Genocide and Lyrics: Music after death

To survive we write, we record, we capture and disseminate, we transcribe and translate. Survival comes not just with a second chance at life, but it comes in the form of lyrics, novels, poetry, scores and photographs. What we capture in this life becomes an anchor for us in the second life we live. Some are given another opportunity while some live that second life in the memories of others. And in Kurdistan we immortalize the dead through art.

Every year, on the commemoration of the Helebçe genocide there is a particular song that resounds through vigils, assemblies and crowds. That song is Şivan Perwers’ “Helebçe”. The first time I heard this song I was no more than eight years old. My knowledge on the genocide and the mistreatment and discrimination of Kurds was limited. But at the tender age of eight, I heard the pain in Perwer’s voice as he recited his lyrics.

A strong and sorrow-stricken voice has indefinitely been immortalized with the events of March 16, 1988. It was on that day an unnerving realization hit the Kurdish nation: that we would no longer allow ourselves to be subjected to mass killings and genocide. Well after the massacres of Dêrsim, Agirî, and Mereş; the extrajudicial killings in Qamişlo, Mahabad, Sinê, Kirmanşa and Kirkuk; the executions in the mountains of Hewlêr, Akrê and Dûhok Kurds vowed that Helebçe was the finale. But a nation under oppression is never safe from death and Kurds fell victim once more in Amed, Roboskî and Hewlêr. Well aware of past events in Kurdish history, Şivan reiterates some of the woes.

Dîsa dîrok xwe nû ve di ke, we ke çarek dinê ji çaran e. Again history repeats itself, a time like those of the past

We ke Diyarbekir, we ke Palo û Gênç, Like (the time in) Diyarbekir (Amed), like Palo and Genj

We ke Agirî, Dêrsim, we ke Mahabad û we ke Barzan e. Like Agiri, Dersim, like Mahabad and Barzan

Îro dîsa li deşta Slêmanîyê, li kêleka hendirê li bajarê Helebçe. Once again, today in the province of Sulaimani, in the small town of Helebçe.

The message of anthem of the Helebçe genocide is not bound by time and location. The grief of an era is shared between the mothers of the past and present. The mothers of Helebçe, Agirî, Dêrsim and Roboskî shed tears for their oppressed Kurdistan. The same tears are heard through the lyrics sung by Şivan Perwer. Perwer introduces us to his pain through a stretched monologue of a pleaded sorrow to the world and mankind at large.

Hey gidî dunyayê! Dunya bi xweşi û bi zilm. Oh young world, (a) world full of suffering and oppression.

Ma qey tu têra însana na ke? Is it that you do not suffice for mankind?

Te însanê xweş û delal çê kirî û bi afrandî, bû çi çavê însanan bar û têr na be? You’ve created such good and dear human beings, why are the eyes of these (people) not satisfied?

Geh ser te xweş di kin û geh dûman û ewren reş û tarî li ser te di barînin. Some create goodness (on your soil) while others shower you with evil and dark clouds .

Hev dû di qalînin… They fry eachother (alive)…

Hey gidî însan bû çi çavê te bar û ter na be? Oh young world, why are your eyes not satisfied (thirsty)?

Ma rû kê dunyayê tera te na ke? Are the paths of the world not sufficient for you?

Pêr li Nagasaki û Hiroshima, dûh li Vietnam e, îro li Kurdistan e. The day before last it was Nagasaki and Hiroshima, yesterday it was Vietnam, today it’s Kurdistan.

Ma Helebçe hindik e? Is the Helebçe (attack) an insignificant one?

Sal 1988 meha adarê, gulê Newrozê  disa di bişkivîn. The year was 1988 in the month of march, the flowers of Newroz were blooming once more.

Ewre reş û tarî bi ser Newroza te hatin, bê kef û şahî, bê xweşî. Dark clouds invaded your (Helebçes’) Newroz, without glad tidings, without happiness.

Newroz e dîsa serê xwe bar kirin u tovê xwe li bera erdê dan. Again for your Newroz heads are bowed and knees are kneelt to the ground

Ji bû carek din di jîn werin. For maybe once again life may return.

The words that are so fashionably sewn together to create emotion through recitation is the ultimate goal of any music, and those relating to Kurds and Kurdistan follow suit. At times it is done so effectively that tears can be heard through a vocalist or an instrument and scenes play out in the listeners head. Şivan Perwer is of such caliber and sings an episode to the ears:

Dîsa bombe û baran. Once again (we’re) showered with bombs.

Her derê girtî mij û dûman e. Every door is locked with screens of fog and gas.

Dîsa nale nala birîndaran e. Once again, we hear the cries of the wounded.

Dengê dayika tê li ser lorikê wan e. The cries of mothers over their children.

Bavik bi kedar xwe davêjine ser zarokan e, lê zarok mane bê nefes, bê ruh û bê can e. Fathers thrown themselves over (the bodies) of their children, but the children are breathless, soulless and lifeless.

His introductory monologue sets the stage for the remainder of the song that is rife with more grief, but turns into an outcry towards the Kurdish nation to bring about a change to the calamity of the time.

Hawar Kurdno, hûnê bi kin? Bi lezînin! Oh Kurds, you’ll do it? Quickly!

Hûnê kaxiz û pênûsekê bi bînin, bi nivsînin dunya alemê pê bi hesînin! Bring your paper and pen, write and make the world aware (of you strife)!

Serok û rêberên Kurda li hev bînin. Unite the leaders and heads of Kurds.

Bila yek bi yek bin, ji halê me Kurda re tiştekî ji dinyayê re bi nivsînin! (So) Together they can, for the sake of us Kurds write (about our strife) for the world!

The most important message of the entire song is found in the lyrics above. For decades, the world was idle and ignorant to the Kurdish plight. No awareness was raised for their suffering and no campaigns were launched for the improvement of the status quo. However, like any piece of art, this served as an expression of what the Kurdish nation was beginning to demand from those around them: freedom from oppression, an end to mass murder and genocide and recognition from the world.

Perwer ends with this:

Heyfa Kurdistan ku îro dişewitînin. (It’s) a shame that today (they are) burning Kurdistan.

Agir li serê me Kurdan dibarînin. Showering the Kurdish nation with fire.