Anatolia, is an old name for the lands and peoples of the central to eastern region of present-day Turkey and more. From before and during the Roman, Persian, Mongol, Seljuk Turk, Safavid and Ottoman Empire invasions (until 1922), Anatolia has been the stomping ground for several imperial forces of domination. Today it is ruled by the militarized borders of nation-states and cultural boundaries and dominations. In earlier centuries, trade routes between this diverse region and what is now called Europe, Africa, Russian territories and South and Eastern Asia were open and intense. Today, these ‘stompings’ continue with transnational corporations joining in for a globalization of ‘modernization’ to what points to the neo-colonizing present resulting in what Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University in the USA – Partha Chatterjee, calls “the extinction of the peasant” (from his book: The Nation and Its Fragments, 1993, Princeton University Press). In general, however, before the rise of the boundaries of nation-states, this region, like most others around the world, were diverse and the only controls enforced by most of the imperial forces were for taxes and military conscription.
As nation-states began to form and borders slowly became tighter and more controlled, where and how bodies moved and diversity itself, began to dwindle. There was less contact allowed (unless you happened to be in the wealthier classes who could travel) and the nomadic tribes had to find different ways of moving through the increasing encroachment of urban lives and the idea of ’employment.’ Kurdish, Assyrian, Circassian, Uzbek, Armenian, Pontic Greek, Uighur, Laz, and countless other groups found their cultures were endangered and more and more they were forced to retreat into private cultural lives because it was increasingly more difficult to remain communal. This ‘encroachment’ could only happen through systematic massacres, criminalization (e.g. – making their indigenous language and music illegal, for example), burning of the lands through disguised policies such as ‘de-forestation’ and other means of ‘modernization’ as well as the many wars and battles that scorched the lands. As one way to resist, the idea for this film-book-and-multimedia project: Anadolu’nun Kayıp Şarkıları, or ‘Lost Songs of Anatolia,‘ developed from mainstream Turkish and European change-maker/artist-researchers.
This film project is breathtaking and exhilarating, as much as it is mournful. Even in the way it is put into language as ‘exotic’ lands and music, is a problem. Exotic? How and why is this term used? It points more to the globalizing world that is much less diverse and accepts difference only as museum pieces and entertainment and quite frankly, killing wonder, newness, and exhilaration. This film and entire research and project is a labor of love and memory, but of course, these cultures and music are not dead or gone. They are present. They survive. But they survive as entertainment for us. What will it take to work and live in advocacy? First, we need to un-learn and re-learn; understand.
One aspect of this issue is that things, as I have said before in earlier blog postings, are made into museum objects. “Cultures, oh look at these wonderful cultures, look at the way they dress and they eat and they dance and they sing. Listen to the strange sounds that we don’t recognize. Oh wow.” Also, there is the tendency to see and hear songs and dancing and music and theater as entertainment for our own consumption. We recognize them only as somethings and people who are here to give us color and movement and language. I would be so bold as to say that we have internalized the reality of the process of extinction. We have internalized the notion that everything in the past becomes extinct and we will become extinct. But there is a huge difference between that extinction being a natural thing and it being about killing off, driving cultures and people into the shadows, making them go away, making ‘us’ and ‘them’ a ‘minority’ and therefore less important. Oh look, aren’t they the little wonderful things. In short, many things we are not paying attention to, are creating this extinction. Our internalizing of it, also helps in that process. How about a re-thinking of this? One way to resist is to revive and to show. After all, we all come from some form of indigenous ancestry that has been forced into progress, usually unwillingly. Those who go willingly either hated their lives at those moments and needed escape, or were benefiting somehow (financially and otherwise).
The Lost Songs of Anatolia is a labor of LOVE. It is memory. It is the present. It is exhilarating and beautiful. It is dizzying in its statements. Let us enjoy the depth, beauty and diversity by connecting to ways to first, make visible and to work with these cultures that are endangered.
The below is an article on this project from March 2010, in Turkey’s Online Journal Today’s Zaman:
‘Lost Songs of Anatolia’ takes audiences on musical journey on big screen
March 12, 2010
An old woman sings a traditional folk song, leaning on the wall behind her, sitting cross-legged on a couch. She sings until she’s finally out of breath and asks: Is it enough? I’m exhausted!
After the release of the album “Anadolu’nun Kayıp Şarkıları” (Lost Songs of Anatolia), as part of a project that includes a film, a book, an exhibition and a concert tour, about a month ago, the film of the same name, directed by Nezih Ünen, premiered on Wednesday in İstanbul ahead of its theatrical release today.
The project is undoubtedly inspiring as well as thrilling. In a period when Turkey has started to recognize its minorities and different cultures, the project takes the audience on a journey deep into Anatolia and gives people the opportunity to listen to the songs and stories of different communities accompanied by beautiful scenes and some moments from the daily lives of these people.
Already too late
Ünen’s must-see film is considered to be a little overdue by the artists at the premiere. “This project was necessary for this country,” said Arif Sağ, a prominent folk musician, during the premiere, pointing to the two brothers singing a traditional Kurdish elegy. “I think it’s a very smart idea. And it should have been made years ago. Those taboos should have been broken long ago.”
“Nezih is one of the musicians who knows Turkish music very well,” Erhan Güleryüz told Today’s Zaman. “This is a very good work about what exists in Anatolia. I believe we will be able to take lessons from this film even years later. I’m sure that there are many undiscovered songs in Anatolia, but thanks to musicians like Nezih, these songs are seeing the light of day.”
Making our voices heard
The two brothers, Selahattin and Fahrettin Güçtekin, from the Çayçatı village of Varto in the eastern province of Muş, who sang the Kurdish elegy in the film, were also in one of the focuses during the premiere. However, despite the intense interest toward the two brothers, what they were trying to illustrate was the talents and voices getting lost in Anatolia. “There are many artists and musicians in my lands,” says Selahattin Güçtekin, “but they are lost, they are not known because they do not have opportunities.”
“There were many more talented people than us, and they are not alive anymore,” says younger brother Fahrettin Güçtekin, “and we are following their lead so that their voices aren’t lost. We always would like to take part in such projects in order to support our culture.”
The film is capable of providing an answer to the critical process which Turkey is going through with the question, “Who are living in these lands and since when?” From Kırşehir to Mardin, from Artvin to Antalya, the film offers a 97-minute journey with Turkish, Kurdish, Alevi, Yezidi, Circassian, Greek, Romani, Armenian, Syrian, Greek, Jewish, and many other communities and peoples of Turkey united under Rumi’s famous words, “Come, whoever you are.” 12.03.2010 Arts & Culture HATİCE AHSEN UTKU