A few days ago, during a nighttime rainstorm, the apple tree finally toppled over. Although we all expected this, no one was emotionless at its falling. The apple tree was next to the small church,  between the barn and the big house, by one of the Alps’ rough mountainsides. 

It is not an easy place to reach. You must start the trip by taking a train from a big city like München, Rome, or Vienna. Though thousands of tourists take this trip every year, you don’t have to. But if you want to ski, hike an immensely rugged mountain, spend a night inside a wooden house in a far, dense forest, or see the last God-worshipping plains of Europe, take this trip. 

When you arrive, you will reach an old station. You might feel like you’re in Italy—you’re not. You might feel like you’re in Austria—you’re not. You might feel like you’re still in Bavaria, but you are wrong. To get to the apple tree, take a bus from the stop next to the station. Be ready for hills and switchbacks, and for the narrow, difficult roads. 

The apple tree was always visible. My mother-in-law’s first words were that the house has become even barer. She didn’t need to be an expert in Lacanian psychoanalysis. Everyone knew these words were the expression of a sorrow much deeper than the loss of the apple tree. Last year, my mother-in-law lost her husband. Since then, she began to feel that her life was barer, emptier, that she has become lonelier. Her husband died from cancer. He was an active, social man. People across the valley knew him. A valley in the Alps is different from any valley elsewhere. They span wide distances that includes many villages, and sometimes cities and countryside. They are a symbol of  the difficulty of reaching another destination without travelling across another valley. Even government offices are distributed based on the valleys. People are divided into two groups: the people from the sunny side of the valley and those from the shady side. Those coming from the sunny side are more friendly toward life. They say there used to be a priest who could differentiate between them with a single glance.

The apple tree was from the shady side. No one knew how it was planted, or, rather,  no one remembered, or perhaps no one still alive remembers a time before the apple tree’s presence. The only thing that people always said about the tree is that it was over a hundred years old. Seven years ago, I saw this tree for the first time. A history unfolded from its trunk, down each of its ancient branches. Its leaves were smaller than those of any other apple tree. Everyone would say that that varietal went extinct.   

The small church, no longer used for anything except for Namo and Rafael’s games of hide and seek, can now be clearly seen. Like the others, I, too, had grown somewhat  accustomed to the apple tree. It’s uniqueness attracted attention, as well as the taste of its apples. I always thought of what this apple tree might have seen, how much it might have witnessed, and, if it were made to speak, what stories it would tell. I am sure it would speak of more than  just the snow from the winter months, or the glimmering of the other seasons. This apple tree has witnessed history through all its different phases. First, the history of this house, which goes back to the eighteenth century. Not long ago, when my father-in-law renovated it, he found so many rare historical artefacts that they decided to build a small museum. 

This place is in the south of Tyrol. Tyrol, like Kurdistan, is divided by borders. Parts of it are in Austria and the others, in Italy. The history of this place, to this day, is a history of instability, war, hostility, and feuds. Anywhere borders are drawn, crises will follow. Borders are magical, condemned lines. They are first drawn on paper, on long tables by people who might well have never seen the land itself. When drawing borders, names, the natural world, manners, culture, language, and sex will inevitably change. When a border is drawn around you, you either fall inside of it or outside of it. When you are inside, it will try to swallow you. When you are outside, it will condemn you. Nothing sickens more than borders. As you see, the apple tree was between a barn, a big old house, and a small church. Each place is symbol of its own. The barn is a symbol of a society that cares for domesticated animals, farmers, and villagers. The big house is a symbol of big families, and of the long history of domiciles. And the church is a symbol of the religious world. In the spaces between farming, religion, and big families, much drama occurs. For this reason the main literary genre from this area is the literature of families. I mean the kind of novels that narrate family history over the course of generations. This is a special place. When my in-laws found a gun in the house, they were surprised to learn of its age. This is Southern Tyrol, a hardscrabble mountainous region in Northern Italy. Here, a German-speaking minority lives within the borders of Italy. Being a minority, living on the border of another country are all inspirations for rebellion, against a fascist government like Mussolini’s, and against an fascist Italian society. 

The first time I saw the apple tree was seven years ago. It was an early morning. I had spent the entire previous night on a train from Rome. At first, it did not seem that interesting. It looked old and tired with its hunchback. After some years, one of the religious men in the village suggested cutting down the tree, as its roots were damaging the church walls. I found it a bizarre suggestion. Why would a small house—just because of its special structure, of  no present benefit to the town—be more sacred and sublime than a rare, tasty apple tree? I stayed silent because people from here do not hear the logical mind, especially by a Muslim like me. Religious people are the obstinate enemy of their counterparts from different religions. 

What made that tree special for me was that it tickled my memories. In Garmian, Southern Kurdistan, in 1988, my family had a beautiful mulberry tree. I was still a teenager then, and I studied beneath its shade, deep in all sorts of thought. When our village was destroyed, the mulberry tree dried up. Even though the apple tree fell because of time and nature, what I found in common between them was that they both took a collection of memories with them for good. 

The next day, the apple tree was chopped into pieces. Then, the logs were piled in a corner, ready for the winter. When Namo and Rafael asked what will happen to the apple tree, I coldly said, “it will turn to smoke and ashes.”


Translated from the Sorani by Pshtewan Kamal Babakir and David Shook 

Sardar Aziz is a writer and a political analyst based in Iraq and Ireland. He moved to Ireland in 1999, and earned his PhD in Governance at Cork University. Aside from his political essays, in both Kurdish and English, he also writes travel literature and short stories. He currently works as a political adviser and consultant, and frequently teaches university classes. 

Pshtewan Kamal Babakir is a filmmaker, archivist, and translator who works as a primary investigator for Kashkul. He graduated from the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Babakir has directed, produced, DPed, and edited many documentaries. His films Red Land and Not For Sale have been screened at film festivals around the world. His writings and translations have appeared in World Literature Today, On the Seawall, and Loch Raven Review.

David Shook is a poet, essayist, and translator presently based in Sulaimani. The most recent of their fifteen book-length translations are Jorge Eduardo Eielson’s Room in Rome and Pablo d’Ors’ The Friend of the Desert. Recently published translations from the Kurmanji and Sorani variants of Kurdish include work by Çîmen Adil Alî, Cihan Hesen, Ciwan Nebi, Ciwan Qado, Ferhad Pirbal, Jaff, Kosari, Xoşman Qado, and Qubad Jeli Zada.