The birth of the guerrilla film II – My way…

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The films that we have made in the mountains over the past five years, from Tîrêj to Bêrîtan3, do not belong only to us. These films belong to all guerrilla fighters who live in the mountains. That is the most beautiful thing about the mountains. Here everything that is created belongs to everyone. From the military actions to the most ordinary work, everything belongs to everyone. Everything is accepted by everyone as if they had done it themselves. Then it is discussed and what is wrong or missing is criticized. All our projects have gone through these stages. Not only our film team, but all guerrilla units in the mountains have discussed our films and criticism has come from many different sides. These films belong to all guerrilla fighters who live in the mountains. That is the most beautiful thing about the mountains. Here everything that is created belongs to everyone. From the military actions to the most ordinary work, everything belongs to everyone. Everything is accepted by everyone as if they had done it themselves. Then it is discussed and what is wrong or missing is criticized. All our projects have gone through these stages. Not only our film team, but all guerrilla units in the mountains have discussed our films and criticism has come from afar. At first this was not easy for me. In the beginning I had difficulties to accept criticism from friends who have no idea about cinema. No guerrilla here had any experience with filming. But every guerilla had something to say. At the beginning I thought most of the criticism was wrong.

Later I realized something essential. I told stories about the guerrillas. But my friends couldn’t recognize themselves in my work. That showed that I didn’t express the guerrilla correctly. This reality was hidden behind their words and criticism. This showed me that I had not yet succeeded in grasping their heart. Afterwards I went deeper and more profoundly. I tried to listen to the guerrillas better and to go deeper into what was essential. None of them had any academic knowledge about filming. Some of them hadn’t seen a single film for years. But they treated my work as if it were theirs, criticized it accordingly and sometimes got upset.

At first I was often offended, but later I learned to love this attitude. The fact that they saw my work, a film made by me, as their own work and wished for something better made me happy. And I noticed that something had accumulated in me during all this time. When I set out to tell stories about the guerrillas, I had to listen to them until the end and feel them in my heart.

That’s why I first presented each project to the guerrillas. Now I took even the most common evaluations seriously. The truth hidden in these evaluations should show me the right way. The art was hidden in the words of the guerrillas, I could feel that now. And now I had managed to seize and identify the biggest weakness of the Kurdish artists, the Kurdish filmmakers in my own soul.

For an artist, the first step is to understand the contradictions of the people. Otherwise, neither academic titles nor the best technical education will bring success. The artist must first ask himself what his people are going through, what their basic contradictions are. He must not only ask himself this question and provide answers, but also live these contradictions. The artist stands neither in front of nor behind his people, but in the middle of them. He/she must not regard his/her people as an object to be thematized in any field of art, but must live them as the subject of his/her life. If he/she wants to make a film about war, he/she must immerse himself/herself in the world of the fighters. If he/she wants to make a film about his/her people, he/she must bring the struggles between the Kurdish people and the Turkish state in the alleys and streets of Amed in spring 20064 to the screen. If he/she wants to make a film about a child, he/she has to hear with his/her own ears the words of a mother who carries her child killed by the police in her arms, see it with his/her own eyes.

The artist does not view his people from the distance, but lives in the midst of his people. A director whose life is separated from that of his people, whose thoughts are those of a refugee and whose feelings are those of a stranger, can still make films. But it will not be the cinema of one’s own people. A true artist is one who laughs, cries, fights shoulder to shoulder on the streets with his people and is ready to die with them if necessary. As filmmakers of another people it would perhaps be much easier for us to make films. Maybe then we would not talk about all this at all. But if we have made it our goal to create art and cinema as artists of a people fighting a guerilla war, then we have to question our own lives.

Until the film Bêrîtan, I listened calmly to the criticism of hundreds of guerrilla fighters. These people are the children of the people. Their words are the words of a people. I myself asked the silent ones for their opinion. I wanted to hear how close I was to the people and their children. Before every film project I always spent a lot of time in the guerrilla units. I tried to smell the smell of sweat on their faces, to read the longing on their lips, to grasp the love in their hearts. This is my way in the cinema.

Fairy tale and melody…

Actually the stories behind my films are bigger than the films themselves. This song started somewhere long before me. At some point I listened to its sound and much later I started to sing the song myself, albeit with shame.

The fact that I myself am a witness to my stories is again a greater difficulty. If I had only listened to these stories or read them somewhere, my work might be easier. In the beginning I thought it would be an advantage to have experienced these stories, and the pain, sadness and feelings hidden in them, myself. In time I realized that this was not the case. I lacked the knowledge and experience to tell a story cinematically. For a long time I held myself back because of this. But I had to start somewhere, so that I could do justice to my task with time. Therefore I had to sacrifice my first stories to my lack of experience. Still this makes me sad. The desire to shoot the film Tîrêj again is still like a twinge deep inside me.

I have recognized the following reality: The secret of Kurdish cinema is not in reality but in fairy tales. I won’t tell a story I don’t belong to, I won’t find myself in, I won’t find myself in a story that is not part of my soul. Tîrêj lived in these mountains before me. He was a doctor and lived in these mountains as a guerrilla commander. I met him only once on the paths of these mountains. Only his stature and his eyes remained in my memory. Years later, on the night he was wounded, in the indescribable coolness of the night, next to a four-thousand-year-old melody, I listened to his last words over the radio. While he was lying wounded in his position, humbly saying “Greetings to all comrades, condolences to the Kurdish people”, I could not hold back my tears. These last words of Tîrêj hit me in the depths of my heart.

My films are inspired by true fairy tales. But every time I look at the end result, I think that this time it didn’t work out either. However, I prefer to go on rather than wait. If I would have had the opportunity to watch movies in the beginning, some directors would have influenced me for sure. But at that time we had no access to films. Now I think it’s good that there was no access. I was not influenced by directors, I was influenced by writers in making films. For example, the character analyses of Victor Hugo, the incredible motives of Orhan Pamuk and the stories of Murathan Mungan from Kurdistan may have been the real reason for my films. In my opinion, they are very strong writers. But I have been able to capture great images in their works. The strong structure and narrative forms in their books have deeply influenced me. Of course I can’t come between them, but I can’t deny their contribution to guerrilla films. I still have a book by one of these three writers with me before every shoot. Which book it should be I do not decide myself. As if they would decide it among themselves, one of their books always waits for me at the beginning of each shoot. Silently they tell their own fairy tale and suddenly become part of the film.

The secret of Kurdish cinema is not hidden in the word but in the melody …

I am convinced that Kurdish filmmakers cannot create a cinema only through Kurdish films or the presentation of Kurdish themes. The depth of Kurdish music can also be an example for cinema. No matter where and under what circumstances, Kurdish melodies can always be heard. Between all sounds and tones they are recognizable. During the shooting of Bêrîtan I worked with a Kurdish girl. At each break I asked this beautiful girl from the mountains of Hakkari to sing us a song. I did not know why myself. I also didn’t know what exactly I found in her Kurdish songs that I didn’t understand. Maybe it is just a dream, but in my films I try to capture the unique melody of Kurdish music and the reality hidden in Kurdish fairy tales. This four-thousand-year-old vein, these fairy tales and melodies still form the core of Kurdish art today. The starting point of the Kurdish film is also not far from us, but hidden in the undeniable reality where fairy tales and melody meet: the Dengbêj culture5. I wish I could understand it. That is my self-criticism.


In these mountains there is a saying that the guerrillas like to use. If you go into the mountains one day, it may be the first thing you hear. Your guide will then say “The best path is the one you know” and he/she will lead you along paths he/she knows very well. That this is not just a saying, but that it comes from the heart of the guerrilla, I understood during my life in the mountains. This sentence is even hidden in the hidden corners of the consciousness of the Kurdish people. I felt it in the wastelands of the soul of every Kurd I met.

With time I realized that this unwritten principle is the framework of my life in the mountains and my works are taking shape according to this principle. Now I always have to laugh when this sentence, which our guide said years ago, comes to my mind. I believe that both Kurdish cinema and the Kurd himself are strongly connected to this pure reality. This is also the cipher of the heart of the Kurdish people. I am aware that Kurdish filmmakers cannot reach the Kurdish people without solving this cipher and deciphering the codification of Kurdish lives. I must add at this point that it is not possible to achieve universal principles without capturing one’s own people. The way to the others is through ourselves. Nothing universal lies beyond ourselves.

The Kurdish people are not similar to any other people in their historical development. While most of the peoples on earth have gone through similar developments, the Kurdish people have either continued their development in their own way or where there was no possibility, they have stopped their development or even put an end to their lives. What I want to say is this: the Kurdish people have either followed their own way in their history or not at all. They have preferred the paths that were created from mountain cliffs to the asphalt roads of civilization. Not because of ignorance, but because of the inclination to freedom in their soul. Maybe it is this characteristic that has made the Kurds the oldest people in history and the main artery through which civilization has emerged.

I cannot know when Kurdish cinema will capture this reality. “What are we but history? What else but nothing are we together with our history?” asked the beautiful man on the island İmralı6. He pointed out that the Kurdish artist has to start in the history of his people. The nature of the Kurdish person refuses to be someone else’s repetitive, worn out, rough draft. Hundreds of years ago, she prefers to remain patiently in her own simplicity without wrapping herself in the form of another. That is the colour of the Kurds. The Kurdish artists and filmmakers must be able to capture this colour. Let us not forget that all the paths of history have passed through Kurdistan, but the Kurdish people have continued to open new paths in the mountains. We can call this rebelliousness or stubbornness. Whatever we call it, it is the Kurdish attitude. We can’t call it anything else. The Kurdish artist must capture this Kurdish attitude, this tendency towards freedom. Of course Kurds entered the field of film very late. Civilization is perhaps a century ahead of the Kurds in this field. None of us can deny the values that have been created by the art of film so far. The Kurdish filmmaker must explore, learn and appropriate these values.

But beyond that, it is more important that Kurdish filmmakers follow their own path. We can walk on the paths of others, do successful work, make Kurdish women the subject of our films and be applauded. But this does not mean that we are Kurdish filmmakers and make Kurdish cinema. I am aware of the fact that cinema is a market under today’s conditions and that you have to enter this market to bring your products to the masses. I know that the Kurdish film tries to build an existence between the teeth of this wheel. I can feel here, from the mountains, that Kurdish film makers are having difficulties because they do not have their own sector, their own market. But at the same time, I see the desire and longing to exist within this market as a shame for Kurdish filmmakers. I know that in order to make a film, financial resources and support are necessary, but to think that the real problem of Kurdish film is the non-existent market is a mistake. In my opinion, Kurdish cinema cannot exist inside this market, but only outside it. I prefer that Kurdish films are secretly passed from hand to hand by young people, illegally but with a heart, rather than being put on the agenda from time to time like an oriental item within the market. Just as the Kurdish guerrilla has opened the way that leads the Kurdish people to freedom in the hiding places of the forests, the Kurdish film-makers must also have the courage to step into these forests. Just as the very young children of the Kurdish people have set out on their own path, history expects the Kurdish artists to take the same step. If art is a venture, we have to dare. Let us not go to the market places. Let’s not build our cinema in the midst of reductive trade relations, but on the basis of cooperative relations. I am guerrilla. As long as the sword of denial and annihilation is waved over the Kurdish people, I will live in the mountains with the weapon in my hand. Today I am a cameraman, tomorrow a photographer, the day after tomorrow a bread maker. When I am needed on the mountain tops, I am there. If I’m needed on guard duty, I’ll be there. If I have to march through the night, I will. I’m ready for any task the Kurdish people give me. I don’t know if I will make another film or not. But if those who have to do this task don’t do it, then I will be a director again.


3Berîtan: Film made by Halil Dağ in 2006 about the struggle of the Kurdish guerrilla fighter Gülnaz Karataş, fight name Bêrîtan. Bêrîtan joined the armed resistance at the age of twenty as a student in 1991. Within a short time she rose to become a guerrilla commander. Despite her very short time of only one and a half years in the mountains, she played a major role in the gender and class struggle within the PKK and posthumously exerted great influence on the development of the autonomous women’s movement. Bêrîtan lost her life in the so-called “Southern War” waged by the Turkish army and the KDP-Peshmerga in autumn 1992. She fought until the last bullet against the advancing enemy and then first destroyed her rifle and then threw herself off the cliffs to avoid falling into the hands of the Peshmerga.

4On 24 March 2006, 14 PKK guerrilla fighters were killed by the Turkish army with chemical weapons. Six of the murdered fighters were from the city of Amed (Turkish: Diyarbakır). On 28 March, they were buried by thousands and afterwards the biggest Kurdish uprising since 1999 took place. 13 people were killed.

5Dengbêj = Kurdish folk singer who performs songs without instrumental accompaniment according to an old epic tradition.

6This refers to Abdullah Ocalan, who has been imprisoned on the prison island İmralı in the Marmara Sea since February 1999.