1. No pasaran…

If we consider the circumstances when Ahmet Kaya was born in the autumn of 1957, in fact it is not that difficult to predict how he will spend most of his life in an autumn-like climate. Neither his father, who was working in a textile factory, had claimed to change the world, nor had the city where he was born –Malatya-or his family had a window to see the beauties of the world in their 40 m2 house. Three years after Ahmet was born, Turkey which was suffering from increasing poverty after the WWII, witnessed the first and biggest military coup of the Republic and sent its Prime Ministers and Ministers to the gallows. Nobody could foresee how long the suffering would continue in Anatolia , where a lot of blood was shed over thousands of years of battling in the name of religion, gold or even women.


Ahmet was the fifth and the last child of the family. His father was a Kurd who immigrated from Adiyaman to Malatya to find a job; her mother was a Turk who wanted to raise their children as honorable and good individuals. They seemed to be the typical outcome of the country in those years. Ahmet’s conflict with the authority started when he came in contact with the streets at the age of four and five.

When his father noticed Ahmet’s interest in music, he brought a baglama to him as a birthday present which was almost as tall as him.


At the age of nine, when he attended the Labor Day festivities which was organized by the coworkers of his father, he found himself on the stage. On that evening, the workers liked to listen to Ahmet, and Ahmet liked the workers who listened to him… There were still  three more years until the second coup, in which thousands of people’s and workers’ lives were going to be shattered. That night, neither workers nor Ahmet knew that in the near future they would not be able to celebrate the workers holiday let alone use the word ‘worker’.


Turkey sent lot of its university students and its workers to prisons during the 1970 coup. Ahmet was only fifteen years old. The new generation was growing up in this political and communal atmosphere where their consciousness was being shaped accordingly. This was not the first injustice that this generation would witness.

Ahmet was going to school.

The family decided to immigrate to Istanbul since the father’s pension was not enough to afford to feed the family and also in order to seek new opportunities for the future of their children. This period is also known as the immigration period all over the country.


While the population in the West was expanding, the gap between the social classes was increasing; the country was becoming more and more polarized politically and the tension was increasing. The death news from the universities was being received every day and the increasing unemployment and economical difficulties caused masses to walk the streets. Ahmet, now had to leave school and support his family. He started to view and perceive the streets in a different perspective. All these circumstances in the country affected his music, as well as his soul.


These were the most convulsive years of Ahmet’s inner earthquake. In the second half of 1970’s, communal opposition could not find a direction to channel itself into and in this cold climate Ahmet, at his most joyous age, was feeling very cold but responsive to all this.


Those young people who are joined by the feelings of desperation, alienation and fragility started to get organized in all fields with their ideals and their claims to change to world.


He started traveling around Turkey to perform concerts and folk dance shows with their friends from Public Sciences Foundation. While Ahmet took the stage, played his baglama with passion, sang and marched at the “Revolutionary Nights” which was organized by Unions or student associations; he was also trying to connect with people in order to meet their basic needs and demands by means of his social sensitivity.


On May 1st 1977, Ahmet lost one of his friends walking next to him in a gunfire which was shot by an unidentified person at the Taksim Square Labor Day celebrations. Although he managed to survive by escaping from there wearing only one shoe, he suffered from the first painful experience of how it felt like to witness his friends’ deaths and later also how it was like to be in prison after he was caught putting up harmless posters.


While the angry dissentious masses were in pursuit of establishing a “future” for them, he met a girl. They found themselves sharing similar political views and decided to get married. In 1978, when he was 21 years old, he quit his violin classes and left her fiancé behind and went to serve in the military for 18 months.


During his military service, he was the alternate musician of the orchestra. He improved his instrumental skills there. His style of combining baglama and western motifs through the violin developed a great deal due to his obligation to play classical instruments like cello in the military.


After he had just returned from the military service, the third and biggest coup in Ahmet’s life and Turkey ’s entire history occurred. Turkey woke up with the military march songs on the morning of September 12. All the cabinet members and the President were arrested and sent to prison, a head hunt started on the streets. Most of Ahmet’s friends were arrested and taken to unknown places where they were deprived of any communication means. Figuratively speaking, Turkey was run over by military tanks. Today, it is estimated that 600.000 people were arrested on various charges, thousands of people were tortured to death and thousands of people escaped to various countries illegally to seek asylum. Turkey was paying the dues of a dysfunctional government by letting these young lives go to waste. 


The year 1981 brought on another misery into Ahmet’s life; He sent his father to eternity in April. Ahmet, sneaked out of his house holding the baglama that his father had bought for him and cried on the streets for days.


Emine and Ahmet got married; as the months went by, they learned how to survive in the coup. Ahmet wanted to express himself through his music and reach out to his friends in prison. Shortly after this, Emine started to worry about their future since Ahmet could not make the living of the family because of his desires to record an album. One day, without saying anything she left home with their few months old daughter Cigdem, and filed for divorce. One more time Ahmet and his baglama were lonely.


In 1984, Ahmet persistently tried to get a record deal in various record companies. All companies were hesitant to sign him because of the political and social content of his songs.


He finally decided to make his own album. His songs were too controversial for that time. Even listening to those songs would be considered unlawful let alone recording them, one could have been arrested.


His album was completed in a short time and in dire circumstances. It was not difficult for Ahmet to find a record company because the album was ready and it didn’t pose any commercial risks in case of failure in sales. The first album “Aglama Bebegim” was released in 1985. Shortly thereafter, he gave a solo performance at one of the most prestigious concert halls, San Theatre and unexpectedly to a full house. .


As soon as “Aglama Bebegim” was released, it was taken off the shelves and Ahmet was arrested. At the first trial, the judge questioned him about the lyrics in the album especially the line “there is a land far away, in that place there is happiness”. They asked him what he meant by beautiful land. The trial did not last long. “Aglama Bebegim” returned to shelves with a court decision. Unexpectedly, the album became popular first in the prisons and then in the streets. Ahmet, became the voice of thousands of political prisoners and their families.


The prisoners of the 1980 coup were being released. One of them was Gulten Hayaloglu. Being released after spending four years in the prison, she met Ahmet during the recording of his second album “Acilara Tutunmak”. Shortly thereafter, the album was released.


Ahmet went on to give solo performances in many cities around Turkey . In most of the concerts he got arrested. In the meantime he got married to Gulten. One day Gulten handed him one of the poems written for the mother of a prisoner on a death roll, it was called “Safak Turkusu. It was now 1986 and there were still hundred thousands of people in jail waiting for their case to be finalized. Mothers and fathers were still waiting and crying at the gates of prisons. The third album was released with the title “Safak Turkusu” which was composed by Ahmet Kaya. Once again he expressed the distressing issues that the society faced and became the disobedient child of the system. Charges and and investigations against him never seemed to cease, however now Ahmet was a popular and controversial figure.


In 1987, “hit lists” started to become in style in the newspapers. In that year, when Ahmet’s newly released album “An Gelir” became the number one selling album, the real sale numbers and his popularity were acknowledged officially. Ahmet was now moving forward on his own individual path.


In December 1987, he made the album “Yorgun Demokrat”. The album was taken to court many times, but remained as the top selling album as a symbol of his success and the solidity of his dissent and incompliance.


While he kept on creating music, he supported the workers, students and the victims who were struggling for a better life with his music. Besides that, he was also giving concerts and making albums. He released “Baskaldiriyorum” in August 1988 and in April 1989 “Resitaller” which consisted of his solo performances. Both of the albums became the best sellers of that time, especially “Recitals” which was only recorded with a single instrument and two microphones has a particular significance as the “first” recital album to make its way up on the charts and keep its position for such a long time. 


In 1990, for the first time Ahmet had the chance to give a concert in a big area at Gulhane Park , and 150.000 people came to listen to him. The concert turned out to be eventful, the police fired their guns to the air and a lot of fans got injured. Ahmet, one more time, was brought to trial because of the scarf in yellow-red-green colors (symbolic colors of the Kurds) which was brought on to stage by a fan and wrapped around his neck.


Another interesting aspect of Ahmet’s massive popularity that there were no private channels but only channels and radio stations controlled by the state at that time. In other words, Ahmet Kaya was banned from TV’s and radios, his songs never played, not to mention that his name was never mentioned. He kept on focusing more on his concerts. In those years Ahmet could only be seen in the newspapers only when he was on trial or because of the mayhem during his concerts or at hunger strikes by the students who protest the antidemocratic decisions at the universities, or at the workers’ strikes or when he was helping the prisoner’s families.


By the end of 1980’s, although Turkey had returned to multi-party democracy under the close watch of the army, the prisons were still full of people who were arrested during the 12 September 1980 coup and the political system in the country seemed far from democracy.


Turkey ’s first private channels were established in those years and were broadcasting from abroad. Ahmet Kaya, for the first time, showed up on TV’s and met with the public closely, because now he was the voice of a generation which was deprived of their dreams. The number of people who identified with him increased in number even though his production based on his historical and everyday concerns was generally ignored. His albums were collected in most of the cities, his concerts were forbidden, charges were brought against him up to 10 years.


He shot and directed lot of videos for many of his own songs, including his old songs. As a controversial figure, Ahmet became one of the most talked about and best selling artists of Turkey .


In those years, he recorded many consecutive best selling albums and gave many concerts both in the country and abroad. Iyimser Bir Gul (November 1989), Recitals 2 (May 1990), Sevgi Duvari (October 1990), Basim Belada (August 1991), Dokunma Yanarsin (July 1992), Tedirgin (April 1993). As each of these albums became number one on the lists, Ahmet Kaya received rewards from several organizations and newspapers. In the mean time his imitations from various political views sprouted. They copied his songs and singing style.


In 1993, he went to Cuba with his wife, Gulten, his daughter, Melis and a couple of his friends for May 1st celebrations. Ahmet met with many artists and government officers in Cuba . He even invited some of the members the most famous group of Cuba , Tropicana, to Turkey . Nine members of the group came to Turkey after the invitation and Ahmet and members went on a concert tour (16 concerts) and all the revenues from the concert were donated to Cuban children.


In the meantime Ahmet Kaya also took part in Aid concerts for Bosnian children and Danish workers all over Europe .


1990’s started with rekindled acts of violence in Anatolia : the Kurdish problem. In a very short period of time, the struggle between PKK and Turkish army in Eastern and South Eastern cities turned into a civil war which affected all Turkey . Many people who claimed that Kurdish language and culture should be recognized and be respected were declared as traitors. One of those people was Ahmet Kaya.


He mentioned about this problem in every single concert and TV program. He stated that he does not want Turkey to be divided, but united. Each time he said that he wanted to live in a democratic Turkish Republic in harmony with people of different racial background, however he also emphasized that the state should agree that there are also Kurds living in this country, it should recognize Kurdish culture and language, it should provide better education and life conditions in the eastern cities where the Kurdish population is higher than other regions. He reiterated that a statement like “There is no Kurd” does not solve any problems. Every time he said “Kurd” the news about him in the media toughened.


Right after the release of “Sarkilarim Daglara” album, it became number one on the charts. Three of the videos became the most requested videos on all channels. In this album, the lyrics of the song, “Agladikca” which is still very popular was written by his wife, Gulten Kaya.


Sarkilarim Daglara, has so far reached an unbelievable sale number by selling 2 million 800 thousand copies according to official data. If we consider the fact that there are also albums sold under the counter without a license or a banderole, the sale number is probably a few times as much as the official one.


Right after this album, he made a TV show in one of the national channels. With the artists he invited from all over the country, he emphasized on the richness of cultural diversity. In each of this program, which lasted thirteen weeks, he shot videos for the song whose lyrics were mostly written by Yusuf Hayaloglu and directed them himself.


In 1995, Turkey encountered the mothers, who got together every Saturday in front of Galatasaray Lisesi in Beyoglu, who were saying that they were looking for their lost children. After a short time, this civil initiative named “Saturday Mothers”, came up on the national agenda and they were suppressed and arrested. Saturday Mothers was made up of mothers who were looking for their children who were taken away for interrogation but were never released again. As he had already blessed the concept of mother in many of his songs, he took the side of Saturday Mothers and that year he wrote one of the songs in his upcoming album in 1995 for Saturday Mothers and titled the album “Beni Bul (Anne)”.


In 1996, he recomposed the selected songs from the first three albums and added two new songs and recorded a new album, “Yildizlar ve Yakamoz”, and again this album became the best seller. One of the songs from the album, “Yakamoz” and its video became very popular that year.


Every single one of his albums as well as his words created a stir. He was turned into an object of hate because of his emphasis on Kurds and the Kurdish culture. Anything he comments on or any single issue he raised made him more and more of a target in the media.


In Turkey , radical Islam and radical left have always been on the opposite sides of the coin and they are not even mentioned together. Their harsh criticism of one another has always become an issue. In 1997, the mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan (and now he is the Prime Minister of the country), he was brought to trial and was sentenced to nine months in prison because of reciting a poem during a rally. After this conviction, while Islamists’ protest was increasing, nobody from the left wing said anything. When Ahmet Kaya was asked to comment on the incident, he said: “Democracy is for all of us. Mr. Tayyip needs as much freedom of opinion as I. Nobody should be deprived of freedom because of reading a poem!” After this comment now he was faced with criticisms from the left wing. With the same democratic understanding he also stood up for the university students who were trying to enter the universities with their veils on but were banned to do so.


In March 1998 Ahmet Kaya finished his “Dosta Dusmana Karsi” album in his own music studio for the first time.


“Dosta Dusmana Karsi” soon became number one on charts. Ahmet, after completing most of his songs in his last album, was planning to slow down on his music career for a few years and wanted shoot the film, called “Refugee”, whose screenplay he had been working on for years.


In 1998, Ahmet Kaya was awarded as the “The Singer of the year” with public votes by Magazine Journalists Foundation.


On February 10th 1999 night, the award ceremony was held in presence of Turkey ’s most famous artists and people from the show business. He got on the stage one more time among applauses, took his prize and took the microphone to sing his song and said:


“I would like to express my gratitude to Human Rights Foundation, Saturday Mothers, all workers of the press and Turkish public for this award. I also have to state that I will sing a KURDISH song in my upcoming album and I will shoot a video for this song. I know that there are brave people out there who can broadcast this video; if not, I do not know how they will come to terms with the Turkish public.”


There was a deep silence in the hall.


This speech on 10 February was the beginning of a series of events leading to the unpleasant end. As the voices from the protesting audience got louder, holding his award Ahmet kept on singing his song with an undisturbed manner smiling to the audience. When he finally finished his song and started to walk towards his seat, some artists (!), journalists, well known people from the show business started booing and throwing silverware at him. Ahmet could hardly reach the table where his wife Gulten and his friends were sitting. There was such mayhem. Before the very eyes of the viewers on live TV Ahmet tried to keep smiling despite all.  It was a total chaos, because Ahmet uttered the word “Kurdish”.


He left the hall surrounded by security and cameras. The award ceremony resumed joyously after the traitor (!) and his wife were forced to leave.   


Kaya couple was familiar with arrests and trials, but on the morning of February 11th, they were faced with a new kind of accusation. The incident had made the headlines in all major newspapers and TV channels and declared him the traitor.


Yet, it wasn’t over... Hurriyet, the most widely circulated newspaper of the country, put on the headline “Shame on you, brother!”on its first page with big bold letters. It published the photo which was claimed to have been taken at a concert in 1993 in Berlin where Ahmet Kaya is shown singing in front of a map in which some part of Turkey was marked as Kurdistan . The photo was never presented as evidence in the court. Ahmet Kaya was arrested and sent to prison after the first interrogation and was released right after the plea made by his lawyers on the same day.  Kaya was free for the time being; however, in their house surrounded by the press he was all alone with Gulten and Melis. The newscast was talking of Ahmet Kaya as a traitor in their broadcast. Melis was 11 years old; she was trying to make sense of it all looking at his father sitting by her and the “traitor” on TV.


Family drawn into deep isolation was receiving anonymous mail and phone calls threatening death and sending their daughters to school feeling very concerned.


As the case continued, no newspapers mentioned that it was proved with passport registry that Ahmet was never in Germany in 1993, the photo in the press was never presented to the court despite all the correspondence, and how Ahmet insisted that the photo was forged and even if it hadn’t been, the artist could never be accountable for the stage design. Nobody questioned Hurriyet why it labeled this man as a traitor first and then awarded as the “Artist of the year” and nobody noticed or wanted to notice the fact that the prosecution was merely based on the TV commentators’ statements.


The following days were passed in solitude. Ahmet didn’t get out of his studio and not knowing what the future held he was trying to record songs for his album, however, he never accepted his role in this scenario written by others.


 In the first trial the prosecutor, pleaded his imprisonment for 13 years with the accusation of “treason”. Ahmet presented a 2-page defense statement. In his statement, he stated that he regarded himself as a world citizen so could never narrow down his inspirational feelings to a single culture. He also said that he possessed such a big heart that he could love and tolerate all the languages, religions, nations and cultures, beliefs and songs in the world. “If I were to sing a song in Italian, Arabic or English, would i still be labeled as a traitor? Why would I  be  accused of being a traitor in the eyes of the whole Turkish society and kids because of  my wish to sing a single song in a language that is spoken by many people around us living on the same land as myself who unfortunately can’t speak it.” he asked the court. 


The court was postponed to a later date for the collection of the evidence.


The day after the trial the newspapers didn’t mention a single word of the defense statement. Nobody took into account that Ahmet had two literate daughters. He was banned from leaving the country. He had a contract signed for a European tour. They pleaded and the ban was abolished by the court.


In the June of 1999, the day after he recorded the Kurdish song in his studio, he bid farewell to Istanbul at 4 in the morning feeling utterly heartbroken and weary.


And Paris ... Ahmet Kaya was giving concerts while the Turkish media was watching. As the press gave him a hard time misinterpreting his words, Ahmet was getting more and more aggravated and isolated. Every single of his words was manipulated, the reports about his concerts were distorted, and the press and TV news broadcasts were relaying his most constructive statements as the most destructive ones. All this generated new legal cases and Ahmet’s wish to return to his country was beginning to seem literally and legally improbable.


Although his attorneys referring to the headlines pointed out that they have a negative impact on the public and created a setting for lynching, at each trial the lynch campaign continued to hammer on.


The first case against him finalized while he was still in Europe sentencing him to 3 years 9 months in prison .


Ahmet didn’t return to his country due to the arrest warrant. He decided to pursue a way to express himself in Paris . He organized a press conference, and talked about what he had been going through. Representatives from the Turkish press were present in the conference. The next day none of the newspapers mentioned a word about it.


Months passed by. At each of his speech he tried to explain to the public the injustice made towards himself. “I don’t think I have violated any of the Turkish laws. I didn’t kill a man, swindle anybody, rob, dodge tax, act dishonourably, deal drugs. As you have noticed, ‘Lynch campaign against Ahmet Kaya” is continuing ritualistically. You think you have expelled me from my country and wonder if I will ever come back. In fact, I am already there and don’t easily intend to go anywhere else. 


For the first time in his life he was drawn into such despair, he wanted to return to his country no matter what. He was terribly missing his motherland.


The temporary housing conditions which they hoped to last for a very short time could never be made permanent despite the accelerating vagueness. He was trying to live in his home in Paris in exile as if he was going to return anytime.


He spent his days reading, taking Kurdish and French classes and going to concerts.


He was taking long walks on the streets of Paris with Gulten, following the Turkish news at night and trying to figure out what was happening with the help of comments from Gulten. He was wondering to himself how on earth the truth he had strived to emphasize all his life turned into an explosive bomb and smashed into the very core of his life and blew up all his being and works and wounded him with such impact.   

He was asking so many questions to himself.


Then, how could life be lead differently? Should not a man be disturbed if he turned a blind eye to the truth which was already ignored by others? If then, what was the function of art? How else could a man justify his being, his works and the condition of his existence?  It was not just a “decision”. It was merely an intuition, an inner condition and should appear as a spontaneous reaction. There lay a past he was disturbed by and which he was unveiling with his words. Was not that was supposed to happen? Was not it something which everybody was entitled to do and particularly the duty of art? Was not the art history laden with so many similar incidents? If so, how come he heard only his own voice and still his single voice.


He remembered how nicely France embraced Sartre as a dissentious figure and how this historical attitude granted such an honorable position in the world history of democracy.


Each day he was coming to a decision, he had to go. At this point in time where he was believed to have burnt down all his bridges, figuratively speaking, he was planning to get on his little boat loaded with a lot of hope and embark on a journey back to his country by making his way through the dark waters.


He was making new songs, but recorded none due to a dubious intuition and probably as a reaction to not being able to work independently in his studio. His decision to make a movie started to take hold of him; he was doing preliminary research, putting together the technical crew, seeking locations resembling his country in France , Spain and Italy .


In the mean time, he and his lawyers decided to request for appeal.


He was continually being isolated and distanced away from his country and his hope to “return” thanks to some people’s conscious will. He at least wanted to release his last album with a Kurdish song in it. On 28 October, his birthday, he got together with his wife one more time.


He was quite distressed and was suffering from ulcer, a typical exile illness brought on by mainly stress. He was often in pain.


On November16, 2000 Gulten and Melis were woken up by a sound. Ahmet’s tired and troubled heart had stopped beating.


As his legacy, the artist had left 18 albums one which was not yet released, around 200 songs and at least a line in the memories of the Turkish people. His heart was 43 years old when it finally collapsed under the heavy weight of sorrows. The next day, over 30.000 people arrived in Paris to bid their final farewell to him. They buried him in Peré Lachaise, the cemetery of love and history, singing his songs all together.


Ahmet never had the chance to see that it was no longer against the law to sing in Kurdish, he was awarded “Peace Award” by Diyarbakir Democracy Platform the same year, Gulten established a production and publishing company called GultenAhmetMelis (GAM)  and  released his 18. album named “Hoşçakalın Gözüm” and made a video for the Kurdish song by editing previous clippings and enclosed in the CD cover and delivered to almost each home, in 2002 the most renowned 20 musicians of Turkey made a tribute album and gave their regards to him by calling it “Dinle Sevgili Ülkem”, in 2003 GAM Records made the album “Biraz da Sen Ağla” out of his eleven neverbeen released songs, in 2003 he was depicted sitting at a tram station looking at his posthumous album in reference to a general disbelief of his death among his fans, the videos of some of these songs were made out of previous clippings, in 2005 “Kalsın Benim Davam/Divana Kalsın” out of his previous recordings of traditonal songs was released, a serious of song books consisting of hundreds of his songs in addition to his biography “Basim Belada” which was also translated into Kurdish were printed, some poems were written for him, some songs were composed for him, around 150 thousand of his fans visited his webpage, his daughter is now going to university and so many other things.


He never saw that the love of his listeners and his people kept on living persistently, growing continually and that they named their children after him.


If only he could know that still hundreds of thousands of people listen to his songs and miss him, his songs are being played on the streets that he couldn’t walk freely in the last years of his life, he was buried side by side with the most renowned and controversial figures in Pere Lachaise in a memorial grave ornamented with the motifs of his homeland, we could probably put back his familiar smile on his face. And maybe he would not be sad again over what had happened to him if we could make sure that nobody in the world, particularly an artist is lynched again because of their wish to sing in their mother tongue. 



Now, the Mesopotamian Sun will keep him warm.

His songs will never be subdued.

We dream of a country where no one is ever hurt because of their national identity.



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