Exploring Local Heritage with Young People
The Diyarbakır Research Project
MEHMET AKIF ERSOY MIDDLE SCHOOL is based in Diyarbakır, in Turkey.
This is an account by the team from the school for the "Breaking Down Barriers" project, describing a period of research which they undertook, to preserve cultural memory, and raise awareness of local cultures, heritage and ethnicity.
Week One: A meeting with Kurdish Associations
We met and talked to some Dengbêj (as they are called), and introduced them to local people. Subsequently, we met to discuss how can we preserve "Dengbêj Culture" and pass it on to the next generations; and support these people on a local and national level.
About Dengbêj Culture
The term Dengbêj is a Kurdish term composed of the words deng [voice] and bêj (present tense of gotin, to tell). The Dengbêj is a man who recites epic poems in a professional way.
Roger Lescot has given the following definition of the Dengbêjs:
"These professional poets, who over the course of years furnished their memories as apprentices of certain old masters, assumed the task of conserving the traditions of the past and, if some new event were to occur, the celebration of the heroic deeds of the present. … Every emir or chief of an important tribe maintained one or more of these bards, whose songs, because of the contemporary allusions they might contain, sometimes also had political connotations. Thanks to their unlimited repertoire and matchless gift of improvisation, these men transmitted, from the remotest centuries until today, poems with thousands of verses." (Lescot 1977: 798; qtd. Scalbert-Yücel).
Dengbêj disappeared following the criminalisation of the Kurdish language after the 1980 military coup, but have since re-emerged. (See: "The Invention of a Tradition: Diyarbakır’s Dengbêj Project" by Clémence Scalbert-Yücel. https://journals.openedition.org/ejts/4055)
Week Two: A short visit to Assyrian Virgin Mary Church Diyarbakır
Diyarbakır includes different cultures and religions. Though Assyrians were once a significant part of this city, their population now is around only a hundred. They migrated to different cities and countries for several reasons.
Week Three : A short visit to Diyarbakır "Dengbêj House"
We have had a face-to-face meeting with the Dengbêj at the ‘"Dengbêj House" and recorded these meetings.We are trying to create an archive of the materials we collect, in the hope that future generations will benefit from these recordings.
Week Two-Three: Visit to an Assyrian Church in Mardin (a neighbouring city of Diyarbakır).
We tried to record the daily procedure of people’s lives, depending on their religion, culture and language. Following these visits, we are trying to raise our students’ awareness of these cultures.
Weeks One-Two: Visit to a school of Syrian students in Diyarbakır (Baglar County)
We now host more than three million Syrian people in Turkey. We have around 300.000 Syrian refugees in Diyarbakır alone. There is a school financed by EU which is only for Syrians students. We have visited the Syrian students in this school.
Week Three: A meeting with the teachers of the Syrian school
There are Syrian teachers working in this school. We have talked to these teachers and tried to benefit from their experiences for the benefit of the Syrian students at M.Akif Ersoy Middle School.
Week Four: Selecting students to be interviewed
We are doing this work as we want the Syrian students in our school to adapt and integrate more quickly into their environment and the school. By telling their stories to other students in our school, we want to break down prejudices and misunderstanding, and foster greater empathy.
Week One-Two: Collating data gathered from meetings/visits
Exhibiting the materials we have collected so far in school library.
Weeks One-Two: Presenting our work on local radio stations
We have taken part in a programme on a local radio about lost or vanishing cultures, and migration.
Weeks Three-Four: A short movie about Dengbêj culture.
We have made a short film, to commemorate and celebrate Dengbêj culture. We want to reach a wider audience by publishing this video both in the website of our school and the website for the “BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS” project.
You can see the film that the project team made, in the first video below. In the second video, you can hear Özcan Karakoç talking about Dengbêj Culture, and the film that the project team made.