Kurdish cinema is often considered a typical case of ‘cinemas of conflict’ (Smets 2014) and in the common understanding, the Kurds themselves are generally associated with the idea of conflict. In our blog contribution1 we argue that films can offer views on Kurdish life outside of conflicts and thus contribute to peace. Our article examined how four Turkish–Kurdish films (Kilamek Ji Bo Beko, Güneşi Gördüm, Min Dît-The Children of Diyarbakır, and Meş) understand and represent the Kurdish Question, the Kurdish self, and the opposing other and how this influences the scope of plausible political behaviour. We highlight how both visualizations of negative and positive peace are present in the films, but also in what the films enable and produce.
Role of film for peace
The study of films offers insights into how aesthetics inform, determine, enable, and naturalize specific interpretations and actions. Such approaches have challenged mainstream assumptions that reality, including politics, exists a priori and can be accessed, understood, and represented objectively and truthfully using the right theories and concepts (Bleiker 2001: 509–510). Therefore, film as a source of representation and cinema as a cultural practice are highly political since they constitute specific interpretation of reality. As such, film broadens the scope of ideas for possible behaviour and solutions to old conflicts, such as the ‘Kurdish question’. The ‘Kurdish Question’ is not only a conflict about independence, sovereignty and power but also about norms, culture and identity (Gunter 2004: 197). There is a desire in many parts of the Kurdish population for a more comprehensive level of autonomy. The Kurdish culture and identity remains however excluded from the (official) discourse on Kurdishness in Turkey (Çiçek 2011; Kraidy and Al-Ghazzi 2013). Films can play a crucial role there because they contain subversive messages, “moments when prevailing identities are challenged and new forms of political narratives emerge” (Duncombe & Bleiker 2015). Images of us and others matter for political communities and “play an important role in presenting identity such that we feel happiness, pride, and even love for our nation” (Duncombe & Bleiker 2015). We therefore argue that films play a significant role in opening new imaginaries on the Kurdish questions and thereby create favorable conditions to a potential peaceful relationship and the contestation of simple readings of Kurdish identity in opposition to the Turkish State. By looking at Kurdish-Turkish films, our ambition is to explore these cultural sites where prevailing ideas about Kurdish people are challenged and to redeploy our analysis of films as a visualization of conflict to a visualization of peace.
Visualization of peace as absence of violence
A first way to apprehend the presence of peace within the films is by identifying in our analysis of the films setting, characterization and emplotment elements that can be associated to peace or the absence of violence. For instance, a recurring physical setting of the films is the mountain, whereby the mountain is seen as a refuge and can be understood as a symbol for peace. In Kilamek Ji Bo Beko the mountains are depicted as the sanctuary of the Kurds from the persecution and repression of unfavourable states and as hideouts from where the armed ‘liberation’ struggle against the oppressor is fought. In Güneşi Gördüm, the mountains are the safe space where prayers and petitions take place, and thanks and sorrows are voiced. The cultural setting matters as well since the Kurds sense of community and belonging, the strong family ties and sense of togetherness can be perceived as peaceful. Those are made visible through the depiction of moments of shared cultural practices (dancing, singing, telling stories etc.). Regarding the characterization, Kurds are framed as people and subjects who pursue peace. What is more, the presence of children in Mes and Min Dit is noteworthy since children commonly stand for innocence, future and hope and therefore, can be associated to peace. Min Dît literally takes the perspective of a child; scenes are shot from a child’s angle, making adults appear as headless, intimidating talking figures with incomprehensible behaviour. Lastly, the plots of the four films highlight the resilience of the Kurdish people confronted to repression, imprisonment and displacement. All films show how this context, productive of a shared hardship and a common experience, contributes to bring the Kurds together.
The long-lasting influence of the films on peace
Mountain, community, family, children and resistance are commonly associated to peace. However, we would like to take our analysis a step further to apprehend how these films can also be understood as vehicle for a sustainable peace. First of all, these images re-humanize and personalize the Kurdish ‘other’ for the Turkish audience as these familiar features and habits of caring parents contradict the official representation of Kurds as either terrorists or co-conspirators. By making Kurdishness visible, by reframing Kurdish identity and by circulating this new imaginary, Kurds are enabled as people to represent themselves. However, the depiction of Kurds is not one-sided and the films present the various and complex ways Kurdish people act, whether it is through armed resistance, civil disobedience or complicity. Each film sheds a different light, showing that the Kurdish people cannot be fixed in a single, clear-cut identity but are navigating the complex terrain of a (violently) imposed (negative) stereotypical identity. In fact, they are shown to be constantly re-defining their cultural practices and habits in a situation of exile. At the same time, the Turkish families are characterized not as enemies but as victims as well. Therefore, the films offer not only complex readings of the Kurdish struggle but also of the Turkish-Kurdish relationship. Taken together, they reject the clear-cut delineation between enemies and victims and prevent the attribution of blames. Therefore, they jam the escalation of the conflict and break the circle of violence by bringing forward more similarities between Turkish and Kurdish people than fractions.
The Kurdish films analysed illustrate the multiplicity of discourses within the Kurdish community. This depiction of variety within the Kurdish discourse has repercussions for the range of plausible behaviour not only for the protagonist within the films but also for the audience of the film and the people involved in the conflict. The films can offer a new perspective on the past and personalize the Kurdish Question and Kurdish ‘other’ through familiar images of the everyday life of ordinary people.
Another dimension that deserves further attention is the production of the films themselves. Since they involved mixed crews of Turkish and Kurdish people, one can assume that through the act of shooting the films, a peaceful encounter was made possible. Investigating the production process of the films would be a fruitful next step as it could shed light on the relationships that emerged on the set. Where those relationships tense and conflictual? Did they change over time? Where they the outcome of long-lasting friendships? We can only assume here that by working together and bringing people together, the films fostered new and peaceful encounters and that film-making in itself can be seen as a practice that fosters sustainable peace. Finally, the practice of watching films as well can be seen as integral to peace because these films are widely circulated inside the community. They can be the source of discussion and shared understanding and thereby resist dominant representations and their violent outcome.
About the Authors
Daniel Beck is a research fellow and lecturer at the chair of International Relations, Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany. He holds a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from Magdeburg University and a bachelor’s in History and Political Science. His research focus is on political humour, post-structuralist approaches and visuality. His most recent publication, titled ‘‘Our Sofa was the Front’- Ontological Insecurity and the German Government’s Humourous Heroification of Couch Potatoes During COVID-19’, was published in German Politics.
Morgane Desoutter works as a research assistant and lecturer at the chair of International Relations of the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany and at the Swiss Distance University Institute. She graduated with a M.A. from the Franco-German integrated degree program in Political Science atthe University of Münster and at Sciences Po Lille. Her research focus lies on the nexus of Popular Culture and World Politics and on Critical, Feminist and Poststructuralist Theories of International Relations.
Bezar, M. (Producer & Director) 2009. Min Dît – The Children of Diyarbakır [Motion Picture]. Turkey: Bezar Film Corazón International. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1410272/
Kilgi, A. (Producer) & Abdi, S. (Director) 2011. Meş [Motion Picture]. Turkey: Real Fiction. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1873580/
Tokat, M. (Producer) & Kırmızıgül, M. (Director) 2009. Güneşi Gördüm [Motion Picture]. Turkey: Boyut Film. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1347521/
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Çiçek, Ö. 2011. The Fictive Archive: Kurdish Filmmaking in Turkey. Journal of Film and Screen Media, 1: 1– 18. http://www.alphavillejournal.com/Issue%201/ArticleCicek.html.
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1 Our blog contribution is based on the article:
Laura S.T. Rehbein, Daniel Beck, Morgane Desoutter, Tina Rosner-Merker & Alexander Spencer. 2021. Kurdish Narratives of Conflict: the Politics of the Kurdish Question in Turkish Cinema, Journal of War & Culture Studies, DOI: 10.1080/17526272.2021.2000729