On his 62nd birthday, millions hold on to hope with Ahmet Kaya's songs

Today would have been the 62nd birthday of Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya, a symbol of rebellion, resistance, hope, and love for millions.

While history continues to repeat itself in Turkey with a new form of authoritarianism, Kaya's legacy heals wounds of many who have been excluded, oppressed, imprisoned, and exiled.

The fifth child of humble migrants, Kaya's musical life started with a bağlama (a traditional Anatolian string instrument) gifted to him on his sixth birthday by his father, who had discovered his son's interest in music. 

His father's vision was the magic that would open the doors of art for Kaya, in which he would produce impactful albums that would break records at every turn. 

He was never separated from his bağlama for long throughout his short life since he first held it, and the instrument became his confidant and closest friend. 

In his early twenties, Kaya became a brave defender of the Kurdish language and culture with his music.

Kaya's personal account, as a "refugee grief darker than night," was a testimony to victimisation by the Turkish nation-state, which has pursued a denialist policy for decades against the identity, language and culture of a people who have inhabited Mesopotamia for centuries.

Tuna Bekleviç, an activist and a politician in exile, remembers Kaya always with his quite admirable courage during tough times of the 1980s and 1990s in Turkey. "He has been a source of inspiration for me, like for millions of persecuted people," Bekleviç adds. 

Reha Çamuroğlu, an author and a former MP, commemorates Kaya as a very dear representative of his generation, which has been brutally oppressed. "I see and remember him as my own brother. He is a resonant voice for our fight and our love," Çamuroğlu says.

Turkey has been ruled under military tutelage for decades as a result of successive military coups since 1960.

While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did manage to destroy the military's dominance after a long struggle, he has since set out to build his one-man rule, especially after the failed coup in 2016.

Kaya has managed to become a rare shared source of consolation for a considerable majority of Turkey's deeply polarised society. Millions have sang songs of resistance with his melodies, professed their love with his poems, dreamed for a better future in prisons and in exile with his inspirational personality.

"Kaya triumphed against life, and made others triumph. He showed his audience that his melodies and lyrics have an identity and a character for the people. He has created his value as an artist, which everybody respects whether they approve of his ideas or not," says Akın Olgun, a human rights defender and an author. 

"We are generations who grew up with his voice. For many Kurds and myself, Kaya is not only the symbol of revolt and resistance but also of passion and love. His voice accompanies me in every sort of emotion," says Nurcan Baysal, a human rights activist and author.

Though he was the son of a Kurdish man, Kaya was not well-versed in Kurdish. He announced at an award ceremony in 1998 his plan to include a Kurdish song in his new album, without knowing how planning to dare sing a song in Kurdish would devastate his life entirely. He and his wife almost suffered a lynching at the event after Kaya's acceptance speech.

Days and nights got darker and darker for Kaya and his family after that night. Continued smear campaigns in the media and state interrogations forced them to leave their beloved country to live in exile in Paris. 

"Whenever I think of Ahmet Kaya, I also think of his wife Gülten and their daughters. I always think of them together. Because a lynching does not only attempt to eliminate or silence a person, it also targets his companies and followers," Olgun told Ahval.

Ahmet Kaya died at the age of 43 because of a heart attack in exile and buried in Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery, where another exiled artist Yılmaz Güney lays, tens of thousands of miles away from their beloved homeland. 

"He is the symbol of being stateless for the Kurds, and their fate. For me, the symbol of my banned homeland and language, is Ahmet Kaya. He died longing for his country in exile, a huge wound in the hearts of Kurds," Baysal told Ahval.