Review Turkish-Kurdish dialogue afternoon with film director Asli Özarslan

At 26th of march 2017 the Kurdish-Turkish working group of The Hague Peace Projects organized a dialogue afternoon with film director Asli Özarslan. She was in The Netherlands for the screening of her film ‘Dil Leyla’ at Movies that Matter Festival. The moderator Nora Ledrhem interviewed her first, and asked Asli Özarslan about her ideas to make the film. Asli said that she got interested in the story of Leyla Imret: a Kurdish woman who grew up in Germany and for whom the troubled situation of her people played a big role in her life.

The goal was to make a portrait of a woman, who decided to leave a safe environment and moved to a poorly developed region. Asli and Leyla did not expect at all that the film would end like this. After te war started in 2015, life in Cizre became extremely difficult and made it impossible for Asli to have contact with Leyla .

‘This was for Layla and also for me the hardest thing I experienced in my life’, Asli said.

The protagonist Leyla Imret was born in Turkey and lost her father there. He was a combatant for the Kurdish PKK and was killed by state forces in a village in the nineties. Leyla and her family immigrated to Germany where she grew up. 21 years later she returned to the city of Cizre and became the mayor, being democratically elected for the HDP.

In following Leyla , Asli observed a strong woman, who was trying to process the trauma of her childhood. In the few moments Asli actually could speak Leyla in Turkey, they were both happy to speak German with each
other, the language in which they feel themselves most comfortable to speak.

When Asli was asked to describe the production, she mentioned that filmmaking in Turkey is hard and brought her her first grey hairs. One obstacle was language. She and Leyla could talk German but to get in contact and get the film permission in the region 4 translators were necessary and very often Asli Özarslan needed to concentrate on the feelings of the people, not understanding a single word. With “Dil Leyla” Asli Özarslan presents her diploma movie and after several screenings in Amsterdam, Greece, Germany and Prague most critiques are positive. This film documents the struggle of Kurds, but is unique in the sense that it is not ‘just another’ documentary in which the ‘conflict is explained’. Asli asked the public: ‘how can I explain such a conflict? The focuspoint was a portrait of a woman who tried anything for her people. She didn’t knew all the answers either.’ That is what she wanted to do. To humanize the victims and by doing that presenting some kind of hope in an hopeless situation.

After a short break the dialogue continues with Rosh Abdelfatah talking as a Kurdish-Syrian filmmaker about his projects in the past and how he saw the situation got worse in Turkey since the Syrian revolution broke out. ‘My stay in North-Syria was much safer than the south-east of Turkey when the war broke out there’.

The second speaker was Zeynep Cesin. A Kurdish-Dutch teacher from the The Hague who founded an organization (Günesin Cocuklari) to collect clothes, food and money for people in need in the Kurdish areas. She also went to all these places when the war was going on and is planning to go again.

From the audience a question came: ‘Why did you go and were you not afraid?’ Zeynep takes some time and says: ‘Yes, when the war started in the summer of 2015, here in the The Hague, we were just sitting and talking about it, we watched the horror on facebook and television. But one time I asked, ok, we are talking about it. But what are we doing actually? Nothing! So I took the decision to go in December 2015. People were in need of shoes and clothes.’ What triggered Cesin the most was a Facebook post of a fellow-teacher asking for help.

Her journey was not without trouble and tensions. Many people thought she was from the Turkish secret service. And the fact that a woman ‘all by herself’ came all the way from Holland for Kurds, was something they couldn’t believe. But when they started to trust Zeynep they were very thankful. During her visits, she saw terrible things, men and women who died in front of her, shot dead by snipers, traumatized people and children who are always afraid of attacks.

The audience listened silently. Zeynep sometimes stopped talking. And than: ‘Sometimes I have moments of flashbacks. But I am glad that I went. I felt satisfied. That I did something. What are these people saying? They want peace.”

Another question from the audience: ‘You have seen all these things. But then you return to Holland, and the discussion is you know, the same as ever? What do you feel about that?”

Zeynep: ‘Its difficult that Turks do not support us. It’s just Kurds who support each other. I mean, I’m asking, don’t you feel what we feel?’

Another from the audience commented on that: ‘Because that place is the centre of the PKK’. This led to little friction in the room, but
then someone mentioned something about the words we use: ‘It’s important to develop a common narrative in which more sides can fit in.’

The whole afternoon was recorded with live stream on Facebook, that is still available on the page of The Hague Peace Project.

Miriam Reinhardt, Tayfun Balçik
30th march 2017


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