The representation of Kurdish identity and culture in the films of Bahman
Ghobadi - II - By Devrim Kilic

Part Two:


Arguably, the theme of geographical borders is the core idea in Ghobadi’s cinema. All of his
three features dramatise the issue of the border in one way or another. Key narrative events in
his films either repeatedly involve the crossing of the borders between Iran and Iraq, or,
incidences that take place near borders. In my opinion, Ghobadi uses the border theme as a
kind of metaphor representing the absence of a definable Kurdish homeland. In both A Time for
Drunken Horses and Marooned in Iraq the incidents take place on either side of the Iran-Iraq
border that divides Kurdish territory. The Kurds in these two films continuously pass from one
side of the border to the other all the while referring to both sides as Kurdistan. Also, both films
end on the image of a main character as they pass over the barbed wires that mark the divide
between borders. On the other hand, while in Turtles Can Fly the events only happen in the Iraqi
sector of Kurdistan, the film is set in a refugee camp near Iraq-Turkey border. Even though the
protagonists do not cross the borderline, there are still some significant references to the
border in this film. When all these facts are considered it is clear that the border is an important
fact in Ghobadi’s films and denotes the desire of the Kurds to be free in an undivided homeland.

In order to articulate my point about the border more concretely, it is necessary to give some
examples from each of the three films. For example, in A Time for Drunken Horses the main
character Ayoup and his sister Amine work in a bazaar in Iraqi Kurdistan, as do many Kurdish
children. Their father, who is never seen in the film, is a smuggler of goods between Iran and
Iraq. It is understood that because of their jobs, Amine and Ayoup, like the other Kurdish
children, have to pass the border frequently. On their way back to their village in Iran, they are
stopped at the border control by Iranian soldiers. At the same time we learn that a smuggler,
who we later learn was Ayoup and Amine’s father, died at an illegal border crossing by stepping
on a land mine. When Ayoup also decides to work as a smuggler, he loads his burden to his
back and joins the team of smugglers who are going to Iraq. Despite all dangers and
difficulties, they insist on passing the border. Ayoup, in his second trip with his mule passes the
border at the end of the film carrying his brother Madi with him. Interestingly enough, this scene
is the last scene of the film as we see Ayoup passing the snow-covered border by stepping over
the barbed border wires. Once Ayoup, Madi and the mule exit the frame, the shot lingers on an
image of the white snow-covered natural terrain divided by artificial barbed border wires. Ayoup
knows that there are many land mines in the area and that he can be killed, but what can he do?
We do not know their fate, for the narrative ends on this note. And yet, it is not important either,
because there are many Kurds facing the same kind of fate everyday of their lives. The aim of
the film is to leave the audience thinking about the general fate of the Kurds and their homeland.
This is also the case in Marooned in Iraq. In this film, the characters pass the border to go to
Iraqi Kurdistan in search of a woman. The last scene of Marooned in Iraq is a repetition of the
last scene from A Time for Drunken Horses. At the end of Marooned in Iraq, Mirza, the father,
passes the barbed border wire carrying Hanareh’s daughter “Sinoreh” in his arm. What is
striking is that Sinooreh means border in Kurdish. The scene is full of white snow and, as in the
case of A Time for Drunken Horses, the barbed wires divide the white scenery. From my
perspective, by ending the film at the border, Ghobadi intends to draw audiences’ attention to
the separation of the Kurdish land. As one critic succinctly puts it:

In accordance with Ghobadi’s two earlier films, Turtles Can Fly also deals with the issue of
borders. Taking Kurdish children as its subject matter, Turtles Can Fly is set near Turkey-Iraq
border. As a result of recent conflicts there are lots of landmines along the borderlines between
Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Turtles Can Fly reveals the impact of landmines on Kurdish society,
especially on Kurdish children. What is noteworthy is that whereas Ghobadi’s first two feature
films were road movies of a kind - especially Marooned in Iraq - the incidents in Turtles Can Fly
take place in and around a refugee camp. Although the main characters do not cross the border
or travel from one-side of Kurdistan to the other, nevertheless they are constantly on the move
within the refugee camp. At the start of the film a dialogue between the main child character
nicknamed Satellite and an village elder, Esmaeel, reveals the negative influence of the border
for Kurds. The villagers are concerned about news regarding the coming war between the USA
and Iraq, therefore they want to install a satellite dish in their village to receive outside news
broadcasts. Satellite mentions that there are seventy houses in the village region and if all the
villagers pool their money they could afford one. Esmaeel responds: “There are only 30 families
in this village.”

Satellite asks: “What about the houses on that side?”
Esmaeel: “Now they are in Turkey. They separated us, some houses are now on the other side
of the border.”
Satellite: “Your wife was from that side? Now you’re strangers?”
Esmaeel: “They have separated us.”

Ghobadi’s emphasis on the border in this conversation is significant, for it shows that because
of the borders the Kurdish villages and families have been separated. The relatives on different
sides of a border are suffering because of the border that divides their homeland. Especially
attention grabbing is the scene, which shows a Kurdish boy amusing himself with Turkish
soldiers at the border. The boy has one leg handicapped because of the land mines. He teases
Turkish soldiers with his handicapped leg in order to make another little boy laugh. While it
looks like a simple childish jest at first, but to me, it exposes something deeper about Kurds’
unhappiness with the borders dividing their country. Also, the ending of Turtles Can Fly makes
allusions to the border. The film ends when Satellite turns his back on the advancing American
soldiers and exits the frame. The final image is one of barbed wire dividing the scene
horizontally. As we know, the film is set near Iraq-Turkey border and the image of barbed wire at
the end of the film again makes suggests to the anguish of borders.

The influence of borders and separation of Kurdish land is not only expressed through the
imagery or metaphor of the border. There are many dramatic points in the narrative storyline of
the films also. For example, in A Time for Drunken Horses the village doctor says Madi, the
crippled boy, has to be taken to a hospital in Iraqi Kurdistan for his operation despite the fact that
they live in Iranian Kurdistan. To me this is a very significant point and I think it is not only
because the village is so close to the Iraqi border but moreover the director using this dramatic
pretext to emphasize the separation of Kurdish land and the desire of Kurds for unity. After all,
both sides of the border are the same for Kurds. When Ayoup first passes to Iraqi Kurdistan as
a smuggler, he goes to a teahouse where Kurdish music is heard. There are Kurds living in the
same way, speaking the same language and having same kind of difficulties as he.
Furthermore, Ayoup’s elder sister, Rojin’s, is taken across the border to marry a Kurd from Iraqi
Kurdistan. The spectrum of Kurdish culture and customs transcends the artificially of the
borders. This is the case with Marooned in Iraq too. This film takes place in both sides of
border. The trio journey takes them from Iranian Kurdistan to Iraqi Kurdistan. Therefore, despite
the border and living in two different countries, the Kurds still retain their relationship with each
other. As Ghobadi puts it:

“By giving equal time to the Iranian and Iraqi parts, I wanted to try to blur the distinctions between
Iranian and Iraqi Kurds, except that the Iraqi Kurds have been massacred by the Iraqi
government. The Kurds are Kurds no matter where they are.” (Ghobadi. interviewed by
Jamsheed Akrami).

What is noteworthy is that the Kurds in these three films - especially in Marooned in Iraq- call the
land they live in Kurdistan regardless of which current state or country they live, Iraq or Iran. Their
repetition of the word Kurdistan is significant in terms of emphasizing the existence of Kurds
and their country Kurdistan. In this sense, to some extent I think the films have a kind of
nationalistic dimension about them. For example, in Marooned in Iraq, in the first refugee camp
an old woman says to Mirza “You are famous. Everybody knows you in Kurdistan.” That scene
ends with a shot of a blue moon in the sky accompanied by the voice of a woman singing a
Kurdish song. In that scene, Ghobadi is expressing the idea of Kurdishness and Kurdistan in a
purely cinematic way through image and sound. For Kurds both sides of the border are the
same and do not accept the borders that are imposed on them. They pass the borders willingly
even though there is a big risk of getting killed. They act as if there is no border at all. It could be
said that Kurds see both sides as Kurdistan not as two different countries.

“The Kurdish people do not recognize the borders of any of the three nations. They are their own
nation regardless of the other borders.” (Ghobadi. Interviewed by Ron Wilkinson. Monsters and

All three of Ghobadi’s films to date address the issue of the separation of Kurdish land. The
border, both a geographical fact and a metaphorical idea symbolizing the separation of Kurdish
land, is an important aspect of these films. It is perhaps the single most significant aspect of
Ghobadi’s cinema.


“I think the images that I had in my film of Kurdish people are closer to what they are…With film, I
give a more realistic picture of Kurdish people, compared to images from media or even from
the authorities of Kurdistan. The people in my film are real actual Kurdish people, and I
portrayed them going about their daily lives.” (Ghobadi, The Cinematic Verses. Jamil Moledina)

For me, Bahman Ghobadi’s three features are the pure reflection and representation of
Kurdstan. Ghobadi’s films signify the Kurdish culture; in addition, his films address the plight of
the Kurds. Ghobadi’s films reveal the way Kurds live, the way they dress, the way they behave
and talk to each other, and finally, his films expose the Kurds’ response to the harsh climate of
Kurdistan and to the restrictions imposed on them by dominant nation states that control their
land. A Time for Drunken Horses is a film that “tells the story of the young Kurds who make living
out of smuggling goods at the border between Iran and Iraq, at the risk of their lives.”
(Kutschera, Chris. The Middle East, November 2003.) It starts with a black screen over which we
hear a dialogue between a man and a little girl, Amine. The first line of the film is the question
“What is your name?” , asked by the man of Amine. I think this question is very important for
Kurds because Kurds do not have any formal identity for themselves. That is why Ghobadi starts
the film with this question addressing the issue of identity. The central figures in A Time for
Drunken Horses are four orphaned siblings. The story develops around the life of Ayoup, Madi,
Amine and Rojin, and “shows the lives and titanic struggles of a family of desperately poor
Kurdish orphans, who work as child labors to survive.” (Michael E. Grost. Classic Film and
Television) Ayoup is a 13 years old child who has to work –as their father, a smuggler, died at
the border- in order to look after his siblings. Because their mother died when she gave birth to
her last baby the older girl Rojin had to take on the mother role in the family.

Smugglers in their native land

Smuggling is a key fact in Ghobadi’s first film. In A Time for Drunken Horses, Kurds are
portrayed as people who are smuggling goods between Iraq and Iran, which is to say from one
side of Kurdistan to another side of it. There are lots of references and actual scenes dealing
with smugglers in the film. Firstly, we learn through Amine’s voice-over about a smuggler killed
by a landmine when he tried to pass the border. Amine worries about her father because he
also was at the border doing the same job. Secondly, when Ayoup and his sister Amine, along
with another group of children, travel to the Iranian side they are given a quantity of notebooks to
hide under their clothes. The children are being used to smuggle notebooks to the Iranian side
of Kurdistan. It seems smuggling is a way of daily life because it is an important financial
source for the Kurds in the region. The theme of smuggling is, to some extent, another
metaphor in Ghobadi’s films representing the tragedy of Kurds. In addition, the mule is an
animal that has a significant role in Kurdish life. The mule is the only animal that can help Kurds
in their smuggling work across such snowy mountains. Ghobadi explains the importance of
mules for the Kurds as follow: “The only thing left of value is the mules and the horses. Their
value can be even higher than that of human beings.” (Ingrid Afshar.). Smuggling is the fate of
Kurds. Ironically, they are forced to smuggle goods within their own native land. They have to
pass illegally from one side of their native land to the other. By setting his film on both sides of
the border, and using the Kurdish smugglers as major figures, Ghobadi is trying to draw our
attention to the separation of the Kurdish homeland, namely. The smugglers in the film, on the
surface, are smuggling goods between borders but in truth they carrying the goods from one
side of Kurdish land to another side of it. So, the intent of the director and the film is to
emphasize the separation of Kurdish land.
“The smuggling in this movie is an interesting issue, along with others in the film, that depicts
people having to do things we consider wrong but with a set of rules for a manner of life that is
as dignified as they can make it in order to survive.” (Ingrid Afshar).

Exposing distinctive Kurdish culture

Ghobadi’s films also reveal and exhibit Kurdish culture and tradition. The dress code of Kurdish
women differs from formal dress code of Iranian women. Also reflected is the dominant role of
men in Kurdish society and the life of Kurds on the snowy mountains, their friendship with
mules, their sufferings because of borders and land mines. All these facts and details are the
indicators of a distinctive Kurdish culture. For example, the dress of Rojin is attention grabbing
in A Time for Drunken Horses. Rojin wears traditional colorful Kurdish dresses whereas she is
supposed to wear the black chador in Iran. Although she covers her hair, it is done with a
traditional white headscarf not an Islamic one in black color. It is the case with Marooned in Iraq
and Turtles Can Fly too. In Marooned in Iraq the scene of working village-women is remarkable.
It is visually like a song or poem. The scene is rich in terms of visual and sound elements. It
starts with a woman’s hands as she sieves the sand in the sifter. Then we see women and
children working in the mud producing bricks. The scene finishes as it started with the vision of
woman’s hands sieving the sand in the sifter. They do not wear the Islamic black chador even
though they are working in public space. The next scene in the same film is more significant; it
shows the character Barat sitting next to a wall and watching two young girls washing his
motorbike. The way these two girls dress is different too. They have causal and traditional
Kurdish women dress on them. We can see their hair. Therefore, we understand that Kurds
have their distinctive dresses and traditional clothes. Although they live under very strict Islamic
codes, they still insist on their traditional way of dressing, especially in their villages. The dress
of the young girl, Agrin, in Turtles Can Fly is attention grabbing too. She is shown in traditional
casual Kurdish dress, and she does not wear black chador or headscarf.

As regards exposing the distinctiveness Kurdish culture, the marriage and wedding ceremonies
too are important in both A Time for Drunken Horses and in Marooned in Iraq. In A Time for
Drunken Horses Rojin marries a man from Iraqi Kurdistan on the advice of her uncle, despite
her brother Ayoup not approving with Rojin’s decision. The bride’s convoy meets the groom’s
family on snow-covered plateau near a border region where a group of people are seen from a
distance dancing and chanting accompanied Kurdish music. These scenes reflect the
traditional Kurdish marriage ceremony.
In Marooned in Iraq the wedding ceremony is more vivid and moving. The trio, Mirza, Barat and
Audeh, are forced to go to a village by a man who is angry with a matchmaker who matched the
girl he is in love with to someone else. When they arrive at the village, the wedding ceremony is
already in progress. The trio of men begin to play some lovely and vivid Kurdish songs, which
increases everyone’s enjoyment. The scene is an absolute reflection and portrayal of Kurdistan
and Kurdish life. The lover, who forces Mirza and his sons to play music for the ceremony, stops
the wedding and declares that he is not going to allow his lover to marry another man. He
announces the wedding ceremony as his own. What we see is that in spite of the war and
turmoil the daily life in Kurdistan is still going on for Kurdish people. They still have weddings
and enjoy themselves by playing Kurdish music and dancing. It is a very interesting
composition. The first village they have been was dead and deserted nobody was there but in
this village, a wedding ceremony is being held. This is an absolute reflection of Kurdistan; on
the one side, there is murder, massacre and war, on the other side joy, happiness and daily life.
To me, the film from the start to the end reflects the life in Kurdistan very successfully. “The
movie shows us weddings and funerals; each tumultuous stop at another refugee camp
reminds us that these people are a family that can never be destroyed.” (Cunneen, Joseph)
Indeed the representation of Kurdish people and Kurdish culture throughout Ghobadi’s films is
very realistic.

The importance of Kurdish language and Kurdish music for Kurds

Another important aspect of Ghobadi’s films is the use of Kurdish music and Kurdish language.
All his three films are shot in Kurdish language and the use of Kurdish music plays a central
role in Ghobadi’s cinema. The use of Kurdish language is very important for the Kurds, as there
have not been many films made in Kurdish before Ghobadi’s films -apart from Songs for Beko
and Blackboards . The use of Kurdish language and Kurdish music in these three films creates
the idea of “Kurdishness” or “Kurdishhood”. For example in the scene of Ayoup’s first job as a
smuggler, in A Time for Drunken Horses, the music is so influential and affective: a Kurdish
music with rhythmic strokes together with the images of the smugglers who along with their
mules climb up to the mountains. Some of them perhaps are going to die since there are land
mines and ambushes ahead of them. The music helps to create an idea about their dangerous
job. Then the smugglers go to the other side of the border where Ayoup visits a teahouse in
which beautiful Kurdish song is heard. It is the dream of most Kurds to hear Kurdish music in
public places. In terms of the use of Kurdish language and music, Jamsheed Akrami notes that
Ghobadi’s films “reclaim some quality of ‘Kurdishness’’. Moreover he says when he for the first
time heard the Kurdish language spoken by minor characters in Abbas Kiarostami’s, The Wind
Will Carry Us he felt very elated:

“I remember how mesmerized I was. That little bit of Kurdish that I heard gave me this bizarre
feeling of as if I was hearing myself…I was hearing a language I had only heard within the
confines of my family, growing up, and nowhere else. I felt the satisfaction of somebody who’s
lost some valuable object for a long time, and now he’s found it again.” (Akrami. 2003. quoted in
Nick Poppy’s article)

The Kurds are deprived of education in their mother tongue, and they were unable to hear their
language in films until the advance of Ghobadi’s films. That is why the use of Kurdish language
in Ghobadi’s films is extremely important for Kurds. Jamsheed Akrami notes the importance of
Kurdish language in films for the Kurds:

“Imagine as an American going to movies and never hearing characters speaking English. Can
you imagine what an alienating effect it would have on your sense of identity? If you happen to
be of Kurdish descent that’s a common experience for you.” (Akrami, quoted. Nick Poppy)

The music is a very crucial element in Marooned in Iraq because the three protagonists are
musicians constantly playing Kurdish music (they are also professional musicians in real life).
“The music you hear in the film is Kurdish folk music, which is exactly what the characters in the
film play in real life.” (Ghobadi. an interview by Jamsheed Akrami.)

“The film’s three main protagonists are amateur actors but professional musicians. In this film
the music and the songs are very important, and the spectator who does not understand the
Kurdish language obviously misses an important part of the film.” (Kutschera, Chris. The Middle

The father figure Mirza is seen giving music classes to the village children under a truck’s
wagon. When Barat goes to see his father, he meets a boy who wants to be a great singer like
Barat. The tittle boy sings a Kurdish songs for Barat. At the same time, the girl Barat falls in love
with wants to sing, Hanareh, Mirza’s wife who they are searching for, is a singer who was
affected by chemical weapons and cannot sing any longer. The Kurdish music of the films gives
a significant dimension to the film and addresses the very heart of Kurdish culture’s affinity to
music. For Kurds the most common way to express their feelings is through music. More over, it
is a way of escaping from the devastating effect of war and repression. For example, when the
trio arrives at the first refugee camp, the sight of the camp shocks them. The sounds of
ambulances and the sight of wire-web around the camp are striking. Wherever Kurds go they
are surrounded by some kind of border. It is a pity to see Kurdish refugees in these harsh and
unbearable situations. Nevertheless, when they see the musicians they ask them to sing. When
Mirza and Audeh start to play and sing in Kurdish, suddenly everybody starts enjoying
themselves, including our shocked musicians.

The tragedy of Kurdish women is the tragedy of Kurdistan

The depiction of women in Ghobadi’s films has, to some extent, an important political aspect.
Although women do not play a central role in Ghobadi’s films, Ghobadi always shows the plight
of Kurdish woman in Kurdistan. For example, in A Time for Drunken Horses, Rojin marries a
man whom she does not know. In Marooned in Iraq, the woman Barat falls in love, wants to sing
but she cannot. Barat wants to marry this young woman but she will only agree on the condition
that Barat to teaches her how to sing. But it is a condition Barat cannot grant her for singing in
public is forbidden for women in Iran because of religious rules. This limitation is another
restriction for Kurdish women who traditionally sing and dance with men in public.

“In fact had the Tehran Islamic censors allowed, Ghobadi’s films would have shown liberal
Kurdish women with their hair blowing, singing, dancing arm-in-arm, hip-to-hip, shoulder-to-
shoulder with men, as they have been doing for hundred of years before and during Islam.”

Another point about Marooned in Iraq is that the director does not show the face of the character
Hanareh, who actually did not leave the camp but just did not want to show herself to Mirza. She
has been affected by a chemical bomb and is having speaking difficulties. Her story is also an
interesting one. According to the script Hanareh is a famous woman singer in Iranian Kurdistan
singing in a group with Mirza and Sayeed. She left Mirza 23 years ago when the Islamic
revolution took place forbidding her to sing in public. Interestingly the face of the girl, the one
Barat falls in love with, is not seen when she appears first on the screen too. This is very a
important aspect of the film. Ghobadi deliberately does not show the faces of the two women
who are forbidden to sing freely.

“Women are so sacred to me that I see Hanareh, one of the main characters of the film, as
Kurdistan to me. Kurdistan is like a mother to me, it is a land without voice. It’s a land that
received chemical weapons, and suffers in silence.” (Ghobadi. The Cinematic Verses. Jamil
Moledina. 14 April 2003)

In Turtles Can Fly, Agrin is a very striking character representing the plight and misery of Kurdish
women. Agrin is a teenager, and her brother Hyenkov lost his two arms to land mines. Agrin and
Hyenkov have a blind four year old boy with them, Riga, who we presume to be their brother. Her
pain and suffering are revealed through the look on her face. Agrin’s pale and lifeless face and
look tell everything. Although beautiful and innocent, she lost her joy for life, Agrin never smiles
or laughs in the film. Later on, we learn the reason of Agrin’s misery. She was raped by Iraqi
soldiers a few years earlier and as a result gave birth to Riga. Thus, it is understood that Riga is
not their brother but her unwanted son. Literally, Agrin is carrying the enemy’s burden with her.
The shame of rape and an illegitimate son are so heavy for Agrin that she wants to abandon
little Riga, but her brother Hyenkov does not allow her to do so. Agrin is a depressed girl who
wants to commit a suicide. In fact, the film starts with a view of shoes on a rock at the tip of a
precipice and that scene is repeated at the end of the film implying that Agrin committed suicide
by throwing herself down the precipice. The main character of the film, Kak Satellite, at first
glance, falls in love with Agrin but she does not care respond as she is in a desperate mood. I
see Agrin as a reflection of Kurdistan. She is hopeless, unhappy and occupied or raped.
Moreover, like her country, she is stripped off her joy for life.. Kurdistan too is hopeless as it is
under occupation, denied freedom and turned into a place full of land mines, divided by
international borders, and is always subject to bombings and wars. To look into Agrin’s face is
to see the reality and plight of Kurdistan and Kurdish women

“My country, Kurdistan, which lies over Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, has been raped by many
countries like the girl in the film. We must not let it happen anymore.” (Ghobadi. quoted in Kaori
Kaneko’s article.)

In the three films Kurdish women are shown as human beings who have to work to support
their family, who hsave to marry an unfamiliar man, who are on the run, who are confined in
refugee camps, who have lost their loved ones, who are affected by chemical bombs, and who
are raped by soldiers. The fate of Kurdish women and the fate of Kurdistan are equivalent in
Ghobadi’s films.

The devastating effect of war and land mines on Kurds

All Ghobadi’s three films reveal the devastation that the land mines and war have brought to
Kurds. In all three films, there are people who suffer from land mines and bombs. In particular,
in A Time for Drunken Horses, a conversation between Ayoup and another smuggler boy
Rebwar is very crucial in terms of addressing the issue of land mines and their affects on the
Kurd’s daily life:

Rebwar: “Have you mules?”
Ayoup: “My father and his mules passed away because of land mines.”
Ayoup: “Do you have land?”
Rebwar: “Yes a lot.”
Ayoup: “Why do not plant and harvest them?”
Rebwar: “There are land mines everywhere.”
Ayoup: “Can’t you take them off your land?”
Rebwar: “There are more then you can imagine”

There are many scenes revealing the affect of war on Kurdish people in Ghobadi’s films. For
instance, in Marooned in Iraq we see three refugee camps full of Kurds who are on the run from
Saddam’s bombings. The most striking scene that reveals the effect of war and bombs on
Kurds is the scene where a teacher demonstrates to the students how an airplane flies over
mountains. All the students have paper-airplanes in their hands and at the same time we hear
the sounds of real airplanes and bombs:

Student: What is bomb?
Teacher: The thing that destroys our homes.

As the sound of a bombing is heard, the teacher goes on to explain the situation:
Teacher: “At this moment someone’s home is being destroyed by this bomb. Our homes and
schools were bombed.”

Then they throw their paper airplanes into air and as they fly down the mountain, we hear the
sounds of military aircrafts.

In concluding this chapter it is, I think, fair to say that through his films Ghobadi has offered the
most accurate and far reaching portrait of Kurdish life and culture ever put on screen


I think one should consider Ghobadi’s films as a part of Kurdish reality. I see his films as an
artistic endeavor to reflect and reveal the reality of Kurdish people. Ghobadi is a Kurdish artist
and his films are made from a Kurdish perspective in the Kurdish language. Therefore, his
films, to me, are the first step and milestones of the emerging Kurdish cinema. It could be said
that this thesis does not include all aspects of Ghobadi’s films, but I would like to state that the
intention of this thesis was to investigate Ghoabadi’s films in terms of representing Kurdish
people, and that is why it naturally does not deal with some other aspect of Ghobadi’s cinema. I
hope this thesis is going to help at least a little in understanding the Kurdish people and
Ghobadi’s films. Although Ghobadi does not accept the fact that his films are in any way
political, from my perspective, as a result of concentrating on Kurdish people, his films become
to some extent, political. In current world with respect to the political status-quo of Kurds any film
about the reality of Kurds and Kurdish culture would have a political dimension in one way or
another. As Ghobadi himself believes, Kurdistan is politicized because of war, because of the
policy of the four current States governing the Kurdish people. Ghobadi puts it:

“If you meet someone and they ask, ‘Where are you from?’ and you say, ‘I’m Kurdish,’ they say,
‘Oh, how are you faring? How are things with Saddam?’ Suddenly you’re a political person, a
political Kurd.” (An interview by Henry Sheehan).

But what is more political with Ghobadi’s is that his films take the issues of borders, land-mines
and war into account and so they are inevitably gain political dimension. “I didn’t set out to be
political, but my land is politicized, and war is part of our daily dialogues and conversations.”
(Ghobadi. quoted in “Children of Storm” - Jumana Farouky). His involvement with Kurds and
Kurdish culture are so deep and obvious that it is why Ghobadi’s films are seen by Kurds as a
simple and realist reflection of their life and country. In his films Kurds are treated as a distinct
nation whose freedoms are being denied, whose voice is not being heard; so Ghobadi’s films
could be seen as a kind of true voice of the Kurdish people. To me, his films are a kind of
exclamation of Kurds for freedom, because he depicts Kurds as a people who are restricted
and suppressed but at the same time who have not lost their joy of life and sense of humor.

On the other hand, the film Marooned in Iraq was perceived as too nationalist by the Iranian
authorities because of its original title “The Songs of My Homeland”. Ghobadi revealed in an
interview that the Iranian authorities wanted to change the original title but he insisted and kept
the original name of the film. (Akrami. Interestingly enough, the title was
later changed to Marooned in Iraq by international film distributors. The reason supposedly was
that the issue of Iraq was a hot topic in the International arena so they planned to exploit this
situation. (Akrami.

Of course, not all the Kurdish people are experiencing the same kind of fate, sufferings, and
difficulties as shown in Ghobadi’s films. Nevertheless, by portraying Kurdish people locked up
amid borders, land mines and bombings Ghobadi wants to draw the audiences’ attention to the
reality of Kurdistan. His intention is obvious if one considers the themes and characters of his
films. “Although this film depicts a harsh life, Ghobadi explains that all of Kurdistan is not like the
movie that portrays the border residents. One person advised him to show the city buildings and
apartments of Kurdistan, but he stands firm on not wanting to ‘show-off”. Rather he wants to
depict the hard life of the Kurdish children and hopes that this expression will in turn ‘motivate
people to not take life for granted’. He explains that his point was to show the life of some of the
children and how the war has changed their families' normal daily lives. The Kurdish people
have had to leave their property, sell their livestock and sell their farm land.” (Ingrid Afshar.)

Ghobadi’s three films are similar in several aspects; namely, the theme, the style, the form, the
shooting technique, the use of Kurdish language, the representation of Kurdish culture, and the
main message given at the end of each film is similar. These resemblances indicate Ghobadi’s
stand in the sense of portraying Kurdish life to the international community and reveal his
intention of making a cinema for a voiceless people. In this sense, it could be said Ghobadi is a
pioneer for the Kurdish people in film history; furthermore Ghobadi is working as a kind of a
international diplomat bringing the reality of Kurds to the whole world. “Ghobadi plans to make
all his movies in Kurdistan. He wants to promote that area and inform others that ‘the Kurds
don't all carry weapons in their belts.’ People should know that ‘the Kurds are loving persons.’
He feels that because he belongs to them and knows the language, there are pieces of their
customs and nature that he can bring to film.” (Ingrid Afshar). In an interview, he says that as an
artist he wants to work and produce as a Kurd for the Kurds. (Translated from Ozgur Politiaka. by
Zubeyir 20 May 2000)


1-Afshar Ingrid. “A Time for Drunken Horses Represents Iran for Oscar”. Iran Today 20
September 2005

2-Arslan Zubeyir. “My greatest wish is that Kurdish artists use their artistic talents and
capabilities for Kurdistan and the Kurds.” “Kurdish leader named Iraq President”.
uk 6 April, 2005

4-Brunner, Borgna. “Kurdish History Timeline”. 23 October 2005. http:

5-Bulloch John, Harvey Morris. No Friends but the Mountains London, Penguin, 1993 p: 50

6-Chabra, Aseem. “Turtles' director won't let Kurdish refugees be forgotten”. www.peyamner.
com April 24, 2005

7-Chailand, Gerard. A People without a country: the Kurds and Kurdistan London : Zed Books,
1993 p: 5

8-Cheshire, Godfrey. “Crossing the Border”. 22 November 2000. 14 October

9-Cunneen, Joseph. “Underdog Stories: Spirited Humor Livens Films About the Down-and-Out”.
National Catholic Reporter. 16 May 2003: p16.

10-Farouky, Jumana. “Children of the Storm”. Time Europe January 17, 2005 28
September 2005

11-Ghobadi, Bahman. “Songs of My Motherland, a.k.a., Marooned in Iraq”. Interview. by
Jamsheed Akrami. w 23 April 2004. http://www.newrozfilms.

12-Grost, E. Michael. “A Time for Drunken Horses”. Classic Film and Television 22 April 2004.

13-Houston, Christopher. “Islam, Kurds and the Turkish Nation State”. New York: Berg, 2001. p:

14-Jonroy, Jalal. “Yol” 2002. 14 October 2005.

-------- Rev. of “Marooned in Iraq”. April 2004, http://www.newrozfilms.

15-Kaneko, Kaori. “Iraq's first post-Saddam film metaphor for Kurdistan's 'rape'”. Middle East
Times 23 September 2005.

16-Kutschera, Chris. “Kurdistan Turkey: Yilmaz Guney’s last Film” The Middle East Magazine,
Juanuary 1983.,

--------- “The Pain of Giving Birth to Kurdish Cinema: The Work of Kurdish Film Director Bahman
Ghobadi Has Found Great Favour With International Critics”. The Middle East Magazine.
November 2003: 56-59

17-McDowall, David, A Modern History of the Kurds. London : I.B. Tauris, c2004 pp.5-8

----------- The Kurds, London, Minority Rights Group, 1996.

18-Moledina, Jamil. “Realizing the Kurdish Nation. An Interview with Bahman Ghobadi”. The
Cinematic Verses. 14 April 2003, http://www.thecinematicverses.

19-Mookas, Ioannas. “Homeward Bound”. After Image. January 2001. 22 June 2005, http://www.

20-Neumann, Brigitte “Switch off CNN and Al-Jazeera…” 11.02.2004, http:
// 11 October 2005.

21-Poppy Nick. “Between Iraq and A Hard Place: Bahman Ghobadi's Kurdish Tale ‘Marooned In
Iraq’”, 7 October 2005

22-Samii, Bill. “Iran: Kurdish Grievances Remain A Thorny Issue” 17 August 2005.

23-Sheehan, Henry. “Marooned in Iraq”. May 2003, 11 October 2005

---------- “Bahman Ghobadi”. May 2003

24-Siamak R. Durroei. “When the Horses Got Drunk”, KURDICA Jun 2000, 13 February 2005.

25-The Coalition Provisional Authority. “Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the
Transitional Period”, 8 Marc 2004

26-White, Paul, J. Primitive rebels or revolutionary modernizers? The Kurdish national
movement in Turkey New York : Zed Books, 2000. pp-15-16

27- Wilkinson, Ron “Interview: Director Bahman Ghobadi 14 February 2005, 21 September 2005.

----------- “Movie Review; Turtles Can Fly”, 17 Februry 2005, 24
September 2005. 2005.

28-Young, Deborah. “A Time for Drunken Horses”. Variety 22 May 2000: 26


1-A Song for Beko. Written and directed by: Nizamettin Aric. Perf: Nizamettin Aric, Bezara Arsen,
Lusika Hesen. Germany, 1992.

2-A Time for Drunken Horses Dir. Bahman Ghobadi. Screenplay: Bahman Ghobadi. Perf: Ayoub
Ahmadi, Roozhin Younesi, Ameneh Ekhtiardini. MK2 Diffusion and BH Film, 2000.

3-Big Man Small Love Written and directed by:Handan Ipekci. Perf: Dilan Ercetin, Sukran
Gungor, Fusun Demirel and Yildiz Kenter. Turkey, 2001.

4-Blackboards. Dir. Samira Makmalbaf. Screenplay: Samira and Mohsen Makmalbaf. Pwerf:
Saeed Mohamadi, Bahman Ghobadi, Behnaz Jafari. Makmfalbaf Film House (Tehran) and
Fabrica Cinema (Italy), 2000.

5-Black Tape: A Tehran Diary. Written and directed by: Fariborz Kamkari. Perf: Mehdi Asadi,
Parviz Moasesi, Shilan Rahmani. Iran, 2003.

6-Far Away (Uzak) Written and directed by: Kazim Oz. Turkiye, 2003

7-Jiyan Written and directed by: Jano Rosebiani. Perf: Kurdo Galali, Pisheng Berzinci, Çoman
Hawrami. Iraq, 2002.

8-Journey to the Sun. Dir: Yesim Ustaoglu. Screenplay; Yesim Ustaotlu. Perf: Newroz Baz,
Nazmi Kirik, Mizgin Kapazan. Turkey, Netherlands, Germany, 1999.

9-Marooned in Iraq. Written and Directed by:. Bahman Ghobadi. Perf: Shahab Ebrahimi, Faegh
Mahammadi, Allah-Morad Rashtian. Saeed Mohammmadi. MIJ Film, 2002.

10-Photograph Dir: Kazim Oz. Screenplay: Kazim Oz. Pef: Feyyaz Duman, Nazmi Kirik, Mizgin
Kapazan, Zülfiye Dolu. Turkey, 2000

11-The Herd: Dir: Yilmaz Guney / Zeki Okten. Screenplay: Yilmaz Guney. Perf: Tar¦k Akan, Melike
Demirag, Tuncel Kurtiz, Turkey, 1978.

12-The Land Dir: Kazim Oz. Perf: Hikmet Karagoz. Turkey, 1999.

13-The Legend of Love. Dir. Farhad Mehranfar. Screnplay: Farhad Mehranfar and Mohammad
Razaee. Perf: Maryam Moqadam, Y
usef Moradian, Hawass Palouk. Cima Media International, Iran, 2000.

14-The Way (Yol): Dir: Yilmaz Guney, Serif Goren. Screenplay: Yilmaz Guney. Perf: Tarik Akan,
Halil Ergun, Necmettin Cobanoglu. Guney Film and Cactus Film France:1982

15-The Wind Will Carry Us. Dir. Abbas Kiarostami. Screenplay: Kiarostami. New Yorker Films,

16-Turtles Can Fly. Written and directed by: Bahman Ghobadi. Perf: Avaz Latif, Soran Ebrahim,
Saddam Hossein Feysal, Hiresh Feysal Rahman, Ajil Zibari, Abdol Rahman Karim. ICA
Projects. Iran-Iraq, 2004.

17-Vodka Lemon. Dir: Hiner Saleem. Screenplay: Lei Dinety. Hiner Saleem. Perf: Romen
Avinian, Lala Sarkissian, Ivan Franek. Armenia. 2003

* part one

Devrim Kilic's other articles:

1- Representation of Kurdish Identity and Culture in the Films of Bahman Ghobadi

2- Narcissus should Blossom

3- Criticism of cultural biases and celebration of love!

4- Kiarostami’s portrayal of Kurds in ‘A taste of cherry’ and ‘The wind will carry us’

5- Hiner Saleem's representation of his own people, Kurds