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The café-bookstore in Sulaymaniyeh’s Salim cinema is a refuge for intellectuals and young progressives who go there to work quietly, read and flirt.
Sitting at a table, a flowery red scarf around her neck and with attentive eyes, Naska smiles recalling her birth in the 80s in the Qandil mountains, in the midst of the PDKI’s Kurdish guerilla in which her parents, peshmergas, fought against the Iranian State for the Kurdish people’s right to atuonomy. When it became difficult for them to care for their three children, at the age of 5, she was sent into Iran’s Kurdish regions (Rojhelat) with her grandmother. There then followed trips back and forth on both sides of the border which exacerbated her perception of the frontier. Finally, at age 18, she went to study at Erbil’s Salahaddin University, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, in the North of Irak (known as Bashur). There, she obained a licence in computer engineering. Now stateless, she is Kurdish but with no State nationality. With her partner Barzan, she developed the Pirtukân application meant to render available for all a huge library of digital books in Kurdish, published in all parts of Kurdistan and across the diaspora.
Tall and slim, with a gentle smile on his face, Barzan was born in a poor family of the Kurdish regions in Iran. He arrived in Erbil in order to work and failing to be accepted in Political Sciences, he obtained a Master in Business Administration. Although his main area of expertise rests in economics, he became self-taught in computer development, along with a number of other areas. He then got the idea for the Pirtukân application.
The two developers are literature lovers. They realize how Kurdish literature is divided in pieces by the borders of Nation-States that impinge on Kurdish regions, limiting the circulation of works as well as that of people, and isolating written production within the borders in which it was conceived To this must be added, notably in Turkey and in Iran, the prohibitions by governmental authorities against hundreds of books considered too subversive. For example, the publishing house Aram in Turkey has more than 400 books that are prohibited. For the most part, imprisoned authors cannot publish their works, which would be possible digitally via the application. And finally, transportation of paper copies is complicated from one part of Kurdistan to another, as well as to Europe. The abundant literature of Bashur in particular has trouble reaching Europe.
The project, currently conducted with no outside financing, has been met enthusiastically by editors in all parts of Kurdistan who have accepted to make their books available. Access will be free for some, and against payment for others, which raised one of the difficulties in conceiving the app: payment methods are not the same in the different parts of Kurdistan and are dependent on the policies of the respective Nation-States. In Iran, it is impossible to direct bank payment to the outside world because of the embargo, cryptocurrency must thus be used. In Turkey, Paypal is prohibited… Another technical dfficulty involved data security, both for the editors so that the books would not be pirated or modified, in order to guarantee exactness, but also to protect user data. Moreover, the older books do not always exist in digital format. When this is the case, there is sometimes need to re-work the files provided by the editors in order to format them correctly, a long and often fastidious task. “The editors from Rojava provided us with the best files,” Naska says with a smile.
In her view, the application has a wider purpose than providing access to the works. “The question of resisting against borders and Nation-states is the basis of our idea,”Naska says. Since the works being made accessible through Pirtukân will be considered dependable sources, she hopes linguistic research on the Kurdish language and text analyses will be facilitated, as will the circulation of ideas and literary texts As one example, she mentions the possibility of disposing of a multilingual Kurdish dictionary as a reference source.
The two developers have also thought about the matter of accessibility: in a small studio set up in an office provided by one of their supporters, they will begin recording audio books, both for persons with a visual handicap but also for those who cannot read in Kurdish but understand the spoken language. Naska also insists on the space of children’s books and their translation. Not only into the majority Kurdish languages such as kurmancî or soranî but also into endangered languages such as zazakî, hewramî. They have been in contact with the children’s channel Zarok TV in Northern Kurdistan (Bakur), where a similar reflection is ongoing concerning tv programs for youth.
Moving into the technological field is an important issue for the Kurdish movement. “All movements can use technology to support their cause,” Naska says, “I consider we must use it to counter that of our opponents. Potential exists in Kurdistan, but it is under-develped. The quantity of knowledge now available easily and freely has also been underestimated. Perhaps the Kurdish movement has paid less attention to the technological sector because it is associated with capitalism. People in social sciences sometimes have less of a vision on the importance of technology and of how it can help them. But that is changing…For example, the PKK has begun developing its own drone systems”. Prior to contacting the editors, the two developers were in touch with the KCK, a structure grouping all formations upholding democratic confederalism, offering to digitalize its works.
The application’s development is now completed. Naska and Barzan are currently working on formatting works in order to have a sufficient offer on hand at the launching of the application in approximately two months.
Here’s hoping to invite actors in Kurdish literature from all four corners of Kurdistan to mark the event.
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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