Skip to main content

Kurds have only their weddings

"Everyone joins in the fun until the singer switches to a loud lament about the massacre in Halabja—no one can understand the sudden change—and soon the bride is in tears and the groom too and grief overtakes the whole audience."

Credits TEXT: Lukman Derky: Lukman Derky Translation: Christina Cullhed September 11 2018

Lukman Derky was born in Darbasiya in northeastern Syria. He lived in Darbasiyah, Aleppo and Damascus. He has written poetry, history and articles. He works with writing and creating poetry, theater, television and journalism. He lives in France.

In order to make the most of the evening, Kurdish weddings in Syria usually start at sunset—outdoors or at a special wedding venue. Depending on which music is being played the young people might begin by dancing a Kurdish dance of rounds: either the kormanji or the shekhani—but often they start with the shekani as a warm-up.

After a while a conferencier appears who on and off will be making entrances on the stage. He will begin by reciting a few Kurdish poems by great Kurdish poets, moving on to some jokes, and then presenting the first act of his programme that in many ways resembles the TV show Super Star.

Since Kurdish musicians have nowhere else to perform their music other than at weddings, they often take over the show completely. First there might be a band on stage consisting of one or several buzoq players, one table player, and a singer. To catch the audience’s interest and win their esteem the band will begin with some patriotic Kurdish songs sung as a tribute to Kurdistan in general but more specifically to the political party that the band adheres to, and then some songs will follow in remembrance of the martyrs of the party.

We might spy the conferencier behind the curtains waving to the band to hurry up and finish their piece, and a singer blinking back begging for permission to continue. Ignoring the conferencier’s irritation he will then sing on until the conferencier is prepared to end the piece more drastically. As soon as the song finishes the conferencier grabs the microphone and while he thanks the band he also covertly sends critique to the band by generally cursing our Kurdish cultural habits that do not respect the clock. He might then read some more poems and tell some more traditional stories before introducing the next performance: “Dear brothers and sisters! Some young people now wish to perform a play”—and here begins the performance part of the wedding.

The audience claps when the first actor staggers on stage drunk and menacing. His rather ordinary and highly patriotic mother scolds him for drinking and for not being a true patriot but the young man in his gestures ridicules his mother. In comes his angry father who promptly throws him out of the house. There our young man meets Azaar with his comrades who straightaway enlist him, educate him, and cultivate him until he is completely transformed and is promptly recruited by the Kurdish fighters in the mountains. In the final scene of the play the father receives news of his son’s martyrdom. He feels rather proud and then gives his very patriarchal speech, while the mother rejoices and ululates for her son’s victorious martyrdom simultaneously disciplining a child who accidentally has entered the stage.

Next the conferencier presents a more standoffish poet who saunters on stage. He struggles to focus when reciting his very long poem holding up his notebook for everyone to see the Latin letters the Kurdish poem is written in since this alphabet is a sign of modernity and development. Earlier poets would use an Arabic script, while the contemporary poets all use the Latin one. The poet ends his recital notably irritated by the frantic gestures from the conferencier to hurry up; he looks down at the audience with some contempt, and trails off haughtily while the ‘riffraff ‘is applauding.

Following this the conferencier usually presents a dignitary who has something of weight to say—either a politician or a party representative. This dignitary begins his speech from the wedding podium, and in the meanwhile, without being told off by their parents, young children who belong to supporters of the oppositional party run up on stage as a more or less welcome disturbance.

All this and still no sign of the bride, or of the bridegroom. The newlyweds will however not have to miss out on anything that has taken place during their absence; the next morning they will be able to enjoy it all on a video. They will be mesmerized by the way the Kurdish photographer has artfully cut the sequences and here and there inserted pictures of the bride within a rose or a heart—or other such tricks.

Finally, the bride and groom arrive and take up their seats on the stage surrounded by noisy greetings and well wishes—music such as the Eroica by Beethoven or a piece by Mozart add some finesse. At this point the main singer of the evening, who is going to stay throughout the wedding, will have shown up. And what a surprise it might be for the audience. Since they cannot find any other scenes but weddings at which to perform, the finest Kurdish musicians sing and play at Kurdish weddings.

So, at some weddings you will hear true artists. The most famous one is Salah Rasul, also called Salaho. He is a biziq player with an acrobatic style that forces everyone to dance ecstatically so that, in order to not unduly influence the visitors to the mosques, imams in Qamishli have stopped weddings where he is performing—especially near the mosques.

In the heat of the kurmanji dance Kurdish pop is introduced. Young partygoers show up who have no other form of entertainment since there are no nightclubs or discotheques and certainly no pop. So what do they do? They go to weddings! Unperturbed the uninvited guests form a big circle on the floor and begin their dancing. Everyone joins in the fun until the singer switches to a loud lament about the massacre in Halabja—no one can understand the sudden change—and soon the bride is in tears and the groom too and grief overtakes the whole audience. Before long the singer moves on to another song and the dancers resume their enthusiastic moves and high cries of joy as if nothing happened.

And here we detect the importance of the classic Kurdish wedding photograph in Syria. If you perchance are planning to document the Kurdish political, cultural, and/or artistic scene you will need to include comments such as: the great poet started his poetic career at a certain wedding in a specific year; or: this political party had its second congress during these two people’s wedding party in Derbasie; or: this band had its first engagement in the city Qamishli during the wedding of so and so.

As we see, it is at weddings and nowhere else that a Kurd living in Syria can perform the above activities. A wedding is the only arena a Kurd has.

Like what you read?

Take action for freedom of expression and donate to PEN/Opp. Our work depends upon funding and donors. Every contribution, big or small, is valuable for us.

Donate on Patreon
More ways to get involved