Hidir Çelik was born in 1960 in Tunceli, Turkey where he completed his secondary school education. Immediately afterwards, he joined his family in Germany where he worked in a metal factory before studying politics, German Studies and Sociology at the university. He went on to complete his PhD focusing on migration policies of German national parties and trade unions in the 1980s and 1990s. He spearheads the work of migration and asylum for the Protestant parish in Bonn and is the brainchild behind the Bonn Book Fair on Migration which takes place every two years at the Haus der Geschichte Museum. He started writing (non-)fiction in German in the 1990s. Some of his works focus on bilingualism and migration, exile, war and poverty. He is full of hope that there will one day be a homeland for all those estranged individuals who would no longer be discriminated based on nationality or skin colour. This is a recurrent theme in his works where he emphasizes the need to understand and respect each other for there to be peace and harmony in society.

Hidir Çelik

In conversation with writer Hidir E. Çelik

by Nasima Akaloo

Hidir Çelik was born in 1960 in Tunceli, Turkey where he completed his secondary school education. Immediately afterwards, he joined his family in Germany where he worked in a metal factory before studying politics, German Studies and Sociology at the university. He went on to complete his PhD focusing on migration policies of German national parties and trade unions in the 1980s and 1990s. He spearheads the work of migration and asylum for the Protestant parish in Bonn and is the brainchild behind the Bonn Book Fair on Migration which takes place every two years at the Haus der Geschichte Museum. He started writing (non-)fiction in German in the 1990s. Some of his works focus on bilingualism and migration, exile, war and poverty. He is full of hope that there will one day be a homeland for all those estranged individuals who would no longer be discriminated based on nationality or skin colour. This is a recurrent theme in his works where he emphasizes the need to understand and respect each other for there to be peace and harmony in society.

He was awarded the Rheinlandtaler Kultur Prize for both his cultural and literary contribution in 2006. He has been described as a ‘Grenzgänger’ (border-crosser – ed.) between Orient and Occident, between Islam and Christianity and he views the role of literature as essential in bringing these worlds and cultures closer together.

Some of his works include the fairytale ‘Der Dichter und die Feldblume’ and ‘Der kleine Fisch auf der Flucht’. In the latter, the writer relates a tragic tale of the people of Dersim, oppressed by occupiers who believed that their military might could bring about peace and order in the land. Through the struggle of the protagonists, a Fish and a Bird, to survive the wreckage of war, murders and hate, the author appeals to young readers to actively embrace the other and dig into their mixed heritage to understand the complexity of belonging and the tragedy of exile and flight. His most recent tale is entitled ‘Vasilios, der kleine Fischer’ and has been described as captivating, sad and hopeful all at once. Narrated in the Persian fairytale tradition, he brings to life the refugee drama and the fight for justice. Like in his other tales, he stresses that they are written for all generations, both young and old and he hopes to bridge the gap between past and present in his desire to address and reflect on the troubles of our times. I spoke with Çelik on his work, his influences, his political advocacy and his at times naïve portrayal of conflicts and exile. Celiks books_pic

Asked about his focus on the young reader and what he hoped to achieve, Çelik was quick to point out that his works are written to bring generations together, to teach the young children about their past, their culture and identity, to bring grandparents closer to their grandchildren and to complete the gaps with which children grow up today. He describes himself as a politically active person and sees literature as a reflection of reality. In his works, he prompts and challenges his reader to reflect on the current times and his/her role in it. The writer is particularly interested in awakening the curiosity of the youth and increasing their awareness of themes related to migration. In this sense, he stresses the importance of schooling in promoting reading and the need to introduce attractive events to encourage the young to get actively involved. As a father of two sons, he is also conscious of the need to educate the children of today about their past and the origins of their parents or grandparents. Throughout the interview, however, Çelik emphatically endorsed the importance of making the young generation feel a part of the society to which their parents migrated. He laments that this is not yet the case and fears that such a lack of ‘belonging’ could create further problems for a displaced, ‘wandering’ youth. He cites the threat of fanaticism and even terrorism and the possible lure they can have for young people still in search of their identity.

When prompted further about the explicit political messages in some of his stories and his position on the Kurdish conflict, he prefers to see himself simply as a writer, not as a Kurd, Turkish or German. His goal is to educate and connect the past with the present, to extract universal themes from conflicts as different as the Armenian genocide or Hitler’s mass murder of Jews. He cautions against simple ‘tolerance’ of one’s neighbours and cites the need to appreciate and recognize each other as equals with the same chances. Without this ‘deeper respect’, societies will continue to turn on each other in times of hardship and instability. The ongoing list of conflict areas sadly confirms Çelik’s fears.

We also discussed the evolution in Germany’s migration policy and whether the integration model could be described as successful. Çelik points to the year 2005 when there was an official political consensus that acknowledged Germany as a land of immigration. Although this brought about some ‘normalcy’ to the question of migration, integration was not a major concern and discussion was focused on fighting against discrimination and exclusion in society. Despite some progress, Çelik is cautious when it comes to praising the integration model. As already mentioned, the writer believes that one of the priorities should be to make second and third generation Germans, of Turkish parents, feel they are part of the German landscape. In this regard, he concedes that much work is still needed. He further notes that in the 1970s and 1980s, the political movements and mass involvement were much stronger and committed than at present. More urgent problems such as unemployment or the spread of an individualistic culture have, in his view, hampered greater activism in the call for justice and equality for migrants or refugees.

Finally, I asked Çelik about some of his literary influences and his connection to Turkish literary circles. He acknowledges the Persian influence in his fairy tales as well as his love for the Grimm Brothers. He also made mention of Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda and Nazim Hikmet. He confessed his particular interest in political poetry and his constant recourse to nature as a source of inspiration offering a multitude of images and metaphors with which to explore the current tragedies of conflict and war. Nature appears as a motif of hope and perseverance in the face of destruction, mutilation and death.

Celik’s contribution to the area of migration and asylum is undoubtedly significant. He actively works with refugees and other groups to facilitate a smoother transition to life in Germany. In his literary works, he attempts to reflect their hardships and challenges and calls for more solidarity and unity. In his book of poems entitled ‘Mein Gott ist schwarz’ (My God is Black – ed.), there is a recurrent longing for a homeland, one that is welcoming to every creed and race. All of his works, in fact, explore the same fate of wandering individuals forced to flee their birthplace in search of hope and peace. Whether the writer Çelik has successfully managed to transcend this immediate reality and propel his reader towards a journey of self-discovery and greater commiseration for the other, is however an open question.


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