Thirty-Three Bullets

Thirty-Three Bullets

by Ahmed Arif (Turkish original – Ankara, Turkey)
by David Selim Sayers and Evrim Emir-Sayers (English translation – Paris, France)

THIS translation is of the poem “Otuz Üç Kurşun” by the Kurdish-Turkish poet Ahmed Arif (1923-1991). You can hear it performed by Ahmed Arif himself at this link. For a classic song adaptation of the third part, check out “Vurulmuşum” (I Am Shot) by Fikret Kızılok at this link.


This mountain is called the Clamp[1]
On Van, from here, breaks the dawn
Of Mount Nimrod it is the spawn
On Nimrod, from here, breaks the dawn
One side bedecked with avalanche, the Caucasus its ken
One side unfurled like a prayer rug, down into Persian lands
Icicle vines on its peaks
Wayward doves by its brooks
Roe deers roaming in herds
And partridge flocks…

Bravery brooks no denial
They never succumbed one-on-one
Folk of these parts for thousands of years
How, then, to break such news?
This is not a flock of cranes
Nor is it a pattern of stars
It’s thirty-three hearts, shot through with lead,
Thirty-three fountains of blood
That never drain out
That make up a lake on this Mount.


A hare appeared down the bend
A poor mountain hare with two souls
Speckles on its back
Its belly white as milk
Its heart in its throat, so unkempt
It could make anyone repent
Still, still was the hour
A flawless, unadorned dawn

One of the thirty-three looked up
His belly full of hunger’s heavy void
His hair, his beard unkempt
And on his collar, lice
A daredevil, heart forged in hell,
He looked up, his arms all bound,
Once at the wretched hare,
And once he turned around.

He thought of his flintlock, so coy,
How under his pillow it sulked
Of the foal that he rode from the Harran plain
Her forelock beaded in blue
A blaze across her face
Three of her heels were white
Her gallop seductive and light
His chestnut Saklawi mare.
How across Hozat they’d flown!

And now, if he were not found
So utterly helpless and bound
The cold steel in his back
The peaks would have sheltered him
The peaks are his brothers, they care for him
These lands won’t let you down, by God,
Skillful hands
That blow off at first shot
A burning cigarette’s ash
A viper’s tongue
Flaming, forked, in the sun

Not once were these eyes deceived
His eyes that could foresee
The doom of snowslide-pregnant passes
The snowy, soft treachery
Of ravines…
There was no avail
He’d be shot
His fate had been decreed
Well, then, leave the blind reptiles his eyes,
His heart for the vultures to eat!


I am shot
On a well-hidden mountain trail
At the time of the morning prayer
And I lie
Bloody, outstretched…

I am shot
My dream is darker than night
Who’s to deem that it promises light?
They beat the reaper to my life
In volumes it couldn’t be stored
A cypher’s decreed by a lord
And I’m shot, unquestioned, untried

Kinsman, write down my fate without fail
Lest it be thought a mere tale
That is not a rosy breast
But a dumdum bullet
Flush in my shattered mouth…


Carrying out the sentence of death,
They sullied the blue mountain mist
And the sleepy-eyed breeze of dawn
With blood.
Then, stacking their rifles right there,
They timidly felt up our chests
And, turning us inside out,
They searched.
They took my red Kermanshah belt,
My rosary, my cigarette case,
All gifted from Persian lands, and left.

We’re kinfolk, blood-bound, brothers
With the towns, the tribes of the other side
For centuries, we’ve exchanged brides
We’re neighbors to one another
Our chickens intermingle,
Not out of negligence
But out of need.
We never warmed up to passports
That’s the crime for which we are slain
And brigand becomes our name,

Kinsman, write down my fate without fail
Lest it be thought a mere tale
That is not a rosy breast
But a dumdum bullet
Flush in my shattered mouth…


Shoot, then,
I don’t die easily.
There’s an ember in my furnace, still,
And a promise in my belly
For those who have felt like me.
At Urfa, my father offered up his eyes
And three of his brothers as well
Three slender cypresses they were
Three mountain shards, thirsty for life
As from towers, minarets, hills
The mountains’ children, kith and kin,
Fended off the French siege

Nazif, my youngest uncle,
His mustache just grown out
Good rider,
Strike, brothers, he cried
As he reared his horse,
The day of honor has come!

Kinsman, write down my fate without fail
Lest it be thought a mere tale
That is not a rosy breast
But a dumdum bullet
Flush in my shattered mouth…

Also by Ahmed Arif:

[1] A literal translation of Mengene, the Turkish name of the mountain located on the Turkish-Iranian border.