Small-screen Epic Lifts Kurdish Spirits

Drama about Kurdish struggle regarded as one of the region’s most successful TV productions.

Small-screen Epic Lifts Kurdish Spirits

Drama about Kurdish struggle regarded as one of the region’s most successful TV productions.

Iraqi Kurdistan has never known the like of it.

Over the last few months, an historical drama gripped people’s imaginations, with viewers of all ages crowded around televisions in teahouses across the region to watch the show. Even the roads were noticeably emptier of traffic while it aired.

Gardalul, or Storm, a 25-episode mini-series that ended its second season last week, revived memories of the north’s struggle against Ba’athist rule and has made an especially strong impact on Kurdish youth – many of whom were oblivious to the recent history of their region.

The drama focuses on Ba’athist rule in Kurdistan, beginning in the mid-1970s when the Kurdish resistance was starting anew.

In 1974, the Kurdish armed struggle against Iraqi forces collapsed, forcing Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani – the late father of the Kurdistan Democratic Party leader – to flee to Iran and later to the United States. The following year, Jalal Talabani formed the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, and renewed the battle.

The Kurdish region has been autonomous since 1991, and Talabani has served as president of Iraq for the last three years.

Gardalul tells the story of the civil war against the Ba’athist’s military forces and intelligence agents. The mini-series has roused Kurdish pride, particularly among its jaded youth, and is one of the region’s most successful TV productions.

"People are thirsty for Kurdish arts,” said Shaho Sa'id, a professor of literature at the University of Sulaimaniyah. “They watch [television] and see dozens of different Arab shows, but we don't have such things.”

The mini-series, which starred 350 actors, was written and directed by Jalil Zangana, one of the most famous directors in Iraqi Kurdistan. The show’s first season, broadcast in 2006, concentrated on Sulaimaniyah between 1976 and 1977, while the second focused on the period from 1977 to 1987.

Gardalul, which is expected to have a third season next year, is broadcast on Kurdsat, the main Kurdish channel in Sulaimaniyah, which was founded and directed by Talabani’s wife, Hero Ibrahim.

The mini-series has attracted a wide audience with its stories of acts of violence by Ba’athists against Kurds, including murders, arrests and bloody public confrontations in Sulaimaniyah’s shopping areas and universities.

In one scene, Sulaimaniyah school students chant nationalist slogans against the Ba’ath regime, and its security forces shoot and kill a female student. A number of students are also arrested after being brutally beaten and are put in solitary confinement. A mourning family is shown in the next scene, and it becomes clear that the female student and one of those who were arrested are siblings.

Youth in Iraqi Kurdistan have largely only known life under Kurdish governance and are widely critical of Kurdish leaders.

Awat Najmadin, manager of Kurdsat, said one of the goals of the mini-series was to educate the younger generation about life under Saddam’s regime, as well as that which preceded it.

“It is very important for our young people to be aware of the history of their own people,” he said. “They should know that the current situation in which the Kurds live emerged from the blood of the martyrs who faced death on a daily basis.”

Pshtiwan Noori, an actor who worked in both seasons of the series, called the show “a great work of art that will enrich the artistic wealth of my nation”.

He agreed that it was an important history lesson for younger Kurds.

“We now have a new generation who, unfortunately, do not know about history,” he said. “Most of them don’t have a book in their homes.”

Rabar Hiwa, a 20-year-old student in Sulaimaniyah, said he was surprised to learn about the difficulties faced by Kurds in the 1970s.

“We didn’t know about those events,” said Hiwa. “Watching this series has helped educate us about some of that history.”

Another drama has played out behind the scenes of the mini-series, with a writer accusing Zangana of stealing his idea. However, the allegation has not affected the popularity of the show, and many say they are eagerly awaiting the third season.

Shorish Jawhar, a 32-year-old shopkeeper, who said his father named him Shorish (revolution) in honour of the Kurdish revolution, said he did not fully understand the name’s significance until he watched the series.

“I would have supper and do nothing else until the show finished,” he said. “It reminded all of us of the Ba’athist injustice and oppression.”

Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sulaimaniyah.
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