Yakup Tekintangaç and “The Liberating Power of Art”

*Source: All photos belong to Yakup Tekintangaç

Yakup Tekintangaç and “The Liberating Power of Art”

“Hey kid, throw the ball back!”

“Why don’t you come down and get it yourself!”

Azad is a young Kurdish boy living with his mother in Istanbul. He is an ordinary young boy; he likes singing and dancing, being silly, watching cartoons, eating snacks while leaving the refrigerator door open. Except for one thing; for reasons largely unaddressed in the film, Azad is not allowed to go outside. However, for Turkish and Kurdish audiences alike, the reason for Azad’s isolation and the implied symbolism is abundantly clear.

Azad’s story represents the hundreds and thousands of ordinary Turkish citizens who have lived under state-imposed curfews, often lasting for days, weeks, even months on end. Although produced in May 2015, director Yakup Tekintangaç’s new short film Azad took on almost prophetic significance in recent months with the resurgence of state-imposed curfews in Turkey’s East.

According to the the Human Rights foundation of Turkey, “Since August 16, 2015 there have been 58 officially confirmed, open-ended and round-the-clock curfews in at least 19 districts of 7 cities (primarily Diyarbakır, Şırnak, Mardin and Hakkâri)” affecting the lives of approximately 1 million 377 thousand people. The curfews have been organized by the Turkish government in connection with efforts to combat the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Turkey’s Southeast.

The intensity and duration of these curfews have dramatically increased in recent months, with the longest curfew to date being imposed on the Sur district of the Southeastern province of Diyarbakır, currently on-going for 41 days. 162 civilians, including 29 women, 32 children, and 24 people over the age 60 have lost their lives during these curfews, with at least 22 of those being killed within the boundaries of their home due to opened fire, missile strikes, and a lack access to health care.

However, Kurdish director Yakup Tekintangaç’s new film focuses not only on the physical dimensions of the curfews but also its effects on the human spirit. Azad spends most of his days alone at home, starved of human connection and the space, both physical and emotional, that he needs to be himself. In one revealing scene, a pigeon accidentally flies into the apartment, and Azad finds in this pigeon a rare friend, a companion to share his captivity. Later on in the film, burdened by the moral dilemma after seeing a dove outside his window, Azad decides to give his friend what he himself cannot have: his freedom.

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One of Azad’s greatest weapons against the encroaching isolation is art and self-expression. Forbidden by his often stern but affectionate mother Sosin due to the neighbours’ complaints, Azad secretly plays his father’s erbane drum accompanied by singing and dance. His father’s drum is one of the few ways Azad has to connect with the memory of his father, who, the film subtly suggests, may have been killed in combat as a part of the Kurdish resistance movement.

Azad has also been working on a secret creative project in the spare room, a secret project which is only revealed in full at the end of the film. The powerful ending of the film suggests Azad has discovered a way to be free even in captivity, to thrive and create even under oppression.

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I had the exciting opportunity to speak with director and writer Yakup Tekintagaç about his short film Azad, to hear some of his insights into the deeper meanings of the film, as well as his thoughts concerning the current situation in Turkey and its significance for the Kurdish community in Turkey:

Do you have any personal experiences that inspired the story depicted in Azad?

I actually met a little boy like Azad.  He was the son of a woman who migrated from one of the Kurdish cities to Istanbul.  He was forbidden to go outside.  He was staying home, locked inside, and was not allowed to play with the only toy he had, the instrument, because the noise was disturbing the neighbours.  The more I thought about the boy, the sadder I felt.  It reminded me my experiences during my high school years under curfew.  I have focused on this and set up my story.  I found comfort in the universe I have created for him where he was liberated.

What made you decide that you wanted to make the film Azad?

Azad means liberated/freed.  Although, Azad appears to be stuck between four walls in the story, we realize his sense of freedom at the end.  Regardless of physical restrictions, you can’t restrain his mind and soul.  He is his own master and is free.  For many decades now, the Kurdish people have been fighting for their own freedom.  They are struggling to live their culture, language, music, words freely.  I wanted to use the power of art and aesthetics to reveal this struggle for freedom.

I find the character of Sosin very interesting, where she can often be irritable and stern but also capable of great tenderness and understanding. What/Who inspired her character?

The Kurdish geography is a tough one.  Living in this area is economically, physically and politically difficult.  Government’s politics and violence reflect on the citizens as well.  The children grow up in this violence.  We may think of Sosin as a reflection of the politics.   She is trying to adjust to living in the big city and fight to make it and is carrying the burden of all these struggles.  But, ultimately, she is a mother.  Regardless of the fact that we don’t know what happened to her husband in that harsh geography, we do know that Azad is the only memory/inheritance left of him.

Music and dance seem to be important themes in your film. What is the significance behind the song that Azad sings frequently throughout the film?

In our folklore, music has an important place.  When speaking Kurdish was outlawed, our culture was carried to this day through music in our minds.  For this reason, narrative historians, dengbej (the name for Kurdish poets), came about.  The instrument in Azad’s hand is a folkloric instrument that accompanies poets.  Of course the song has a meaning.  The son talks about the people who were forced to leave their homelands and migrate.

Your new film Azad and your previous film Qapsûl both told very serious, political stories but through the perspective of young children. What influences your creative choice behind telling your stories from the perspective of children?

Telling my stories from the children’s perspective is not a conscious choice.  It may be the reflection of my subconscious.  Two of my new stories are on children as well.  70% of what shapes up the personality of a human being is formed between the ages of 0 and 7.   If this time period is spent in violence, the other 30% left exists in the shadow of that violence.  Today, in Kurdish cities, just like the 1980 coup, there are curfews.  In the last two months, 44 children were murdered.  Baby Miray was in her mother’s arms in front of her home when she was massacred. Like Azad, hundreds of children, don’t get to live their childhood and don’t get to go out to play.  They are still in shelters, fighting to stay alive amid tanks, bombs, and gun noises.  All this takes the centre stage in all works of art.

Your film often features confrontational imagery, such as the cut-up Turkish identification card. Have you ever experienced harassment or been threatened as a result of your politics?

Just a few months ago, a young man named Sedat Akbas, was killed for speaking in Kurdish on the phone.  During the June, general elections, in the West, Kurdish owned businesses were raided and burned down.  When you visit the Kurdish cities, there’s a security/search point at every corner for searches and ID checks.  It feels like you are in a different country. If you ever bring up the issues related to Kurdish people, you are immediately labelled as “terrorist.”  Just two days ago, a teacher who called in to a TV Show and stated “In the Kurdish cities, children are dying and media is blind to these killings, don’t stay quiet.” The caller and the show host, Beyazi Ozturk, were both declared to have committed treason.  All these are different forms of abuse.

What do you want the Turkish public to take away from your film Azad?

Today, in Kurdish cities, tanks are a part of life. Everyday, children, youth and elderly civilians are being killed. We receive these reports from our relatives, but these reports don’t reflect to the Turkish mainstream media and the public. The fact that when the Kurds are subject to all this violence in their own home and in the West, there’s no mention of it, makes the East and West fall further apart. The Turkish public, while saddened by and criticizing the faith of the Palestinians in a different country, they chose to stay quiet when it comes to the Kurdish people who live in the same country. I wanted Azad to poke a needle in their conscious, raise their awareness and make way for empathy. Because the Kurds and Turks have no choice but to understand each other.  Otherwise, there will be no end to this violence.

Do you believe artists have a responsibility to address politics in their work? Do you consider yourself a political artist?

Reality and life itself are the source of art.  Real life always has an impact in the production of art.  Just like, the circumstances of the period created new waves in cinema (like the Italian neorealism), the historical significance of life impacts the artist’s art.  When I think about what to write, I focus on the realities that surround me and hurt me.  This becomes a form of an outcry.  I cry out loud with my work, and have my voice reach to the farthest distances.  I am rather interested in my own outcry than the political aspects of the issue.

What do you think is the role of art in political and social change?

Art and artists should always advocate for the oppressed and downtrodden.  Art focuses on “what needs to happen” as well as “what is happening or happened.” In that sense it (art) is a pioneer. As it may end wars, it can bring peace as well.  Sometimes, people focus on the real-political life, so that they can’t step out of it to look at themselves in the third eye.  They are drawn into the “now.”  That’s why art can act as the “third eye” and help people develop the ability to step out and wake them up.  It can pull the individual or the society out of this whirlpool that they have been stuck. I believe in the power of art in that sense.

In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge faced by the Kurdish community in Turkey?

Under the main title of freedom; cultural identity, language, cultural rights are some of the fundamental issues. They are all fundamental needs and basic human rights of an individual just like water and bread. If we have to prioritize, “education in the mother tongue” is the first one because it’s a requirement for a culture and history to continue to exist.

Is peace possible in Turkey’s East? If so, what do you think needs to happen for peace to become a reality?

I am not a politician, and I do wholeheartedly believe that art can bring peace.  Peace will happen when people reach the maturity to reclaim the “peace rights” from the current government’s (ruling party’s) monopoly. The ruling parties tend to use the peace for their own political agenda. This is where the liberating power of art comes into play. We need to support the peace process by producing movies that can act as a catalyst for peace.  People deserve this.  We have seen all the dirty outcomes of war; resentment, hatred, death and blood. We should try to liberate ourselves through art by showing the unifying, constructive, and living outcomes of peace.

When will be the next time Azad is shown to the public?

Azad will meet the public through the following festivals:

At the 27th International Istanbul Short Movie Festival on February 3 & 4th at the French Cultural Center, Movie Theater !f Istanbul International Independent Movie Festivals between  February 18-28 in Istanbul and between March 3-6, in Ankara and Izmir.

*A special thanks to Director Yakup Tekintangaç for his willingness to participate in this interview. A special thanks also to Mr. Tekingaç’s Head of Media Relations, Elif Lee, for facilitating and translating this interview.

Yakup Tekintangaç

Born in 1980, Ağrı. Graduated from Yüzüncü Yıl University with a BA degree in Chemistry. He also received a MA degree from The Faculty of Medicine in Biophysics. He studied scriptwriting for 3 years in SEN-DER. He worked on Mezopotamia Cinema Joint for 4 years and participated on Hüseyin Kuzu’s project group for 2 years. His first short film “Qapsûl” was screened on several national and international film festivals, including 50. Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival

Watch the Azad film trailer below
https://vimeo.com/138438053

Benjamin Bilgen

Bilgen, Benjamin, “Yakup Tekintangaç and “The Liberating Power of Art””, Independent Turkey, 13 January 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link: http://researchturkey.org/?p=10421

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