Nûdem Durak is a ethnic Kurdish singer living in Cizre, Turkey. She is well-known throughout her community for teaching local folk songs in the Kurdish language to young children in sing-alongs. Kurds are one of Turkey’s most heavily persecuted minorities, with a long history of tensions between Kurds and the governments of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, where sizable minorities live.
Up until 1991, the Kurdish language was entirely banned in Turkey. A law passed that year allows the language for communication but bans the purposefully vague “spreading of propaganda.”
Nûdem is well known through her hometown Cizre, near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, for playing her guitar and singing in public, as well as teaching Kurdish folk songs to children. You can watch Nûdem sing in Kurdish here.
To the Turkish government, which even banned the word “Kurd” until the 1990s (calling them “Mountain Turks” instead) simply singing was unacceptable. Nûdem was arrested in 2015, and charged under the vague notion of propagandizing because the songs she sang were in her own language.
In April 2015, Nûdem Durak was sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison for the charge of “promoting Kurdish propaganda” by performing in her native language. In July of 2016, with no additional charges or convictions, her sentence was increased to 19 years. Friends report that she had been wanted by police since at least 2014. The singer was arrested with three other women, but they were let free.
Nûdem Durak is currently being held in the E Type Closed Prison in Mardin, Turkey, where she is scheduled to remain until September 2034.