By state permission, and with a little guile, Kurdish theater group Destar staged a Kurdish play at the Van State Theater last week.
In accordance with state theater application procedures, Destar Theater agreed with an organization company to stage the play in the eastern city of Van. The company then changed the name of the play into Turkish and applied to the Van State Theater.
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, playwright Berfin Zenderlioğlu said, "The permission was given because the name was Turkish. It was only later on that they found out the script was in Kurdish. We were asked to apply officially once again in order to be able stage the play. We did and they accepted."
State of emergency and Kurdish theater
The atmosphere has changed radically since Turkey declared a state of emergency from 1987 to 2002 to ensure security in the eastern and southeastern regions of the country. Scriptwriter and director of the play Mirza Metin said during that time, tanks were kept outside the theaters during performances of free theater artists for security reasons.
"Plain clothes policemen used to come to the theater and we had to perform our plays in the company of police radios. We were sometimes taken into custody and set free when they understood that we were theater artists," said Metin.
But Zenderlioğlu said this time they did not face similar problems. "State Theaters General Director Lemi Bilgin’s recent statement that theaters are open to Kurdish plays is in effect," she dded.
Metin said Destar was a theater group against war and violence, adding that they had been living on the same Anatolian land with Turks and other ethnic cultures for centuries. "We are against the policies that are created by the system that makes the public become an enemy of itself. As a theater group, we are trying to find a way to make an exchange in the field of culture," he said.
Zenderlioğlu, stating that Destar was founded in 2008, said they applied to theater clubs and national festivals but often received negative replies. "None of our applications were accepted. They said it was because Kurdish is not understood by the audience," she said. Metin said they invited Turkish theater masters to view their plays to benefit from their experience and observations, but he complained about them, saying, "They say the same thing. They say they don’t understand Kurdish and do not come to visit us. I want to ask them, how do they understand the language when they go to a play abroad?"
Metin said dialogue between two publics is not possible unless prejudices are removed. "We can become close to each other at least through culture and arts. Art doesn’t have a language or a religion. It is peaceful and can be a mediator."
Zenderlioğlu said she could not study in her own language because Kurdish was banned in Turkey until recently, adding that she sometimes has difficulty in speaking fluently on stage. She said her Turkish is more fluent than her Kurdish, and explained the reason why she did not act in Turkish plays. "I have a mission and that is to keep my language and culture alive."
Man ’nightmare,’ woman ’puppet’ in play
Metin and Zenderlioğlu, both 28, decided to write a play about gender relations and so, last year in just three months, they wrote "Reşe Şeve" (Nightmare). The play features the fact that women are surrounded by a male-dominated system. "While directing the play, I questioned myself as a man," Metin said.
In the play, which features two people, the arms of the female character are tied with ropes just like puppets and are managed by a man who is "Nightmare." Throughout the 75-minute play, the male and female characters criticize society and the chaos that has ensued thanks to the male-dominated system.
Talks have been continuing to perform the play next season at the French Culture Center. It will also join international festivals.