About Refugees, By Refugees
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“I wanted to be a very well-known Kurdish musician… This was my dream to perform freely in my own country, my own people, my own land,” says Kadir Okatar (25), a Kurdish refugee who fled his birth country of Turkey due to his political opinion and ethnicity. In Turkey, he ran into problems singing in Kurdish. He now lives in London. “I was powerless when I first came here,” he recalls, “because there was a process of… getting used to this life here.” But Kadir has had a reserve of inner strength for as long as he can remember, he says, so this feeling did not last long: “We Kurds are honorable and proud people. So we were able to stay strong with stubbornness and faith in the face of very bad events and situations.” Music is therapeutic for Kadir, and his relationships give him joy. But he misses his family, and doesn’t feel like he belongs in the UK: “Now my biggest dream is that this situation in my own country will come to an end and that I will return to my land at once.”
So Kadir, what kind of house do you live in?
What kind of house do I live in? We have a small, modest house with a garden. We live there.
Who do you live with?
With my friends. I mean, one of them is my childhood friend, the others are my friends and I met here.
How many are you?
We are four people here.
How do you normally spend your time, Kadir? Are you working?
Normally, I was interested in music… I was more interested in music because I was a musician. But lately, of course, I’ve been working on something else because of this epidemic. In my spare time, I try to make as much music as I can. I’m interested in music.
The next question will actually be… What brings you joy? What gives you joy in everyday life?
In everyday life, actually, I like to sit and chat with my friends, that is, I’m a person who cares about human relationships. Sitting together and creating a social environment is something that gives me great morale. Things that are good for me. Other than that, as I said, music because I’m already a musician. Music can help overcome anything. I enjoy music and making music.
Are you using music as a way of therapy?
Of course. We listen to it most of the time.
Since your arrival in Europe, Kadir, how has your life been? Can you describe it a little bit? What do you think about the good moments and the bad moments of being here?
Since I came to Europe… I realized that society here is contemporary and modern. My point of view on people is even more different. My life has changed that perspective a little bit. I mean, it changed a lot of perspectives. That’s it. How do I put it?
Do you think you’re okay?
Of course, I’ll change it for the better. I mean, it’s already changed my point of view of a lot of things here. I mean, it even changed me.
How did you change? in what way?
I think I used to be a smaller, shallow thinking person. We saw broader ethnic societies here, and we had the opportunity to see broader cultures. Of course, we’ve seen a wide range of ethnic cultures in our country, but this is a metropolitan. The place we came from before wasn’t a city where there were so many people. It has influenced me a lot. The effect of getting to know different people has been quite a lot. And I realized that it’s a little freer country, that it’s a country that cares about freedom, that it’s a country with respect.
Do you think it’s easy to meet people here?
I think it’s easy to meet people. I mean, with non-Turkish people, of course, yes. I mean, the ones from Turkey, actually. I know a lot of people, so we never had a problem meeting people I don’t know. As I said, it’s easy to meet with those who are not from Turkey who live here, those who are local, Europeans. You can have a great conversation. I mean, even if I don’t know any of them. You can even joke with them, you know. But in my own community, I couldn’t do it in Turkey. So it’s easier here.
And how does it feel to be away from your family, away from home? I know it’s a bit of a difficult question.
How does it feel to be away from my family, away from home? Of course, I miss my family a lot. Because they gave me everything. They still give everything. I mean… Family… Of course, it’s weird. Until you’re twenty, you live with your family. You live on your own land, you live in your own environment. With your parents. I mean, you just show up and you don’t see your family for a long time. That’s a very bad feeling. So if something happened, you wouldn’t be able to see them again. I mean, it’s a really bad feeling. It makes you feel terrible. I’m trying to meet with them in other countries as much as I can.
When have you seen them last time? Where?
I’ve seen them two and a half years after I came here. I need to do it in another country. I didn’t see them in Turkey.
Where did you meet them?
In Georgia. They came to Georgia. I went there. I had the first vacation of my life with them. I’ve never actually had a vacation in my life. We stayed for, like, a week.
Your parents and who else were there?
My mother, my family, and my grandmother.
And do you feel like you belong here, Kadir? Can you describe it a little bit? Or do you feel left out? You may not feel it, of course.
Now, actually different meanings can be installed to this question. Actually, I don’t feel left out. In fact, in my own country, I had the feeling of being left out. So we’re outcasts on my own land. But in the lands of other ethnic origins of another race, we are not so excluded as in our own country. But I don’t feel like I belong here in this direction, because there’s no place like a human home. I mean, I’m actually a person looking forward to coming back to my hometown. Of course, when the environment is fine, the order there, when the management changes there, of course, I expect to return.
Would you have guessed that you would experience something like this? That you would come here like this?
I never would have guessed. Because I was fine there. I mean, I could actually get to a better place at what I did in music and art. Or I could finish school. I could not finish my school (Interviewer: What were you studying?). I was studying Business and Finance there.
No, I was in Maras. I was studying in Maras, Kahramanmaras. I never would have thought that I had to leave the country all of a sudden. A month later, a month and a half later, I had to come here.
How do you think you’ve overcome this process?
Actually, I can say that I’ve overcome it very strongly. There is only one thing that bothers me. It’s been hard for me to get used to our own community here. Because I don’t know any more about this, not exhausting this question, if I need to explain the answer. I had a lot of expectations from his community here. From our society. But my expectations have been wasted, in fact, many of my expectations have been wasted.
Well, you think, you’ve overcome it. You are living pretty well right now. Do you think that you always have this strength, the mechanism, the power? Or can you just say… that I’ve been this strong because I’ve been through all this.
No, actually. I’ve been strong on this topic for as long as I can remember. Actually. It outweighs a little emotional. But these things still remain strong in the face of events. I just thought I was powerless when I first came here… Because there was a process of getting used to here and getting used to this life here. It’s like you’re reborn. New language, new life, new country, new people. That was the only time I thought I was powerless. But this process didn’t last long. A year later, I pulled myself together.
How did Covid affect your life, Kadir? Both emotionally and normal physical life.
Covid, of course, influenced many aspects of our lives as much as anyone else. How should I put it? Emotionally…. I mean staying at home for a long time and not being able to get out is difficult. It affected a lot more financially. In terms of work opportunities if affected me a lot. As much as anyone else. Of course, I think the musicians who suffer the most in this conditions. So right now, a restaurant owner can still open his place. If he used to come in, say, 20 clients, but now he’s got 10 clients. But he can do something at least. But we, musicians, can’t do anything. So our field of work is completely dead. So that’s why COVID has affected musicians a lot.
Okay, I’m gonna ask you a few questions about the past. Kadir, why did you leave your country? As much as you can tell me what happened.
Why did I leave my country? This is the faith of all Kurd people in my country. It’s pretty obvious why we leave. The most important factor is just being ethnically Kurdish. And our desire to defend Kurdish struggle. It is the defense of the Kurdish struggle for freedom. A general reason why I left is my political opinion and my ethnicity.
It should be said that the Kurdish ethnic minority living in Turkey. And how did you feel about leaving your country and making your way here?
I actually felt a lot of things coming here. On the one hand, you’re running from a country like that, from a government like that. Ok maybe you’ll live a little free life, but not on your own land. I mean, one side of me is happy and the other part of me is sad. Of course, I felt a lot of sadness. Because you gave up land and left your family, most importantly. These are the feelings I feel the most. My endurance was more of my sad feelings, actually.
How was your trip here? Have you experienced any kind of difficulties?
Actually, I didn’t have a very difficult trip for myself when I came to this country. Of course, I came illegally, I entered this country illegally. As I said for myself, I didn’t have a very difficult trip. But not everyone is as lucky as I am, and I know that. My uncle is a refugee. There are refugees in my family. I know when they came here they have experienced a lot of difficult circumstances on their way to Europe. I’m sure. But as I said myself, I haven’t had such a hard trip. I was a little lucky about that, actually. I was just lucky about that.
Do you think that what you have gone through in Turkey is now affecting your life here? How? Or on your way here? Or while you’re here?
How it affects today… Of course it does, but it’s like… These problems if it hadn’t happened there. Even if my own society and the Kurdish people didn’t have these problems, we wouldn’t become refugees here right now. So we would not have to seek for asylum in this country. Hundreds of thousands of people leave their own country and become refugees in other countries. How it affected…? So many of the things we’ve done here, we could have done more to our own country, our own people. For example, from my point of view, I make music. My possibilities here are limited in comparison to my own country. I do Kurdish music, but I do it in Europe. Right now, I could have done Kurdish music in Turkey, in the territory of Turkey and Kurdistan.
Did you try to do your music in Turkey, Kadir? Were you afraid that you would be prevented or banned from doing something like that? Have you experienced this kind of situations?
Of course, I’ve had problems with a lot of programs I did.
Why exactly? For singing in Kurdish?
It was because I was singing it in Kurdish. Even being in Europe I’ve experienced some problems after singing in Kurdish. It only happened once. Well, I’ve had troubles even in this country because of singing in Kurdish.
Were you singing among Turkish people?
Yes. There were some Turkish people at the place where I was performing. So, they have caused a problem there. I mean, is it not enough what they do in Turkey, and they’re still continue doing it here.
All right, I come to the last questions. Do you think you have an overcoming mechanism? Where do you get this power and will from? After all the bad memories, all the bad things you’ve been through you still have power to go on. How do you do that?
Where does the power come from? We, Kurds, are honorable and proud people. So we were able to stay strong with stubbornness and faith in the face of very bad events and situations. So I think it’s because we’re Kurdish. And it’s because I’m fond of Kurdish culture.
The last two questions. Before you left the country what was your dream? What is your dream now? What were you dreaming about in the past and in the present?
My dream in Turkey? My dream before I came here, my dream in Turkey, I actually had a lot of dreams. Already there is no such situation as a conscientious rejection in Turkey. It’s actually a dream of a Kurdish person not to go to the army in Turkey. You’re being taken by force, actually. That was one of my dreams, of course. Apart from that, I mean, we musicians have a love of music. When you get into the music, it’s for sure. I mean, you can’t stop doing music. It’s such an addiction. I wanted to perform concerts in my country. I wanted to be a very well-known Kurdish musician, actually. This was my dream to perform freely in my own country, my own people, my own land, and freely accompany my ballads and dance our cultural dances.
And what’s your dream now? You’re here now. And you know the way ahead. What’s your dream now?
Now my biggest dream is that this situation in my own country will come to an end and that I will return to my land at once. All not just for myself, but for all the refugees here, for refugees longing for their country. That’s my dream.
Thank you very much. Is there anything I’d like to add? Is there anything you would like to add to the European people living in Europe?
Just build empathy towards refugees. I can’t say anything else.
Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.