“Tu kulîlka azadî yî (You are the flower of freedom)
Strana welatê me yî (You are the song of our homeland)
Hespê şeh î dibezî (The kings horse runs)
Çîyan û zinaran, bira” (The mountains and rocks are brothers) *
“Revolutionary is he who determines his own destiny,” an Irish poet once wrote. When we talk about rebellious, revolutionary artists, we see that they not only determine their own fate; they live it. They share their lives, reproduce themselves in the presence of others and leave us an heritage, which invites and inspires us to action. We follow them, find them and merge with them into one.
Every piece of earth that breathes a soul into a person has its own melody; it is the earth on which we were born, grew up. We feel her under our feet and inhale her fragrance deep inside us. It is her warm sounds that make their way from our ears into our souls, which inspire us, help us grow, wrap us and carry us from the past into the future.
Here, the story of a voice is told. A voice that embraces us with the sound of earth, of history and beliefs, of pain, losses and utopias. For his family and friends he was Melek (Turkish for “angel”), for his companions Doctor Cuma and Şengal. I am talking about Evdilmelik Şêxbekir, the founder and soloist of the band Koma Amed.
A determined, wise, rousing but sad sound echoes inside every person who hears “Kulîlka Azadiyê” (kurd. The Flower of Freedom) for the first time. An angel appears and becomes a guest in the magic of a river that flows into the hearts.
In search of an angel
Following the path that his voice drew in my mind, I went as far as this country, enchanted by the melancholy of his sound, would allow. The painful part of the search, which was like a lump deep in my heart, enveloped me like a curtain of mourning, which I pushed aside. I followed the path as if answering a beautiful call for freedom that I longed for, dreamed of and hoped for.
It has been many times that I inhaled Melek’s voice deep into me, as if I was breathing the mystical air of a magical forest. I don’t know how often I listened to the enchanting sounds in Melek’s songs. I wanted to search for them, find them, understand them and collect them.
It must be part of the meaning of life and what life wants to tell, that I met Melek’s family on a sunny May day in the middle of a budding spring – 28 years after his departure from this world.
It had been my constant desire to find a trace of this human whose voice had always fascinated me, always accompanied me in my life and whom I admired, and to listen to someone who knew him personally.
When I heard that his sister lives in Qamişlo and is also a doctor, I immediately went to her clinic. After a quarter of an hour of waiting I was called in. While she was expecting a patient, she did not realize that her wound of grief, which had not closed during all this time, would bleed again immediately. A little shy, with a pinch of curiosity I said:
“You are Melek’s sister. I’ve come to ask you to tell me about him.” No sooner had she heard Melek’s name that the tears filled her eyes. At that moment I became aware of the painful reality of certain wounds which time cannot heal, from which pain blossoms again and again, never letting the longing of the heart end. It was our first meeting, but her tears bore the marks of a common past. That’s why neither Samer brought a word over her lips, nor I. We only agreed on the time for our next meeting and said goodbye to each other.
One day Melek will come home…
“I keep dreaming that Melek returns to our house in Amûdê but finds no one there. To keep my dreams from coming true, we never left the house unoccupied. In the house where Melek was born, where he grew up and lived until he parted, relatives of ours now live. I still have hope that one day he will come back.”
Those were the first words of Melek’s sister when we met for the second time. I have the feeling that Samer is often thinking of the time she and Melek spent together. “Did I hurt him often? Did I hurt him? Were the moments when I gave him a big hug too rare? Did I kiss him too rarely? These are the questions I ask myself very often. Everything unfinished between them has turned into a deep wound in Samer’s soul.
“Melek was two years younger than me. He was very successful at school. He was the best in his class. He decided to go to Turkey to study. He passed 98 out of 100 entrance exams. Within only two months he had learned Turkish. His friends were very impressed. He enrolled in the medical faculty of Hacettepe University in Ankara. It was the first time we were separated for a long time. We did not have the opportunity to visit him, so we tried to keep in touch through our relatives in Turkey.
Once my father received a call from a relative. He said that Melek was no longer going to university. We asked here and there for a while until we finally found out that he had transferred to the medical faculty of Istanbul University. Besides his studies he was also working. He never wanted us to send him money.”
The last postcard
Samer takes a deep breath. As deep as if she was going to tell the whole world who Melek was. With both restlessness and melancholy she tells of all that has remained in her memory of her brother: “It was on a summer’s day in 1991 when he came home again. It was his last visit to us. He went away and we never heard from him again. The age difference between the two of us was small, I was the one in our family who was always closest to Melek. Every ten or fifteen days he wrote me a letter, I still have them today. The last i received from him was a postcard. On the motif was a woman standing in the sea and crying. Only her head was visible. My feelings overwhelmed me at the sight of this card. I could not sleep all night.
The next morning I told my family I was going to look for Melek. I went to Ankara first, and from there I went on to Istanbul and visited all his friends. They told me that Melek had already finished his studies and was working successfully as a doctor. One had last seen him ten days ago, the other twenty days ago. I went to the university office. There I found out that Melek had taken two exams at the beginning of September, but had not been to class since. I had only come to Turkey towards the end of October. His friends claimed to know nothing about his whereabouts. At some point a colleague at work said that Melek had gone into the mountains. He reassured me: ‘Melek knows you are here. We told him. He will come’. I waited for days, hoping he would show up. But Melek never came. I kept looking at the postcard with the crying woman. About five or six years later, we were told that he had fallen. We couldn’t believe it. Even today, we still have a hard time realizing his loss. We do not have his bones – maybe that’s why.”
The clearest memory of her brother Melek was his love for his motherland, says Samer. “He felt deeply connected to the Kurdish people and Kurdistan. He would have given his life without hesitation. Melek could not bear injustice. He rejected the Syrian regime of the Ba’ath party. Most of his friends had ended up in the dungeons of the regime while Melek was in Turkey. He himself was also wanted, but since he never stayed more than a few days when he visited us, they could not catch him.
The year Melek left, I had just opened my clinic. Just before he left, he asked me for a bag. I told him: ‘You don’t need another bag, this one is almost new.’ Melek kissed me when he left, hugged me, but for some reason I felt that he was annoyed by me. That feeling stayed inside me. I still regret it very much when I think about why I did not buy him a new bag at that time. Since then I have not left any of my brothers and sisters’ wishes unfulfilled. No matter if it was something urgent or not. I can’t bear the thought that they might resent me.”
Samer expresses the wish that has been burning in her soul for so long: She loves listening to Kulîlka Azadî and Newroz best, but she wishes that all of Melek’s songs will be restored to their real splendor by means of new studio technology.
The wooden chest of Dayê Êdê
A saying goes: “Mountains don’t come together, but people do”. I always waited for Melek, never gave up hope. Until now, he hasn’t come. I am still waiting.” – Dayê Êdê.
When I told Samer I wanted to see Melek’s parents, we went to see them together. It was Dayê Êdê who greeted us. At 85 years of age, she lovingly cares for her companion who has Alzheimer’s disease. Melek’s father has forgotten many things about the past. That he was persecuted by the regime, imprisoned in the notorious prisons. The only thing that still remains in his memory is his son. It must be this phenomenon, that love and longing dominate the consciousness. Even when the mind is diminishing, there is always someone left whom the heart does not forget. “You see, this is my son”, he says to people passing by his house and points to the photos of Melek in his hand.
We say that women are our memory, our history and our mind. Dayê Êdê meets me as a guardian of memory. She carefully keeps all of Melek’s belongings and mementos in a wooden chest. A cassette tape of “Kulîlka Azadiyê” by the band Koma Amed, a photo album, books, magazines… All theses things that Melek’s hands and eyes touched, all what remains of his enchanting voice are in the wooden chest of Dayê Êdê.
As a bird in my dream
As she carefully opens the album with Melek’s photos, Dayê Êdê begins to tell his story. Her voice, choked by tears, leaves not a single detail behind: “As a child, he was often ill. I used to bring him to a doctor here at Qamişlo. Melek was born after four daughters, so I loved him in a special way. He was a spoiled child, I always carried him on my hands. Until the age of seven he slept in my room.
Our house had two floors. Melek’s room was on the top floor. When his friends came, they threw little stones at his windowpane. He’d go downstairs and give them political texts to read. Once I went up the stairs and to his room. I was curious and wanted to know what he was doing. I opened the door and there he was sitting at his table, his head bent over a schoolbook. Inside was a pamphlet. I always told him that there were too few doctors and that he should finish school first. Afterwards he could do whatever he wanted. But he asked “How can Kurdistan be liberated without martyrs?
Once, Melek appeared in my dream in the shape of a bird. I followed him and tried to catch him. But I couldn’t catch him, he flew away. That was when I understood that he would never return.
But Dayê Êdê also remembers all too well funny anecdotes in the life of and with her son: “He once drew a picture of Ernesto Che Guevara, it hung on the wall. When we had our Christian friends over, they asked who it was in the picture. Melek replied: “Oh, it’s my uncle.”
After 28 years of longing, Dayê Êdê and Samer talk for the first time about the hero of this story, Evdilmelik Şêxbekir. Dayê Êdê’s never-ending desire to see her son again is beyond words and weighs heavily. In her heart her angel is close and alive. She sighs deeply, a sigh that feels like it will leave the room and will be heard for miles, and ends the conversation with a melancholy that stems out of the grief she has been in since Melek’s departure: “The pain for Melek is always there. Only when I die and return to the earth it will pass away.”
I owe this article to all those who surrendered to the spell of enchantment and magic in the voice of Evdilmelik Şêxbekir and found their own way with her. And still the song Kulîlka Azadiyê sounds. I continue my way with this beautiful breath of freedom.
Evdilmelik Şexbekir was born in 1968 in the north Syrian city of Amûdê. In 1987 he left Rojava and went to study in Ankara, Turkey. Besides his studies he made music, painted pictures and wrote poems. In 1988 he founded Koma Amed with a group of friends, most of whom were students. The band is among the initiators of a new school of Kurdish music. In 1990 Şexbekir moved to Istanbul, and in the same year, Koma Amed’s first album, “Kulîlka Azadiyê”, was released.
Besides art, Evdilmelik Şexbekirs was mainly interested in politics. Despite the repression of the state, he resolutely dedicated himself to the goal of promoting the development of the Kurdish language and culture and made a major contribution to the laying of the foundation stone of the NÇM (Navenda Çanda Mezopotamya), the Mesopotamian Cultural Centre, which was founded in Istanbul. In September 1991 Evdilmelik Şexbekir joined the Kurdish liberation struggle and joined the guerrilla. Only a few months later, in May of the following year, he fell on the Engizek, a mountain in the province of Gurgum (Turkish: Maraş), in the fight against the Turkish army.
* Kulîlka Azadiyê is the Kurdish translation of the poem Özgürlük Çiçeğimsin by the Turkish writer, publicist and publisher Muzaffer Ilhan Erdost (1932-2020). Erdost wrote the poem for his brother, who died in 1980 in Mamak military prison as a result of torture.