Awards put Kurds in global spotlight

Iraqi Yazidi-Kurd Nadia Murad accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday in appreciation for her work helping women, like herself, who have suffered under the Islamic State (ISIS).

“I share this award with Yazidis, Iraqis, Kurds, other persecuted minorities and all of the countless victims of sexual violence around the world,” she said in a statement on her Facebook page.

Murad’s honours, as a Nobel co-recipient and as winner of the prestigious Sakharov Prize, highlight the emergence of Kurds on the world stage. In June, for instance, Turkish-Kurdish artist and journalist Zehra Doğan, who is serving a three-year prison sentence for a painting, won the Courage in Journalism Award, alongside legends like 60 Minutes’ reporter Lesley Stahl. The list goes on (see below).

In the past few years, Kurds have stepped into the global spotlight, receiving major international awards in human rights, music, literature, science, and film. Why now, and what might it all mean for Kurdish peoples?

Some observers point out that Kurdish suffering has intensified of late, in the wake of renewed violence in southeast Turkey, starting in summer 2015, and the purges following Turkey's failed coup in July 2016, as well as in connection to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

"Our determination to work, our stubborn personality, our spirit of struggle will lead us to success,” said Kurdish soprano Pervin Chakar, who is from Mardin, Turkey. “These achievements of the Kurds push us to work harder. These awards prove that Kurds have artists, writers, intellectuals and scientist around the world. They are the symbols of our existence in the world.”

The international honours have made Abdullah Keskin, the editor of Avesta Publishing House, even more frustrated by the Turkish government banning of books in Kurdish.

"It is impossible to understand why Turkey prohibits books while the Kurdish language and the Kurds have been appreciated and received awards around the world, especially while there are millions of Kurds living in the country," Keskin said.

This spring, Turkish authorities banned 10 Kurdish-language books published by Avesta. Some of these books are essential references for academic research, and the bans hurt Kurdish scholarship, Keskin said.

Award-winning translator Dilawer Zeraq believes Kurds deserve the awards thanks to their persistent struggle.

"Individual achievement is perceived as a social and national success when it finds its value in social and political fields,”he said. “Nonetheless, when award-winning individuals dedicate their prizes to the Kurdish nation, it adds a socio-political meaning to the award. Thus, Kurds will gain increasingly prominent positions among other nations and societies as a nation and society.”

Other states and nations determine the positions of the Kurds and Kurdish is not legally accepted as a language, Zeraq said.

"A language that is actively spoken by at least 30 million people is not even a valid language on social media, such as on Twitter. When a language is in this position, its literature can only stay inside its borders," the translator said.

Murat Bayram, a writer and the Kurdish-language editor of Turkey's opposition news outlet Bianet, talked of the relationship between language and power.

"The charisma and the popularity of a language is directly related to the state of power of those language holders. English is a globally known language owing to the activeness of its speakers in politics," Bayram said.

As Kurds see their language as a part of their identity, they are partially able to resist assimilation, and all of the award winners received the prices for their Kurdish identities, according to Bayram.

"The Kurds and the Kurdish language regain historically lost confidence through the awards. I believe that the awards create a sense of self-confidence," Bayram said.

Germany-based Kurdish writer Jan Dost said awards encourage young people.

"When a Kurd receives an award, it attracts young people like a magnet,” he said. “Especially literature awards are essential. The literature of society would remain weak and underdeveloped without prizes. Because, if the language is used successfully in a work, and if the work is handled well, that text receives an award. The language will develop and become more prominent when the writers try to write well. That's why prizes are needed.”

The imprisoned Kurdish journalist and painter Doğan, who has won several prizes, said awards make the Kurdish people recognised globally. She has dedicated her awards to all political prisoners around the world.

Chakar sees this as just the beginning; artist and intellectuals can do more to spur a Kurdish renaissance.

"We should establish festivals in the fields of music, theatre and literature,” she said. “We should hold book fairs and build concert halls. We should work with a determination not to lose hope.”

Recent awards received by Kurds:

Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize, Sakharov Prize

Zehra Doğan, Courage in Journalism Award

Koçer Birkar, Fields Medal

Cemil Turan Bazidî, UNESCO Special Academic Award

Fırat Ceweri, Swedish Academy's Translation Award

Kayhan Kalhor, Isaac Stern Human Spirit Award,

Pervin Chakar, Grand Prix Leyla Gencer , Orfee d’Or from Academie Disque du Lyrick Paris , France.

Kazım Öz, several international film festival prizes.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.