Friday, September 26, 2014

Kurdish Musician Lauded Globally, Silenced in Iran

TORONTO, Canada—Musician Hafez Nazeri’s bestselling debut album “Rumi Symphony Project: Untold” is receiving praise around the world, but Iran has cancelled his performance.
The New York-based Kurdish singer’s premiere, long anticipated in his home country of Iran, was called off after Tehran refused to issue visa for well-known international figures and musicians.
Combining eastern and western music, Nazeri collaborated with 38 musicians from diverse backgrounds to create “Untold,” which has topped the classical charts. The album was produced and distributed by Sony Classical. 
Deepak Chopra, Zakir Hussein, Paul Neubauer, James Bagwell, Thomas Lazarus and David Frost are among the instrumentalists who helped in the creation of “Untold” and require a visa to enter Iran.
Nazeri has also created a new version of the stringed instrument called setar. Photo:
Nazeri has also created a new version of the stringed instrument called setar. Photo:

The singer and composer’s debut album uses the universal language of music to promote peace and harmony in a world that desperately needs these two elements. Nazeri quotes the philosophical Iranian poet Rumi, who wrote, “We dance behind veils/ Muslim, Christian, Jew are the masks we wear/In Truth we are not here/This is our shadow dance.” 
Son of the Kurdish Maestro Shahram Nazeri, Nazeri speaks of his pride for his Kurdish heritage. He grew up in a literary and musically rich family long before beginning his formal education in music in America. 
Nazeri began his music training at the tender age of 2 and had his first global performance with his father at age 9. He has had sold-out performances across US, Canada and Europe and won a young composer award at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). 
Despite the album’s international acclaim, only 20 minutes of “Untold” was released in Iran under a different title, “Boode-Yazdahom” or the eleventh dimension. 
Nazeri has also created a new version of the stringed instrument called setar. It took him years of working with famous setar makers Majid and Saeed Safari to perfect the idea he had harbored for almost a decade. The new instrument, named “Hafez” after the musician, offers a wider range of possibilities for musicians and is used in his new album. 
His father, Shahram Nazeri, praised internationally as an innovative vocalist, has showcased his son’s music across the world using both Persian and Kurdish. He has collaborated with the renowned Kurdish family ensemble,Kamkaran. Recently, Shahram was also criticized in the Iranian media for singing in Kurdish.
When Nazeri’s concert was cancelled, Shahram stood in for his son. Shahram is a legendary musician, equally beloved among Kurds and Persian Iranians for his art, his compassion and his generosity. 
Speaking to Iranian media, Sharham stated that when Kurdish students died in a fire because of sub-standard heating systems in the village of Shinawa, he was inspired to devote an entire year of his income to people in need.

This article was originally published here:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kurdish Activist Co-Directs Powerful Syria Documentary

Director Wiam Simav Bedirxan (L) with producer Ossama Mohammed at Cannes Film Festival. Photo: AFP
Director Wiam Simav Bedirxan (L) with producer Ossama Mohammed at Cannes Film Festival. Photo: AFP
TORONTO, Canada—A Kurdish activist is at the heart of a searing new documentary that uses over 1,000 clips of raw mobile phone footage to depict the brutality of the Syrian war.

Silvered Water, Syria’s Self-Portrait is co-directed by Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a pacifist and amateur filmmaker who becomes the eyes of the conflict for a famous exiled Syrian director, Ossama Mohammed. From France, where he collects footage of the war via social media sites that are used in the film, Mohammed relies on Bedirxan to film life in Syria as the country descended into violence and chaos.

In this powerful film using shots from 2011 to 2014, Bedirxan remains in her hometown of Homs during the three-year siege of the city and documents the destruction. Bedirxan stays even when most of her family is killed before her eyes, when she gets shot and when even revolutionaries in the siege are critical of her for not wearing the veil. Like a Peshmerga, she faces the death: her camera her invincible weapon.

She gathers the homeless refugee kids and teaches them, gets them to laugh, and films them. The children become the only sparkle of hope in this otherwise graphic and horrifying film.

The co-directors collaborated via social media and only first met in person when the film premiered in Cannes in May. It is being shown at several high-profile international film festivals, including in Toronto, where Silvered Water was screened last week.

The film, which is named for Bedirxan (Simav is Kurdish for “silvered water”) is an insider’s perspective of Syria’s transformation from a place to live and love, into an unlivable, unimaginable ruin. Variety, the industry publication for Hollywood, called it “necessary and often unbearable” in its review.

Defying Syria’s notorious snipers, Bardixan’s camera is hidden under her clothes as she walks through the ruins of Homs to bear witness to the atrocities.

In Paris, Mohammed obsessively watches and re-watches the amateur footage posted on Youtube and Bedirxan’s images to connect to his homeland. As he encourages and guides the budding documentarian, she calls Mohammed -- her mentor, whom she has yet to meet in person -- “havalo” or Kurdish for friend.

In addition to Bedirxan’s images, corpses, scenes of torture and burnt and mutilated animals are among the 1,001 images taken on cell phones by Syrians who document the brutality in an effort to shame the world into action. Mohammed finds the footage on social media and integrates them into the film.

The images become more gruesome as the movie unfolds and yet certain images are recurrent, including the one of a naked teenager, sodomized and humiliated into kissing a soldier’s boot and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s photo. Ironically, the video was made and distributed by the victimizers to instill fear, unaware that it would backfire and put their atrocities on display for the world to watch.

The film depicts unbearable cruelty; the binary of oppressed and oppressor is a theme in Silvered Water that shows the “tragedy” of seemingly heartless soldiers who kill whether they want to or not, and then are killed.

“Move faster than your fears, Havalo,” Mohammed tells Bedirxan, who hides herself in a child’s closet to prepare herself to face the world the next day.

She continuously films a happy child in the middle of chaos and annihilation who casually makes thought-provoking remarks. An infant whose umbilical cord is cut becomes another recurrent image of the movie.

The movie ends with the word “freedom” being painted in red streaks of blood on bright, white snow.

This article was originally published at

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review of Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Book Review by Dawn Promislow author of Jewels and Other Stories 

This review was originally published by Mostly Books

Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Ava Homa's debut short story collection Echoes from the Other Land was published in 2010 by TSAR, the publisher of my first book. I say this in the interests of full disclosure. Ava Homa is also my friend, a fact I mention also in the interests of disclosure. But I’d like to tell you about this book, this unique book, which has given me a rare glimpse into an unknown world.

The slim collection of seven stories is set in the present-day Islamic Republic of Iran, a country that for most us is hidden behind impenetrable borders - borders, for western readers, that are physical, cultural and psychological. Ava Homa is a native Iranian, and she writes of the place she knows. She tells of young women living ordinary lives, but lives behind veils - veils physical and actual, but veils cultural and psychological, as well.

Perhaps the most arresting feature of this collection is the oblique and spare style of its writing. The language is shorn of all adornment or flourish. We enter into the minds of characters, the hidden and secret minds, where thoughts echo in the silence. This silence is that of a censored world, where actions, even thoughts, are daring, and fugitive. And there is indeed a sense of the fugitive in this book, because the women are hiding and running from patriarchal authority figures, and their assertions of will are sudden and shocking, and often silent and invisible - that is to say, these assertions are sometimes merely thoughts in a character’s mind.

Dialogue here is often fragmentary, and whispered, so that words become a covering, or half-covering, over events in the narratives. Words in this way are both a revelation, and a veil. Words indeed are fugitive themselves in these stories, like startled birds that have escaped, by mistake, or despite themselves.

The spare style evokes, in an organic way, the bare landscape of Iran itself, or at least the landscape as this reader imagines it. An aridity to it, and a kind of suspension, which is the suspension of a people living under a totalitarian regime. The stories have rare flashes of colour - literal colour, as in a red dress or scarf, or lipstick - but colour metaphorically speaking also. The colour of a seldom glimpsed or expressed passion, or of a small, courageous act. It is the subtlety and surprise of these flashes that constitutes the art of these stories.

It is perhaps one of the aspirations of serious fiction to embody a sensibility and a place in so natural a way, with so little artifice, and it is certainly the hallmark of an artist who can do this. There are few voices we hear coming from this fortressed country, and this one, with its many echoes, and many silences, is real. For anyone interested in entering another world, a very different world, but one where people (and especially women) struggle with the same things people do everywhere, I recommend you read this unique book.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Art Gives Rebirth to Unschooled Kurdish Mother

‘It was at the peak of glory that my tears finally ran down” Khanim Amin sits under a tree in Toronto holding one of her paintings. Photo by author

‘It was at the peak of glory that my tears finally ran down” Khanim Amin sits under a tree in Toronto holding one of her paintings. Photo by Ava Homa
TORONTO, Canada – If you are in your 60s and your talent has not flourished yet, don’t worry too much. Khanim Amin, an unschooled and untrained Iraqi Kurd, was 72 when the paintings she had drawn out of sheer boredom gave her rebirth as a recognized artist.
Recently, the works of the homemaker-turned painter, who lives in the Netherlands and is now 75, were shown at a solo exhibition at the Toronto Public Library in Canada. 
You could say she was discovered by her own son.
Several years ago Hama Renas, an Amsterdam-based artist and graphic designer, was startled to see what a potent image drawn by his mother, who was about 65 at the time. He praised the painting and asked her to continue. But Khanim did not believe her son, thinking he was only being silly.
“We argued several times as I firmly believed what I had drawn wasn’t any good; I wanted to get rid of them,” she said in an interview with Rudaw. “But he wouldn’t allow me.”
After half a decade of painting, Khanim finally allowed her neighbourhood community center to put her art on display. Even then she was surprised to see the praise she received.
Before long, Khanim was recognized as an artist in her own right, and interviewed internationally.  She had paintings on display at exhibitions across Europe, and back in Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region, where she was born and raised.
“It was at the peak of glory that my tears finally ran down,” she recalled. “Everybody asked why I was crying. I said that I needed this attention and recognition when I was young, not in my 70s.”
She had grown up in such a traditional family that her father had not allowed her to go to school, when most girls in her neighbourhood and her family could at least complete elementary school. At 16, she was married off to a man who was 25 years her senior, and a father of six.
Khanim worked all her life to raise her 12 children and step-children, making sure that – unlike her – they were all given an opportunity at education. 
When her fans purchased her colorful paintings and asked her for signatures, it was with a shaky hand that she would spell out her name: Khanim has never taken any literacy or painting courses. And yet, she could converse with her admirers in Sorani, Kurmanji, Arabic and Farsi, exhibiting her enormous talent for languages, as well as for art. 
Asiyah Majid, her Toronto-based daughter, said that about 10 years ago when she was shown a painting, she assumed it was something by her brother, Renas. She was surprised to find that her mother was the creator. 
“But that was only a momentary feeling,” Majid told Rudaw. “In a second everything made sense. I remembered how she’d help all of us with art and craft school projects, how she always admired art and beauty and would purchase art for our home, something that was considered excessive in the culture. She has always admired color, music, nature, art -- everything beautiful.” 
The difficulties of life in Kurdistan, and the war that Saddam Hussein waged on the Kurds, did not leave Khanim a chance to discover and express her talent.
In addition to caring for twelve children, she helped the family by working all her life, as a tailor and later a midwife. When her husband passed away, she left Kurdistan and has lived in the Netherlands for 21 years.
Shillan Jabbar, a local Toronto artist who organized and promoted the exhibition, summarized Khanim, her life and her art in a single phrase: “Opportunities like this come only once in life.”

This article was originally published by Rudaw