Despite their lack of a homeland, Kurdish culture survives. Photo courtesy Hackney Museum
Shruti Ganapathy investigates Kurdish culture through a new exhibition at Hackney Museum.
The Kurdish community is perhaps one of the oldest surviving of the Middle East. Its roots can be traced back to the Mesopotamian civilization that existed on the banks of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris.
Hackney Museum, in association with the Halkevi Kurdish-Turkish Community Centre, is displaying the first of two exhibitions focussing on Kurdish cultural heritage. The first exhibition runs until July 2 2005 and the second, which will focus more on Kurdish culture in the UK, will be on display from July 5 2005 to September 17 2005.
Hackney has become a centre for expatriate Kurds - the first Kurdish radio station was broadcast from Hackney, not Kurdistan and the oldest Kurdish bookshop still survives in neighbouring Haringey.
In the villages, bread is still made in the traditional way. Photo courtesy Hackney Museum
The exhibition aims to recognize and celebrate the diversity of Kurdish culture and at the same time record experiences of minority groups that were forced into migration due to oppression.
Kurdistan is not a geographically defined space of land on the atlas. The area covers parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia but these countries sharing the Kurdish population do not acknowledge its existence.
The 1920 Treaty of Sevres that divided the former Ottoman Empire promised the Kurds an independent state. However, the recapturing of the Kurdish inhabited areas by the new Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, forced the Allies to accept a renegotiated Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which offered the territory to Turkey.
Large Kurdish communities live in Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Armenia. Photo courtesy Hackney Museum
Other areas of Kurdistan were given to Iraq and Syria under the same treaty. This left the Kurds without a self-ruled region. Since then, Kurdish separatists have continued to seek independence in an area approximating that identified at Sevres.
The exhibits, created by participants of the project, include text panels, interviews, a fashion show recording and songs by Dengbej storytellers who traditionally sing tales of war and romance and stories of religious and national heroes.
The text panels are extremely informative including explanations of the origins of Kurdistan, its geographical boundary and the Kurdish New Year - Newroz.
Sugar cutting the old-fashioned way. Photo courtesy Hackney Museum
Kameel Ahmady helped put together pictures for the text panels. A freelance media worker by profession, he shot them on an independent trip to Kurdistan. The recording and filming of interviews was done back in London where a variety of Kurds were encouraged to talk about their experiences of living away from home.
Ibrahim Dogus, chairperson of the Halkevi Community Centre, said that back in their recognised countries, Kurds were not given the opportunity to exhibit their social culture and tradition: “We are campaigning for equal rights. Small minorities must have their rights,” he said.
The material collected during the course of the project will help establish a community archive.
The project is supported by the London Museums Hub, The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, the National Archives and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Shruti Ganapathy is the 24 Hour Museum Untold London Student Journalist covering heritage and diversity stories in the capital.
From August 2005 you can read more stories like the one above at UntoldLondon.org.uk - a new website funded by MLA London through the Renaissance scheme, detailing museum and community history events covering multi-ethnic London.
Contact the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a museum, gallery, archive or community group and would like to know more about taking part in this project.