'I want to sing on stage with Roger Waters': Turkey's jailed Kurdish singer Nûdem Durak dreams of her freedom song

Turkey's Jailed Kurdish Singer dreams of being free
6 min read

"Roger Waters and his friends did a huge thing for me: They made me happy and feel – even just for a moment – that I was free and not in my prison cell, enclosed by four walls."

These are the words of Turkey's jailed Kurdish singer Nûdem Durak, who thanked the Pink Floyd star and his friends for sending Water's guitar to her as a gesture of solidarity.

"Although we sing in different languages, them thinking of me, showing solidarity, and building a bridge between us is brilliant. Music unites"

Answering The New Arab's questions from prison in Turkey's north-eastern province of Bayburt, Nûdem said the world-famous artists' support was so precious to her.

"Although we sing in different languages, them thinking of me, showing solidarity, and building a bridge between us is brilliant. Music unites."

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Imprisoned by Turkish authorities in 2015, when she was 27, Nûdem is currently serving a 19.5-year jail term on the charge of contacting an alleged member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an insurgent group that has been fighting the Turkish army for nearly four decades.

"Ankara often uses vague and arbitrary terrorism charges to silence Kurds and other dissidents"

According to critics, Ankara often uses vague and arbitrary terrorism charges to silence Kurds and other dissidents.

Pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Necdet Ipekyuz told The New Arab that Ankara had detained at least 14,792 Kurds since 2015, 3,524 of whom have been arrested.

In a bid to draw attention to Nûdem's situation, famous artists, intellectuals, and writers from all around the world have launched a campaign titled Free Nûdem Durak in recent years.

As part of the campaign, artists and thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Ken Loach, Yanis Varoufakis, and Mark Ruffalo have asked for justice for the Kurdish singer.

Upon learning that prison wards smashed Nûdem's acoustic guitar during a cell check back in 2017, Roger Waters announced a decision to send the black Martin guitar he used on his 2017/18 Us + Them tour to the young singer.

In February, Roger Waters urged Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release Nûdem.  

In addition to Waters' signature, rockers such as Pete Townshend, Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel, Brian May, Marianne Faithfull, Mark Knopfler, Noel Gallagher, and Waters' former Pink Floyd bandmate, Nick Mason also added their signatures to the instrument.

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Last year, the guitar began its travels from Waters' home in Long Island, New York, making several stops across Europe before heading to the Bayburt prison this year.

"Apart from taking long walks in nature and mingling with the crowds in concerts, what I miss most here, in jail, is playing an instrument and singing. I thank them for being this thoughtful and nice," the 34-year-old singer said. 

However, Nûdem's brother Ahmet Durak told The New Arab that the prison authorities did not let her have Water's guitar, citing the rule that bars electronic instruments in prison.

"Nûdem is not alone in facing persecution.... Turkish authorities conduct police operations to intimidate Kurds every 10 or 15 days"

Zehra Dogan, a 33-year-old journalist and writer, told The New Arab that she shared a cell with Nûdem in 2016 in Mardin before she was transferred to Bayburt. She described Nûdem as a cheerful and very industrious woman who taught her and the other 50 cellmates Kurdish songs in prison.

A portrait of Nudem Durak prior to her incarceration [Nudem Durak]
A photo of Nûdem taken recently by a family member during a prison visit

Zehra was imprisoned in Turkey in 2018 over "terrorism propaganda," based on her writings and paintings depicting the destruction of the south-eastern town of Nusaybin during the clashes between security forces and the Kurdish insurgents.

British graffiti artist Banksy drew a 70-foot long (21 metre) mural in New York in 2018, with Zehra's face behind bars and black tally marks for the days of the young lady's imprisonment.

Ankara's crackdown on Kurds

Nûdem is not alone in facing persecution. HDP lawmaker Hasan Gunes told The New Arab that the Turkish authorities conduct police operations to intimidate Kurds "every 10 or 15 days."

"Despite the oppression and demonisation, we continue our legitimate and democratic struggle," he said.

In April, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant for 91 people, including former HDP deputy mayors, as part of a crackdown over the Kobane protests of 2014. Thousands took to the streets back then across Turkey against the Islamic State's (IS) siege of the neighbouring Syrian-Kurdish town.

The protesters blamed Ankara for standing by IS against the US-backed-Syrian Kurdish insurgent group YPG, which Ankara recognises as an extension of the PKK. Thirty-seven people were killed, and hundreds of others were injured during the protests.

The HDP is the second-largest opposition party in the Turkish parliament. Former co-chairs of the party, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, have been behind bars since 2016. With its support in polls dropping, Erdogan's AK Party increased police operations on HDP members in the new year, ahead of Turkey's June 2023 parliamentary and presidential elections.

When Erdogan lost his parliamentary majority in the 2015 June elections, he started a fight against the PKK, ending the peace talks with the group. After five months, in November's elections, he consolidated his power again with the help of the nationalistic wave in the country.

Ipekyuz claimed that the AKP is paving the way to close the pro-Kurdish party before the upcoming elections. In June, a Turkish court indicted the HDP, seeking a ban over its alleged links to Kurdish militants, and the party denies such ties. Turkey has a long history of banning political parties, including several pro-Kurdish ones.

On Tuesday, HDP submitted its primary defence to the constitutional court against the indictment, which calls for 451 HDP members to be banned from politics for five years.

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The support of artists means a lot for Kurds

Nûdem said the support of Waters and his friends is meaningful for all Kurds in Turkey who face a crackdown. "Their support to all those oppressed makes me happy, and I believe this solidarity will always remain."

Nûdem said she believed she would be free one day. Her biggest dream is to go on to the stage with the former members of Pink Floyd. "Let me tell you about one of my youth dreams: To gig with one of the fantastic singers like Roger Waters and his friends.

"It would be amazing to share a concert with them and perform a duet. It would make me so happy and proud, and it would be a kind of happiness that I can't describe."

Zübeyir Koculu is an investigative journalist based in London. He focuses on Turkey, the Middle East, Europe, migrants, asylum seekers, police brutality, human rights violations, cross-border stories, and beyond.

Follow him on Twitter: @zubeyirkoculu

Maaz İbrahimoğlu is a Kurdish journalist from Turkey. He focuses on refugees, Kurds, the Middle East, and human rights violations. 

Follow him on Twitter: @maazibrahimoglu