The Mehmed Uzun City Library

Diyarbakır, 2008

The establishment of the republic also brought the construction of Turkish ethnic identity and the implementation of various policies of assimilation targeted at the non-Turkish ethnic groups in the country. Constituting 15–20 percent of Turkey's population, Kurds have been affected by these policies for more than 80 years and continue to be so. From the establishment of the republic until 1980, the use of the Kurdish language in public spaces, in print, and in other written materials was de facto banned, then following the 1980 coup, its use became legally prohibited. Despite the legal prohibition being lifted in 1991, the Kurdish language remained banned and under severe pressure amid the context of the ongoing war. The ban on the Kurdish language remained virtually unchanged until 2004, since anything related to Kurdish identity, including the language, was associated with the Kurdish movement. The government began to institute changes in 2004, when Turkey's process for candidacy in the European Union reached a more serious stage in that year. In the subsequent years, the Turkish state began to follow a more moderate policy regarding education and broadcasting in Kurdish. The state established a 24-hour television station in Kurdish in 2009, and in 2013, allowed Kurdish to be taught in primary schools as an elective course. These were positive developments both for the country's democracy and the Kurdish language following the many decades of bans and restrictions. The literary works by Kurdish novelist Mehmed Uzun found readers with the aim of keeping the Kurdish language alive at a time when its prohibition was still implemented and became a way of resisting the state's assimilation policies.

Mehmed Uzun was under constant pressure for his politics as well as for writing in Kurdish, and spent most of his life in exile. As a young man, Uzun was the managing editor of Rizgari, a political journal that began publication on March 21, 1976. The following day, the state ordered all of the printed journals to be confiscated from shelves. The state opened an investigation against the journal with its first publication because it defended Kurds as an ethnicity separate from Turks and claimed Kemalism to be a racist ideology. Mehmed Uzun stood trial that same year. After serving an eight-month prison sentence, Uzun fled the country while still under threat of indictment and sought refuge in Sweden in 1977. He was stripped of his Turkish citizenship in 1981 and didn't return to Turkey until 1992. He continued to write in Kurdish, Turkish, and Swedish, and his works have been translated into more than 20 languages. A lawsuit was filed against him at the Diyarbakır State Security Court on January 16, 2000, on the charge of inciting discrimination against the public in a speech he gave at the Kurdish Literature Seminar in Diyarbakır, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was then acquitted at the hearing held on April 19, 2002, which members of the Solidarity Committee also attended. After nearly three decades in exile in Sweden, Uzun returned to Turkey in 2006, and died on October 10, 2007, following a battle against stomach cancer.







The symbolic meaning Mehmed Uzun holds for Kurds in Turkey is related to his struggle for the survival of Kurdish culture. With his novels, Uzun created an important literary genre the tackles Kurds' unwritten political, social, and cultural histories. His works also paved the way for resisting decades of oppression and the endless restrictions on Kurdish. It is because of this that many projects of remembrance for Uzun have been undertaken. The first to be realized was Mehmed Uzun Park, which opened in 2008, as a collaboration between the Municipality of Batman and individual initiatives. A library was then built in the park in 2018. The second project was the Mehmed Uzun Library, which opened in the center of Diyarbakır in 2009. The library became home to Uzun's personal library as well as books donated by figures such as Vedat Türkali and Kaya Müştekhan from their personal collections. It also received contributions from the Diyarbakır Art Center and has grown to include works in Turkish and English. An electronic cataloging system was also put into place to facilitate access to the library's resources. The third remembrance project came in 2011, when a street in Siverek, Urfa, was renamed after him. The fourth project was Mehmed Uzun Park, the construction of which was overseen by the Municipality of Yenişehir in Diyarbakır province. The park was inaugurated in November 2013, and includes a monument that symbolizes the prohibitions on the Kurdish language.

Commemorations are held at his grave on the anniversary of his death, attended by his relatives, friends, comrades, political party leaders, and the public.

The common function of these remembrance projects for Mehmed Uzun is to keep him and the importance of his contributions to Kurdish culture and the struggle to do so alive in the collective memory. The basic function of the library built in his name is twofold: first, it is a space for students to study—considering the lack of public work spaces in Diyarbakır, this function is very important—and second, it provides information, documents, and resources for those who want to learn Kurdish or improve their level of the language amid the conditions of the country where available resources remain quite limited. The establishment of the library was a significant step in overcoming the problem of accessibility to resources on the Kurdish language as well as Kurdish history and literature. Other than the library and large park in Diyarbakır dedicated to him, the remembrance projects for Mehmed Uzun function solely as memorials in his honor, albeit holding no less significance for his relatives. For example, his wife, Zozan Uzun, remarked that she was very excited upon her first visit to the library and felt as if her husband's spirit walked among the shelves of books.

Mehmed Uzun's novels were last subject to legal investigations in a lawsuit filed at the State Security Court in early 2001, on the grounds that his novel, Ronı̂ Mı̂na Evı̂nê, Tarı̂ Mı̂na Mirinê (Light like Love, Dark like Death), was written in Kurdish and published in Turkey. Although he was prosecuted, he received no punishment.

Another difficulty encountered is that despite architectural plans for a mausoleum to be built for Uzun were completed in 2008, many reasons caused it to not come to fruition. The opening of a branch in Diyarbakır of the Mehmed Uzun Foundation, which was originally founded in Sweden and continues its activities in Europe, still has yet to be realized due to multiple infeasibilities in the process.

Finally, the sign written in Kurdish in Diyarbakır's Mehmed Uzun Park was removed by the state-appointed trustee mayor and replaced with a sign in Turkish in October of 2017, after the state removed the city's elected mayor from office.