Anders Lustgarten’s new play shrinks from the poetical and makes an attempt at the dialectical with his docudrama piece about the Roboski Massacre which took place on the Iraq/Turkish border in 2011.
Fact: US jets sight a caravan of unknowns crossing the border between Iraq and Turkey and informs the Turkish Military. Fact: the Turks order the US jets to fly elsewhere, ‘assume’ the persons to be the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) and obliterate them in 4 bombing raids lasting an hour and a half. Fact: the 34 dead turn out to be mostly young Kurdish teenagers of Turkish nationality from the same family (Encu), part of a larger smuggling community from the remote mountainside village Roboski. Fact: the Turkish Government is still in denial and in this state of impunity, threats and attacks against the Roboski community are still continuing.
Fiction: a love story between two quarrelling older relatives, torn apart by the Turkish Campaign to eradicate insurgents. A love story involving a young husband and his assumed infertile wife. A rite of passage for a young Turk come to join the fight against the war on terror. And a young female Turkish journalist, determined to get to the truth.
Anders Lustgarten merges fact and fiction, jumps back and forth in time from the offices of European drones manufacturers to a Turkish Military Outpost to the mountainside where the bombing took place. All the while, a lit vertical sight line from the Drone’s HD Wide Camera brands the stage in a crucifix, to the background of simple Kurdish melodies. A projector shows youtube propaganda- Turkish Military Recruitment Videos and Western Drone Manufacturers’ showreels. Half way through, in an almost throwback to Brecht’s early Lehrstucke experiments, a man from a weapons manufacturer lectures the audience on the importance of social media as a marketing tool for the Arms Trade.
Shrapnel: 34 Pieces of a Massacre tries to fit together the jigsaw puzzle of what happened that night on 28 December 2011, who was culpable, how and why the villagers are driven to smuggle, how the village is trying to recover 3 years on. In journalistic articles members of the Roboski Community are reported to blame not just the directly involved Turkish Military and Government, but those who were indirectly involved. They are represented in this play by the ambivalent US, a frightened news editor trying to control his truth-seeking journalist and the nerdy irresponsible electronics engineers living miles away in Europe.
Most of what we see onstage can already be read about. The idea of indirect culpability and the flow of global arms markets is nothing new. And much is known about the plight of a nation-less Kurdish community who are ‘colonised’ by 2 different countries. But director Mehmet Ergen’s interesting cast choices- a Turkish Captain with a distinct North English accent, a recruit with all the street cred of a young Londoner, whose dress sense is like that of the teenage victims themselves, and the cast’s ability to sometimes interchange roles and become objective narrators, make this very localised tragedy a mirror reflecting global concerns. Whilst also, perhaps, making the case for a Kurdish State- we are told, chillingly, ‘There is no such thing as a happy colonised people’.
The play, performed in English by an emphatic English and Kurdish cast and surtitled into the Kurdish Languages, has a hopeful denouement which poses a question. How far can the motivation for change and justice at a grass roots level, really change anything? I was reminded of a few lines of a poem by John Burnside:
‘For those without power, this is what passes
for wisdom:a homespun mechanics
of knowing how much of the world is already decided.’
But this play should make you realise no one is without power. Can Roboski’s peaceful quest for justice succeed? Let’s hope this play can help its continuing steps towards it. For isn’t this the point of political theatre to ‘speak truth to power’?