Kurdish literary genius and giant, Shokrollah Baban: An obituary

By Dr Amir Sharifi:

Shokrollah Baban

On November 18, 2012, Shokrollah Baban, the great Kurdish poet, author, mythologist, radio programmer, and lexicographer passed away. He had been afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease.  Born to an influential Kurdish family in Sanandaj, Baban was heir to a great deal of wealth and land. However, so powerful was his artistic sensibility and his zest and gusto for literature and music, that he sold all his belongings and property to continue his education in Tehran in 1952.

According to Kamangar Mohammad, who fondly recalls his association with him, and Farhad Baban, his son who still remembers his father with awe, Mr Baban was employed in 1958 as the general program producer for Kurdish Programs in Tehran initially and subsequently, in 1963, for radio Kermanshah and the entire Western Azerbaijan. This work culminated in his serving the Kurdish language and culture as a poet, author, playwright, dramatist, and translator for over thirty years in his capacity as general manager for Radio Sanandaj, in his home town.

According to Kamangar, during the time he was in charge of Radio Kermanshah, the radio’s signals could reach as far as North America, which made it possible for Kurds even in the U.S. to communicate with the program producers. The value of Mr Baban’s efforts has been penetrating. His innovative and popular program ‘Karvan halbast wa gorani’ (the Caravan of Poetry and Songs)   became a model for others to emulate in their initiation of programs such as ‘Barnameh Gol hah’  (The Program of Flowers), an anthology of poetry and music which was conducted as a distinct genre in Persian for years.

Baban’s work as a musicologist also informed the work of famous Kurdish vocalists such as Hassan Zirak and Khaleghi. Baban’s radio program became ubiquitous, a fixture in every Kurdish home through which Kurdish poetry and music came alive with Baban’s warm and penetrating voice; he imparted and shared his aesthetic sensibilities with Kurdish people, young and old. His works dealt with music, poetry, artistic and dramatic forms, aesthetic criticism, philosophical and mystical reflections, comments, and translations.

For me and friends such as Ali Ashuri  -whom I consulted in writing this obituary- who were born and raised in different parts of Kurdistan in Iran, Baban’s engaging personality and charged poetic language produced pleasurable moments and rare memories during our formative years. Deprived of the right to read and write in Kurdish, these enlightening experiences deeply moved us and were invaluable to educating and socializing our generation into our language and culture in depth and variety.

Indeed Mr Shokrallah Baban was a genius and a gentle giant on whose shoulders a whole generation stands. He was the sense and intellect of my generation, a cultural artist whose professional life was nothing less than a moral force loyal to Kurdish cultural, mythological, musical, and historical core values. He recovered the Kurdish literary world and history and revealed its richness and beauty to his listeners and readers, through either his own work or Kurdish classical and contemporary poets and authors. He earned this linguistic and literary authority and extensive repertoire because of his wisdom and imaginative power to understand and recognize the importance of Kurdish cultural heritage and expressions.

Perhaps as in iconic figure he has had the greatest influence in the construction of a new cultural consciousness and sensibility. In this context, he was a pioneer in initiating, instituting, and institutionalizing research and the dissemination of Kurdish histories, literary traditions and modern literacies in an accessible and clear language.

Kurdish language and culture had a special place in Mr Baban’s heart. He explored and brought to the surface new possibilities for the development of the language and its literature through everyday discourse. In his poetry we see the primordial and visceral, yet a rich and colorful imagination. His work conceived of age-old traditions of lyrics and epics with their contemporary possibilities and in which Kurdish society, with its delights and despairs, was always the inexhaustible source for the creation and recreation of a vibrant world.

He created and gave the language and its speakers his whole being. Mr Shokrollah Baban is truly one of the earliest thinkers and poets who brought real language into the realm of poetry and songs, showing the expanse and richness of everyday discourse in symbolisms, allegories and mystical and mythical representations.

To preserve the enduring Kurdish legacies, Mr.Baban authored several books including ‘Baban’s Dictionary’, ‘Kurds and Kurdistan’, ‘Saladin Ayyubi’ and ‘Kurdistan’s Geography’. His ‘Names and Symbols’ and ‘Anthology of Poems’ have yet to be published.

The Kurdish nation has indeed lost a giant whose love for Kurds and Kurdistan penetrated all aspects of his life and his voice has forever pierced visible and invisible walls on its way to us. To preserve his legacy, responsible and influential figures and entities, in collaboration with his family, should compile, repair, preserve, digitize, and disseminate his precious works to serve as a national treasure for Kurds everywhere.

I still vividly recall some lines from a poem by Baban, ‘Moon and Me’. I first heard this free verse when I was 12.

Oh! Moon
you and I have a common pain,
Both of us are caught in a cold sigh.
You, murky and pale in the sky
I, a vagabond in every city
I pay homage to you
The Kaaba of the sickness of heart
The remedy of the heartaches of lovers,
It is night time,
Tonight come to my rescue.
I am lonely, without a friend or a beloved
I am distraught and tormented,
Come to my rescue
I am caught in the oppression of my beloved Shirin.

References: Interview excerpts from the Kurdish press

Dr.Amir Sharifi teaches at California State University, Long Beach, and is President of the Kurdish American Education Society, Los Angeles

Copyright © 2012 Kurdistantribune.com

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