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Ibrahim Ahmad: ژانی گەل [Suffering of the People]

Ahmad had a lot of trouble with this book, as he lost the manuscript, rewrote the book from memory, found the manuscript and then combined the two versions. Though it was written in 1956, it was not published in Kurdish till 1972 and has never been published in Arabic or English, only in French. In short, it has not featured highly in the literary world. It is not entirely helped by the fact that it is unremittingly gloomy and sad.

The book starts with Jwamer Baïze, a Kurdish man, with his wife, Kaleh, who is in the throes of labour. He has sent someone to fetch the midwife but she has not returned. Jwamer is very concerned, as his wife is clearly in considerable agony. He wonders what to do and finally decides that he has to leave his wife and go and get help, which he does. However, he had forgotten that there is a big freedom demonstration going on. The way to the midwife is blocked by the demonstrators. He cannot get through and, presumably, nor can she. However, he must and he tries to force his way through and, inadvertently, finds himself at the front of the demonstration, facing the police armed with machine guns. They start firing and he is soon hit and unconscious. It is not till later in he book that we hear a full account of what happened afterwards. Briefly, as he was at the front of the demonstration, it was assumed that he was the leader. He is arrested, badly treated and threatened with torture. He, of course, proclaims his innocence but to no avail. He is sentenced to ten years in jail, where he is badly treated. His family are unaware of what has happened till much later and cannot visit him. However, in the chronology of the novel, we meet him on his release from prison, before learning of the details of his imprisonment.

His release is not happy. He has come home, expecting to find his wife and son, Hiwa, whom, of course, he has never met. However, when he goes to the house of his cousin, Lawa, he is disappointed. Lawa’s son seem to resemble the photos of Hiwa but Hiwa and Kaleh are not there but have moved to Golane, a village well removed from the town where Lawa lives. Worse still, the situation is desperate. There is a curfew at night. Many Kurds have been arrested or killed. Work is scarce and many small businesses have been closed or destroyed. Everyone is afraid of spies. Lawa tells him that it is not safe to go to Golane and that he should wait. Meanwhile, he tries to settle in with Lawa and his family, and recover from his ten year ordeal. But nothing happens. Jwamer does meet up with some old friends and they get together (breaking the curfew) and argue about various things, often matters of lesser importance, such as whether they should drink alcohol or not. Jwamer is encouraged to join the revolution but declines, saying that he wants to devote himself fully to his family, having neglected them for ten years. Finally, desperate for news of his family, he sets out on his own to Golane, without telling Lawa or his family. He is shocked to find that it is difficult to find the way, as the whole area has been bombed out, with little sign of habitation and most buildings destroyed. It is not a happy journey.

No mention is made in this book of Iraq, though it is clearly set in the Kurdish area of Iraq and Arabic as well as Kurdish are spoken. We know from the historical record of the brutal repression of the Kurds. Ahmed himself was a revolutionary and was arrested and sent to Abu Ghraib, fifty-seven years before it would hit the world headlines. But the Kurds had been repressed in Iraq for many years and not only under Saddam Hussein. The title of the book shows clearly what this book is about. For Ahmad, there is no doubt that the Kurds are suffering and continue to suffer and will do so till they achieve independence. The only way to achieve this, in his view, is by armed struggle. Ahmad’s story gives us a strong case for supporting this point of view.

Publishing history

First published 1972 by Kamal Fuad, Sulaimaniya
No English translation
Published in French as Mal du peuple by L’Harmattan in 1973
Translated by Ismael Darwish