INTERVIEW: Séchu Sende’s 'Made in Galicia' – a bestseller in Kurdish

Irfan Güler on Séchu Sende’s 'Made in Galicia' – a bestseller in Kurdish
Séchu Sende
Istanbul, Irfan Guler - on the right
by Alexandra Büchler

When the Kurdish lawyer Irfan Güler picked up a book by the Galician author Séchu Sende in a Santiago de Compostela bookshop, he had no idea that Sende’s Made in Galicia was destined to turn him into a translator and to become a Kurdish bestseller. Güler had lived in Galicia for over four years while doing his Masters degree in Political Science at the University of Santiago de Compostela, and during this time he learned Spanish and Galician and became attached to the Galician culture and language. He now describes himself as ‘Kurdish by birth, Galician by sensibility’.

Browsing through Made in Galicia, Güler came across references to the Kurdish language and, having read the book, he decided to translate it into Turkish and Kurdish. The book, a collection of loosely-connected stories dealing with questions of language and the position of ‘stateless’ languages such as Galician and Kurdish, appealed to him and he was sure it would in turn appeal to Kurdish readers.

What is more, Güler made the translation of the book into a community project, involving a number of Kurdish cultural figures in the translation. First, he translated the book from Galician into Turkish with the help of a Galician friend and teacher, Pepa Baamonde. The next step was to translate the individual stories into Kurdish, and 34 writers, singers, translators and politicians shared this task.

The outcome surprised everyone. Following the publication of the book in May 2010 under the title Even in my dreams I will not lose my language, 6000 copies sold within a couple of months, making the translation of Made in Galicia into a phenomenon in the history of Kurdish publishing. By agreeing to waive their fees, the author and translators made it possible for the publisher, Avesta, to sell the book cheaply.

‘Our aim was to get the book into every Kurdish home,’ said Güler, and it seems that readers find the theme and format – a combination of short texts and drawings – as attractive as the low price. More importantly however, readers indentify with the stories written at the other end of Europe: ‘It’s as if I wrote this book,’ was the response of many of them.

What drew Güler to Made in Galicia?

‘We share with the Galicians the experience of speaking a minority language,’ he says, ‘but they have rights we still have to achieve, and in this sense, we can learn from their history.’

He also sees literary translation as a way of developing Kurdish as a literary language and as a language to be read by Kurdish speakers.

‘Due to the position of the Kurdish language in Turkey, the number of Kurdish readers is still limited. But I am optimistic about the future of the Kurdish language and literature, and I believe that this situation is changing. Now there are many more Kurdish writers, books, translators and publishers. The Kurdish literary scene is still located in Istanbul but this is also changing, and I think that soon, Diyarbakır will become the focus of Kurdish literature.’

He continues: ‘Translation into Kurdish is a necessary part of this process. The problem is that we do not know our own language well enough as we have not been educated in it and mostly use it as a spoken language. Because of the conflict in Turkey in the last 25 years, many Kurds had to leave their homes, and, ironically, this has had a positive effect on the development of Kurdish literature and translation into Kurdish, because many Kurdish exiles received good education and learned languages, and developed their knowledge of Kurdish as well.  The efforts of the Kurdish Institute, which teaches the language around Turkey and abroad, have also paid off, and the standard of Kurdish is improving. It is even possible to study Kurdish at university now.’

A lawyer who has worked in the sphere of human rights, Güler is a latecomer to languages and translation, but now that he has started, he sees translation as the main focus of his life, dividing his time between his law practice and literature.

He is currently translating a Galician theatre text into Kurdish and is planning to translate comics that are popular in Galicia and would, he believes, be well received by young Kurdish readers.

Click here to follow Séchu Sende’s diary of his visit to Turkey to launch the book.

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