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Homeward Bound

Academic journal article Afterimage

Homeward Bound

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Journey to the Sun (Gunese Yolculuk) by Yesim Ustaoglu, 1999

A Time for Drunken Horses by Bahman Ghobadi, 2000

Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains by Kevin McKiernan, 2000

"Do you know the way to Kurdistan? Although you won't find it on any map, this virtual nation of more than 25 million Kurds living in contiguous areas of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia is nonetheless giving rise to a new kind of "national" cinema. The appearance over the past two years of several widely acclaimed feature films about the plight of the Kurds--the world's largest ethnic population without its own state--suggests the emergence of a cinematic movement, one with the potential to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor. This small but illustrious group of films includes the three discussed herein, Yesim Ustaoglu's Journey to the Sun (1999), Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses (2000) and Kevin McKiernan's documentary Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends But the Mountains (2000). [1] These films are not the first to portray the Kurds, but they form the core of what might be called a new Kurdish film movement.

The initial impact of this new movement was felt with the premiere of Journey to the Sun at the 1999 Berlin Film Festival, where it was awarded both the Blue Angel Prize for best European film and the Peace Prize, a benediction that launched it on an auspicious run of international festivals; it opens in United States theaters this February. Completed later, but the first to reach U.S. audiences in theatrical release, A Time for Drunken Horses is the one film in this group made by an ethnic Kurd, and comes bearing the Cannes Film Festival's Camera d'Or for best first feature. A corollary to these two is the documentary Good Kurds, Bad Kurds, seen to excellent effect at last year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival and currently part of the festival's touring program. Highly varied in their methods and means of production, the fictional films share a documentary impulse most apparent in their use of non-professional actors, but which also informs their ethical concern with recounting previously u nrepresented histories.

The Kurds have continuously inhabited the region known as Kurdistan for some 2000 years, preserving an awareness of their distinct ethnic identity while encompassing broad linguistic, social, political and religious diversity. Although the idea of Kurdish nationhood did not emerge until the 1890s, the dream of a sovereign Kurdish state has hovered like an elusive mirage over the last century. The Kurds' host nations systematically suppressed Kurdish cultural identity and implemented programs to forcibly assimilate them into their national polities. While many Kurds did manage to assimilate, decades of repression and strained coexistence served to strengthen ethnic self-awareness for innumerable others. [2]

Ten years ago, at the close of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, the Kurds decisively crossed the threshold of American consciousness when news media were flooded with the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees camped on the Iraqi-Turkish border. Having endured Saddam Hussein's deployment of chemical weapons and the 1988 Anfal ("spoils") campaign that destroyed 4000 Kurd villages, and fleeing reprisals from Iraqi military in the wake of their defeat, the refugees found themselves sealed out of Turkey, which feared massive destabilization. Combined with the revelations of Hussein's genocidal atrocities, the sheer scale of the Kurds' anguish could no longer be ignored--that is, until it could be forgotten again. In Western Europe the Kurds have remained high on the public agenda, partly due to the large, well-organized Kurdish emigre communities living there, but here in the U.S., where historical amnesia is doctrine, the "Kurdish question" [3] has gradually receded to the periphery of consciousnes s.

1991 was also a pivotal year for the Kurds of Turkey. …

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