The Sung Home. Narrative, Morality, and the Kurdish Nation


The Sung Home tells the story of Kurdish singer-poets (dengbêjs) in Kurdistan in Turkey, who are specialized in the recital singing of historical songs. After a long period of silence, they returned to public life in the 2000s and are presented as guardians of history and culture. Their lyrics, life stories, and live performances offer fascinating insights into cultural practices, local politics and the contingencies of state borders. Decades of oppression have deeply politicized and moralized cultural and musical production. Through in-depth ethnographic analysis Hamelink highlights the variety of personal and social narratives within a society in turmoil. Set within the larger global stories of modernity, nationalism, and Orientalism, this study reflects on different ideas about what it means to create a Kurdish home.

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Wendelmoet Hamelink, Ph.D. (2014) is currently a research fellow at Leiden University. She is an associate editor of the international peer-reviewed Kurdish Studies Journal and works on new research material regarding the memories and histories of Armenians originating from Sassoun.
" excellent bridge between the Kurdish past and the current state of social reorganization, taking place amid the impact of modernity, artfully discerned from the songs, laments, and stories sung/narrated by the dengbêj. It captures some crucial historical, social, political, and cultural dynamics that have shaped the collective Kurdish experience." Ozan Aksoy in Bustan Vol. 8, No. 2 , 2017.
List of participating performers
List of songs discussed
List of figures, maps and tables
List of terms and abbreviations
Notes on language use and translation


i.1 The Sung Home 2
i.2 Some notes on the dengbêj art 17
i.3 Folklore, nationalism, and (self-)Orientalism in Turkey 31
i.4 Narrative and morality 50
i.5 Engaged writing 56
i.6 Chapter outline 58

Part I Songs and Performance

Chapter 1. ‘My heart is on fire.’ Singing a Kurdish past.
Introduction 63
1.1 The kilams and the corpus 69
1.2 Time, place, and figures
1.3 Women and men 73
1.4 Elite and commoners 86
1.5 Armenians 90
1.6 Local leaders in battle songs 96
1.7 A Kurdish geography: place names and landscape marks 108
1.8 Kurdish rebels and the Turkish state 111
1.9 Evdalê Zeynikê: the dengbêj as a figure 122
Conclusion 126

Chapter 2. ‘It would disappear in a moment.’ Performing tradition. 131

Introduction 132
2.1 The empersonment of Kurdishness 135
2.2 The Diyarbakır Dengbêj House and its dengbêjs 138
2.3 Performing the village 145
2.4 Tribes and battles 154
2.5 Rebellions and tribes in performance 159
Conclusion 179

Part II Life stories 183

Chapter 3. ‘A language is a life, and art is a bracelet.’ A landscape of silence. 184
Introduction 185
Life story 1: Politicization of Kurdish language and culture 191
Life story 2: A female dengbêj 201
Life story 3: Landlords and support 214
Life story 4: Armenian voices 222
Life story 5: The religious class 236
Life story 6: Turkish experiences 245
Life story 7: The prohibition on musical instruments 251
Conclusion 262

Part III Conflict and Activism 266

Chapter 4. ‘Decorate your heart with the voice of the dengbêjs.’ Cultural activism. 267
Introduction 268
4.1 Kurdish television in Europe 278
4.2 Zana Güneş and TV activism 285
4.3 The Dengbêj House in Diyarbakır 291
4.4 Zeki Barış and activism in the House 298
4.5 Individual dengbêjs referring to political narratives 302
4.6 Istanbul, a market for dengbêjs 312
Conclusion 320

Chapter 5. Songs crossing borders: musical memories of a family on the run. 324
Introduction 325
5.1 Context and history 331
5.2 Experiencing borders 356
5.3 The embodied experience of singing songs 365
5.4 Resignifying cultural memory and redefining the position of women 367
Conclusion 377

Bibliography 396
General index

Readers interested in the Kurdish question and history in Turkey, concerned with oral tradition, music, gender, and life history research, with border issues and grass-root politics in the Middle East.
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