Decades of simmering tensions between Turkey and its large Kurdish population have recently shown clear signs of relaxing, a change that was on visual display at this month's Golden Orange Film Festival in the Mediterranean city of Antalya. Some of the films in competition this year were in the Kurdish language, an event that would have once been illegal in Turkey. But there are still tensions over the Kurdish minority's cultural identity.
|Turkish Kurdish women wave traditional headscarf celebration of Kurdish New Year in city of Diyarbakir, 21 March 2009 |
One film at this year's Golden Orange Festival showed the execution of a Kurdish couple in front of their children by Turkish secret police. The scene comes from the film, Min Dit, which details Turkey's so called "dirty war" against Kurdish separatists. The story is told through the eyes of the two surviving children of the couple who were killed. But what proved to be most controversial aspect of the film is not its subject, but the language.
The film was shot in Kurdish, a language that was banned in public in Turkey until 1991 and was only allowed on state television in 2004. Although Kurds make up about one fifth of the population, films in the Kurdish language are virtually unknown. For Turkish kurdish director Miraz Bezar the decision of the Antalya film festival to choose his film for its national competition came as relief.
"When we did the film we just didn't know where or when its going to be shown in Turkey. Because when we wrote and shot it we just did not know would Turkey be that far to show it. because its very paradox, on one way they allow kurdish tv on state television. On the other side they forbid kurdish parliamentarians to talk in their mother tongue. So we did the first step to shoot it in kurdish and theme that is taboo. And yes you need someone to follow you, to support us in a way just to show it. And we were happy that did it. so I was really relieved," he said.
Both the film's subject and its language proved controversial.
This woman shouts at Bezar's news conference that he is dividing our country. She called him a disgrace.
While the film's first screening at the festival saw many people walking out in protest, while much of the remaining audience applauded.
Speaking at the end of film the comments were positive. This man's view was typical. "Its a very important film, this man says, especially for peace in Turkey. He says most of the Turkish people think that the is no Kurdish mother language. They think its just a few little words but not a language. But, he says, this film shows the language, and like Turkish people, there are Kurdish people," he said.
But Min Dit was not the only film at the festival to deal with country's Kurdish taboo.
One documentary explores the plight of a teacher who is desperately trying to teach Kurdish children, but most don't understand a word of Turkish, the language used at the school. The seemingly impossible task is shown in the documentary "On The Way to School", by Ozgur Dogan and Orhan Eskikoy.
The film follows the trials and tribulations of Emre Aydin, a young and enthusiastic teacher sent to the predominantly rural Kurdish southeast to teach. For Dogan who is Kurdish it was story that had to be told.
"Our biggest expectation is to start a discussion over this film," he says. He says Kurds view education being taught in their native language as a basic human right. He says the problem is that both the students and the teachers are victims. He says, when he started school at seven, he only spoke Kurdish and it was difficult for both the teachers and students, a fact he says that he wanted to reflect in the film.
In the documentary, Aydin explains to his mother how difficult teaching is and that he is exhausted. Those telephone conversations which appear throughout the film make it easy to empathize with the teacher, along with his desperate efforts to communicate with the children.
The documentary is purely observational and critics say its avoids being didactic, helping to broaden its appeal.
And that approach was rewarded at the festival with the directors winning best first new film. That success was broadcast live on Turkish TV. The documentary is now being screened in cinemas across the country. Observers say the emergence of kurdish in Turkish cinemas, will help to finally end the country's taboo over its Kurdish identity.