Following a surprise statement by the White House on Sunday evening, the United States began withdrawing American troops from the border between Turkey and Rojava, the de facto autonomous region of northeastern Syria secured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a vital ally in the fight against the ISIS. Because of the Kurdish forces’ links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization and a major political threat, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hoped for months to deploy his country’s troops across the Syrian border to debilitate the SDF in the name of “border security”; the withdrawal of American service members will allow the Turkish military to begin their offensive, which many international observers fear will lead to massacres of the region’s predominantly Kurdish population and the destabilization of a fragile security situation that could reinvigorate the weakened Islamic State. Even Trump ally Lindsey Graham wrote Monday on Twitter, “If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.” 

Several months ago, Zêdan Xelef and I began translating a selection of poetry from Rojava. Today, on the brink of violence and against the backdrop of international protest, we thought of Xoşman Qado’s “The Bullet.” In this poem, Qado describes the knife’s edge he and his fellow Rojavans live on. The bullet is death and decoration. “The bullet and truth are murderous twins.” Horror and hope are each just one decision away. “Only meat makes the bullet feel warm,” he writes. Then, “Maybe no one is paying attention, but a mermaid can drive a boat.” We hope this translation plays its small part in encouraging the wider world to pay attention. 

The Bullet

The same bullet that they use to kill us, they make into a necklace and sell at the market. The bullet is not blind; the wind makes it blind. Only meat makes the bullet feel warm. The bullet would be much nicer if its perfume were gentler. The bullet is the mind, emotion; the bullet is the memory of a body. Sometimes the bullet commits suicide as well. The bad thing about a bullet is that it has no shame. The bullet and the truth are murderous twins. In our homeland, the bullet is the politicians’ pen. The bullet is music, too, but not everyone can hear it. In my homeland, not all bullets are the same. Not every one is meaningful — a blind bullet, a mute bullet, a vocal bullet — but a bullet kills everything. The bullet means struggle, means existence, means self-defense, and the bullet means nothingness as well. The city flows like dreams on the faces of the sparrows. The roads lie down and the wind scatters its sins like arrows. Nobody listens to sparrows’ chirping in the cities or wants to see them at the window. The darkness at our fingers murders the beauty of butterflies. I’m not barefoot; I leave footprints of this city’s silence. Harvesting shadows in the city is important, because if love is the bullet’s guard, the guard recognizes the lover of the fall’s leaves and the one can drench a city in a sea of dreams without sinking it. The city is a scattered cloud, crying, and maybe laughing too, twisting its memory, a beautiful memory that for a moment can launch poems into kites. Maybe no one is paying attention, but a mermaid can drive a boat. In my homeland, the city is dew. Everyone can touch it, but not everyone can set a fire; the fire consumes wills and quills, along with trembling kisses. The bullet is faith’s fear, no one dares to stop its sound. No one wants to go mute, or to wake from a sweet sleep. It just neglects its child, heeds only its own naked hope. As it trusts the bullet; but won’t admit it. In my homeland, the bullet is the nest of our existence. Many live in this nest and others perch on its edge. This is the bullet’s color. Why are you willing to turn bullets into flowers and wither our existence? Who does the flower not pain? The bullet will not pain them either. Don’t face your life’s mirrors in secret. Are faces brighter than the sky? Don’t use bullets as necklaces either, don’t wear bullets around your neck in memory of the exhausted body around your neck. Don’t stick your nose in the shoes’ dowry, which for years blocked the hill on the road. We are all chamomile blossoms when the bullet benumbs us.

Translated from the Kurmanji by Zêdan Xelef and David Shook