Late nights in Ranya

By Pat Thompson

The chill of the night was kept at bay by the constant shuffling and stamping of feet on the soft short grass and the rhythmic shaking of our shoulders.

We were dancing, Kurdish style. The long semi circle of men and women holding hands tightly bunched, shuffled in time with the drum and oboe. Cheers, whoops and shouts exchanged between the excited dancers.

The semi circle multiplied, there was two, maybe three with individuals dancing, twirling and hopping between them.

These dancers represented the world.Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic, Assyrian, Persian. Christian, Muslim and Yazidi. Standing side-by-side, dancing, shuffling, twirling to the rhythm of the drum to the melodies of the oboe.

Politically the situation in and around Kurdistan is difficult, complex. The conflict in Syria, hunger strikes and military action by Turkey, threats of war against Iran not to mention the struggle for independent Kurdistan as a whole. The politics, fueled by money and power, racism, xenophobia and old militaristic alliances, has little to offer the common citizen any more, yet it controls everything. Business is done, the fires of war are stoked, accusations fly, and the people suffer.

But here, entranced by the music, the common bound of all people, the politics ceased to be. Relationships were built on mutual respect for each other’s gifts, talents and passion and the struggle to push their talents to the limit.

The Ranya cultural festival was a hotpot of music and dance from around the region. Two nights of bright lights and camera crews, aimed at a stage providing an opportunity for young performers to entertain more than 5000 people. They all revealed in the opportunity and didn’t disappoint.

But it was the after show party, the after hour activities that really showed the spirit, the joy and the passion of this ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse group of people. As the performers gathered to entertain themselves, they no longer performed, they played and played and played into the small hours of the morning, sharing songs of love and lost, life and death, dancing, clapping and stomping the beat, or holding back, in solemn silence, as a Mamosta (teacher) shared an unaccompanied ballad that touched the heart of every soul in the room.

Politics’ is complicated, it creates aims it fails to achieve, deadlines it fails to observe, promises never fulfilled, budgets that never match reality. All of which are an excuse used by one side against the other, who in turn act the same.

These politics stand in the way of peace. Amongst the dancers I stood shoulder to shoulder, a smile on my face and a laugh in my voice as my feet tapped in time with theirs. We danced; Kurds, Turks, Persians, Arabs and me, the British man, and there was peace.

Our people have struggled against each other for centuries, the oppressed and the oppressors, fought for money, power and control yet here, as the music played, there was peace.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who has the power, it doesn’t matter whose president or prime minister or which party has control. In the end all they want is your vote, you’re “OK”, so they can stay in control, lining their pockets, satisfying their interests. Real change, change that moulds history, never comes from the top but from the people; the musicians, the poets, the artists, the dancers, the singers, the appreciators, people of joy, passion peace and love.