Adam Johannes writes about the coming together of some radical Welsh musicians and spoken word artists to create a new album, Imam Sis We See You, in an attempt to raise awareness of the hunger strike of Kurdish refugees, and of one in Wales in particular.
‘We want you to know that as a people struggling in Kurdistan and in many other parts of the world together with our comrades from other communities, our struggle has only one single goal – to paraphrase what one of the most beloved singers among the Kurds, the Armenian artist Aram Tigran, said: to melt all the tanks, guns and weapons in the world and turn them into music instruments.‘ – Imam Sis, March 16 2019, Day 91 of Hunger Strike
A new album, Imam Sis We See You was released last week. Written, recorded and produced in just one week, this collection of hip hop, Kurdish music, Welsh language tunes, poetry – and more! – is in support of Imam Sis, a Kurdish political refugee in Wales whose 161-day hunger strike ended on Sunday.
The seeds for the album were sewn a fortnight ago when poet and musician Rufus Mufasa was invited to a meeting with human rights campaigners hosted by the British Association of Social Workers Cymru to discuss increasing public awareness of the hunger strike. As one attendee put it:
None of us were prepared for what would follow, and we still can’t comprehend the force of nature Rufus is, the speed and energy she demonstrated, bringing together a huge diversity of artists and poets, all supporting our Welsh artists and the Kurdish Community, showing love and raising awareness for Imam Sis and human rights. Engaging with the Kurdish Community, inspired by their cause, their talents, their children and professional musicians, Rufus’ idea went from a single poem to a 41 track album… in seven days! I doubt that she has slept much in that time.
Bronwen Davies, a Welsh musician explains further why she and others contributed: ‘This compilation is to let the world know that we know about Imam Sis, we care and we are watching. Little Eris’ contribution is a track called “Be the Power”.’
The hunger strike of Imam Sis has been a milestone in Welsh history. Between December 17 2018 and May 26 2019 basing himself at the Kurdish Community Centre in Newport he has survived for almost six months living on nothing but water, a daily glass of homemade lemonade, B1 & B12 vitamin tablets and a tiny amount of sugar and salt. While this prolonged the hunger strike this was a serious action which his friends, including me, feared might end in death.
The action was undertaken to support Leyla Guven, a mother and socialist-feminist MP in the Turkish Parliament whose hunger strike sparked over 7000 Kurds around the world to join her on hunger strike and call for an end to the isolation of Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Imprisoned since 1999, mostly in solitary confinement, he is widely recognised by friend and foe alike as central to any peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.
Welsh trade union leader, Shavanah Taj argues culture is a weapon for social change, ‘The positive role of music and poetry in fighting for social justice, equality and human rights is well documented in Welsh and global history.’ She tells me, ‘Through countless marches, speeches and rallies, activists have used music as a means to build unity and protest for the recognition of equal rights of all people. This album from community grassroots musicians is a nod to this proud tradition, highlighting the campaign for Freedom for Öcalan and Imam Sis, one of the Welsh Kurdish activists on hunger strike.’
Artists echo these sentiments. ‘Raising awareness on social justice is the cornerstone of Hip Hop, and it is vital that our future generations are accessing information and conversation outside of mainstream media.’ DJ Alkemy says, ‘The people are in control of culture, not the machine. Never forget that! The Hip Hop community stands with Imam Sis.’
‘This album is important,’ poet Mab Jones agrees, ‘because it’s using our mouths to highlight the cause of someone who is using their own in an even more powerful way – renunciation is far harder and braver than writing a poem, in my opinion. I hope that my own poem speaks a little to some listener, somewhere, but what Imam Sis is doing/not doing is the truly great work, here.’
In March, following a motion tabled by Plaid Cymru, Wales became the first parliament in the world to show solidarity with Kurdish hunger strikers and Jeremy Corbyn met with Welsh-Kurdish community members joining their call for Öcalan to be allowed access to his lawyers. While fifty Nobel Laureates signed a statement pressing the ‘government of Turkey and the International Community at large, to take immediate action at this critical moment to end the solitary confinement of Abdullah Öcalan and all political prisoners in Turkey. In so doing we stand in solidarity with the hundreds of hunger strikers.’
On Sunday 26 May 2019 7,000 Kurds including MPs and political prisoners in Turkey and refugees in Europe and North America announced their hunger strike was over. They believe enough has been achieved to continue the political struggle against the Turkish government through other means.
Wales Arts Review has a variety of articles about activism available on its site.