Get To Know: Jîl Swanî

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When Alîn reached out to me to write this there was a moment of nervousness as I’m not used to writing about myself; whatever that I need voiced out I usually do through a story or an article, so this is the first time I write anything like this. Having said that, this is as good of a time as any to start. 

I only moved away from Kurdistan six years ago, when I was fifteen years old, and since then I’ve resided in Denmark. The change of location further strengthened certain aspects of my personality, aspects like the ideals I was raised with.

One such ideal is the idea of serving others; a trait passed down to me through both my parents, but especially my dad who was jailed, tortured, and sentenced to be executed by the Baath regime in Iraq, and only narrowly, and extremely luckily, escaped execution in 1991 when the revolution broke out. Being raised with parents whose past experiences were filled with such hardships endured due to their ethnicity and the language they spoke, it should come as no surprise that half my waking hours are spent in conversation, thought, and planning in how to help the Kurdish people, and when I add the fact that I am now in a more privileged position than my parents were at my age, and most other young Kurds back home, it’s no longer an incessant thought, but rather a sense of duty to help those who need our help. 

Towards that goal I employ my words; I’ve always taken pride in the long history of Kurdish literary figures, poets, and intellectuals who’ve cemented the Kurdish identity through their words and I aspire to be mentioned in the same respect as them and to serve and celebrate our culture the same way. 

I studied those Kurdish figures when I was in Kurdistan, and slowly through them me and a certain novel by the name of The Phantom Tollbooth my love of writing started to form. The novel, as well as Kurdish poetry and literature, opened my eyes to how much the written word can do, and how fun reading can be, and I always say that it was then that I knew what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to write. 

I’ve spent the past seven years trying to evolve as a writer and improve every aspect of my storytelling, and just recently I wrote my first finished novel, which will be submitted to publication soon. But despite the fact that I was raised in Kurdistan the first decade and a half of my life, I still struggle to find an identity that fits with the Kurdish norm, and it doesn’t help that I’m constantly stuck between four languages of dialogue: my conversations are had in English, but Danish, Arabic, and, of course, Kurdish find their way into my day, and these four languages and cultures that I live with create in me a need to find my place within Kurdish societies, a need I deal with on a daily basis. 

More than often I’ve met Kurds who I’d enter into a discussion with because my opinions aren’t compatible with theirs, and by extension with the standard Kurdish mindset, so this further adds to the conflict of identity, and I’m sure many other diaspora Kurds can relate to this notion. 

One topic of discussion for me has always been the mistreatment of women in Kurdish societies, and how we need to change our approach and behavior regarding our female population. I wrote an article about this on my blog, where I go into the issue more deeply.

As mentioned before, and as you’ve probably noticed throughout reading, I talk a lot about everything Kurdish, but it wasn’t always this way for me. That’s not to say Kurdish wasn’t always a big part of who I was, but rather it wasn’t always a very vocalized aspect of my personality. The change occurred in me not too long ago on a Decemeber night when I was in Copenhagen shooting a film. 

When we had shot our last scene for the night and called it a wrap, so the cast and crew decided to head into the city to celebrate, and we found a little murky pub where everyone sat in a long row and started the night with interesting conversations. Being a film crew the topic quickly reached its inevitable destination of movie history, and with it came the group’s homogenous praise of The Godfather movies, but in the midst of all that came a voice that contradicted all our opinions: it was the voice of my co-star Caterina, a native Italian. 

She told us how American movies have glamorized and overhyped the Italian mafias, and to put it into context for us, she told us how they were similar to ISIS: imposing their own laws and terrorizing the common folk. 

That struck a chord in me as it reminded me of something I’d long attempted to keep off my mind: the suffering of our people. I walked out of the pub and breathed in some fresh air. I saw the posters, and the empty streets where a few young Danes walked about happily in laughter, and I looked at my own current life: making a movie and living in one of the world’s best countries, and thought how unfair it is that the youth in Kurdistan doesn’t have the kind of freedom, joy, and mode of self expression that I’ve been granted the privilege of having, and finally I contemplated whether what I was doing was what I needed to be doing, and if I’m willing to live with the guilt of not doing enough to help those whom I could help. 

I think Kurdistan needs us Kurds in the diaspora more than anyone else: we have access to so much that can help, as well as an understanding of Kurds which many others with power and influence do not, and I think we should take advantage of that. And beyond that I personally had to leave our homeland at an age when it was very difficult to relocate, so for those main reasons I want to improve Kurdistan in any way I can so that no one else has to be a diaspora Kurd.  

Thanks to Alîn for giving me the opportunity to write on here, and to be the first male to appear in the Get Know section. 

Instagram : @jil.swani
Blog: Jîl Swanî


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