Interview with Fethi Karakecili by Ava Homa:
Fethi Karakecili – an artistic director, dancer, choreographer, educator and scholar – was born in Urfa, Northern Kurdistan. He received his Bachelors degree in Folk Dance at the State Conservatory in Turkey and completed his Master’s in Dance at Istanbul Technical University – Social Science Institute. He taught for 7 years as full-time faculty at Gaziantep University and Istanbul but moved to Canada in 2001 and completed his second Master’s at York University, Dance Studies. Currently he studies PhD in Ethnomusicology at York University. He has also been teaching at York University – Dance, Music and Cultural Studies Departments since 2006. For his PhD dissertation, Fethi is working on an Ethnographic approach on Kurdish wedding rituals, dance and music in Kurdistan and Diaspora. Fethi is the founder of the Dilan Dance Company
Ava Homa: What does being a Kurd mean to you, Fethi?
Fethi Karakecili: I want to say it means being a human being like others in the world. In addition to that, the term Kurd has associations: survivor, unhappy, unaccepted, state-less, land-less, sad, refugee, war. In the Middle East and in the world. But after all of this, Kurds live their lives with honour, integrity, courage and success.
Ava Homa: True! Being a Kurd is a mixture of pride and pain. Why did you choose Mem U Zin? What’s about this book that personally appeals to you?
Fethi Karakecili: I grew up with the story tellers. I was 7 years old when I first heard this story from Hino. She was an uneducated folk-story teller from Urfa region. She was living in Adana with us. Adana is in the south of Turkey, but I was born in the city of Urfa in the Kurdish region. Back in 1977 the neighbourhood I was in didn’t have electricity- we didn’t have television or radio. Listening to the story teller was our only entertainment and I heard Mem U Zin from her. Later on I started to investigate to see what was behind this story: was it real? who wrote it? I was curious. Then my curiosity in Kurdish folklore became a danger for me, because in Turkey this was banned. Some Kurds, regardless, had hidden old books and I gained a chance to read the great philosopher/poet, Ahmed Xani, author of Mem U Zin. This epic was written in 17th century in a poetic, romantic style. That was when I promised myself, I will one day stage this great work of art.
Ava Homa: Very interesting, Fethi! Kurds indeed have great story tellers and I believe it is vita to document our oral literature before it is forgotten. Do you believe dance, or art and literature in general, can make a difference in a nation’s fate? How?
Fethi Karakecili: Dance and Art are important parts of a culture. Dance has spirituality and rituals behind all movement, gestures and postures. Most folk and traditional dances focus on love, harvest, grief, weddings, happiness and war. If people’s freedom or access to culture is limited then people are highly attached to their cultures. Also art and culture is part of national identity. It represents who you are, how you act in society and how you present yourself.
Ava Homa: It’s ironical that when you deny people access to their culture, they value it higher. In Canada, students are encouraged to study their mother-tongue in addition to English language and they rarely appreciate this freedom. But, who is your targeted audience and what is the effect you are trying to achieve?
Fethi Karakecili: To begin, this project involves artists from different backgrounds, cultures and dance styles. The main idea is to be a human being and share different cultures on the same stage. Our target is basically ‘Torontonians’ – everyone. We want to show them the lovely Kurdish story of Mem U Zin and let them enjoy the vibrancy of Kurdish culture through the representation of rituals and ceremony (weddings, Newroz, etc.). As an Academic and an artist I would like to take this performance outside of Canada and perform it for other audiences in the world. So far there has been interest from within Canada; and from Europe, USA and the Middle East.
Ava Homa: Fantastic! What you are doing is priceless. Mainstream media either refuses to cover Kurdistan news – such as the recent attacks to Qandil Mountain – or, when they do cover the news, they only offer a one-dimensional view. By putting a human face to the Kurds’ struggle you heighten awareness and interest. How has the response been so far and what do you expect the turnout to be?
Fethi Karakecili: We have had an excellent response from the public and media. I have been surprised by the wideness of response and requests for information. I have been interviewed the Telegraph (UK), Radikal (Turkey), Toronto Star (Canada), ANF (Kurdish network, Europe) and more than 10 local newspapers in Turkey. Also most of our tickets have been sold to multicultural community (not just Kurds). We are getting response from Academics and professional artists. It appears that we might come close to selling out on the performance day. We developed a Facebook page and an on-going blog that have been well received.
Ava Homa: Fethi, we, the Kurds, value you and your arts and appreciate what you are doing for us. We will certainly support you. What is your message to the Kurds?
Fethi Karakecili: I want to tell my nation to make sure we always cherish our rich history and celebrate it. Empower yourself and your nation through work, education and unity. With solidarity we will reach acceptance and peace.
Ava Homa: Thank you! Is there anything you would like to add?
Fethi Karakecili: Mem U Zin is the first Kurdish dance performance (ballet dance theatre) ever in the world. This is very significant and important. It is also unique in using three different dance styles (folk, contemporary and ballet) with dancers of different backgrounds and disciplines. The project includes live music led by Dr. Irene Markov. It is also a multicultural band with players from different parts of the world. In both the dance and musical performance I have endeavoured to include artists of many different backgrounds and colours. You will see touches of other dance styles (East Indian, Capoeira, Afro-dance) in some of the individual performers.
Mem u Zin, the world premiere, at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W., 7 p.m. Oct. 2. If you live in Toronto or Ontario, make sure you enjoy the dance and support your fellow artist.
Ava Homa, a Kurdish-Canadian writer is author of Echoes from the Other Land which was nominated for the the world’s largest short story award Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Giller Prize. Ava has two Masters’ degrees: one in English and Creative Writing, another in English Language and Literature. Echoes from the Other Land has a running theme of resistance by modern women. The stories are told on a universal scale, depicting human endurance, desire and passion. Ava’s writings have appeared in the Windsor Review and the Toronto Star. She was a writer in Iran, and university faculty member. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing and English in George Brown College. For more information please visit www.AvaHoma.com