The world’s first Kurdish rock band with its roots in Soviet Georgia

Years before this was possible on traditional Kurdish lands, four young men from Soviet Tbilisi formed the world’s first Kurdish rock band.

Koma Wetan (Homeland Group) was founded in 1973, with three Yazidi Kurds and an Armenian. Leader Kerem Gerdenzeri was born and raised in Tbilisi, which is one of the small but ancient Kurdish communities of the Caucasus. But his family had roots in the eastern Turkish provinces of Kars and Van, which are still home to a large Kurdish population.

“Kurdistan is the land of our fathers and grandfathers, the homeland and the homeland of our people”, say the lyrics of one of the group’s songs, “Welate Me” (Our homeland). “This song is for you, Kurdistan, for your mountains and your springs. It is our place and our home.

This kind of feeling – sung in the Kurdish language, by the way – would have been impossible at the time in neighboring Turkey, where it was illegal to speak Kurdish until the early 1990s. The use of the word “Kurdistan” is still banned in the Turkish parliament.

But in the multi-ethnic and relaxed atmosphere of Tbilisi at the time, Koma Wetan was not only allowed to perform, but also gained state support. The city was one of the centers of Soviet rock and in 1980 hosted the first official rock festival of the Soviet Union.

One of the group’s boosters was prominent Georgian-Kurdish intellectual and politician Kerem Anqosi, a great defender of Kurdish culture in Soviet Georgia who has directed Kurdish language programs on Georgian State Radio for more than 25 years. Anqosi helped Koma Wetan obtain financial assistance from the state so that they could purchase instruments they would not otherwise be able to afford.

Koma Wetan managed to gain official recognition as a “vocal-instrumental ensemble”, the Soviet term for pop and rock groups operating with official sanction. The groups “Were state funded or approved collectives with a repertoire based on local musical culture; and they were allowed to experiment with forms, although within the limits of what was acceptable, ”Georgian music critic Kakha Tolordava told Eurasianet.

And given Turkey’s position at the time as an enemy NATO member state on the border of the Soviet Caucasus, it is perhaps not surprising that authorities at least tolerate feelings that Ankara would have considered separatism.

“I don’t think mentioning Kurdistan in songs from the 1970s was problematic for the Soviet state,” Tolordava said.

Koma Wetan repeatedly appeared on Georgian and Soviet television, Gerdenzeri called back later. “We have performed in many festivals and concerts,” he said in a 2012 interview. “We were recognized throughout the Soviet Union and wherever the Kurds lived. ”

The band wrote the demos for their first and only album, Baye Payize (“The Winds of Fall”), in 1979, although it was not until 1989 that the record was released. He combined classic rock style, some psychedelic flourishes, and lyrics written by Gerdenzeri but taken from the works of iconic Kurdish poets from the Caucasus.

“It was inevitable that Kurdish rock emerges in the territories of the Soviet Union”, wrote anthropologist Özkan Öztaş, in his book Kurdish art in the Soviet Union. “The chance to get the best and most advanced equipment and the opportunity to benefit from native language teaching and music education contributed to the creation of the first Kurdish rock music in history. “

The group’s big debut, however, came at a tumultuous time.

Gerdenzeri most recently (Instagram)

“The year 1989, when the album was released, coincided with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on the one hand, and on the other hand, when the Kurds were massacred miles away in [the Iraqi Kurdish city of] Halabja by Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons ”, ztaş wrote. Koma Wetan donated the proceeds of the albums to support the people of Halabja.

The collapse of the Soviet Union proved fatal for the group, as the loss of state support forced limbs look for another job outside Georgia, Gerdenzeri recalled. Gerdenzeri himself moved to Moscow.

But in Turkey, home to the largest number of Kurds in the world, Koma Wetan’s popularity and influence has only grown, and he has served as an inspiration to many subsequent Kurdish musicians. Restrictions on Kurdish language, literature and music began to loosen in the 1990s, and when a reassembled version of Koma Wetan gave a concert to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his formation, they did so in Istanbul, the city with the largest Kurdish population. in the world.

During this concert, Koma Wetan shared the stage with another historical band: Ferec, the world’s first Kurdish-speaking heavy metal band, formed in the eastern province of Hakkari in Turkey in 2004.

The frontman of Ferec, who performs under the stage name Reh, told Eurasianet that Koma Wetan was “one of the most important bands for us. … As the first Kurdish group, Koma Wetan paved the way and influenced many Kurdish rock groups. Reh first bought a tape of Baye Payize in the late 1990s, he recalls.

“When I first listened to it, I felt it to the bone,” he said. “It was a band that would never get old, no matter how much you listened to it, it always brought fun.”

About Raymond Lang

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