

Today all these clashes that plague our region, these arguments, these invasions -- are they really a clash of civilizations, religions and cultures? Of course not! Still more than everyone we know the answer to this. If there were really a clash of languages, religions, cultures and civilizations, we could never be a world with universal words and narrative. We should not blame our bad sides on languages, religions and civilizations. Languages, religions and civilizations are the most compassionate, tolerant and rich ready to be embraced. There are those of us who make these a means of anger and hatred, crazy dreams, utopias, ideologies and politics. We know the following: if there had never been written narrative in Mesopotamia, the Legend of Gilgamesh would never have been written. Noah's Flood would not have entered the Pentateuch. If the Pentateuch hadn't been created, the Bible and the Qur'an wouldn't exist. Just think about how the tradition of the word and narrative that were created in Mesopotamia has been transmitted. Homer was fed on the stories of the narrative heritage from Mesopotamia, Ovid and Virgil who continued from where Homer left off, and especially Dante who is accepted as one of the three literary guides for future generations that used Greek and Latin narrative traditions – Cervantes, Shakespeare, Goethe, Hugo, Tolstoy and the others who built literature's immortal modern works – Kavafis, Proust, Joyce, Mann, Broch, Eliot, Perse, Seferis, Hikmet, Johnson, Shamlou and innumerable other writers and poets.

Today we speak of the history of world literature as the totality of all of these in every language, region and culture. And when we look at this history closely, we see with all its nakedness an unsurprising reality -- the heritage of language, word, narrative and culture is universal. In spite of all the clashes, anger, hate and prejudice, it is universal. So as to what creates such a magnificent and rich history is the productive relations and creative dialogue between languages, religions, words and narratives. The clashes that exist for this reason are not cultures and civilizations but have to be seen as the clash of ideologies and politics.

However there is one painful truth. Today these clashes that continue in our heads are still distancing languages, religions, cultures and civilizations from each other. It is driving this part of the world into isolation. Everybody, but mostly us, believed in the power of the word and narrative. It broadened the world of feeling and thought for man through the words and narratives created; it created a reservoir of memory related to the past; it could connect the disasters that individuals have undergone and the artists who know their duty is to write about the strength of compassion and sacrifice, patience and endurance. It is necessary to stand against this crazy animosity that is the soul of man, according to Faulkner's expression. So we have to give tongue everywhere to Goethe's bequest. And naturally it is not only giving tongue to it, we have to struggle as well to realize this bequest.

A world literature is possible by uniting a language, a word and a narrative dialogue that really includes the whole world. It is impossible to achieve this while forgetting languages, the past, the times and places that especially were cast out of history and time while for some reason part of the world passed by blindly. Just as they turned the world and especially the whole region in which they were found into a place of anger and hate, let's not behave as fakes and hypocrites. If we really believe in the honor of the word and if we say that this was the honor of man, then we have to work for a world of universal literature.

I am sure that Goethe, in expressing his famous wish, was thinking of the literary tradition on this side of the world, the cultural heritage, the classic poets and Hafiz. Taking Hafiz who wrote a divan as an example, I really believe that a universal literature was what Goethe sincerely had in mind in thinking about all of the world's languages, religions, word and narratives. Goethe's sincerity and unprejudiced intellectual rectitude that he proved in the literary works he created are very influential today.

4. From here to a few hundred kilometers away Hafiz's country today is impatient and under a dark regime that has usurped power. In that country writers who wanted to establish an innocent writers' union were killed, the opposition writers, poets and intellectuals were drown in torture in the infamous Evin Prison, the opposition intellectuals outside the country couldn't escape this terror and were killed by special killers dispatched for that purpose. The situation in Hafiz's country that goes for the whole region as well shows us one more time that this conference that we see as a first step is so important; without seeing Diyarbakir, Hafiz's beautiful cities of Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, Mahabat and the cities in other parts of the entire region as our places, without the support of words and narratives that are in a very difficult situation in the region and the support of individuals and intellectuals, we have to understand integration the feeling and thought of World Literature will remain a dream.

The region's expression of itself, the remembrance of all the evils, re-meeting its past, the cleansing of its language, word and narrative, bringing it to a dynamic and modern condition, reaching these out to the world isn't just the region's duty but also it is ours. So I want to thank the municipality of Diyarbakir that has generously hosted the International Pen Club that has succeeded in bringing this conference here, UNESCO and the Kurdish and Turkish PEN Clubs. Because of their efforts for the first time in modern history the Kurdish and Turkish languages, literatures, writers, intellectuals in such a cordial and friendly atmosphere far from anger, hatred and prejudices are meeting and talking and engaging in productive dialogue. I am sure that this dialogue will influence directly the neighborhood and cities as well as the language and literary intellectuals directly and these types of efforts will increase and gain speed, and the winds of hope will blow over the entire region where individual rights and laws and the honor of the word and humans are concerned.

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