Hozan Serhat, musician, revolutionary and guerrilla

Hardly any other artist has shaped Kurdish guerrilla music as much as Hozan Serhat. He was a musician, revolutionary and guerrilla. His extraordinary voice enchanted a whole people.

It started with a broken string of a Tembûr. When the seven-year-old Süleyman Alpdoğan was handling his brother's long-necked lute, there was a big argument between the siblings. Arif Alpdoğan recalled: “It was probably the first Tembûr that existed in Patnos. We had been saving for it for a year. That is probably why it was sacred to us. Suleyman stole it from me whenever he could and tried to figure out how to play it. He didn't give up. He was persistent; never ready to give up or give in. When the string broke, not only did we get into an argument, but also then started his passion for music, which did not wane until his death.”

This was Hozan Serhat, an artist, revolutionary, guerrilla. He shaped Kurdish guerrilla music like no other - and became immortal for it.

A “child singer” in Unkapanı

Hozan Serhat was born on 24 July 1970 in Eleşkirt in the northern Kurdish province of Ağrı as the youngest of five children. He lost his father at the age of one. The mother then moved back to Patnos with the children. “He was a very intelligent boy. About a year had passed since our argument about the broken string and he was now many times better at tembûr than me. So the time had come for me to support him in every way,” said Arif Alpdoğan.

In 1985 Hozan Serhat tried his luck in Unkapanı. The European district of Istanbul was the center of the commercial music industry in Turkey. Under the pseudonym Murat Esen he recorded his first album "Gûlo" there. It was the time of the “child singers” that mushroomed in the mid-1980s, just a few years after the military coup. Hozan Serhat lived with one of them, Küçük Emrah, in an apartment for a while. But success didn’t come and financial difficulties led him back to Patnos. There he finished his education with the Abitur. His passion for music still drove him.

Studies in Izmir

In 1988 Hozan Serhat achieved the second-best result among 1,800 colleagues in the aptitude test for a study place at the State Conservatory of Ege University in Izmir. Contrary to what was expected, he did not study the tembûr there, but the Azerbaijani tar. At the same time, he learned to play kaval as well as guitar, saz and piano. And he got to know the Kurdish liberation movement better. His political awareness was increasingly influenced, and he began to involve himself in art and culture within the Kurdish liberation struggle. The first Kurdish-language song that he added to his repertoire was "Batmanê Batmanê".

Heftanîn, Bekaa, Damascus

Hozan Serhat experienced his turning point after attending a concert at Ataturk University in Erzurum. He and his brother spent the night with a friend, there was long talk about history, politics, the reality of the Kurdish people. “From that moment the process of constant questioning began for Serhat,” recalled Arif Alpdoğan. Soon after, in early 1991, Hozan Serhat met his future wife, Yıldız, during his student days. Only a month later, they got married in Denizli. At around the same time, the Turkish state escalated the war against the Kurdish population. Thereupon both made the decision to join the PKK. However, Yıldız Alpdoğan was captured and subsequently sentenced to more than twelve years in prison. Hozan Serhat went into the mountains and reached the southern Kurdish guerrilla area of ​​Heftanîn. From there he moved on to the Mahsum Korkmaz Academy in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley. The first PKK cadres had already arrived at the camp not far from the Syrian border in late summer 1979. Later he went to the party school in Damascus.

His musically revolutionary spirit left a deep impression on the PKK leadership. Hozan Serhat was asked to go to Germany to get involved in the activities of the "Association of Patriotic Artists in Europe" (Hunerkom). Hunerkom was the first organization with exclusively Kurdish artistic objectives and supported folklore and music groups, published albums and organized a Kurdish folklore and music festival every year in early summer. The music group Koma Berxwedan ("Group Resistance"), whose members should also include Hozan Serhat, was associated with the association. The band quickly established itself as the main tool for conveying the resistance music of the PKK and became an integral part of the Kurdish liberation movement. The example of Koma Berxwedan made it clear that music plays a significant role in the resistance. For the Kurdish movement, music has always been a powerful means of social and political expression and, at the same time, a way of conveying the culture and history of a society to the new generation.

Four years at Hunerkom in Germany

Hozan Serhat spent around four years with the Kurdish exile population in Europe - and the Kurds with him. There was hardly a cultural event where he and his tembûr were absent. His extraordinary stage presence, his impressive and velvety voice enchanted everyone. When the first Kurdish television station, Med TV, went on air in 1995, he was regularly on the screen. By putting songs to music in all Kurdish languages, Hozan Serhat reached the population in all four parts of Kurdistan. He wrote his own songs and reinterpreted traditional folk tunes with the influence of modern motifs. “We cannot allow our songs to be lost. It is up to all of us to preserve it,” he used to say.

Back to Kurdistan

In 1996, Hozan Serhat moved back to Kurdistan. “Returning home is the task of a revolutionary. It is up to us to return to our roots and to prove that the Kurdish culture is still alive,” he explained about his motivation. The first few months, he moved to the Zap region. Later he went to Hewlêr and worked in the Mesopotamian Cultural Center (NÇM). Its activities extended to Sulaymaniyah and the Behdînan region. He gave concerts everywhere and also became part of the orchestra for fine arts.

Hewlêr massacre

When the Turkish army marched in on the night from 13 to 14 of May 1997 with around 200,000 soldiers and several thousand "village guards" in South Kurdistan for "Operation Hammer" ("Çekiç Operasyonu") against the PKK, the KDP provided support during the war against the Kurdish liberation movement. The activities of Barzani’s party were not limited to fighting in the guerrilla retreats, but also spread to the cities in South Kurdistan. On the second day of the invasion, 16 May 1997, a hospital of the Kurdish Red Half-Mon organization Heyva Sor a Kurdistanê, named "Foundation for the Life and Rebuild of Kurdistan" (Dezgay Jiyan û Awedan, DJAK) carried and cared for injured persons of the PKK, and other institutions of PKK-related organizations such as the party office of the YNDK (National Democratic Unity of Kurdistan), the headquarters of YAJK (Association of Free Women of Kurdistan), offices of the newspapers Welat and Welatê Roj as well as the NÇM representation attacked by heavily armed KDP militiamen. In the hospital alone, the KDP murdered 62 wounded guerrilla fighters. A total of 83 PKK members were killed in the Hewlêr massacre. Among them were journalists and women's rights activists.

Captured and fallen in Botan

Hozan Serhat was back in the mountains at the time of the massacre. But he had lost many friends and comrades. His song "Hewlêr" is dedicated to the victims of this "fratricide slaughter". From 1998 he was increasingly involved in fighting against the Turkish military.

In October of the same year, Abdullah Öcalan's odyssey of several months through various countries in Europe began, which was to end in his illegal kidnapping from Kenya to Turkey the following February. Shortly thereafter, Hozan Serhat took part in the sixth PKK congress before going to the northern Kurdish resistance stronghold Botan with a group of artists, which also included the filmmaker, journalist and revolutionary Halil Uysal. In July, the group was ambushed by the Turkish army in Hakkari province and Hozan Serhat was injured and captured after fighting. On 22 July 1999, he was shot by the military near the Faraşin plateau near Beytüşşebap and thrown from a helicopter. His remains have yet to be found.