Turkey – politics and music at the crossroads

In March we were in Turkey and were held spellbound by the country’s unique cultural and religious mix. But in recent weeks we have watched with increasing alarm as the country’s religious and secular factions have moved on a collision force, culminating in this week's massive demonstrations in Istanbul.

Taksim Square is the political nerve centre of Istanbul. Today's violent May Day demonstration took place there, and I took the photo below of a small demonstration in the square in March. Taksim is the Turkish word for division, and was the rallying cry of Turkish Cypriots who supported the partition of Cyprus into Turkish and Greek enclaves. As I write Turkey is under threat of a military coup, and, in a frightening reminder that tyranny is never far away in the Balkans, it was an abortive coup in Cyprus in 1974 that ended the military dictatorship in neighbouring Greece. If anyone needs reminding of the political and cultural horrors that accompany Balkan military coups they should read my recent article on Mikis Theodorakis.

In these trying times we must not forget Turkey’s flourishing arts and music scene, and that Istanbul will be the European City of Culture in 2010. Today I’m featuring two contemporary music CDs to remind us of the flourishing creative life that is at risk from the current political developments. The first CD, Maziden, features the bouzouki, the instrument made famous in Mikis Theodorakis’ celebrated score for Zorba the Greek. Bouzouki player Orhan Osman’s background truly celebrates Turkey’s unique cultural mix, he was born in Germany, raised in Greece, and now lives in Turkey. There is a long history of conflict between Greece and Turkey, including the dispute over Cyprus mentioned above, but the upbeat Maziden well and truly bridges the divide between the two countries.

The cosmopolitan influences on the music of Orhan Osman (photo below) range from the Balkans, India, and France to the Caribbean, and support comes from musicians playing everything from traditional Turkish instruments to pad effects. Dancing is a way of life in the Balkans, and this is as close to party music as you are likely to find On an Overgrown Path. It is on the Turkish Double Moon label which has some other very interesting musicians, including Mercan Dede who featured in my first post on Turkey. There’s more to the bouzouki than Zorba’s Dance, and Maziden is well worth exploring. Just follow this link for audio samples of all the tracks.

The header photo, with Hagia Sophia in the background, was taken by me from a ferry crossing the Bosphorous between Europe and Asia, a journey that sums up the crossroads on which Turkey is located. The ferry departs from from Kadikoy Quay in Istanbul, and the cover of my second featured CD, ECM’s The Wind, carries an image of the same quay. The Wind is a series of improvisations on Turkish and Persian themes arranged by Iranian kamancheh (spike-fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor (photo left & audio samples via previous link) and baglama (long-necked lute) player Erdal Erzincan, and they are supported by Ulas Özdemir on bass baglama. The improvisations flow into each other, with the two lead instruments reworking and repeating different phrases. Recorded in a studio in Istanbul, The Wind is straight out of ECM’s top-drawer; the overall mood is mellow, but there are also some harder driven passages that are on the jazz side of World Music.

These two CDs remind us how Turkey stands at a cross-roads of continents, cultures, religions and politics. The priority for the country today is to maintain political stability. This can only be achieved if the Turkish army doesn't meddle in politics and the Kemalist principle of laiklik, with religion staying out of government in return for government staying out of religion, is retained. In return the EU members, and France, Germany and Austria in particular, need to abandon their view that the EU is an exclusively Christian club, and must take a more broadminded view of Turkish membership.

* YouTube links for Kayhan Kalor and Orhan Osman and follow this link to see my other articles about Turkey at the crossroads
First two photographs (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Unknown said…
Taksim is the Turkish word for "division". The square in Istanbul is called that because underneath it are cisterns from which provision for the water supply of that part of the city used to be made.

Hence the rallying cry of the Turkish Cypriots was "Division" not "Freedom". ;)
Pliable said…
KimArar, many thanks for that. I've corrected my error in the article.

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