Jalal Barzanji is a contemporary Kurdish poet and writer, born 1953 in Kurdistan. He has been in Canada since 1998. A poet and human rights activist for many years in his own country, Jalal has published a number of poems and articles on peace, humanity, individual freedom and freedom of expression.

 His work, values and passion cost him greatly — it brought him under government surveillance, caused him to be expelled from employment and led to imprisonment for his political beliefs.

Since coming to Canada he and his wife, Sabah, have been involved in a variety of initiatives related to welcoming and supporting newcomers to Edmonton. In the 2000, he established the Canadian Kurdish Friendship Association which supports new Kurdish families integrating into Canadian society. Jalal was a 2004 recipient of a RISE award for this work.

 Barzanji was the first writer in Edmonton to be appointed as PEN Canada Writer-in-Exile. His most recent work, The Man in Blue Pyjamas, has been refered to as “a generous creative act, for which I thank him” ­— John Ralston Saul, Canadian author, essayist, and President of PEN International. He continues to write and publish poems and articles.

Key Experience

1980- Modern Poetry Group – Founder 

With two other Kurdish poets, Jalal attempted to publish a collection of poems titled Three. The work was considered a threat to the regime by the Iraqi Cultural Ministry and was not published.

1982- Voice Magazine – Editor

In an effort to promote a modern style and vision of literature, Jalal became editor of Voice. The Iraqi regime stopped publication after the fifth edition.

1982–85- Children’s Foundation for a Better Future – Founder & Freelancer 

During these three years, Jalal published hundreds of articles and poems on the themes of human rights, cultural rights, freedom of expression and women’s right to safety. At the same time, he created the Children’s Foundation. All of this work brought him under government surveillance.

1985- International Journalist’s Syndicate – Member                           

This international organization supports intellectual freedom and promotes freedom of expression. The organization supports writers who struggle against the barriers created by dictatorships around the world.

1986 – 1989- Period of imprisonment by Iraqi Government.

Jalal endured imprisonment and torture under Saddam Hussein’s regime because of his literary and journalistic achievements through his writing which openly explored themes of peace, democracy and freedom. His family also became in danger with the authorities. He was expelled from my former employment and positions with cultural organizations.

1991- Kurdish Writers Union – Elected Board Member   

Following the Kurdish uprising in Northern Iraq, he was elected as a board member of the Iraqi Kurdish Writers Union. While still under surveillance, he became the first editor of the Kurdish Writers’ Magazine.

1994- Hawler Culture Department – Executive Director      

As Executive Director of the Hawler Culture Department, a part of the Cultural Ministry of the Kurdish region, he coordinated the cultural movement in the city and supported writers, artists, filmmakers and journalists. he also assisted with providing funding for writers in financial need.

1996-1997- United Nations Refugee   

Jalal claimed refugee status in Turkey under the protection of the United Nations. He applied for permanent residency in Canada and was accepted. In 1998, he arrived in Canada with his family and began to study English full-time at Alberta College while working to support my family. At this time, he also volunteered at the Edmonton Immigrations Office and Multicultural Center.

2000- Canadian Kurdish Friendship Association – Founder      

He established this association in Edmonton to welcome Kurdish newcomers. One of the main goals is to help integrate newcomers into the community in healthy ways.

2001- Edmonton Stroll of Poets Member      

Jalal joined this group, and as a member, read my poetry in Kurdish and English at the Poetry Festival in Edmonton. Following this reading, Jalal published two poems in the Stroll of Poets anthology (please see list of publications). One of these poems was selected for publication in the Poetry for Peace project in Ottawa.

2007- First International Edmonton-PEN Writer-in-Exile 

Jalal was honored to be named Edmonton’s first Writer-in-Exile. During this term, Jalal worked as a writing coach and mentor from my offices at the Edmonton Public Library and the University of Alberta. I also gave numerous presentations and readings of my work. Jalal received support to write my literary memoir, The Man in Blue Pyjamas, which has been translated from Kurdish into English and then published by the University of Alberta Press. Now that the memoir is released, there will be no chance of returning to my homeland; peace is a long way off.

2008- Dawson City Writer-in Residence

Jalal was selected as the first international writer for a three-month term at Berton House. When Jalal arrived it was minus -50 degree and snow was falling as he started gathering material for another book.  The book project will explore his experience as a writer in the solace of Canada’s north against his experience of censorship in Kurdistan. During this period, he gave lectures, interviews and readings in Dawson City.

2009- Edmonton Poetry Festival – Reader                 

2010- Edmonton Poetry Festival – Presenter      

He was part of a panel discussion with the poet Peter Midgley, acquisitions editor at the University of Albert Press, about the experience of working with a translator as he helped Jalal translate some of my poetry.

2010- Stroll of Poets Anthology Event – Reader