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The Kurds. A People Without a Land?




The Kurds are fighting ISIS in Kobane and controlling a de facto autonomous region in the northern parts of a civil war-ravaged Syria. In Turkey, the Kurdish coalition party HDP surpassed the 10% election threshold in June 2015, ensuring president Erdogan's party AKP's first loss of parliamentary majority since they came to power in 2002. Erdogan responded by calling off the peace talks with the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), and saw the country plunged into a civil war-like state. In Northern Iraq, one no longer talks about Northern Iraq but of Kurdistan, where president Masoud Barzani controls a region with a high degree of autonomy, an economy (until recently) on the rise, with both the will and the strength to act as a regional player.

In a few years, the Kurds have gone from a marginal existence as the world's largest nation without a state to playing a key role in a Middle East creaking at the seams. Where does the road go from here? Many are saying that the borders in the region will have to be redrawn, and with the growing number of assaults on civilians taking place, more and more people are asking how the rights and the safety of the region's many minorities might be ensured. What part will the Kurds play in this situation? Is it possible to envision a new peace process in Turkey? And what will be the outcome for the Kurds of the Syrian civil war?

This political development forms the backdrop for the International Saladin Days 2016, where writers, intellectuals, artists and activists gather to discuss the history, literature, language and outlook of the Kurdish people.



SEDA ALTUĞ Assistant Professor at the the Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History at Boğaziçi University. 


..... is a writer and journalist. His first novel, Tätt intill dagarna: berättelsen om min mor (t: Close to the days: the story of my mother), was published in 2006. For the last few years, he has reported from the war in Syria and the fight for Kobane. This work is the basis for his play, rigen har et kvinnelig ansikt (t: The War Has a Female Face)

SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAŞ chairman of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) and a member of Turkey's Parliament. 


... is an activist and a sociology PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, having studied, among other things, feminism and the Kurdish liberation movement. 


... is Associate Professor at Linnaeus University in Sweden. His most recent book is Contesting Kurdish Identities in Sweden: Quest for Belonging among Middle Eastern Youth.  


... is a poet and translator from Suleimaniya, the Kurdish part of Iraq, where she lives and works at the American University of Iraq. Her last poetry collection, Considering the Women (2015), is based on her research among women surviving the 1988 al-Anfal campaign against the Kurds in Northern Iraq. 


... is a Kurdish poet, short story writer, translator and editor. He studied Greek and Latin in Istanbul, but was expelled from his studies due to his interest in Kurdish language and literature. Nemir is a central figure in the current Kurdish literary golden age in Turkey. He also translates classical texts from the world's literary canon into Kurdish. Since 2002, he has worked on a translation of Ulysses into Kurdish, which will be published by one of the largest publishing housed in Turkey the following autumn.


... is a Professor at the University of Exeter. His most recent book is The Kurdish Question Revisited (2016). 


... is a Professor of sociology at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul and the author of books such as Kurdish Nationalism in Iran: The Forgotten Years (1947-1979) and Modernity and the Stateless: The Kurdish Question in Iran (2012)


... is a leading Kurdish singer and musician. Among his many albums are two put out by the Norwegian record label Kirkelig Kulturverksted, Suvare Krimanciye (2012), in which he described the 1938 genocide on the Kurds, and Kobani (2016), on which Norwegian artists Knut Reiersrud and Mari Boine are among the contributors.




5 PM - Being a Kurd in the 21st Century: Reflections on the History of the Present
Opening lecture by Abbas Vali

The Kurds constitute the largest stateless nation in the contemporary world. Some forty million Kurds live in Kurdistan under the national jurisdiction of the four sovereign states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria which in various ways deny Kurdish national identity and suppress its political and cultural manifestations by the means of law and the force of arms.

The division of Kurdistan after the First World War and the subsequent structural diversity of the Kurdish communities, administered by different political and economic regimes, have deprived the Kurds of political unity and cultural cohesion. Opposition to the suppression and denial of Kurdish identity and resistance to the imposed national identities and strategies of forced assimilation remain the primary cause of Kurdish uprisings and rebellions.

In this lecture, Abbas Vali, born in the Iranian part of Kurdistan and today a Professor of sociology at the Bogazici University in Istanbul, seek to explain the dynamics shaping the contemporary Kurdish history and politics, focusing on the relationship between domination and Kurdish resistance to subjection and assimilation since the advent of the modern nationstate in the Middle East.


7 PM - To be or not to be Kurdish
With Barzoo Eliassi, Kawa Nemir & Dilar Dirik

One of the most signifi cant Kurds in history, Saladin, never fought for the Kurdish cause. The 12th century Army leader had projects he considered more important, a fact that is diffi cult to stomach for many Kurds today. Still, the Kurdish identity project has strong roots; as early as 1692, the writer Ahmad-i Khani formulated the ambition of a Kurdish nation state in his grand epic, Mem and Zin. But what does being a Kurd really entail? What God do you worship, what is your language, your political and national affi liation? How does your gender affect your Kurdish identity, and what does this look like today? War and persecution has forced many Kurds into exile. What does the Kurdish diasporic identity look like?

Writer and translator Kawa Nemir belongs to a generation that has experienced a golden age for Kurdish language and literature in Turkey. The academic Barzoo Eliassi has studied identity and belonging in the Kurdish diaspora, while Dilar Dilik has studied gender and identity among Syrian Kurds. The three of them will meet poet Endre Ruset for a conversation about what it means to be Kurdish.



5 PM - The minorities of Turkey
With Seda Altuğ, Gareth Stansfi eld and Abbas Vali

World War I saw the Osman Empire fall, while a number of new states saw the light of day, among them Turkey. The new country’s population was not very homogeneous, and consisted of a number of different ethnic groups in addition to the Turks, among them Kurds, Armenians and Yazidis.

What status were given to the various ethnic groups? To what extent were they allowed to practice their own religions, speak their own languages and retain a visible culture? And to what extent was this considered a threat to the Turkish assimilatory nation state project? How has the situation changed for the various minorities over the years that have passed since the creation of the Turkish state?

Historian Seda Altuğ gives an introduction before meeting political scientist Gareth Stansfi eld, sociologist Abbas Vali and writer Mustafa Can in conversation. Musical contribution by Ferhat Tunç.

The seminar is a collaboration between Kirkelig kulturverksted and The House of Literature.


7 PM - The Saladin Lecture 2016

By Selahattin Demirtaş


In the June 2015 Turkish general election, the Kurdish coalition party HDP surpassed the election threshold, and with 13 per cent of the votes, they ensured that the sitting president Erdogan’s party AKP lost the parliamentary majority for the first time since they came to power in 2002.

Erdogan responded by calling off the peace talks they had been leading since 2013 with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), that has been fighting for Kurdish independence since 1978. Suddenly, the country found itself in a civil war-like state, described by many as the worst Turkey has seen in decades.

In the middle of this situation is Selahattin Demirtaş, chairman of the HDP and one of the most unifying leader figures in the Kurdish movement – considered by many as the man that holds the key to the Kurds’ future in Turkey. He will give this year’s Saladin lecture.

The lecture will be held in Turkish, and simultaneously interpreted into English. In order to accommodate an expected large turnout, tickets are sold online at 30,- NOK



5 PM - Literature and freedom
With Kawa Nemir, Choman Hardi and Ane Nydal

A Romeo and Juliet-like story from the late 1600s, Mem and Zin is considered the Kurds’ national epic, and one of the highlights of a literary tradition stretching 1200 years back in time, with many parallels found in Arabic and Persian

What are the characteristics of Kurdish literature, apart from the prominent position of poetry and an oral tradition? In recent times, the Kurdish language has been banned for long periods, and writers have been subjected to strict censorship. How has this affected the literature? How has the literature being written been fuel to the fi re in the Kurdish struggle for liberation?

From the 1990s onwards, the Turkish restrictions on language were softened, and Kurdish language and literature entered a golden age. Writer, translator and editor Kawa Nemir has been a central fi gure in the generation that has marked Kurdish literature. In what ways is this literature now renewed, and in what ways is it a continuation of the classical Kurdish literary canon? Nemir will give an introduction about Kurdish literature before meeting poet Choman Hardi, who is from the Iraqi part of Kurdistan, and author Ane Nydal, for a conversation about Kurdish literature past and present.


6.30 PM - An Iraqi Kurdistan?
With Gareth Stansfield, Choman Hardi and Åshild Eidem

Iraq was among the states to be born following World War I. Here, the northern region has belonged to the Kurds from time immemorial, and as the Iraqi state was created, the Kurds were not particularly willing to succumb to Baghdad’s will. In the Iraqi nation state project, the Kurds have been subject to massive injustices. The Kurds’ temporary alliance with Iran in the fight against Saddam Hussein was also severely punished. The al-Anfal Campaign executed by Saddam’s regime in the 1980s killed thousands of Kurds and turned even more into refugees.

Later on, for various reasons, the kurdish region became almost autonomous, and for the last few years, inhabitants in this region have experienced a relative stability that has not been granted the rest of the country. A few years ago, the news coming out of the so-called Iraqi Kurdistan, under the leadership of president Masoud Barzani, were characterized by reports of booming construction work and fi nancial growth – later to be replaced by reports of recession, unstability and fi ghts against ISIS. What is the situation in Kurdish Iraq now?

Choman Hardi is an academic and poet from Iraqi Kurdistan, currently living in Suleimaniya. Academic Gareth Stansfield has followed the development in the region closely for many years. The two will meet journalist and writer Åshild Eidem for a conversation about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan.


8 PM - Badass Kurdish Women
With Dilar Dirik, Mustafa Can and Hannah Helseth

There is an element of orientalism in the Western gaze on Kurdish women, a «Western fascination with ‘badass’ Kurdish women», claims activist and Cambridge graduate student Dilar Dirik.

Kurdish women have a long and proud tradition as soldiers, and they have fought fiercely against Iran, Turkey and Saddam Hussein previously, and in later years against IS in Syria. Female representation and participation in the political movement is also strong. But what is the status of gender equality and women’s rights in Kurdish families, societies and in the diaspora? How are women affected by a traditionally strict code of honour? And how does the Western gaze affect the Kurdish struggle for liberation?

The Swedish author Mustafa Can has reported from Kobane, and is among those who have become fascinated by the Kurdish female soldiers. His stage play War has a female face will be staged at the Stockholm City Theatre. He has also portrayed a Kurdish woman in his 2008 best selling book telling the story of his mother.

Now Dirik and Can talks about Kurds and gender with Hannah Helseth, author and phd candidate at the Centre for Gender Studies, University of Oslo.



5 PM - The Future of the Kurds in a New Middle East
Lecture by Gareth Stansfield

All four countries where the Kurds are living have in the last couple of years gone through a dramatic development, where especially the news from Syria have dominated the headlines. Since August 2015 the Kurds in Rojava – northern Syria, have controlled a continuous area along almost the entire Turkish order. Recently, they announced the introduction of a federal system, which has been completely dismissed by the regime in
Damascus as well as Ankara. Also, many Kurds in the country have been critical towards the political project of the Kurdish PYD party.

More and more people are saying that the borders in the Middle East have to be redrawn in order to put an end to the war in Syria, and the entire region is subject to a massive power play. Professor of Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter and author of the forthcoming book The Kurdish Question Revisited, Gareth Stansfield, will in this lecture discuss the status of the Kurdish project and the region in which they live, right now. What is the future of the Kurds in a new Middle East?


7 PM - Cooking the Kurdish-Norwegian Way
With Mustafa Can, Nevzat Arikan, Tore Namstad and Kjell Arne Johnsæter

East meets west on the menu this evening. Come join a culinaryliterary journey with two Kurdish and two Norwegian foodies. The exchange between the East and the West and mutual curiousness as been of great importance for the development of human kind. Many central works of philosophy, literature, art and science are the results of these meetings, and could not have come about without them.

The Swedish author Mustafa Can is exceptionally preoccupied with food and food culture, and has amongst other things made food programs on radio. Just like restaurateur Nevzat Arikan, who has created restaurants like Olympen and Arakataka, Can is convinced that this cultural meeting between East and West has also been crucial to the development of great food. Now they join chefs Tore Namstad and Kjell Arne Johnsæter of Kafe Oslo in putting together a four course tasting menu. How will it go when seasonal Norwegian cod is prepared Kurdish style? And what does Norwegian goat kebabs taste like? Welcome to a festive evening in the spirit of the Saladin Days.

Table reservations at The event is a cooperation between the House of Literature and Kafe Oslo.




7 PM - Music on the border
Concert with Ferhat Tun
ç, Mari Boine and more

Ferhat Tunç is one of the most prominent Kurdish musicians of his generation. He has paid a high price for the right to sing in his own language, and has been subject to censorship, interrogations and imprisonment. In 1979, he was forced into exile, where he stayed for a decade. After returning to Turkey, his circumstances has been marked by a lack of safety. Will he be persecuted and imprisoned again, since he is still singing in his mother tongue, Kurdish?

Many of the lyrics on his previous album deal with the 1938 Kurdish genocide. His new album, on which Mari Boine and Knut Reiersrud are among the Norwegian contributors, bears the title Kobani, for the city that has been in the line of fi re in the Syrian Kurds’ resistance fight against ISIS.

Tunç has said, «my great mission as an artist, which is also my mission in life, is to defend people against injustice and persecution», and on his new album, he draws on Armenian and Yazidi as well as Kurdish musical traditions.

This night he is joined by, among others, Mari Boine, Ertan Tekik playing the duduk, and the choir Josefines elskere («Josephine’s lovers»).

The concert is a collaboration between The House of Literature and Kirkelig Kulturverksted.




The program is developed with support from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre and Oslo World Music Festival, and with financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.