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Kurdish play to premiere in Turkish theater

  • Story Highlights
  • Kurdish-language play to be performed for first time in Turkish state theater
  • Play, at theater in predominantly Kurdish southeast, deals with blood feuds
  • Dozens killed in suspected blood feud attack on wedding party in May
  • Director Tamer Levent: Kurdish adds "special dimension" to performance
By Simon Hooper
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(CNN) -- A play featuring dialogue in Kurdish is to be performed for the first time at a Turkish state theater Thursday in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

Director Tamer Levent said that performing parts of 'Olumu Yasamak' -- or 'Living Death,' a play dealing with blood feuds in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region -- would add a "special dimension" to the performance.

"(The play) tells the story of people living in the region. We will also reflect the language and culture of the region, too," Levent told the Anatolian News Agency, adding that previous performances of plays by dramatists such as George Bernard Shaw had featured English dialogue.

"It wouldn't be right if we translated this culture into Turkish. This is why we present this culture in its own language, Kurdish."

Orkun Gulsen, the head of the Diyarbakir State Theater, said that although set in the city, the play dealt with themes and social issues common to many cultures throughout the world.

Kurds make up around 18 percent of Turkey's population but for decades their culture and language was outlawed by Ankara, including the performance of traditional Kurdish songs and plays. Turkish state theaters are funded by the government.

Turkish forces near the country's southeastern border with Iraq regularly clash with militant separatists of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-old struggle for an independent Kurdish homeland.

But many restrictions on speaking Kurdish were lifted in 2002 amid a raft of reforms aimed at liberalizing Turkey's political system and preparing the country for European Union membership.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has also lifted restrictions on private TV stations broadcasting in Kurdish. Turkey's state-run TRT television also launched a Kurdish language channel at the start of 2009.

Levent said he had decided to deal with the issue of blood feuds after 44 people, including the bride and groom, were massacred at a wedding party by assailants armed with bombs and automatic weapons in the southeastern village of Bilge -- an attack authorities blamed on longstanding tensions between local families.

"I was thinking that staging a play about blood feuds was no longer important for Turkey. But this incident has changed my mind," he said.

"This is a play about the conflict between tradition and rationalism. A part of a family see blood feuds as a matter of honor, but on the other hand, the other part of the family sees the absurdity (of the tradition)."

Experts estimate that dozens of people in rural Turkey are killed each year as a consequence of blood feuds, according to a Reuters report at the time of the May massacre. Vendettas linked to land disputes or family honor often date back generations.

Yesim Comert in Istanbul contributed to this story.

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