Why Turkey’s activists and LGBTQ, Kurdish communities are rallying across the legendary determine of Şahmeran

Why Turkey’s activists and LGBTQ, Kurdish communities are rallying across the legendary determine of Şahmeran

The determine of Şahmeran, which means “Ruler of Snakes,” goes again to pre-Islamic occasions. Depicted with the face of a lovely lady carrying a crown within the higher half of her physique and the type of a serpent from the waist down, she is on the coronary heart of quite a few people tales.

By Christiane Gruber

On the centre of latest protests over civil liberties and non secular sensibilities in Turkey looms a half-woman, half-snake determine generally known as Şahmeran.

The legendary creature was included in a pro-LGBTQ poster on show at a latest exhibit on the prestigious Bosphorus College in Istanbul. Her picture was superimposed over the Kaaba – a sacred black cuboid construction in Mecca that Muslims the world over face when praying.

Though the artist remained nameless, a number of college college students have been arrested and charged with insulting Islam in relation to the poster, which additionally included gender-identity flags. Accompanying the poster was a manifesto that known as for respecting the rights of ladies, members of the LGBTQ group and nature itself.

As a scholar specialising in Islamic artwork historical past and visible tradition, I used to be drawn by the looks of Şahmeran’s picture in these protests. Its use by younger school college students in Turkey who establish as LGBTQ counsel that they see this legendary creature as embodying their very own id.

Why Turkeys activists and LGBTQ Kurdish communities are rallying around the mythical figure of ahmeran

Mirrors ornamented with work of Şahmeran on a picket body in Mardin. Picture through Artistic Commons

The legendary protecting determine

The determine of Şahmeran, which means “Ruler of Snakes,” goes again to pre-Islamic occasions. Depicted with the face of a lovely lady carrying a crown within the higher half of her physique and the type of a serpent from the waist down, she is on the coronary heart of quite a few people tales.

Though particulars fluctuate, many legends inform the story of a younger man named Jamasp, or Jamisav, who falls in love with the attractive Şahmeran. Compelled by a king’s evil adviser, who can also be a magician, Jamasp is compelled to disclose the hideout of this mythic creature.

However tortured at seeing Şahmeran being killed, he ingests her poisonous flesh to kill himself. As an alternative, Şahmeran transmits her knowledge to him, whereas her venom kills the king’s adviser. The story’s ending thus suggests potential redemption for a breach of belief.

Recited by storytellers in each the Turkish and Kurdish languages, these tales convey Şahmeran’s means to treatment sickness, present lengthy life and impart knowledge.

Her legends are particularly standard within the jap Anatolia area of Turkey and amongst Kurds, an ethnic minority comprising roughly 15 to twenty % of the inhabitants in Turkey. Within the southeastern Turkish metropolis of Mardin, the place there’s a numerous inhabitants comprising Kurds and Arabs, there are workshops the place artists particularly produce photos of Şahmeran. These photos, as I observed throughout my go to to the town a number of years in the past, seem on picket panels, metallic platters and mirrors.

Some individuals dangle work of Şahmeran on their partitions to guard their houses or put on the picture on ornaments for luck. Such photos are additionally standard as amulets, very like the five-digit hand, often known as the Hand of Fatima, and blue glass beads or nazar boncuğu believed by some people to avert the evil eye.

Activism and composite creatures

In more moderen years, legendary figures resembling Şahmeran and others have been utilized by activists within the Center East to lift their voices on a number of points.

For instance, in 2016 Şahmeran was depicted by Zehra Doğan, a Kurdish journalist and artist, as a double picture, every with two heads, to represent the redoubled energy of right now’s Kurdish girls. She painted Şahmeran whereas being held in jail for an additional portray vital of the Turkish army’s destruction of the Kurdish city of Nusaybin. By her portray of Şahmeran, she additionally invokes Kurdish id with its purple, inexperienced and yellow pigments that consult with the flag of Kurdistan.

One other legendary determine – that of al Buraq, the prophet Muhammad’s flying, human-headed steed – has additionally been used to deliver consideration to LGBTQ points.

Islamic tales describe al Buraq because the “steed of prophets” upon which Muhammad rode throughout his celestial ascension to the heavens. Texts relate that this heavenly ascent noticed Muhammad rise by way of the skies, encounter angels and prophets, communicate with God and go to heaven and hell in a single evening.

In addition they are inclined to stress al-Buraq’s composite nature, which at occasions is claimed to incorporate an elephant’s ears, a horse’s rump, a mule’s ft, a bull’s tail, and peacock feathers.

Showing on the intersection between human and animal as “nonbinary” creatures, such legendary figures are usually not sure to distinct classes. Consequently, members of trans communities in Turkey and elsewhere have embraced al-Buraq and Şahmeran to precise their very own queer identities.

Past Turkey, Lebanese artist Chaza Charafeddine additionally overlays portrait pictures of cross-dressers and transgender people on premodern painted photos of al-Buraq to name consideration to those that face discrimination and violence in predominantly Muslim international locations and the world at giant.

A litmus check

The Şahmeran poster that landed a number of college college students beneath home arrest brings collectively many tense spiritual, cultural and political points in Turkey right now. Amongst different points, the picture of this hybrid determine was used to focus on a scarcity of freedom for ladies and discrimination in opposition to those that embrace numerous gender identities.

The nameless artist used a wall carpet representing the pilgrimage, or hajj, because the backdrop. Superimposed on it was the determine of Şahmeran and a wreath of leaves. Consequently, to an observer, Islam’s key architectural image of worship appeared to get replaced with a tribute to a feminine, a snake and nature.

On the one hand, these visible motifs, because the manifesto clearly said, had been supposed to ship a strong message in opposition to faith-based misogyny, bodily violence, animal abuse and ecological collapse; on the opposite, the Turkish authorities sees this pictorial manipulation as an “ugly assault” on Islamic spiritual values and therefore a “crime” requiring punishment.

For his or her half, students all around the world have criticised the coed arrests, which they see as a critical infringement of educational autonomy and freedom of expression.

As I see it, the age-old determine of Şahmeran has made a robust comeback within the Turkish public sphere, appearing as a dangerous testing floor, particularly for members of the LGBTQ and Kurdish communities.Why Turkeys activists and LGBTQ Kurdish communities are rallying around the mythical figure of ahmeran

Christiane Gruber is Professor of Islamic Artwork, College of Michigan

This text is republished from The Dialog beneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.

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