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Remembering Ahmet Kaya  

Kurdish Herald Vol. 2 Issue 1, February 2010 - by Ozan Aksoy

 

The same week that I planned to write this piece about the life of Ahmet Kaya, I happened to read an interview with Serdar Ortaç, a Turkish pop singer who was among the instigators of the attack against Kaya in 1999. The attack occurred when Ahmet Kaya received the best singer award of the year and told the audience in his acceptance speech:


“ I composed a Kurdish song and I am looking for a brave producer and a brave TV channel to broadcast it, and I know there are some among you."

 

Upon hearing this statement, the prominent Turkish musicians and celebrities of the time began throwing objects at Kaya, including the forks and knives at the tables before them. He was protected from injury by a couple of friends and waiters. Soon after this event, Kaya was forced out of Turkey because of constant death threats.

 

The Late Ahmet Kaya - www.ahmetkaya.com

 

Approximately two months prior to his fatal heart attack in Paris in 2000, I had the chance to meet Kaya just before his performance at a Kurdish event in Cologne, Germany. As members of a music group from Turkey, he invited us into his dressing room to reminisce. Before us was an exiled giant who had left his beloved country, home, family, car, and everything he had built for decades in Turkey. He was sad and lonely at that time but still did not regret his famous words of the truth about the state of Kurds and Kurdish music in Turkey.


Kaya was eventually acquitted of all charges but the attack at the awards ceremony and the campaign against him that followed forced him to stay in Europe for good. Today, nine years after his death, the leading perpetrator of the attack, Serdar Ortaç, apologized for his reaction against Kaya in a newspaper article in the Turkish newspaper, Milliyet. In the article, Ortaç admitted he was wrong, but states that he only recently realized this mistake. In a similar change of face, TRT (Turkish Radio Television Broadcasting Company) announced that it is going to retract its policy to ban blacklisted singers including Ahmet Kaya following the new government’s democratization policy. Kaya has been among the singers blacklisted and thus banned for more than twenty-five years.


Ahmet Kaya was born to a Turkish mother and a Kurdish father in the city of Malatya. He was never fluent in Kurdish and wrote his lyrics almost exclusively in Turkish. However, he had managed to express the hardships that the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere were experiencing over almost three decades through his emotional lyrics. My uncle, Ibrahim Aksoy, introduced me to Ahmet Kaya’s music when I was only 10 years old. “Aglama Bebegim”, or “Don't Cry My Baby”, is the first song that I heard from Kaya’s first album, which we almost memorized from the lyrics to the liner notes. The album was banned as soon as it was released, but my uncle somehow managed to get a copy. I still remember with a bittersweet nostalgia the poor-quality recording from my old cassette player. Kaya’s appeal originated from the populist and rebellious nature of his lyrics and his unique delivery style. His voice was among the very few protesting the undemocratic actions of the Turkish state, especially after the military coup d’état of 1980 that had virtually destroyed all previous protest movements.

 

Nine years have passed since Kaya’s departure from this world. He died in Paris in exile like Yilmaz Guney – a prominent Kurdish director – who also passed away with a desire to return his homeland one day; their artistic experiences resemble one another. Yilmaz Guney was a filmmaker whose movies were mostly in the Turkish language, but are nevertheless loved by the Kurdish people because of their rebellious nature and appeal to Kurdish subjects. Ahmet Kaya, like Guney, almost always performed in Turkish but his audience has been the disenfranchised Kurds, and also Turks, of Turkey who occupied the outskirts of metropolitan cities. While both Kaya and Guney lived the last years of their lives in exile and now rest in the same cemetery, their work lives on across the world in the hearts of all their fans forever.

 

Ozan Aksoy a PhD candidate for Ethnomusicology at the Graduate Center of City University of New York. Aksoy is currently working on his dissertation project, which deals with the relationships between the transformation of Kurdish music and the emergence of Kurdish nationalism among the Diaspora musicians in the last two decades.

 

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