In Conversation – A Syrian Kurd, Part II

?A red apple invites stones.?

?A heart in love with beauty never grows old.?

Kurdish proverbs

Part II: A Heart in Love With Beauty

Moustafa Mala Bozan is a Kurdish poet and musician from the city of Kobany in northern Syria, not far from Aleppo. He’s been corresponding online with Wanda Waterman for the last year, during which time he’s been imprisoned, has lived in refugee camps, and has travelled over Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Read the first part of this article here.

July, 2012, Iraqi Kurdistan: Moustafa asks me if I’d like to see an Iraqi sunset. He pans his webcam around the refugee camp, saying in his methodical English, ?I suppose to you this is not so great, but to me it is really amazing.? The landscape is ruggedly beautiful, and yes, the sunset is lovely. A friend walks by, a fellow Kurd who lives with his wife and children in the camp with Moustafa, and Moustafa introduces us. I play my guitar and sing ?I Shall Not Be Moved? while they smile with delight.

Back in 2011, discussions with Moustafa start out congenially and end up drowning in misunderstandings. To add to the frustration level, the power in Kobany is turned off several times a day at regular intervals, to conserve electricity.

He says that his group, a band of intellectuals, artists, teachers, and professionals, will be in Kobany participating in a big demonstration, which they also helped organize. He promises me photos. Fabulous. I tell him I’ll need to talk to his friends as well. No problem.

I check the news, and sure enough, a large demonstration transpires, exactly where he said it would and for the reasons he gave me. I can’t wait to talk to Moustafa again and to see his photos.

Again he disappears.

When a few days later I find him online, he’s agitated and confused. He’s been to the doctor but the doctor can’t help him. Nothing feels right. Even his scarf has betrayed him. Laid low by crushing disappointment (my inside source is clearly unreliable and so I don’t have a story), I wish him well and move on.

In my short-lived misery, though, I ask myself if sanity has any place in Assad’s Syria. Perhaps reason has been completely driven from the country and one can no longer write about Syria without looking at it through psychotic eyes. Here even the sane experience periods of blackout, psychosis, and the worst symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is true that one of the purposes of both war and terrorism is to delegitimize suffering?to render witnesses so disturbed that they’re no longer capable of faithfully testifying to their own experiences, of relaying to the outside world exactly what has happened to them.

But as Christopher Morley said, a poet is one who keeps the door to madness ajar. Moustafa is a true poet?he not only exemplifies the poetic persona, he writes ecstatic, authentic, heartfelt poems, rich in imagery and metaphor.

He’s also an extremely good bouzouki player. He says he’s not good in comparison with the others, but clearly it took years of study to create the makams and riffs and intricate melodic rhapsodies of Kurdish music, mixed freely with the cultures that have surrounded it and passed through it.

He sends me a video clip of a Kurdish celebration at which he played with a group of other musicians. The crowd is huge. A lovely young brunette dressed in red wanders among the crowd, throwing petals. There are dancers in traditional dress twirling gauzy scarves. The singer is amazing and the song profoundly moving. I don’t know Kurdish, but all you need to know is that this song, at this festival, is a passionate celebration of cultural identity, a way of expressing an oppressed nation’s longings and heartbreak.

It’s also illegal. A day after the celebration, Moustafa and his friends are arrested for playing Kurdish music in public. They keep him for several months, torture him, and break his knee. By the time he’s released, the trauma and malnutrition have made his hair, so thick and full in the video, fall out. It’s now growing back, but only in tufts; he keeps his head shaved.

And now his cousin has been killed, while working as a soldier for the same government forces who’ve imprisoned Moustafa several times. He was killed by the Free Syrian Army.

?But this does not mean that we are against the Free Syrian Army!? Moustafa insists. I’m guessing his cousin was forced into service by compulsion or hunger.

After burying his cousin, Moustafa writes, ?All my religion thinking should be changed. I should pray, I shouldn’t drink alcohol anymore. I have to be ready to meet my God any time. Happiness can be taken from us at any time?we don’t know how. Death is close to us, and we have to be ready to be confident to meet our God and show our white book to the angels and to God.?

(To be continued.)