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This interview with the outspoken and renowned Turkish writer, Yaşar Kemal, was serialised in the Turkish daily Radikal on 25-27 July 2009. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Yaşar Kemal on the Kurdish problem

An interview with Cem Erciyes

At the outset

Yaşar Kemal is not only Turkish literature’s greatest living name but also a writer who has always managed to act as the conscience of Turkish society. Yaşar Kemal, who for his entire life has opposed all manner of oppression and has championed liberty, has not remained silent on the Kurdish issue. For some time now he has on every occasion promoted peace and liberty. In his writing and pronouncements he has argued that cultures and languages cannot be banned or destroyed. We have for some time wished to conduct an interview in which Yaşar Kemal would expound at length and in detail on his views concerning the Kurdish issue. Some time ago we reached agreement on such an interview; finally it would appear that as he would put it “the time was ripe” and we met up. One day I along with İsmet Berkan and Oral Çalışlar visited him; the discussion which started on that day gave birth to new questions, the questions to new discussions and his replies. Yaşar Kemal reminded us of the situation in the “east”, and spoke of state policies, the discounting of the Kurds, the guard system and the language ban here. He said, “Nobody wishes for children to die; the Kurdish people want peace.” He ended with the words, “The moral of the story is that when Turkey’s foes combine …”

It is often said that Kurds and Turks have lived together since the Battle of Manzikert. These two peoples have lived together for a thousand years yet there has been no end to uprisings, wars and murders over the centuries. What is wrong with the way Turks have related to Kurds; why is it so hard to achieve peace?

I have childhood experience of the peaceful, brotherly coexistence of Turks and Kurds. In the first years of the Republic I was born and grew up as a child of the only Kurdish family in a Turkmen village. I spoke only Kurdish at home, and only Turkish in the village. I did not one day feel alien, excluded or different. I enriched myself with Turkmen culture and my friends learned Kurdish songs from me.

I took my first steps in journalism with interviews that I conducted in the East; with the series “I saw incredible things in the East”. I witnessed truly incredible things sixty years ago in this region where the state remained an impassive observer to the continuing rule of sheikhs and religious leaders.

Yes, Kurds and Turks have lived together for a thousand years. In the Ottoman Empire a number of peoples lived together. None of these peoples were vilified or belittled. The Ottoman Empire changed in its final days. Nationalist movements began. Some peoples attained their independence; others came under the yoke of Western countries. The Kurds were not among these. The Kurds, despite opportunities to do so, did not want independence.

The Russians were keen to unite them with the Caucasian Kurds. They travelled the length and breadth of Kurdistan. They stayed as the guests of the Kurdish gentry. All their fine words and efforts were in vain. Over a thousand years the Kurds have experienced a great many adventures. The Kurds only waged war a few times in one thousand years. There were two rebellions in the 19th Century. In the Republican period, by contrast, 29 rebellions have erupted. The most important of these was the Koçgiri rebellion which broke out in 1920, prior to the Republic. In the absence of any real army, the suppression of Koçgiri was no simple matter. The 93 Kurdish deputies in parliament issued a statement and sent it to Kurdistan, saying that that, “Until the end of the War of Liberation we will stand by the Turks” and the Koçgiri rebellion was suppressed. The Republican era has witnessed a constant succession of rebellions.

There is a whole series of misconceptions. Let us list one or two. To start with, there is no such thing as the Kurds. The non-existent Kurds are, following the wars, the Turks’ serfs and slaves. Those looking for evidence of this should refer to the newspapers published after the Ağrıdağı rebellion. To belittle a person, a people and to dehumanise them is worse than killing a person.

The Kurds do not have a language. Their language is not a language, it is “Kartkurt”. Furthermore, this non-existent Kartkurt language is banned. Most of the civil servants who were sent to the Kurdish regions had committed an offence and had been sent into exile; they were corrupt. Eastern Anatolian villagers steered clear of those civil servants and the gentry and overlords stepped in when they had dealings with the government. The gentry and overlords did everything in place of the villagers. Each member of the gentry had their personal officials unless the gentry had gone into exile.

Thus the government handed the Kurdish people over to the overlords and gentry. The people took refuge in the overlords and the gentry. The gentry and overlords took care of dealings with the government. Thus it was not the state, but the gentry and overlords that ruled the Kurdish people.

Nowadays, the place of the gentry and overlords has been taken by the guards. They are armed by the state. They have usurped the land and orchards of millions of Kurds who are not guards and they occupy the land of exiles. The guards do not make restitution to those who find a way of returning from exile to their land. The press has reported on this, but to deaf ears. For eighty years we have given no thought as to why these people have spent so many years in the mountains. We have expected civic duties to be performed but have failed to deliver those services which the state provides to its citizens such as education, health and investments. It did not occur to us to give them their human and citizenship rights.

For eighty years this region has had no respite. The Kurds have revolted. In the knowledge that they would be defeated. In the knowledge of what would befall them after the revolt. I cannot claim to know this “knowledge”. I know that many people have knowingly laid down their lives. I know Sheikh Şamil. I know of the death of many communities. I know that the Kurds have knowingly laid down their lives 29 times. Each era is a different era. Civilised countries harmonise with the eras they have created. We, by contrast, have failed to perceive the direction which the world was taking and have fallen behind the civilised world and the spirit of the age. This is a horrific situation for a nation. If our country were a democratic country we would take our place with our heads held high among the ranks of civilised humanity. Our people is a people with a disposition towards democracy. In the face of such provocation, the failure of a civil war to erupt bears testimony to this.

We also know of the power of hope to make humans human. One day humanity will unleash the unknown force of hope. This new hope will bring happiness to people.
Vaylolo, vaylolo, vaylolo …
This is how several famous Kurdish songs begin.

Recently the President has spoken of a “historic opportunity” to solve the Kurdish problem. Has the time finally come to solve this problem which, even in the words of the President, has been described as “Turkey’s number one problem”?

The President is acting in good faith. The Kurdish problem is Turkey’s most pressing problem. The Kurdish problem is Turkey’s problem of modernity. The Kurdish problem is Turkey’s democracy problem. Since the foundation of the Republic the eyes of the administrators have not seen the Kurds. Some creatures slumber on the fringes of Anatolia but from time to time they arise, clutching bows and arrows. When they arise, they do so with majesty. They kill these creatures and those that they do not kill they send into exile along with their children. Tales continue to be told of the mirth with which administrators debate whether there exists anything resembling humanity in Dersim or amuse themselves by asking whether anything resembling humanity is present in these mountains. They delight in asking where the Kartkurts have fled to.

The President is no longer on his own. Humanity is at his side. Administrators, without even being aware of it, also know this. Moreover, even though the great leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk showed the way forward, administrators have not seen the way. Those who have brought Turkey into this situation are trying even harder. Who are they to have brought a whole nation into this state of affairs? Nobody knows who they are. In spite of everything, Turkey will attain democracy. The President has provided succour to those in Turkey who do not wish for war. This force is gradually gaining in strength. The well intentioned majority is gradually seeing the truth.

Neither Turks nor Kurds have ever wished for separation. Nor will any force ever separate them from one another. The malcontents, having got this message, will seek refuge in shame. It is not as hard as it is believed. A people like the Kurdish people can easily be brought down from the mountains. Nobody aged seven to seventy wishes for their brothers and children to die under any circumstances. The Kurdish people want peace. If their strength prevails everything, this war will transform into peace. I know the Kurds. There is saying in Kurdish that Kurds die for their promises but do not abandon them. Ask anybody you like who has Kurdish connections; this is how it is.

There are European countries which experience similar problems. They have solved such problems with “cultural and political” rights. Can the solution of Turkey’s Kurdish problem make a positive contribution towards Turkey’s European Union process?

There are minorities in European countries. They have remained within their countries for years and have fought and vanquished, or been vanquished. When the time became ripe, in most countries they reached an understanding with the administration and gained recognition of their languages and cultures. The most important of these are the Catalans. The Catalans, having for centuries fought with the Spanish, reached agreement and became part of Spain. Now the Catalans are very happy. I spoke for several hours with their legendary president Jordi Pujol. He went into all aspects of the peace. The president, in common with everyone, is very happy. Peace has also brought unimaginable great happiness to both people. They have gained recognition of their language and culture. This is a language and culture that has nurtured many people who have enriched the culture not only of Spain, but of the world, with, for example, the art of Miro, Tapies, and Dali, the architecture of Gaudi and Bofill or the music of Albeniz, Casals, Caballe and Carreras. A Catalan journalist of my acquaintance said that, “If they now separated us from Spain we would once more go into our mountains for centuries. If only you knew our language and spoke to the Catalan people they would tell you what I am saying to you.”

Catalonia has been the richest region of Spain for a century. This is still the case. The European Union is highly complex. There are those who like Turkey, and those who do not. However, a democratic Turkey will assist the European Union greatly.

The Kurdish problem is a phenomenon which stymies Turkey internationally. With twenty million deprived of their rights and Turkey not having attained democracy, the European Union remains perplexed by Turkey. They do not know what to do. Turkey’s administrators fear democracy. In a democratic country a single person, let alone nearly twenty million people, may not be deprived of their human rights.

For whatever reason, the European Union in spite of everything does not assist Turkey. I have been unable to make sense of this. Do they perhaps wish for Turkey to remain starved of democracy? In fact, the founders of the European Union wished above all for the establishment of true democracies throughout Europe and for the establishment of democracy in the world. The European Union was a great hope for humanity.

You said when receiving the Presidential Culture and Art Grand Prize, “Every people living in Anatolia will use its mother tongue. It will be educated, write books and shoot films in its own mother tongue.” These are essentially basic human rights; will the granting of such rights deliver a fundamental solution?

Look, my friend, there are certain thoughts of mine that I make constant reference to. In these thoughts, I may have been influenced by the great people of our time. Whatever the case, these thoughts are the indispensible realities of our time and of our country; they take precedence even over the realities of fate. Ever since my youth I have been saying that this world is a flower garden containing a thousand flowers. In fact we know that the world is a flower garden with countless varieties. I have nevertheless kept on saying since my youth that this world is a flower garden containing a thousand flowers. In fact we know that the world is a cultural garden containing thousands of flowers. If we pluck one culture away from our world, we deprive our world of a colour, a scent, a richness.

For the whole of history cultures have fed one another, influenced one another, pollinated one another. Civilisations and cultures have never until our era harmed one another. They have never killed one another.

Anatolia is a multicultural, mutilingual and multireligious territory. This is because Anatolia is at the same time the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Caucasia and the Black Sea. And Anatolian cultures have over the course of history fed and pollinated one another. If we look at the Aegean coast alone in ancient times we see a great profusion of languages and cultures. These were the cultures that created the Miletus philosophers, Homer and hundreds of other masterpieces, and that served as a source for human culture.

In Anatolia today since the founding of the Republic, in spite of the bans, various cultures have managed to stay alive. In multicultural Anatolia the desire to make the Turkish culture and language the dominant language and dominant single culture caused all of these languages and cultures to be banned. In the effort to catch up with modern civilisation, attempts to keep local richness and sources of culture alive were stifled by the Village Institutes and People’s Houses.

In the process, Turkish language and culture were also impoverished. For example, the freedom enjoyed by the language and culture of the Kurds, who have always constituted about one-third of the population of Anatolia, also enriched Turkish language and culture. Similarly, Turkish culture enriched Kurdish culture. Circassian, Laz, the other Caucasian languages, the Arabic, Syriac and Assyrian languages have both pollinated and enriched one another and also enriched Turkish and Kurdish. Like the ancient Anatolian cultures which served as a source for human culture, today’s Anatolian cultures, while unable to act as a source for human culture to the same extent as before, have nevertheless managed to be exceedingly beneficial.

By prohibiting literacy among the Kurds, the Kurds have been forced to make recourse to oral literature and have created great epic poems, songs, funeral songs and tales. They have tested the power of speech in oral literature and developed a magical art.

Today many Kurdish intellectuals are not even aware of this. Moreover, they have not managed to undertake a thorough, sound compilation of folklore. Today in Turkey’s universities there are no Kurdish language, folklore and literature institutes. All the signs are that the creation of a monocultural state in Anatolia has been to the detriment of Turkey’s richness in all senses. Anatolia is a country composed of a mosaic of cultures. Both its stature and wealth are due to the wealth of Anatolia’s cultures and languages. Depriving Turkey of such great resources has both brought the country to its present state and turned it into a monstrosity whose very governance is called into question.

Is Turkey a democratic country or is it ruled by a dictatorship? The country’s administrators cannot even escape from this dilemma. Governance is called into question. Everything is in a muddle. And the Kurds are resisting in the name of their language and culture. The administration says that they without doubt also want independence. It says that if we grant them cultural and linguistic freedom then they will want independence. And for years a pointless war has been waged with unbelievable dirtiness and malice.

Thanks to this war Turkey has been deeply wounded. The system of administration in Turkey that we took for democracy has also been deeply wounded. It does not know what to do or where to go. It is stuck with nowhere to go. Democracy is a whole. Democracy should be for the whole of mankind. And all true democrats should give all manner of assistance to all people who aspire towards democracy and are fighting for democracy.

And I have a belief that I do not think will undergo fundamental change that humanity is always optimistic. People’s internal joy of life is eternal. And I believe that the people of my country who live on this magnificent cultural soil will not remain like this and will once more invigorate this fertile soil of cultures, will sooner or later attain a genuine democracy and will come to the aid of democratic peoples of the countries fighting for democracy in the world.

You said, “The Kurds are resisting in the name of their language and culture. The administration says that they without doubt also want independence.” A little thought needs to be given to this. There are those who believe that mother tongue education and cultural rights will lead to separation. What do you say to those who argue thus; is there no chance of this? Otherwise, what is the source of this discourse?

All of what you have said comes under human rights in democracies. The efforts of democratic people, the sacrificing by people even of their own lives, is for this. In democratic countries that right cannot be said to be external to democracy. The rights of a people such as ours numbering nearly 20 million cannot be trampled on. Are all of the Kurds’ citizenship rights delivered? Apart from those in the mountains, does not every Kurd perform their civic duties?

The mountains are not the only way of attaining democracy. Just as humanity has uprooted colonialism, it will uproot injustice. To this end, those in the mountains have become redundant. Those in the mountains should know this as should the administrators. If the European Union were the same entity today as it was when it was founded, Europe would have arbitrated and eradicated this war in its initial years. Likewise, if Turkey’s administrators had not viewed the Kurds with such enmity this war would have been eradicated in its initial years. After all, the Turkish people and the Kurdish people have coexisted fraternally for a thousand years. After the war started they took it out on the people far more than on the warriors. They added black pages to history. It was as though the Kurds were not brothers of one thousand years’ standing but enemies of one thousand years’ standing; it was as though they had not waged the War of Salvation together.

How will mother tongues divide Turkey? Will the Laz, Circassians, Assyrians, the Arabs in Adana, Mersin, Hatay, Urfa or Siirt, or the Kurds who have coexisted with the Turks for one thousand years do this? Are those who say such things friends of Turkey?

I cannot recall ever having branded anybody as a traitor and I have never been able to understand why anybody would betray their country. Why do those who say this will divide Turkey tell such lies? I am incapable of understanding how people believe their lies. I am driven towards dark thoughts. Let us hope that they have not come up with this separatism with a civil war in mind. May such efforts be in vain. For one thousand years they have experienced disaster after disaster but in spite of these disasters they have not abandoned their fraternity. After all of this no force will be able to divide them into a separatist adventure.

Enough, enough, enough. We are losing the cream of our youth.

The question is rarely asked as to just what the Kurds want. Yet this is precisely the crux of the matter and few address it. Nobody for the past eighty years has devoted the necessary attention to this matter. Separatism, whether or not it exists. The Kurds do not want separatism. It is clear from their demands that they do not want separatism. Everybody knows what the Kurds’ demands are. They also supposedly know that if they concede to their demands they will also want separatism. They know this is a lie. So many years of war for the sake of such lies, so many young lives lost to this end. Who can explain the reason for this to our country; who, who can explain this to the fathers, mothers and siblings of the fallen?

Or the economy, the poverty of our country. What happened to that fertile land of Eastern Anatolia; let the experts examine this and see what conclusion they come to. Has animal husbandry not come to an end? Let them see this. People put their lives on the line and engage in smuggling. In fact this land is the land of civilisation. Great civilisations have always developed fertile land. Now this land is dead land. This war has ruined our peoples.

Or the guards. Can there be any state which in any way resembles a state in this day and age which is so favoured as to shrug this off? This state is also the state of this honourable people. There can be no state guards. Those who murder children, youths, women and the aged say, “We will say that the PKK killed them.” Some of them are guards. Can you shrug this off, regardless of who you are? We have all remained silent in the face of this terrible business. Who has silenced us?

Are the Kurds playing their part in the name of peace?

What have the Kurds been demanding for years; what are they demanding now? If we miss this opportunity as well, what will they do? If the intellectual segment of Turkish society and the world do not stop them, what will they do? It is unknown what they will henceforth do. It is hard to predict here and now what they will do in keeping with the spirit of the age if we assume that the PKK in one way or another ceases to exist. Let us ask what will happen next of the warmongering patriots. The warmongers know everything better than everybody else, to the extent of their own interests. In spite of everything, to the extent of their own interests. First the Kurds cried at Lausanne that they were not a minority and have been crying for eighty years that they are not a minority. But the administrators did not hear these cries. They still do not hear them. But the world has changed and in many countries even minorities have attained full human rights.

The Kurds are crying out even more today. We are not a minority. Whatever we are, this country will not be divided. Whatever the cost we will not let it be divided.

Those who do not hear remain deaf to this, and will remain so. I have kept on telling you that I am optimistic, I am the author of optimism. I am also the one who has said that humanity creates hope from hopelessness. I also trust my country’s people. They will change together with the world.

The language question remains the principal question in this discussion. To understand this, perhaps one needs to consider the extent to which the ban of many years standing on Kurdish has affected Kurdish literature.

I will here refer to the great writier Chinghiz Aitmatov. Chinghiz is a Kyrgyz novelist. In fact, he was one of the Soviet Union’s most respected, best loved great writers. We were very good friends. Almost every year we met in Turkey, Sweden, the Soviet Union or Germany. We had publishers in those countries. Turkey was a country which he liked. He came to Turkey whenever he had the opportunity. His son Sancar was a lecturer in Anatolian Turkish at the University of Moscow. I have heard that more recently he has been a professor at the University of Kyrgyzstan.

We spoke endlessly all day and night about literature, especially about novels. Russian novels and then world novels. Chinghiz was interested in novels about Anatolia. In the conversations I had with Chinghiz we also broached on language. Chinghiz wrote his novels in Russian and they were then translated from Rusian into Kyrgyz.

We spoke about Orhon and Yenisei. Chinghiz knew part of the text of these monuments by heart. He had also spent fifty years at St Petersburg University making a dictionary of the inscriptions. He said that these inscriptions are identical to the contemporary Asian Turks’ languages. I cannot write the same in my language. Indeed, the Russian language of the time at which Orhon and Yenisei were written can today only be read with the aid of dictionaries, as can the English or French languages. I knew this. Without written literature no language can develop. Even if ten thousand years pass it cannot develop without written literature. The reason that Central Asian languages have remained unaltered is that they lack written literatures.

We have collections of folk poems to thank for the present-day status of the Anatolian language as a literary language. The collections of poems in dervish lodges and Alevi hearths have passed literary works down to us. Most of us have paid the price for the burning of lodge books. For example, a portion of Dede Korkut was discovered in Italy and another portion in libraries in Germany. If the books had not been burned, perhaps the whole of Dede Korkut would have been passed down to us.

My point is that our people possesses a written literature. For example, Yunus Emre’s poems were made into a book fifty years after his death. The Battal Gazi Destanı is a written epic poem. If studies were conducted into epic poems these would reveal the extent to which they have benefitted our language. The Kurdish language also has a written literature. Thus, nobody can do anything to the Kurdish language. The efforts of those who try to harm languages will be in vain.

Won’t it be a bit difficult to achieve an egalitarian Turkey at peace with its own people following so much grief, warfare, death and political conflict?

A good question. Today, in these years, making peace is very easy. If there were an administration that was at peace with its own people, especially if there were no talk of war. Anatolia, the world’s magnificent land, is nobody’s plaything, nor are its people serfs.

Let us not forget that at one time armed imperialists seized control of the world. Countries rebelled. The imperialists kept on killing the rebels and sending them into exile like there was no tomorrow. India was under the command of a civilised country. India also had a hero. The hero was well intentioned. They say that he took passive resistance from Tolstoy. The imperialists kept on throwing the passive resistor into jail. The passive resistor mingled with the people upon leaving jail, sanadals on his feet and a white robe on his back. At times he went to England and South Africa, accompanied by his goat. The days and years went by. Our hero mingled with the people whenever he wasn’t doing time and told them about passive resistance. Then one day the British began of all things to withdraw from India. This, in the eyes of some people, was a miracle.

The British knew where this strength came from.

Passive resistance in this age cannot be Ghandi’s passive resistance. Nevertheless, today’s people will struggle for liberation by means of passive resistance in keeping with the age. Humanity will be liberated from hunger, poverty and humiliation. Humanity will live in a totally new world, as if reborn.

Well, how do you assess the DTP’s rhetoric and its presence in parliament? Can we say that this is a factor that makes a political solution more likely?

Very, very positively. They have created a way for the Kurds to enter parliament but the old politicians find this hard to stomach. Otherwise, this is one tiny step in the direction of democracy.

Previously they expelled popularly elected deputies from parliament and they all spent decades in jail. Did they kill people and throw them into wells, did they rob the people, or did they rob the state having first stripped it of all attributes of statehood? What were their crimes? In parliament, a popularly elected woman deputy with a green, red and yellow band on her head said in Kurdish, after having been sworn in, “I take this oath for the brotherhood of the Turkish and Kurdish people.” All hell broke lose.

Deputies spent decades in jail. They were deprived of all political rights after they got out of jail. You will mention the European Union and ask what the European Union, founded in the name of peace, did. It did nothing. Oh, I nearly forgot. The European Union gave the woman who was sworn in in parliament and spent ten years in jail an important, a very important, award.

All political parties, those in power and in opposition, are pressurising the DTP to call the PKK terrorists. Is it possible for the DTP to adopt such a stance?

A person cannot be asked such a question. Even if it were asked, no reply can be given. Perhaps they call the PKK guerillas. I call them guerillas. This is not an offence. If saying “guerilla” rather than “terrorist” is an offence then I was unaware that this was an offence. I will no longer call the PKK either “guerillas” or “terrorists”. Why should I go to jail for nothing?

At one time you could not say “Kurd”. Now everyone says it. The world did not collapse on our heads. If one fine day everybody says “guerilla” the world will not collapse on our heads.

Our Prime Minister is a force to be reckoned with. His hair stands on end when Kurds are spoken of. DTP chair Ahmet Türk requested an appointment with the Prime Minister. He waits one day, five days, ten days. I do not actually know how long he waited. There is not a word from the most esteemed Prime Minister. Ahmet Türk gives up the idea of speaking to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is overjoyed at having rid himself of Ahmet, whose surname is Türk. I will not speak of this kind of adventure. It does not suit me to talk of business of which I know and understand nothing. They ask me about the band of twenty DTP deputies in parliament and what their fate will be. How do I know? They did not beat them all up in parliament; they were not prosecuted. The job of this band of twenty is to give up their lives to achieve peace. And to try to get the people in the mountains back to their homes. Will something happen to them? It is not certain. If they do not want anything to happen to them they had better not ask for an appointment with the Prime Minister again. Sorry, my friend, but that is as far as my knowledge of parliamentary culture goes.

If a road to peace opens up, who will sit and talk on this road? Who will be the parties to such an affair? By way of a proposal for a “council of wise men” to consider this issue would you, Yaşar Kemal, be prepared to act as mediator?

Everybody knows what the solution is. At the very least, everybody is in a position to manufacture a solution. This involves the recognition of human rights, accepted to be an inviolable right in today’s civilised world. Recognition, not piecemeal, gradual or cowardly, but as a precondition for a genuine contemporary democracy. Freedom for everybody to take possession of their language, culture and nature. The recognition by everybody that this is not the granting of a favour but the outward expression of a country’s richness. In short, for Turkey to be a contemporary democracy.

This matter of “wise men” is very controversial. I have certainly also given thought to what I can do and what contribution I can make. But I have to say that when the essence of the solution is so abundantly obvious there is no need for wise men or mediators. The sole requirement is for a decisive political will. A bold political will which sees that every policy that is based on fear and violence will produce the antithesis of a solution. A political will that pays not just lip service to, but has a deep conviction in, the values of democracy, human rights and human dignity.

War and peace between the Kalmuks and the Kyrgyz

Now I would like to tell you about a section of the huge Epic of Manas that I read together with Chinghiz (Aitmatov).

The moral of the story is that when Turkey’s foes combine…

Epic poems are the peoples’ voice in every country. And I have selected an event from the Epic of Manas for this conversation. The Kyrgyz epic poem, the Epic of Manas, is also the epic poem of today’s Central Asian Turks. This epic is gaining greater recognition worldwide and it will gradually become an epic of all of humanity, like the Iliad or Dede Korkut.

The Kalmuks were a large and powerful nation. They were always breathing down the Kyrgyz people’s neck; they never gave the Kyrgyz a moment’s peace. They enslaved them throughout history. Every time the Kyrgyz became enslaved they rebelled at every opportunity. They would defeat the Kalmuks and the Kalmuks would attack again. The Kyrgyz would once more obtain their freedom years later. In both nations rulers came and went, as did the people, wars continued. The Kyrgyz are conquered by the Kalmuks, then are victorious and regain their liberty. The years pass and an important Khan comes to the Kalmuks. This Khan gets the Kalmuks to put their heads together and tells them that they first conquer the Kyrgyz and then are defeated by them. What, he asks, needed to be done to ensure that following their defeat the Kyrgyz would not rebel again, would not stop tending the flocks and liberate themselves from their servitude. He told them to go and come back in three months. If one of them had a brilliant idea he would reward that person handsomely. The wise men parted and three months later graced the Khan with their presence once more. All together they said, “Khan, we have thought about this and if you cut out most of their tongues they will be unable to rebel and wage war again.”

The Khan said, “I do not like this; go and come back in three months.”

Three months later the wise men assembled and each one had a different idea. The Khan did not approve of any. The Khan looked and saw somebody hiding in a corner.

The Khan said, “Do you not say let us cut out their tongues?”

“I do not,” he said.

The Khan said, “Well, what is your idea?”

“I say let’s go to the Kyrgyz. They have wanted to make peace for ages.”

The Khan said, “There will be no war from now on. There will be no killing or dying in this world for anything.”

The moral of the story is that when Turkey’s foes combine…

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton