CHRIS KUTSCHERA 40 YEARS of JOURNALISM (Texts and Photos)

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KURDISTAN IRAQ : The songs of Shvan Perwer

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ZoragvanHe has sung with his band in some of the best halls around the world, in Australia, New Zealand, America, North Africa, and all over Europe, almost everywhere it seeems, except in his native Turkey. But today he is singing in the open air, in the mountains of Kurdistan Iraq, at Zoragvan, near the village of Billeh, in the district of Barzan. Sitting on a small hill looking like a natural auditorium, hundreds of Kurdish villagers, men dressed in their traditional chalwar (Kurdish trousers) and red turban, women and small girls in their colourful long dresses, applaud Shvan Perwer, probably the world's most famous Kurdish singer.

So why was Shvan Perwer singing at Zoragvan, a small hamlet which does not figure on any map and is situated at the end of a a tiring two and a half hours' drive from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan?

"The struggle of these people started from these villages", says Shvan Perwer. "Barzan means a lot to us, it gave birth to many Kurdish heroes, Sheikh Abdes Salam Barzani, Sheikh Ahmed Barzani and general Barzani… Sheikh Abdes Salam asked for freedom, for a nation. And each family gave a martyr. Many children have no father, and many women lost their husbands. They are so sad they don't want to marry again. They keep their martyred husband in their heart", he adds, recalling the tragic events of July 1983, when 8.000 Barzani males, aged between 14 and 70, were rounded up by Saddam Hussein's security forces and taken to the deserts of Southern Iraq, summarily executed and buried in the sand. "These village people and me we belong to the same family", concludes Shvan Perwer,

dancing with Kurdish flagShvan Perwer was born in 1955 in a village between Diyarbekir and Urfa, in Kurdistan Turkey. His father, a farmer, had a beautiful voice and played the Kurdish flute. His mother and his uncles were also musical. In short, he was born into a family of musicians. After he left Turkey in 1976 he studied music in Germany and became a militant singer -- at one time close to PKK-- and he has not been allowed to come back to Turkey for the last 32 years. "But we will see freedom for all Kurdistan", claims Shvan Perwer, "it is not a fantasy, but a reality. Twenty years ago, I wrote a song called "Dream Song" … I met Sheikh Said and Seyid R eza, as well as other leaders of Kurdish uprisings in the first half of the 20th century, and all of them said "Yes, you will see free Kurdistan". "Indeed, today, my dream has come true".

Kurdistan Iraq was free - partially free -- in 1991, after the Kurdish uprising, when Shvan Perwer visited for the first time and gave a concert at Rowanduz, a beautiful city carved in the mountain. "I tried to give some hope to the Kurdish refugees coming back from Turkey and Iran… At that time the Iraqi Kurds were in big trouble: they were oppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime who wanted to wreak genocide on the Kurds. It was so brutal. Remember the situation then. Everything -- villages and cities --was destroyed". "Now", observes Shvan Perwer, "it is like paradise. There are schools, universities, highways… And we have a regional republic (sic), a democratic parliament. All the Kurdish parties are working together in the parliament. Slowly we are going to see a social-democracy".

men dancingDuring his concert at Zoragvan Shvan Perwer sang his well known political songs and also his lyrical love songs. Soon the crowd came down from the hill and started dancing in front of the makeshift podium, men and women waving the Kurdish flag, which was flown for the first time in 1946 when Qazi Mohammed established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran, the same flag that now flies all across Iraqi Kurdistan. It was a happy day the villagers of Barzan will never forget.

"This flag is the symbol of the Kurdish nation", noted Shvan Perwer,."all people have a symbol. Without a symbol there is no nation.We have fought long and hard to raise this flag in our sky. It is the symbol of the culture and the folklore of our nation".

Shvan Perwer left Zoragvan promising that his next big concert would be at Halabja, if possible on the 16 March -- in memory of the day in 1988 the inhabitants of Halabja were bombed with chemicals. Slowly but surely the Kurds are reclaiming what was lost for so long.

(The Middle East magazine, January 2009)

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