Bachtyar Ali


Bachtyar Ali (also spelt Bakhtiyar Ali) is one of the most prominent contemporary authors and poets from Iraqi Kurdistan. He has written over 40 books of fiction, poetry, and criticism, including 12 novels, and has been translated into Kurmanji Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, German, Italian, French, English, and other languages, a renown very few authors writing in the Kurdish language enjoy. In 2017, he was awarded the Nelly Sachs Prize, joining past recipients such as Milan Kundera, Margaret Atwood and Javier Marías. He is the first author writing in a non-European language to do so. In 2005, the Ministry of Culture of Iraqi Kurdistan elected the novel Shari Mosiqare Spiyekan (The City of the Musicians in White) as the best book of the year. In 2009, Ali received the first HARDI Literature Prize, part of the largest cultural festival in the Kurdish part of Iraq. In 2014, he was also awarded the newly established Sherko Bekas Literature Prize.


Ali was born in 1966 in Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq. In 1983, he was injured during student protests against Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, and he abruptly ended his studies in geology. He devoted himself to poetry instead and received that same year his first prize, for his poem "Nishtiman" (“Homeland”). After the revolt of 1991, writers and intellectuals in the Kurdish region of Iraq experienced a surge of creative autonomy. Ali intensified his own artistic activity and devoted himself simultaneously to the philosophical magazine, Azadi (Freedom). His first collection of poetry, Gunah w Karnaval (Sin and Carnival) appeared in 1992. Recent novels include Dagirkirdini Tariki (Conquering Darkness) and the trilogy Kashti Frishtakan (The Angels' Ship). In his criticism, he is well known for employing Western philosophical concepts to interpret an issue in Kurdish society, modifying or adapting them to the context. His novels similarly synthesize literary traditions, drawing from contemporary Kurdish events as well as fantastical elements. In Kurdistan, he is celebrated for his non-partisanship and open criticism toward the political and social relationships in his homeland. He has lived in Cologne since 1998.

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