Iranian Kurdistan: Rappers in Germany Help Teenagers Affirm Their Kurdish Identity
Kurdish rappers have started to affirm themselves on the German rap scene in the 2000s. This musical genre counts now many famous German-Kurdish artists. Singing about Kurdish culture and language, they have enabled teenagers to be proud of their Kurdish identity, which had often been repressed in the past decades. The climate of hostility towards the Kurds has gradually changed with the official recognition of Iraq’s Kurdistan region and with the short-lived ease of tensions between the Kurds and the Turkish government in 2012-13. One of the most famous German rappers, Azad, originally comes from Iranian Kurdistan.
Photo courtesy of Rudaw.
Below is an article published by Rudaw:
For Kurdish teens growing up in Germany, it was hard to find idols like athletes and musicians to look up to. Then came rappers like Azad and Xatar, whose lyrics about Kurdish pride transformed an entire generation of Kurds in Germany and beyond.
“It began with Azad,” remembers 26-year-old Zhira Shekany, who is a big fan of the Kurdish MC.
“He was the first one to show his Kurdish heritage. I remember how a lot of Kurdish kids, especially from Turkey, didn’t dare to say that they are Kurdish in the 1990s. Even here in Germany, because they were afraid of the Turks. But then Azad came along, and suddenly it became cool to be a Kurd.”
Azad was born in eastern Kurdistan in Iran and after immigrating to Germany with his family, the young musician became renowned throughout Germany for his skilled verses and rhymes. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he became indispensable in the Hip Hop industry.
“I am very aware of my role,” he said in one of his older interviews in the early 2000s. “As Kurds, a people without a recognized country, we have to face many difficulties. You say ‘I am a Kurd’ and people respond to you ‘Oh yeah, a Turk.’ But no, I am a Kurd, I have my own language, my own people, my own culture.”
While Azad was the only famous Kurdish rapper in the early 2000s, there were many Turkish rappers in Germany, who were able not just to be a voice for their community but also to be idols for young Turks. However, with the years flying by, it became known that many of these “Turkish” musicians had, in fact, a Kurdish heritage.
“There are still many Kurds who just can’t be honest about their heritage. Of course, it’s not only their fault; the Turkish state forces Kurds since 1923 to refer to themselves as Turks. Just think of KC Rebell, who calls himself ‘Turkish Prince’ or Eko Fresh, who changes his heritage from time to time,” says 25-year-old Cem Altintas.
Eko Fresh is one of the best known rappers in Germany. He considers himself a German-Turk. However, collaborating with the Kurdish rap group “La Honda” in the late 2000s, he occasionally referred to himself as a Kurd, as his father was a Kurd from Sivas in Turkey.
In an interview with hiphop.de, Xatar referred to these cases: “Since 2006/2007, since Xatar’s music video, they are all Kurds. Sales aren’t good as a Turk, Xatar sells good, let’s be Kurds now. Now they say ‘Biji, Biji, Kurdistan’ (Long Live Kurdistan) without even knowing what it means.”
After the fall of Saddam Hussein and the official recognition of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq -- but also with the easing of repression against Kurds in Turkey during the same period -- many Kurds in Germany could be more open about their heritage, and that was also mirrored in the music industry.
“Although I always said that I was a Kurd, I still added a ‘from Iraq’ to it. There was no official Kurdistan before the rise of the Kurdistan Region. But nowadays, Kurdistan is way more popular in the West than Iraq ever was. You also see that with rappers like Haftbefehl, Kurdo, Xatar, Capo, and many more, who proudly show their heritage. That was unthinkable in the past, especially of Kurds from the north in Turkey,” says 24-year-old student Aras Bahdini.
“Today’s rap industry in Germany wouldn’t be possible without the Kurdish artists,” says Tim Zimmerman, a German student majoring in the music fine arts. “Azad was away for a long time, but his last Album “Leben 2” from January was a huge hit in Germany. And musicians like Haftbefehl or Xatar are obviously indispensable in today’s Hip Hop industry; both are always at the top of the German album charts.”
Today’s Kurdish teenagers and even those of the 90s and 2000s can proudly show their Kurdish heritage, amongst others thanks to those Kurdish musicians in Germany who do not hide their origins.
With Azad being from eastern Kurdistan, Haftbefehl being from northern Kurdistan and Xatar with links to both southern and eastern Kurdistan, almost all Kurdish communities are represented.
And with the latest arrival of thousands of Kurds from western Kurdistan in Syria, who knows which young artist will thrive in the future Hip Hop scene in Germany.