November 23, 2017 (Sulaimani, KRG-Iraq): Dr. Choman Hardi, a celebrated poet and Assistant Professor at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), won a 2017 PEN Translates Award for translating Butterfly Valley, a book length poem by the renowned Kurdish poet, Sherko Bekas. Butterfly Valley is a lament which was written in the aftermath of the gassing of Halabja and the Anfal genocide.
Supported by Arts Council England and launched in 2012, PEN Translates encourages UK publishers to accumulate books from other languages. It is part of English PEN, the global literary network that works to defend and promote freedom of expression, and to remove barriers to literature.
Bekas was a pioneer in Kurdish poetry and his poems are widely read. His Butterfly Valley was written in the wake of the 1988 Anfal genocide and Halabja atrocity when Saddam Hussein’s regime punished Kurdish civilians for their support of the liberation movement. During Anfal dozens of locations were attacked with chemical weapons, 2000 villages were destroyed, and more than 100,000 civilians were exterminated. In the same year, Halabja was gassed by the former Iraqi state and 5000 people were murdered. Both the Anfal and Halabja tragedies are central to Bekas’s book.
Dr. Hardi, who teaches English literature at AUIS, reflects on Bekas’s poems and explains that his complex poetic language combined with various references to historical Kurdish events, personalities, and geographic locations makes understanding his poetry difficult for non-Kurds. “This translation has been a lengthy and complicated process but despite the difficulties I have tremendously enjoyed working on Butterfly Valley,” she says. “Sherko Bekas has a few book length poems but this one remains my favorite.” She remembers that when she first heard of a tape recording of this poem in 1991 she fell in love with it and memorised parts of it. “This book evokes exile, flight, political persecution, and Kurdish history better than any other book I know.”
The book will be published by a UK-based independent publishing house, Arc Publication, on March 16, 2018. The date will mark the 30th anniversary of the chemical attack on the city of Halabja.
Choman Hardi is an Assistant Professor at AUIS. She returned to Kurdistan to teach after 26 years of living abroad. Her research and teaching interests include poetry, feminist literature, feminist literary criticism, gender and migration, gender and genocide, and women’s activism. Her poetry has appeared in The Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Washington Square Review, and Modern Poetry in Translation. Her English collections have been published by Bloodaxe Books. Four poems from her first collection, Life For Us, were selected onto the English GCSE syllabus in the UK in 2010 and Her second collection, Considering The Women, was shortlisted for the prestigious Forward Prize. In 2015 Dr. Hardi founded The Center for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) at AUIS. Currently, she is working on gender and the revolution in Iraqi Kurdistan.
AUIS is the first non-government, not-for-profit, American-style institution of higher education in Iraq. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, it is also the first non-government university in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to be accredited by both the Federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. AUIS offers the only English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Iraq that is accredited in the United States. The University welcomes students, 35% of whom are women, from Iraq’s diverse communities, including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Yazidis and Christians as well as Syrian refugees. Their critical thinking skills, fluency in English, and bilingual capabilities provide AUIS graduates with excellent employment prospects in both the private and public sectors.
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