Night Butterfly, Kurdish novel excerpt

An excerpt from Chapter One of ‘Night Butterfly’ by Haydar Karataş – translation in progress.

This is the true story of his mother and grandmother’s experiences in Dersim, Turkey in the 1930s and 1940s when the majority of Kurdish men living in Dersim had been marched into forced exile or massacred by Turkish military troops.  Women and children were left stranded, starving in their villages after the soldiers had burned all the crops and taken their livestock (and man power) away.



After the Armenian incident my father and his brother Sahan took over the administration of the Bactrian tribes from their father Yusuf Ağa. They, and the armed men they had gathered to their side, were responsible for security in the Bactrian region. They also wanted to bring my mother’s four children by her earlier marriage to this household. These were times when clashes were frequent and increasing.

At the time in the Bactrian region there were the armed bands of Yusuf Ağa’s two sons, Sahan and Hıdır and also the armed band led by Pırço. Pırço’s outfit was extremely brave and were dressed from head to toe in armour taken from the Bronze soldiers. The Bronze Hun army attacked Dersim on two occasions from the direction of Erzincan but were never able to fully enter. When the soldiers of 1938 entered Dersim the armed bands of my uncle Sahan and my father Hıdır joined forces with that of Pırço.

They set off to bring my mother’s children from her first marriage to Weroz. Baki, who was working in a salt mine in Kemah was now fourteen years old and Ali Riza was eleven or twelve. Their little brother Hasan, eight, was also with them. Soldiers had raided the village of Eniesıt where they had been living and marched the entire village off into exile somewhere beyond Erzincan. Those who managed to escape fled to the Bactrian region. When my uncle Sahan, my father and Pırço heard that two children had been taken along with the villagers they set off after the soldiers.

They came as far as Kemah. There they managed to overtake the soldiers in a valley near a former Armenian refugee village1 that had been emptied of all inhabitants during the Armenian incident. They confronted the soldiers and there followed a heavy clash in which the forces of my uncle, father and Pırço killed many soldiers and took possession of their guns, horses and provisions. However, they failed to find the captives who were being marched into exile from Ovacık and therefore had to return to the village of Eniesıt.

There they found out that the men and boys who formed the line being marched into exile had all been executed along the way. Baki had been in that group. As they put a manacle around his neck and led him off on the road, his brother Ali Riza had managed to escape and had followed the column of captives as far as the refugee village.

The villagers told my father that the soldiers set up camp with the group of men they were marching into exile just below the village and handed the captives over to another regiment as the day was drawing to a close. Towards morning screams were heard. The villagers couldn’t understand what had happened. Then they discovered that the entire group of captives had been bayoneted.

The place where the group of men and boys being marched into exile were killed was a flat crop field. The next day, soldiers on duty spotted Ali Riza who had been following the group. The child ran off in the direction of the refugee village and, if what the villagers said was true, those now living in the village hid Ali Riza. The soldiers searched the village and gathered all the inhabitants in one place but they still could not find the child. When Ali Riza looked out of the window of the house he was hiding in, to see what was going on, he was spotted and taken captive by the soldiers.

The man who was hiding him in his house said that he’d taken him in with the intention of making him his shepherd. The commander in charge of the soldiers claimed that the boy was an Armenian. They gave his clothing to my father. There were two bayonet holes in Ali Riza’s shirt. One had pierced his stomach at the front and had pricked a hole in the material on the other side where it exited, the other wound was where they’d stabbed him in the liver.

My uncle and father hid the deaths of Baki and Ali Riza from my mother and for a long time she believed that Baki had taken Ali Riza to Kemah and that they’d both found work and had been spared.

After my father died his place at the head of the armed band was taken by a man called Doğan. One day Doğan told my mother the truth about the line of captives. However, even if my mother believed it at first, she soon took to denying it had happened. She kept fantasising that her children would be coming to join her. As these hopes of hers grew with each passing day, Doğan, who by now was my mother’s third husband, took her to the village where it had happened. The villagers there told the story once more to my mother.

The place where Baki had been killed was a flat wheat field. My mother told me that the crop there had grown as high as a man and that it swayed in the cool and gentle breeze like the blonde hair of a girl. The dead were buried under this field where a dozer had dug a mass grave. As for Ali Riza, the villagers had buried him on a hill right next to the village cemetery. My mother was more upset that Ali Riza was lying on that hill all alone, than she was about his death.


Excerpt from Night Butterfly by Haydar Karataş

İletişim Yayınlar, İstanbul

Draft translation by Caroline Stockford 2015


8. baskı – Eylül 2014
255 sayfa


Night Butterfly by Haydar Karataş

We were walking from Derviş village to Kızılmezra.  My father had very good friends there.  We were sure we would find someone there who spoke Turkish and who would interpret for us with the authorities.  Kızılmezra was a hilltop village surrounded by forests and crags.  We were walking along a path that wound like a serpent along the hillside. Suddenly my mother said, “Keep up, my girl, don’t let me have to deal with you as well.  And throw away that stone that you’re holding on to”.  The stone she was referring to was my new dolly.  I hurried to catch up.

Suddenly, from nowhere, a huge black dog leapt at my mother, it was snarling and grabbed her by the lower leg and dragged her down the hill.  My mother grabbed onto every plant and stone she could reach and shouted to me, “Run, my girl!”.  The black dog pulled her into a stream and then retreated a few steps.  My mother got up and swayed on her feet as the dog started snarling and baring his rows of deadly teeth, waiting for the moment to pounce.  In a panic my mother grabbed a stone and threw it at the dog.  She was trying to keep him away from me she stood there, fighting him off with a branch until he finally retreated.

She climbed up the slope and came over to where I stood.  I hadn’t moved an inch and was still screaming.  My mother pulled me towards her and hugged me tight.  We were standing in the middle of the road in the place where the dog had attacked.  The black dog had ripped off nearly half of my mother’s lower leg.  A piece of flesh above her ankle was left swaying.  My mother was crying and cursing god for allowing this to happen.  And then she’d start swearing about the refugee man who had refused to help us.

After a while a woman from the village came along.  She took my mother under the arm and helped us to her house.  She said they would have to find the black dog or my mother would get ill and die.  They found the dog and cut off a clump of it’s black fur to bind to my mother’s torn leg.  But a few days later it swelled up like a balloon.  She lay all day long on a straw sack on the floor and I sat by her side.

“Don’t worry my girl,” she would say to me, “It will be gone in a couple of days and I’ll be well again and we’ll go and find our little sheep.  Who knows how much she’ll have missed us.  You will take it grazing and I will sit and watch…”.  I didn’t know what to do.  Sometimes my mother would break out in a fever, the sweat would stand out in little beads along her brow as it creased in pain.

My mother wanted the lady who had brought us to her house to take us to Derviş village.  Our sheep was there.  The woman felt sorry for my mother and said, “If only I had a mule, you wouldn’t even have to ask, I’d put you on it and take you there.  But how can we go there with your leg like this?”

“Get news to Perhan,” my mother said, “she’ll find a way, she’ll take me there.”

“Sister, don’t worry yourself with things like this, in a few days’ time the swelling will go down and you’ll be able to get up and go off with your daughter.”

“Just climb up that hill and shout for Perhan,” said my mother, “At least she can come and take the girl.  We have a sheep over there…”

Day by day my mother grew thinner, lying there on the sack of straw.  The woman changed her bandages regularly, placing more of the dog hair in the poultice.  I didn’t know how to help her.  I went to the pump to get her water.  “Drink, mother, drink”, I’d say.  I would get angry with myself for not knowing any stories to tell her.  In the story she used to tell me of Alık and Fatık there came a point when they were locked in a barn.  They were helped by a friendly cow in the barn, who said, “Lift up my horn and drink the liquid you find there”.  Where was this helper now?  Where was Düzgün Baba who we called ‘god’ and ‘saviour Hızır’? He was supposed to come in your time of need.  Why didn’t he come down to us – this saviour up on Sultan Baba mountain?

When I look back now I have no memory of what I was going to do had my mother died.  There were so many other children in Dersim who, like me, had lost both mother and father.  And what did they do?  Did I think about any of this as I sat next to my mother on her bed on the floor?  I can’t remember.  But I am sure that at least if I did not, then my mother did think about all these things.  She would lie all day on the sack and look at me.  As well as the pain in her eyes I could see something that looked like worry and a longing, as if she was missing me.

Apart from going to the pump to fetch water I did not leave her side.  The woman whose house we were staying in, and who had given us the stuffed sack for my mother to lie on, would bring us glüng weed mash.  After it had cooled I would put some on the end of the spoon and lift it to my mother’s dried lips.  I would beg her to eat.  But she was so weak that at times she didn’t have the strength to even open her lips.

“Come on mummy, eat, please eat mummy”, I would say.  If only I could get news to Perhan, I thought, if only my mother could drink some of our sheep’s milk she would get better.  But who would fetch Perhan?  Why had this whole village refused to listen to us and why were they all waiting in silence for her to die?  What had we ever done to them?  Why wouldn’t this woman go and tell Perhan what had happened?  Perhan was a very kind woman and so were her daughters.  They knew which plant was medicinal and which ones would make people better.  If Perhan knew what was happening she would come straight away with her daughters and they would gather healing plants along the way and as soon as they put them in my mother’s mouth she would start to speak and say, “Up we get Perhan, let’s get up and leave this damned Kızılmezra.  They can’t even cope with an attack by a black dog.  Come on, we’re leaving this place!”.  And Perhan would not say that she had no mule.  She would take my mother and carry her on her back.  She would make up the most beautiful bed for my mother, wait on her day and night and help her to drink fresh sheep’s milk.

Once the woman realised that my mother was going to die, she said, “Go to that hill and shout down to Derviş village.  Seeing that you have a sheep your mother should drink some of it’s milk and she’ll be better in a day or two.”

My mother heard these words and opened and closed her eyes with a look of great gratitude on her face.

The woman continued, “Seeing as you have a sheep she should be drinking the milk.  Anyway, they should bring the sheep here.  You know sister, I have no milk at all here.  The old miller Kare has two goats, but he’s as stubborn as the day is long.  Would all hell break loose if he gave out a jar of milk?  If you saw his goats, as well, their teats trail along the floor.  But no, he says, if I give out milk what will the children drink in the winter?”.

Whilst the woman was chatting away she was plumping up the straw-filled sack under my mother and trying to make a pillow for her head.

“What has happened to us?  We used to send a hundred goats per house out to pasture in the old days in Kızılmezra.  Now there’s not a cow left or a man.  And that Abdullah Paşa didn’t even send us into exile, like the men.  Exile would be better than this.  The government sent you the orders, saying “Come and give yourselves up”, and you didn’t go sister… If only you’d have gone, you’d be eating the government’s bread now…”

The woman would not keep quiet, one minute she was swearing at the government and another minute at the bandits.  When was she going to go?  When was she going to go and tell Perhan?

“May god damn that Abdullah Paşa… god, we’ve had so much death in this place, and as for exile…  Sister, I’d have been happy with it, at least my children would have been with their father.  We’d have gone into exile.  As it was they took us to Hozat and made us wait for two months before sending us back here.  If you’re going to do that, I say, then give us back our goats too,  did the state do all this to get their hands on my goats?  They didn’t tell us what these four children are supposed to eat, when you’ve taken their father away, what have these young ones done to deserve that…?”

The woman carried on and on, constantly wandering around the house with the pile of rags she was wearing, in place of a dress, dragging in the dirt.  Anyone would think that she had a million and one chores to do in this darkened hovel.

“That’s it, I’m off.  Mine aren’t many and I’m not going to look after yours”, she said.  By ‘yours’ she meant me.  The woman went out and was gone.  Once she had gone I was filled with excitement.

“Mummy, Perhan’s coming, you’ll see, she’ll come now with her daughters.  We’ll leave here.  You’re going to be drinking milk…”

I could hardly sit still and kept getting up and sitting down again.  It was as if the joy at the prospect of my mother’s recovery was so big that I couldn’t fit it inside.  I dabbed her sweating forehead and every time she opened her eyes I tried to feed her glüng weed mash.

After the woman had left my mother’s eyes, too, seemed to come alive.  Any time now she would get up and say, “Come on my girl, we’re getting out of this forsaken Kızılmezra, the state has hit them, don’t let Hızır the saviour blight them as well… come on my girl, up you get.”  She hadn’t spoken for two days.

Another two days later she opened her cracked lips and gasped, “Au-ter”.  She wanted water.  I got up, grabbed the copper pot and went to the water pump.  I reached the pot out to catch the water that ran from between the stones into a wooden trough.  I couldn’t take the water to her.  My fate was waiting there for me.  Like a sparrowhawk she fell on me, took me under her arm and began running down the hillside.  My legs were wriggling uselessly as I tried to get free from the fingers that had closed over my mouth.

My aunt had kidnapped me and she took me away.  I was not there to hear my mother’s last breath or to see Perhan come, at last, from her village.

from ‘Gece Kelebeği’ by Haydar Karataş

Copyright (c) İletişim Publishing, May 2010, Istanbul

Translation copyright (c) Caroline Stockford 2013

Please contact Amy Spangler of AnatoliaLit for Rights enquiries (

Review of the book by Gün Zileli:

‘The only thing I can say about the book you’re now holding in your hand is ‘buy it and read it’.  When you have finished reading you will see that this book by Haydar Karataş is on a par with the works of Yaşar Kemal and Cengiz Aytmatov.  If you want to hear a story of an epic human tragedy then, once again I’d say to you, ‘buy it and read it’.  In my lifetime only three novels have ever made me cry.  One is the Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck which I read in 1965 when I was 19; the second is a book I read and reviewed some 4-5 years ago, Robert Sabatier’s ‘The Safety Matches’; and the third is the one you’re holding in your hand, Perperık-a Söe, Night Butterfly.’

Gün Zileli yazmış..

Elinizdeki kitapla ilgili olarak size sadece şu kadarını söyleyebilirim:

Alın ve okuyun. Okuyup bitirdiğiniz zaman, Haydar Karataş’ın bu romanının, Yaşar Kemal ve Cengiz Aytmatov’un romanları ayarında bir roman olduğunu göreceksiniz. Büyük bir insanlık trajedisini roman tadında okumak istiyorsanız, yine alın, okuyun derim. Hayatta beni üç roman ağlattı. Biri, 1965 yılında, on dokuz yaşındayken okuduğum, John Steinbeck’in Gazap Üzümleri romanı; ikincisi, dört-beş yıl önce okuduğum ve tanıtımını yaptığım, Robert Sabatier’in İsveç Kibritleri; üçüncüsü ise, şu anda elinizde tuttuğunuz Perperık-a Söe.
Gün Zileli