Zehra Doğan’s Text for the Exhibition in Switzerland: Observatory On Deculturalisation Chapter 1, February 23, 2023 – April 23, 2023
It is stated in the 41st verse of Surah al-Ankabut of the Holy Qur’an; “The parable of those who take protectors other than Allah is that of a spider spinning a shelter. And the flimsiest of all shelters is certainly that of a spider, if only they knew.”
In Rojava, which is located in the Syrian part of Kurdistan, Kurds declared a revolution in 2012, demanding their own self-government following the war that started in Syria. At that time, we had been establishing JINHA, which consisted only of women, for a few months. My friend Hazal and I, as reporters from a women-orientated news agency, set out to go to Rojava, which had been declared a women-led state. We wanted to enter Syria with a passport, but we were not allowed to pass because of the cameras on our backs. We found a smuggler on the border in Urfa and headed towards the border in the heat of August. The sun was hot overhead, we were thirsty, the smuggler told us that we should crouch and hide among the cornfields and hide from the Turkish soldiers who were observing the border towers and that when the time was right we would run through the barbed wire without looking back and cross to the Rojava side. We waited in the hot sun on the hill, but the corn had not yet fully grown, and we waited, clinging to the soil in the short field. Our sweat was mixing with the soil, the soil on which I squatted and lay down became a bed for my high heartbeat. The long wait, my head parallel to the ground, I was watching the ants as they rushed to their nests.
After the smuggler told us that the time was right, I inhaled the smell of the soil of my country for the last time. Who knows, maybe we would have taken a wrong step and died while passing through the mined area. Maybe the sharp attraction of the smell of the soil I inhaled with this feeling was an indescribable feeling.
We started to follow the smuggler with our bags on our backs. The surroundings were very quiet, we had so far managed not to be noticed by the patrolling soldiers. As we passed through the mines, stepping on the footprints left behind by the smuggler’s footsteps, we suddenly realised that a military patrol vehicle was coming fast towards our area. The watchtowers on the hill had noticed us and sent soldiers there. The smuggler ordered us to run without looking back for a second and started running fast and we were running behind him, out of breath. The soldiers started shooting, we lay on the ground. It looked like there was no way out. We had to surrender or die. Before we had a chance to think about it, the soldiers started scanning our position with their guns. The smuggler who was leading us ran backwards through the minefield, shouting that he would surrender to the soldiers and ran in the opposite direction. Hazal and I were left alone in an unfamiliar minefield covered with barbed wire. Neither of us was thinking of surrendering. We were going to get through no matter what. We would either succeed or die. Bullets were raining down on us. At that moment, this border line of perhaps 500 metres at most began to seem to me like the largest area in the world. How had this place, which was so close, made it such a distant country with the barbed wire and a few mines scattered on its soil? This area of a few steps was divided by wires, making it as far away as the distance between Ankara and Damascus. For me, every part of my country was the most distant country in the world with borders dividing it into four parts in the centre.
We were running non-stop, but the bullets continued to rain down on me even faster and more vertically. We had no other way but to run desperately. Suddenly I remembered a scene from the film Apocalypto, which we watched a few days ago. In that scene, the man who was captured as a slave escaped from those who tried to kill him with arrows by zigzagging with his steps and running.
“Run in a zigzag” After saying this, we both rose from the ground at the same time and started running faster and zigzagging. A few minutes later, we miraculously crossed the mined area and were in the Rojava region, which is now Kurdistan in the Syrian part. Against the robotic one-way, inorganic method of the sovereign, we somehow managed to escape with the formless, variable, organic resistance of primitive defence. Our hearts were pounding from running, we threw ourselves on the ground and lay down on the soil. The soil, whose smell I inhaled with deep breaths, smelled the same as the soil I had said goodbye to just a few minutes ago.
We were now in another country, we had committed a crime, we had violated the border and crossed into another country. However, both sides whose borders we violated were our countries. The fact that it was not recognised on the map made it Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and made us and about 50 million Kurds like us criminals.
Two years later, I was in South Kurdistan, which is part of Iraq. ISIS had attacked the Yazidis, one of the oldest ancient faiths in the world, occupied their lands, killed thousands of people as “devil worshipping heathens”, kidnapped nearly five thousand women and started selling them in slave markets. What happened to the Yazdis was a great disaster, but it was not the first time. Since recent history, they had been subjected to 73 massacres, displaced and dispossessed of their lands. Yet, somehow, despite the massacres, they insisted on living in these lands that belonged to them. Each time their houses were demolished, they had stubbornly repaired them again and again and continued to live.
As a journalist, I interviewed women who managed to escape from the countries where they were taken as sex slaves for a series of articles about the events that happened to Yazidi women. On the stones of the graves in the mountain of Shengal, where I went, there were hair braids cut and wrapped in stone. After burying their dead after the massacre, women cut their hair to express their grief and many of them joined the self-defence army in Sinjar and took up arms against ISIS as women. In Kurdish belief, hair is a sacred creature that records memory. Cutting the hair means how great their mourning is. After the death of the deceased person, the hair, in which the memory is recorded, is left in the grave of the deceased. After that memory ends with the dead, a new memory will be recorded. These women, who had completely different lives and dreams just before the massacre, had now joined the guerrilla to protect their mountains and homes with weapons in their hands.
Many of the women I interviewed had been abducted and taken to ISIS-held areas in Syria. They were severely tortured and sold in markets. But somehow they managed to escape from all this horrible environment and crossed the borders and regained their land. On the one hand, they were licking their wounds and on the other hand, they were fighting to take back their houses that ISIS had captured. Just like a spider. Even though the geography they lived in was divided like a cake with barbed wires, they were weaving a web by somehow passing through the border wires by hitting the wires and bleeding their bodies. In my interview, they were saying that they were fighting not only for themselves but also for the future of all the women of the world. In fact, they had somehow started to weave a web by tying knots between the women of the world and the border wires of the world. They were the female spiders cursed in Surah al-Ankabut, the ones who fled every time their houses were destroyed and repaired the destroyed places in the same place, not in another place. They were sensitive, fragile but strong and stubborn female spiders because of their persistence.
Now I am in a life of exile in Europe, in a land I have never known. I had to leave my country after I was released from prison. I tried to establish a home in London, where I first went, but I couldn’t get used to it. The smell of my land attracted me. I went to Sulaymaniyah, which was part of Iraq, and although it was described as another country, it was also my country. But before even a year had passed, the home we had built there with my women friends, with whom I had worked at the Academy of Women’s Sciences, disintegrated. Our academy, where research on women’s history and science, which had been lost for thousands of years, began to be monitored by the Turkish state’s intelligence. On 4 October 2022, a man working for the Turkish state shot our friend Nagihan Akarsel 11 times and killed her in the street on her way to the Kurdish women’s library we had just established. Nagihan had been forced to leave Kurdistan on the Turkish side of the border because she was under police surveillance for her academic work in Turkey. Therefore, she had established a life in Southern Kurdistan on the Iraqi side and had founded the Jineoloj and Kurdish Women’s Library for women. She wanted to reveal women’s history, which had been lost, destroyed and covered up. With Nagihan’s death, this home I was trying to build was also destroyed. Now I am in Europe again. Every step I take is caught in the barbed wire of a planet shattered by borders, as if I have violated a border. I continue to weave my temporary, delicate and who knows how many more times my home will be destroyed. Bleeding my body, I continue to weave my temporary fragile nest, which will be destroyed who knows how many more times.
This lament (Xeribi) is a song sung to a woman named Sorgul. It describes one of the massacres of the Yazidis by radical Muslims. Like Kurdish Dengbeji, klam, payizok, şin, qawal, loti and many other musical modes, Xeribi is the oldest Kurdish singing style. This song, sung by women, can only be sung in the cemetery. It is forbidden to sing it at home or anywhere else. This is because cemeteries are considered to be the last home in the body of the soul, which will come back again through reincarnation. In the last farewell here, the hair, which is consecrated as a memory, is cut and tied to the gravestone, and their forbidden history is told for the last time with Xeribi. Xeribi is not an expression of grief after a death, but the unwritten truth and forbidden history that women have recorded in their memories, spoken again through the body. That is why the meaning of Xeribi is homelessness. As a song of farewell to the dead on the last nest, the history of homelessness is actually read.
And this is what Xeribi says:
“Sorgul, my friend, on the eve of Eid everyone turned towards their family home, but our girl’s skirt is full of sorrow and grief. The wound on the back of my wounded, my sorrow on his forehead, I am one of the people standing in front of the death rope.
… The gold of the world’s possessions does not remain for human beings.
… Blessings to the dead of all Yazidis facing the sun. No one wants to be in that mother’s place, handing over her young child to the dark grave, entrusting him to snakes and rats and waiting by the grave. I am the helpless wound of the dead. I am the cut braids (hair braids) and the wound in my heart and in everyone’s heart. O young people, you do not understand that all that we have, your beautiful eyes through which your beautiful gaze flows, is ultimately only breakfast and dinner for snakes and rats in a dark tomb.“
Material at your disposal:
- 4 lines of handmade, very fine barbed wire, approximately 3 and 3.5 meters long.
- Human hair (from Zehra Dogan), made into wire and prepared into a ball.
- Video Sorgul
Those who read Xeribi: Bese, Sheme, Shirin
Camera: Zehra Doğan
Editing: Naz Oke
Text translation and editing: Devrim Akçadağ
The video should be projected in a loop on the wall, with sound.
The spider web should be installed in front of the video, some meters away : The 4 lines barbed wire must be fixed to the ceiling, to the posts and to the floor, in a space of 3 meters wide, 3 meters high. The hairline should be woven from the middle outwards, to form the spider’s web (the thread holds better by following the spikes, otherwise it slips). The rest of the hair, on the ball, must be laid on the ground without cutting.