Editor’s Note: A Kurdish-language translation of this article is available on the website of the Kurdish magazine Culture Project.
Kurdish novelist, poet and essayist Bakhtiyar Ali is best known for his novel, translated as I Stared at the Night of the City, which is a best seller in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and is believed to be the first novel translated from Kurdish into English.
Now he and his translator, Kareem Abdulrahman, are finalizing Ali’s next novel, The Last Pomegranate, which the author hopes will be published next year. He read an excerpt from it at the Shubbak Festival in London in July.
Ali’s forthcoming novel is set in Turkey and explores the repressive and racist politics in the successive regimes after Atatürk, the modern nation’s founder and first president, and how discrimination against ethnic minorities came to be accepted as the norm.
“It will be the first time I write about a non-Kurdish, non-Iraqi environment,” Ali said. “There is a dark side to Turkish history that few talk about. I think it is the duty of literature to expose the contradictions inherent in nationalist and racist rhetoric.”
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, making up about 20 percent of the population, and their culture has faced varying degrees of repression over the years. There are an estimated 45 million Kurds worldwide, concentrated in a geographical region known as Kurdistan, which includes parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Fascination With Literature
Ali was born in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, in 1960. He now lives in Bonn, Germany. He won a PEN Promotes grant for literature in translation in 2015 and the Nelly Sachs Prize in 2017.
Impressed by the plays of Jean-Paul Sartre, Ali was fascinated with the way literature could serve as a vehicle for important philosophical ideas. Although he studied geology in his university years, his passion for literature remained a constant source of refuge, especially during the turbulent years of the Iran-Iraq War, “one of the most absurd wars in history,” as he calls it.
“The brutality of politics at the time was terrifying,” Ali says. “I felt as though I were a stranger in my own circles. All my friends were involved in the political movements of the time. I read a lot as a way to forget the circumstances around me.”