Turkey’s Kurdish opera singer inspires Kurds by singing in native tongue

Turkey’s Kurdish opera singer inspires Kurds by singing in native tongue
Pervin Chakar opens up a new avenue for inspiring her Kurdish peers who want to accomplish themselves in their mother tongue. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Turkey’s Kurdish opera singer inspires Kurds by singing in native tongue

Turkey’s Kurdish opera singer inspires Kurds by singing in native tongue
  • Chakar began singing opera when she was 21 years old

ANKARA: Pervin Chakar, one of the few Kurdish opera singers to be awarded various international prizes, is inspiring her Kurdish peers who want to establish a name for themselves in their mother tongue.

Chakar, 39, is originally from Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin, but she has been living in Baden-Baden, Germany, for the past four years, after spending 11 years in Perugia, Italy.

It was no easy choice for her to live thousands of miles away from her home country, where Kurdish identity, language, culture, and political activism are still criminalized.

Unsurprisingly, performing opera in Kurdish is still perceived as a revolutionary act in Turkey.

Asked why she sings in Kurdish, Chakar responded that the greatest propaganda in the world is the use of one’s native language.

“The great German composer Johann Sebastian Bach said that wherever there is music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence. God is always with me. I feel really blessed when I give happiness to my audience through music,” she told Arab News.

Chakar released an opera album with the Bongiovanni record label in Italy, singing in Mysliveček’s “L’Olimpiade” as Megacle at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Italy.

She has two singles on digital platforms. One is the aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo”; the other is the poem “Qimil,” written by assassinated Kurdish intellectual Musa Anter, composed by Chakar and played by harpist Tara Jaff to celebrate Anter’s 100th birthday.

Last year, Chakar was in Turkey for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Armenian composer Komitas Vartabed, for which she performed Armenian and Kurdish folk songs by Komitas at the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall in Istanbul and in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.

Chakar began singing opera when she was 21 years old. She learned to play the cello at the Diyarbakir Fine Arts High School. She explained how building a career in opera is partly owing to chance.

“I was singing folk songs when I was 14. I didn’t know anything about opera. I wrote some novels, and I won competitions in Turkey during my studies at the Anatolian High School of Fine Arts,” she said. “The competition committee in Ankara then organized a party where I sang the love song by Ludwig van Beethoven, ‘Ich liebe dich.’ The president of the writing competition was impressed by my voice and gave me a CD of Maria Callas after my performance.”

Chakar was unable to listen to the CD for four years because she did not have the money to buy a CD player. When she went to university in Ankara, she received her first scholarship and was at last able to buy a CD player. When she listened to Callas, she was impressed by her voice and decided to start singing opera.

In 2004, while working at the Ankara Opera House, Chakar sang for an Italian opera manager who had come to the city to scout for new voices.

“He invited me to sing in Italy where I continued my studies in opera and completed a master’s degree from the Conservatory of Music in Perugia. He totally changed my life,” she said.

She made her debut in Italy in 2006 at the Teatro Rosetum in Milan. Then, she began winning many international singing competitions and awards in Europe, such as the Golden Orfeo Grand Prix Leyla Gencer in France in 2012; first place at the 28th International Maria Caniglia Singing Competition; first place at the 3rd Giovanni Pacini International Singing Competition in Florence; and special prize at the 10th Ottavio Ziino Opera Competition, among others.

She got the chance to sing with many internationally acclaimed musicians like Montserrat Caballé, Luciana Serra, Salvatore Fisichella, Lella Cuberli, Andrea Bocelli, Ennio Morricone and others.

“I am sorry that Kurdish musicians have trouble finding a place to perform,” she said. “More possibilities and more space must be afforded to Kurdish artists to perform their art and culture. We need to express our art. We are producing a lot, but we fail to sell our product.”

Chakar learned her native language only recently, after the tragic Roboski airstrike in which 34 civilians were killed at the border with Iraq by a Turkish jet in 2011. The civilians were allegedly mistaken for outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants while smuggling goods into Turkey.

“I was in Italy for a concert organized by the Luciano Pavarotti Foundation. I read the news about the Roboski airstrike on social media. Then I cried a lot. I asked myself why, as a Kurdish opera singer, I didn’t know my native language and culture. After this tragedy, I started researching Kurdish singers, authors, and music. I realized that I had to learn my language immediately,” she said.

“Lo Şivano” (“The Shepherd”) was the first-ever Kurdish song Chakar learned. Although she loves all Kurdish songs, her favorites are those of the Dengbej (storytellers).

It was in 2013 when she sang in Kurdish for the first time in Istanbul for the Andante Classical Music Award Ceremony, where she was nominated Best Female Opera Singer of the year.

“I was surprised by some of the musicians, who asked what language I was singing in on stage. Their questions bothered me. At that moment, I realized that I needed to face the reality of Turkey,” she said.

Chakar believes that not knowing one’s mother tongue means losing a part of one’s soul.

“The Kurdish language is such a fantastic, rich and musical language. I have the privilege of learning foreign languages ​​such as English, Italian and German. Then I learned my mother tongue. What is a nation without a mother tongue? The Kurdish language is a language of the soul,” she said.

After seeing many international opera singers perform in their mother tongue, she began asking herself what she could do to inspire her Kurdish peers in Turkey.

For Chakar, being a Kurdish singer in the world is an important statement. She hopes to spread messages of peace through her music.

“It is the language and culture of a nation that makes that nation what it is,” she said.

Chakar is saddened by Kurdish youth in Turkey who forget their mother tongue after facing social and political restrictions.

“My father was a teacher. Because he was born in a Kurdish-majority town, he was always assigned to remote villages, far from our hometown. My mom always instructed me not to speak in Kurdish. They were always hiding their Kurdish books and music cassettes. Therefore, I had to wait years before I could discover my Kurdish roots through music. It was the beginning of my return to my soul and inner spirit,” she said.

As a goal in her career, Chakar aims to release an album covering the poems of Melayê Cizîrî, one of the greatest 16th-century poets and philosophers in Kurdistan.

“I would like to publish more songs in Kurdish and Kurdish dialects with piano and the duduk instrument. I am also waiting for my new album of Kurdish songs to be released very soon in Japan by a Japanese label,” she said.


Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 4 min 57 sec ago

Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm
  • Country has seen three accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead, some 320 injured

CAIRO: Egypt’s transportation minister on Tuesday said he sacked the country’s top railway official, following three train accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead and some 320 injured.
The firing of Asharf Raslan, head of the railway authority, was part of a wide ranging overhaul of the rundown railway system's leadership amid public outcry over repeated train crashes.
Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm, the office of Transportation Minister Kamal el-Wazir said in a statement.
The changes included the main departments of the railway authority that manages train traffic in the Arab world’s most populous country.

READ MORE

At least 11 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in a train accident in Egypt on Sunday. Click here for more.

The overhaul was designed to “inject a number of competent professionals” amid efforts to upgrade the poorly-maintained network.
The changes came after a passenger train derailed Sunday north of Cairo, killing at least 11 people and injuring at least 98 others. That followed another train crash in the Nile Delta province of Sharqia last week that left 15 people wounded.
After Sunday’s crash, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced the establishment of an official commission to investigate its causes. Prosecutors also launched their own probe.
On March 25, two passenger trains collided in the southern province of Sohag, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200 others, including children. Prosecutors blamed gross negligence by railway employees for that crash.
The country’s railway system, one of the world's oldest, has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it expresses its deep sorrow for the train accident north of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Click here for more.

The government says it has launched a broad renovation and modernization initiative, buying train cars and other equipment from European and U.S. manufacturers to automate the system and develop a domestic railcar industry.
El-Sissi said in March 2018 that the government needs about 250 billion Egyptian pounds, or $14.1 billion, to overhaul the run-down rail system.
Hundreds of train accidents are reported every year. In February 2019 an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier inside Cairo’s main Ramses railway station, causing a huge explosion and a fire that killed at least 25 people. That crash prompted the then-transportation minister to resign.
In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.
Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in an overnight train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.


Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests
Updated 35 min 38 sec ago

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests
  • Indictment says suspects defied ban on rallies imposed to combat coronavirus pandemic
  • Prosecutors seeking 6 months to 3 years in jail for suspects' participation in unlawful rallies

ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded jail terms for 97 people who joined student protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a party loyalist as a top university’s rector.
According to Anadolu state news agency, the indictment said the suspects defied a ban on rallies imposed as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutors are seeking jail terms from six months to three years because of the suspects’ non-compliance with a law on “unarmed participation in unlawful rallies and refusal to disperse despite the warnings,” Anadolu said.
No date was given for the first hearing.
The protest movement — the biggest to rattle Erdogan’s rule in years — kicked off when the Turkish leader appointed longstanding ruling party member Melih Bulu as rector of Bogazici University at the start of the year.
The rallies began inside the campus grounds before spreading to the streets of Istanbul and other big cities with the backing of government opponents and supporters of broader LGBT rights.
The indictment specifically refers to a February 1 protest in Istanbul in which several groups defied police warnings and rallied outside the university’s locked gate.
Police roughly rounded up 108 people that day.
Ninety-seven of them were later released and a probe was launched against them by the prosecutor’s office, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are conducting separate inquiries against the 11 remaining people, one of whom is underage.
The student demonstrations had echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdogan.
He has compared student protesters to “terrorists” and the rector at the root of the demonstrations has refused to give in to demands to step down.


Much more work needed in Iran nuclear talks despite progress, EU says

Police stand outside a hotel where a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, is held in Vienna, Austria, April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Police stand outside a hotel where a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, is held in Vienna, Austria, April 20, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 41 min 7 sec ago

Much more work needed in Iran nuclear talks despite progress, EU says

Police stand outside a hotel where a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, is held in Vienna, Austria, April 20, 2021. (Reuters)

VIENNA: Iran, the US and world powers need to do a lot more to reach a deal to save the 2015 nuclear accord, the EU's political director chairing talks in Vienna said on Tuesday.

“Progress made over the last two weeks,” European External Action Service Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora said on Twitter.

“But much more hard work needed. Third expert group was created to address sequencing issues,” he said.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator warned Tehran would stop the negotiations if faced with “unreasonable demands” or time wasting.

“Abbas Araqchi ... assessed the current trend of the talks as going forward, despite the existing difficulties and challenges,” Iranian state media reported.

“The Iranian delegation will stop the talks whenever the process of negotiations leads to unreasonable demands, waste of time and irrational bargaining,” Araqchi was quoted as saying


Iranians in Turkey fear for safety after wave of deportations

Iranians in Turkey fear for safety after wave of deportations
Updated 20 April 2021

Iranians in Turkey fear for safety after wave of deportations

Iranians in Turkey fear for safety after wave of deportations
  • Five dissidents arrested last month, with one facing death penalty in Iran
  • Thirty-three deported last year from country formerly seen as safe haven

LONDON: Many Iranian dissidents no longer view Turkey as a safe haven after an increasing number of arrests and deportations in recent months.

Turkey is home to around 67,000 Iranians, with 39,000 claiming refugee status. Millions pass between the two countries each year on account of the visa-free border.

But following a crackdown by Ankara on Turkish dissidents in the last few years, and with trade and security links between the two countries increasing, Iranians too are being targeted.

Last month, Kurdish political activist Afshin Sohrabzadeh was detained and charged with being a “threat to national security” after visiting a police station to obtain travel papers.

He has since been moved to a repatriation center, and his lawyer Mahmut Kacan says his status as a refugee has been ignored.

“I have represented many refugees and asylum seekers from Iran, and their treatment is often terrible,” Kacan said.

Tehran and Ankara “have agreements to exchange people who are a political or security threat, especially anyone who is accused of links to Kurdish groups,” he added. 

“There is supposed to be rule of law in Turkey but the truth is, increasingly, Iranians can be deported without warning or following due process.”

Sohrabzadeh faces the death penalty if deported. He previously spent seven years in solitary confinement in Iran, where he says he was tortured, before escaping to Turkey in 2016, where he was joined by his family.

His wife Fereshteh Kangavari told The Guardian that men, believed to be Iranian agents, had constantly harassed the family in Turkey, and that they had been forced to move home multiple times.

“We lived a quiet life in Turkey, we had no desire to draw attention to ourselves, and we were careful to follow the rules of our host country,” she said.

“All we want is a normal life in a safe place. I am desperately afraid for my husband and the future for us and our son,” she added.

“I don’t feel safe here. It’s a constant feeling of insecurity. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I might get arrested. The way I feel about Turkey has changed.”

Four other Iranian asylum seekers were arrested on the same day as Sohrabzadeh in the Turkish city of Denizli.

Lily Faraji, Zeinab Sahafi, Ismail Fattahi and Mohammad Pourakbari were allegedly involved in a protest against Turkey’s withdrawal from an international treaty on violence against women.

“No third country has been determined in the deportation decision, and the judicial proceedings continue,” said the quartet’s lawyer Buse Bergamali.

“Regardless of the country, deportation would be unlawful. It is also unlawful that my clients stay in the removal center during this whole process.”

It is thought that 33 Iranians were deported from Turkey last year, with two subsequently sentenced to death for their roles in protests against the government in 2019.

At least four Iranians, meanwhile, have been kidnapped or killed by Iranian agents in Turkey since 2017.

In 2018, Turkey took over the registration of refugees and asylum seekers in its territory from the UN, after which deportation statistics were removed from government websites.

A senior Turkish official told The Guardian that his country “does not intend to deport any of the aforementioned individuals to Iran. It is possible, however, for them to be sent to a third country.” The official declined to mention the name of any third country involved.


‘Gentle steps forward’ in repair of Mosul war graves

‘Gentle steps forward’ in repair of Mosul war graves
Updated 20 April 2021

‘Gentle steps forward’ in repair of Mosul war graves

‘Gentle steps forward’ in repair of Mosul war graves
  • When Daesh rule ended in 2017, it was estimated that 90 percent of the Commonwealth forces’ cemetery in Mosul was damaged
  • There are Commonwealth graves in the site from 1914 up to the end of World War II, with Mosul witnessing many seismic military events in the 20th century

LONDON: “Gentle steps forward” have been taken in recovering sites destroyed during Daesh’s occupation of Mosul, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has said.

Iraq’s second-largest city endured three years of Daesh control, with much of it laid to waste. Many buildings and key infrastructure were destroyed, including a significant war-graves site.

When Daesh rule ended in 2017, it was estimated that 90 percent of the cemetery was damaged.

The CWGC manages the site, where members of the armed forces of Commonwealth nations have been laid to rest.

The commission reported that the remains of those buried were not disturbed, but the iconic Cross of Sacrifice and the surrounding memorials were destroyed, with a pocket of external walls surviving.

British diplomats and other key stakeholders have been working with the CWGC to restore the site.

Preparatory moves before the commencing of recovery work has included representatives from the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) sweeping the grounds to remove any ordnance left behind by the site’s previous combatant occupants.

Teams will now survey the site and review how the cemetery can be secured for the full recovery work.

“The CWGC has noted that local conditions are now stabilizing in Mosul, and it has a window of opportunity to re-establish the site,” a CWGC spokesperson told Sky News.

“In addition, it has the excellent support of the UK Consul, UNMAS, and the opportunity to engage a local workforce to assist with the gradual clearance and rehabilitation,” the spokesperson added.

“The commission has rebuilt cemeteries before after serious damage caused by conflict — it is within the CWGC’s capability to do so.”

Iraq saw more than 54,000 Commonwealth war casualties. The commission has not sent a working party to the country since 2006 due to safety concerns. With the violence in Iraq increasing, CWGC cemeteries have been neglected.

When Daesh started its occupation of Mosul, the site was already in a precarious state. With the city now liberated, hope has returned that its graves can receive the restoration they desperately need.

There are Commonwealth graves in the site from 1914 up to the end of World War II, with Mosul witnessing many seismic military events in the 20th century.