Sezen Aksu: the Queen/Diva of Turkish Pop

Sezen Aksu (July 13, 1954 -) is the quintessential diva extraordinaire, of Turkish pop.  She is the indisputable queen diva of the Turkish pop music scene.  ‘Pop’ music, now worldwide, through the effects of American colonization, always mixes with its locales to create interesting hybrid music that also carries certain themes that repeats throughout the world.  Songs of falling in love, songs of loving what or who we cannot have, separation and longing, devastation and pride, sorrow and joy.  Also, to dance our butts off.  Sezen Aksu’s unique, rough voice carries emotions that many in the Mediterranean are attracted to.  She has influenced pop music in the mediterranean nations, the Balkans and changed the annual Eurovision Music Context with her protege, Ertab Serener.  From the 1970s through today, and continues to break barriers.

She is particularly attractive to me in other ways, making me like her music more.  Her life has not been comfortable, although her fame and fortune has helped her.  She has married and divorced several times, something Turkish society does not like and in some cultures within the Turkish nation, divorcing is a taboo that the woman pays for the rest of her life (although this is not unique just to Turkish sub-cultures).  She has also married an Armenian, works tirelessly and speaks out vigorously for women’s rights and gay rights, and for the rights of the Kurds.  She has been allowed to stay out of jail, even though she has sung songs in the ‘illegal’ language of the Kurdish people, Zaza cultures, and Armenian people  in Turkey, and has co-sung with some of these groups’ popular singers, raising the eyebrows and bringing much-needed discussions at Turkish dinner tables.  She dares the powers that be, to let democracy work, and to love who we love, and for singers and all artists, to express and to live.

I present a nice classical-tinged with a bit of Astor Piazzolla-esque ballad, and a rocking dance song by her.  The remixes of her dance music have been done by hundreds of different musicians.  The dance song ‘Rakkas’ has become a perennial classic in Turkish pop culture and also internationally it is one of the most ‘mixed’ songs in dance clubs by DJs from Spain, Greece, the UK, India, Germany, Hungary to Japan.

Sezen Aksu: wikipedia

Sezen Aksu official site

Kıran kırana


Uzbek Singer Sevara Nazarkhan

She bridges the traditional and pop/jazz/worldmusic genres.  She sings in Uzbek Turkic languages and also in Russian.  She is one of my favorites.

Sevara Nazazrkhan, along with Yulduz Uzmanova, are credited to have brought Uzebek music from its relatively isolated Central Asian and Turkic music scenes, onto the world scene.  Recent events in Uzbekistan remind us of the severe problems existing in the Caucuses and Central Asia due to the several imperial governments that have ruled through violence and heavy-handed central rule via invasions. Mongols, Turkic tribes, Persians and the Russians are the most standout imperial forces that have invaded and ruled the area, and influence the many kinds of peoples, cultures and tribes existing in the nation-state of Uzbekistan.  The recent massacres in 2005, the Andijan massacres (, attest to the central government’s use of violence to control the  state and having some of the worst human violations in the world that go along with impunity.

The rich cultural heritage of Uzbekistan’s cultural arts are reflected in Sevara Nazarkhan’s wonderful music. Islamic/Sufi spiritual tradition, Turkic communal music, popular music, Russian balladry, and various western and local dance styles dot the many music-scapes of Sevara’s albums.  Please enjoy.

Wikipedia information on Uzbekistan:

Debate regarding the August-September 2010 ROMA evacuations in France

Political bodies arguing. States and nations being more important than people currently, increasingly.

Political bodies arguing that institutions and processes are in place in many European nations regarding ‘how to deal with’ the Roma.

The Roma, having to assimilate into the ‘civilized’ European, North American and Japanese colonial systems… already a violence, an exclusion, a globally-mandated assumption of obedient minorities having to create themselves into something they are not. It is already a set-up. The fascisms are not acceptable now. But there are residues of fascism in every state, in certain attitudes of many individuals, ourselves possibly. When things go underground, they adapt to the current milieu and operate with new tactics. It is easier to follow an ideology or a fundamental structure in our minds, families and neighborhoods. Many of the scientists and thinkers of fascist governments were paid by the so-called democratic states, to survive and thrive and continue to create in the name of the elites. They are everywhere. The residues show up in people’s attitudes. As I write this, some people have wanted me dead. It is not a surprise. Ethics, love, negotiation, difference, intensity, and struggle, are seen as unwanted. It’s so much easier if everyone just obeyed. It takes lots of obedience to be civilized. It takes lots of obedience to be many things. It is a struggle to think creatively about our issues and what it is we want.

There is little talk of getting programs and institutions together, providing counseling and educational change and other activities, to address the prejudice, racism, violence, brutality, impunity, and aggression of the dominant attitudes and behaviors against the Roma and other minorities. It is a set-up. But there are many who are privately setting up creative ways of resisting the dominant flow of treating minorities like something to do surgery on, to assimilate. The issue is dominance and resistance.

Apparently, much like some of the US Americans I know who are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim (and whose families were probably anti-Japanese-American during WWII etc.), states have a right to keep the ‘other’ out. Who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’?? The lines are often justifications for our psychological/social violences to be played out. It is that division, that demarcation, where we give permissions of violence. Nations and national systems are that place, an extension or perhaps where it begins through histories of developing from tribalism to ethnic/sexual/gender/racial/religious identity and national identity currently.

Now it all plays out in its failures. Violent nationalism internalized into safe havens and names such as ‘our state’ and ‘our city’ and ‘our people’. Tribalism continues as democracy fades. But democracy isn’t fading for many. It is enacted and seen everyday. There are thousands around the world, millions around the world, right next to us, who understand the difficult struggle for democratic ethics in our lives. We cannot confuse permissions without ethics with democracy. We cannot confuse the boundaries of identities as demarcations of democracy.

The Roma, the Kurds, the Jews, the Armenians, the Dahlit, the Ainu, the Mayans, and millions of other bodies are forced into the isolation called ‘minority’ and are treated like chess pieces and diseases in the national systems now global. We must make our way in the violent world structured by the dominant system and we are supposed to listen to these people and bodies that have somehow assumed precedence. Even as those in governments are for justice, the system requires you to be a strong state, complete with strong militaries and economies and secret hiding places and hidden tactics and lots of money to pay the secret operators to make the state into a certain self-image, leaving certain ideas, cultures, ways-of-thinking and acting, out of the equation of this imagined state.  It’s an imaginary of violence, playing out with hollow words such as ‘rights’ and ‘diversity’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in many cases.

There are many people in world government, such as can be seen in this video snapshot of politicians arguing about what to do with the Roma people, who actually care and want peace.  However, justice cannot come in states where peace is about obedience to laws, no matter how lofty.  Laws, in most powerful states, ignore the brutality of how that state came into being in the first place.  Law is not justice.  Neither is law about anarchic violence and tearing down of all.  Justice is more of an attention to history and creative processes of negotiation through differences. But in positions of privilege, where a person or a body of people ‘decide what to do with others’ is precarious when the rules of law are interpreted in different ways. What is worse, as Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) himself, wrote the first writings on the term ‘genocide’ and watched about a third of the laws he proposed be left out when the genocide laws were implemented by the international body–because those laws that were too threatening to the so-called integrity of the state would make all states culpable and make the global national system criminal itself). The human rights system is a necessary group of policies, laws, and research and documentation bodies, do not get me wrong.  But no one can enforce them. There cannot be a human rights police.  So human rights are continually broken in the United States, the European Union, Japan and other nations.  All one can do is watch arguments or invasions.

What’s even more daunting is that the term ‘genocide’ has been coined as an event, a moment in time with a certain look, an obvious massacre and displacement and hatred. The issue is that genocides rarely happen as an event. Culminations in massacres happen, but the processes of cleansing in states and regions happen over long periods of time, due to intensifications of exclusion-wishing and creating our living spaces in certain ways that do not allow certain differences. Displacements may happen continually for centuries, making a certain group poor. Policies to exclude and keep them poor keep being passed, while institutions are set-up to ‘help’ these minorities. The help keeps that group in their particular circumstances and are designed to construct assimilation. Help is usually a form of surveillance and identity-making. It is created through the dominant’s will, not those who are marginalized. Propaganda can be created over decades, where racism and prejudice can strangle the look of a city or a state or a people into a  reality where certain people and communities and areas can only be seen through that lens of the constructed dominant instead of through a different lens. Criminalizating minorities and their actions is a tactic of killing the spirits and locking the men away, leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves. Since laws concern the privileged, what does survival look like for the already-vulnerable?  Genocide is not an event. The killing of spirits and ideas and lives happen over prolonged periods in all of the ways Raphael Lemkin has stated (in the complete version, not only in the edited version the international body has made public). So genocide may not look like genocide. For change in our world, we must intervene into these smaller structures of cultural killings before an event.  In fact, some philosophers have actually spoken to the everydayness of genocide. Our ignoring and going about our lives is an aspect of the killing of another community. Buying or not buying certain things can also play into killing ‘the other.’  We cannot wait for the ‘event’ that we recognize. By then it is usually too late.

These politicians can argue, but whoever has the biggest weapons currently controls whatever happens, regardless of human rights. States have more power than groups of persecuted peoples. States have become more important to maintain, rather than communities. Self-hatred begins to creep in as we think of ways to empower and resist. Making ourselves into ethnic groups, then wanting a state, seems to be a logical conclusion of ways to live, as the stronger states treat those within its boundaries that are not the dominant group, as well as weaker states and non-dominant peoples globally, as things to extract work from (exploit) and displace and make into problems at will. It is ugly. There is no secret. We all know individual people like this in our lives. But when it is larger, we may think they are nice people, but the structures will a certain pattern, a certain way for things to turn out. More and more people are no longer willing to take it, however.

Issues of dominance and dominant attitudes control the so-called ‘Roma issue’ and other minority peoples’ and stateless peoples’ living circumstances, continuing to be ‘cases,’ as can be seen in this video, in the early 21st century.  It brings up memories of World War II, fascism, and the current crisis of human, social, ecological systems at crossroads. They don’t fit it.  ‘They’ are nomadic, ‘they’ are communal and not individualistic, ‘they’ have ties to life-ways that are contradictory to the dominant globalizing state system. Where does difference come into play? What can be done? Must we/they obey to survive? Where is our creativity?

Dersim Images: from 2008 study trip to the Dersim Region, east Turkey

In 2008, kind friends and the anthropology program at CIIS, sponsored my research trip to Dersim (Tunceli on today’s maps) of Eastern Turkey.  I was lucky enough to visit diaspora in Europe, as well as in Istanbul and Ankara, and to visit Dersim/Tunceli proper, as well as to a village in the Ovacik district of Tunceli.  Each district of Tunceli is distinct in geography.  There is a ‘Dersim-ness’ in the predominantly Alevi worldviews and Kirmanc (Zaza) and Kurmanji (Kurdish) language and cultural histories, but many of the inhabitants are now Turkish and Kurdish urban people who have been sent there to live, in order to Sunni-fy (Islam) and Turkify the area, even though it is still dominated by Marxist brands of activism, primarily the Maoist type, with Turkish and Kurdish activists.  Many of the families that are originally from the area had been displaced since the late 19th century and continues today, with many of the locals visiting their elder family members or have summer village homes.  Their families live mostly in Europe and the Americas and visit their former homes in the summers.

I had part-time translators and I was able to get snapshots of stories and thoughts from the locals and the young diaspora.

It was an unforgettable experience.

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Mikail Aslan & Ahmet Aslan: Singer/storytellers of Dersim

Mikail Aslan (on the left of the photo) and Ahmet Aslan (on the right of the photo), although unrelated to each other by family heritage, are among the elites and considered amongst the most precious modern artists who work to tell, preserve and empower the people of the Dersim region of what is considered ‘Tunceli’ in eastern Turkey today. Through their songs, both modern and ancient, traditional and roots-fusion, the historical/cultural memory of spiritual traditions, loss, genocide, mourning, isolation, stigmatization, marginalization and state destruction, are woven into the hearts and minds of whoever will listen.

Their music is usually accompanied with the stories of the elders who’ve experienced the 1937-38 events that should be considered an aspect of the continual genocidal actions against the culture and people of the region. Or they would be songs of the displaced who fled the government forest and village burnings and purges during the 1990s, and the continual repression of its people and the collectively grieving population of Dersim, the music also tells their stories. Many of their songs are traditional songs, slightly modernized to adapt to the modern times, while other songs are left as they were sung centuries ago. Many of their songs are songs of mourning that would be sung by everyday people on the streets and roads of the villages while their relations were disappeared, imprisoned, and/or killed by government forces.

The Dersim region in Eastern Turkey, was told to the public to be the land of terrorism and propaganda had been created to present the region as dangerous and of outlaws. Certainly those who practiced non-Muslim worldviews such as Alevism and Christianity, often fled to the Dersim region, where the rugged mountainous territory was easy to protect from encroaching forces. The Ottoman governments, before the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, tried for centuries to subjugate the Dersim region. The people of the region refused to live via modernizing state laws and the Islamicization of their worldviews, They refused to pay taxes and send their sons into the Ottoman military forces because they felt the the government wanted to control them through these means. The Dersim region was very poor and because they were isolated, their subsistence also included banditry, while others we wealthier–benefiting from working the the Turkish state.

During the height of the Armenian pogroms and genocide, many Dersim Kurds helped thousands of Armenians by taking them into their homes, as they lived amongst them for centuries, in harmony. During the 1915 intensification of Armenian genocide, many Kurds assisted the American Protestant missionaries form an underground railroad to help Armenians escape out of Turkey into Russia.  Other more fundamentalist groups in Dersim took advantage of the pogroms and participated in assisting the Turkish state in the Armenian cleansings.  Today, some Turkish officials used Dersim’s Armenian connection as some sort of ‘negative’ trait, which shows the long history of animosity against the Armenian Christians who were a threat to mainstream Islamic officials.  For the most part, in Dersim, the Armenians and the Dersim Kurds lived side-by-side without issue.

The Dersimian languages were mainly Zazaki and Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish dialect) and they practiced a form of Alevi worldview and ritual that was distinct from the Bektashi Alevism that is being mainstreamed in Turkey today. Many Dersim Alevi religious terms have Armenian words and forms of worship, as well as pre-Christian, pre-Islamic forms, including Zorastrianism and Shi’a Islamic forms as well. The Dersim region was distinct in its cultural forms, held together by strong bands of men who knew the mountains well and were ruthless in defense of the region. However, they believed in diplomacy and negotiation and proper mediation in conflict. These were all betrayed by the early Turkish state. As early as 1925, plans to transform eastern Turkey and to split families and destroy the region, was planned. In the rest of Turkey, people learned of a ‘rebellion’ in Dersim and the need for the subjugation of the region. There was really never a ‘rebellion’ in the traditional sense of a wholescale anti-government movement. The early Turkish government used such terms to give it the go-ahead in a genocidal campaign that would destroy its leadership and split the villages and families apart and to assimilate the young into a particular brand of state Turkishness that even for many Turkish-identified people, has outgrown in its ‘cover’ and its place in modern Turkey.

Through their fine music and personalities, Mikail Aslan and Ahmet Aslan bring us the realities of grief, joy, mourning, memory, the strength, and the courage of the Dersim people and their efforts toward cultural survival.

For more information in English on Dersim, I have included a website that is Armenian. I include this because most of the information written about Dersim in the English language, begin with official state claims and versions, such as a ‘suppression of a rebellion’ which was a state propaganda version and pretext for ethnic/cultural cleansing for state-building. Please be careful when reading any historical texts, of cultures that we are not familiar with, as even well-meaning people may tow the state version of events and lives.

Truth of Dersim ’38 (from Armenian Weekly):

Dersim’s Lost Girls film:

Mikail :

Ahmet :

Above Photo of a Dersim villager hunted and captured by the Turkish army during the 1937-38 genocidal campaign.

Lêa Qeraji (in Zazaki language)  by Mikail Aslan

Dilo Dilo (in Zazaki language)  by Mikail Aslan

Susarak Özlüyorum ( (in Turkish language)  by Ahmet Aslan

Veyve Milaketu (Dance of the Angels) (in Zazaki language)  by Ahmet Aslan

UPDATE: Info & Lyrics ADDED to Roma/Balkan/Goran Bregovic post

I have added a bit of information on the song ‘Erdelezi’ and included Roma lyrics and English translation on the previous post:

For wikipedia’s decent information on the history of this recording, please visit the following link.  As always, especially with Wikipedia, please be careful when reading, being aware of how things are placed in wikipedia’s information.  For instance, the way the the Roma word is insinuated (whether on purpose or not)  ‘from’ Turkish in the Roma language.  This may mistakenly be interpreted as the Roma ‘taking’ the word from that language, or that ‘Turkish’ came first.  This is ‘Not’ the case.  Throughout the hundreds of years of our history, people shared and made their own languages through sharings.  The words are ‘related’ but to bring origins into it would be problematic.  Thus is the problematic today with the ‘minoritization‘ –  the ‘making of minorities’ through majority-rule formulations (majoritarianism) of history, logic, interpretation and subsequently–the positions that information take in the people’s minds, then used politically for certain advantages and disadvantages.

Wikipedia link:

Kurdish Cinema: A video montage

Kurdish cinema has been exploding since the 1990s onto the world stage.  The first famous ‘Kurdish’ film in Europe and the US is A Time for Drunken Horses‘ –which won a Cannes Film Festival award.  Film has always been a medium, as with other arts, to communicate something.  In the case of peoples who have been in the world under oppressive conditions, film has been one of the most powerful art forms.  In places such as Turkey, the legal and cultural policies which forbid Kurdish cultural expression, has placed filmmakers under tremendous pressure to create their art, some indeed dying by the hands of the state through imprisonment, torture, and disappearance.  For some, they manage, through surviving harsh oppressive conditions, to create their art forms.  Warfare and the creation of the states which divided the Kurdish people created ways for Kurds in Europe, for instance, freedoms which would help move their art out into the world.

Since the 1960s, Yilmaz Güney of Turkey (1 April 1937 – 9 September 1984), has been considered the most famous and important Kurdish cinema director in what many Kurds call ‘Northern Kurdistan.’  Yilmaz Güney wrote his films in the Turkish language because the Kurdish language had been forbidden more vehemently then, than it is today.  His themes were decidedly Kurdish, although the word ‘Kurd’ or ‘Kurdish’ never appears in his film.  The authorities knew, however, and he was imprisoned and tortured since 1961.

During the tumultuous 1960s in Turkey, many young Kurds and Turks wanted democratic reforms and were dissatisfied with authoritarian capitalist regimes and many were associated with leftists movements during this time.  Güney was accused of harboring leftist film students and was jailed one other time in 1972 and in 1974, upon his release, he shot a judge whom he felt was unjust and he was subsequently arrested again.  He escaped prison in 1981 and fled to France.  During his time in prison, he created some of his best films, dictating to Turkish filmmaker Zeki Ökten (August 4, 1941 – December 19, 2009), scene by scene, to make the films and release them.  He died in France in 1984.  Among his films that are the most intensely remembered and praised include: Suru, Duval, Umut, and  Yol (1982)–which is the most widely loved movie among many Kurds and won the coveted Palm d’or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982.  Güney’s films tell unflinchingly dark, harsh realities of Kurdish life in what is now called Turkey, as well as in the borderlands within and between the four nation-states that rule much of where the Kurds have been for hundreds of years–Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.  All of these states continue to oppress Kurdish expressions and freedoms in their own ways.  Kurdish cinema is one strong way for the Kurdish people and those who sympathize with their plight, to tell their stories.

There have been many filmmakers such as Nezamettin Aric and from the Mesopotamia Arts Collective where filmmakers such as Kazim Öz and  Hüseyin Karabey have been making headways in Kurdish cinema since the 1990s.

The most famous and prolific of Kurdish filmmakers today is Bahman Ghobadi.  His ‘Time For Drunken Horses’ (2000) received critical acclaim worldwide and he has produced several films that have captured the attention of western cinema producers and administrators, which, after all, is the only way to be widely distributed and known.  My personal favorite of his movies is “Turtles Can Flyreleased in 2004.”

The first ever Kurdish film festival in the world, was held in London in 2001. It proved to be quite a success and Paris, Montreal, Melbourne and Hamburg followed suit a few years later.  In 2009, New York held its first ever Kurdish film festival while in Turkey, the first ever Kurdish film festival was held in Diyarbekir–considered one of the most heavily populated Kurdish cities in Turkey, in December 2009.

As Kurdish Cinema matures, it has begun to tackle more of the complexities of oppression, and how within Kurdish cultures’ own histories of certain oppressions such as sexism, is a mix of what has been traditional and is  intensified with the displacements, divisions, and the various states’ and globalization policies, including their versions of sexism, that affect Kurdish communal relations.  Ultimately the film-makers can point to the intense continuations that construct various forms of death–cultural, biological and gendered.  Kurdish cinema is said to be one strong avenue where the resistance of this is done by telling the stories and to hopefully invite reflection for alliances and change.

London Kurdish Film Festival

Bahman Ghobadi: Miji Films

The following is an introduction to Kurdish films, via videos from YouTube.

This first clip is a short news interview featuring the First New York Kurdish Film Festival held in 2009.

I’d like to add that our graduate school held a Kurdish Conference and Film Festival in 2004.

Here is the link:

This next video is a trailer for the Kurdish movie ‘Gitmek’ (Turkish language) entitled in English: My Marlon and Brando, directed by Huseyin Karabey.

Here is an video of an interview with the director of My Marlon and Brando,  Hüseyin Karabey, interlaced with scenes from the movie.

This video is a montage by Azad Kanjo on YouTube, working with some of the more prominent films from 1978 to 2007.

Köfte in Ankara!

I once had the displeasure of eating, or trying to find a place to eat, with some very unadventurous people when it comes to eating. This was after my trip to the Netherlands and Turkey in 2008. These were not friends of mine, but friends of someone I knew in the USA’s San Francisco Bay Area. I almost, but not quite however, had the prejudiced assumption that since we were living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are many ethnicities, nationalities and cultures, and it is considered one of the top restaurant cities in the United States, that people were fairly adventurous about new foods to try. But I wasn’t quite that presumptuous. An aspect of diversity is that ‘diversity’ means ‘diverse’–there are people who don’t eat much, who don’t go out to eat much, who only like certain foods, who only eats to digest but not for pleasure, etc. Hmmmm……. who was I with that night? I was with people who couldn’t get US American ideas out of their brains when it came to descriptions. Add to this, my not having words able to translate something or an experience or a person to them, etc. We need to practice new languages on new terms.

So I asked if anyone wanted to eat at a Turkish restaurant since I craved köfte. I got cringing faces and “ewww! what’s that?” I explained that they were lamb meatballs, sort of.” Oh please, we’re not going out for meatballs? I might as well eat Chef Boy-ar-dee! ” said one person. No I know what I was dealing with. A poverty of thought and palate.

When I visited the Netherlands and Turkey in 2008, I had the privilege of my hosts taking me to a great restaurant while in Ankara, where the bulk of my stay was while in Turkey (the other being Dersim (or Tunceli as it is called today in the mainstream and on maps) and two days in Istanbul).

Üstünel Köftecisi is a wonderful place, not gourmet or anything, just homey and tasteful, its front doors hidden by tall green. When inside and you order food at the tastefully strong and deep-textured wooden tables and chairs with nice clean table cloth, I wasn’t prepared for what pleasantly followed.

The presentation!!   Two waiters carrying a huge piece of clean bright sheet of plastic, come and spread it onto the table in front of myself and my two hosts, like a second tablecloth. Then the waiters disappear and soon one of them appears with a huge tray of vegetables. Bright green. Lettuce leaves, different other leaves of texture and aroma. Very bright, busting out in colors, and bright red cherry tomatoes and deep red/pink radishes and beautiful parsley. Froom the tray, the vegetables are laid onto the plastic (there are no plates) in a neatly arranged circle with the middle left open. The colors and pattern are symetrical but not stiffly angled or monotonous.

The second waiter brings another sheet of plastic with huge onions. I mean HUGE. They are wrapped in aluminum foil and hot. You can smell the wonderful fragrance! There are other vegetables that are hot. Then the little tasteful silver Ottoman Turkish receptacles of yogurt with finely chopped cucumber and spices.

The meat and tender rice come last. The rice is tender and has a fragrance of a subtle spice that I don’t know and my hosts could not explain to me. The meats came piping hot, along with pattican (paht-tee-john: eggplant). I ordered myh favorite by then: köfte. These came wrapped in aluminum foil, the waiters bringing them with nicely foldd damp towels with nice Turkish pattern colors. Lastly, one of the waiters brings three different kinds of olives in nice silver cups, ayran, cola, tea.

The term ‘meatballs’ does not begin to describe what köfte is. They are finger-sized minced lamb meat patties, hand-mixed with chopped onions, perhaps with cumin and parsley chopped, and other spices. Sometimes they are put on skewers and are kebabs. In any case, I devoured them! The hosts like this restaurant too.

You can find this in Persian restaurants, Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, and Armenian and Greek restaurants as well. However, each has their own versions of it. To add, like any other foods (or music or anything else for that matter), the regions and socio-economic class and other influences change it within a nation or culture or ethnic group. In other words, it is a shared history. Sometimes it was irritating to hear arguments about who originated a food–where a food was first made and who has ownership rights.

Upon tasting the food, the tastes are powerful. No, not from the spices or salt or sugar. You can taste everything powerfully, distinctly. I found this to be everywhere I went in Turkey and quite a bit in Holland as well. When I returned to San Francisco, I found that it was not my imagination.

Whenever my Kurdish, Turkish, Assyrian, or Armenian friends in the San Francisco Bay area, who were from those respective areas, would take me to eat at a restaurant in the US, they used to say that food tastes dead in the US.  Now I had to confirm what they’ve said.  I have even heard the same from people I know from Central and South America.  In the US, we are accustomed to the flatness. So we want sugar and salt and that is what replaces the taste of the foods.

When you think about it, the chemicals that bombard food in the US, and the processing and the drugging of animals and the pumping into the soil of chemicals to grow foods faster and make them bigger, etc. suck the food tastes out of them. There is a dullness. That is why when sometimes I eat with some US American friends at a very good Japanese restaurant, they complain of things not having any taste. There needs to be more sugar and or salt or the sauce needs to be stronger. The tastebuds are weak.

But for the moment in the Ankara restaurant, I enjoy the sensual delights of eating! On my tongue, it was Mmmmmmmmmmmm!!!

‘Lost Songs of Anatolia’ – Anadolu’nun Kayıp Şarkıları

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

Today’s Zaman

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

The Roma People, Balkans & Balkanization: Music by Goran Bregović

The movie “Time of the Gypsies” tells of a teenage Roma (gypsy) who has telekinetic powers and is used by forces to commit petty crime.  It is a beautiful movie.

The story of persecuted groups  throughout the ages is told to blind ears and hearts today.  The Roma, the Jewish people, the Kurds, and other groups, have been persecuted and killed and their cultures co-opted. For a good overview of the Roma (Romani, or gypsy), see wikipedia:

The Balkans is a region today that spans from Turkey to Western Russia.  The ‘Balkanization’ of land is a term used by people studying history, politics and cultural survival, to mean that lands are divided and parceled out according to dominant powers deciding, usually by religion and ethnicity, on how to make states, nations, countries.  The Balkanized lands, originally, where the persecuted Roma people have been dispersed and displaced, their culture fragmented across the various lands.  Their originally nomadic lifestyles, similar to many of the Kurdish tribes and Jewish tribes, were a thorn in the side of some of the sedentary cultures because  increasingly as the sendentary tribes and the development of towns  rely on capitalist enterprising and the ownership of land, creating problems for nomadic tribes who needed food and water.  The former open lands were now off-limits.  This increased desperate measures.  This also created the prejudices that intensified against them. This just one strand in a thousand different ways the exclusions became more embedded.

The genocidal nature of the ‘progress’ that we speak of, is real and happening as we speak, as you may have gathered from all of my postings.  It is not ‘natural, and not an ‘accident.’  Progress is also not natural but a series of political and socio-economic ideas to advance the cause of the wealthy.  As it has improved lives in many ways, it has excluded and assimilated, leaving a vast array of violence across our bodies, where we perpetrate without knowing that we perpetrate and view all mention of ourselves as related to the destruction of others as threatening to us.  It is not that we take in hand and kill, or we wish them to be.  But we participate as we ignore and pursue our own pleasures while our taxes, and ways of life are feeding systems that perpetrate.  We need change.

Although the following does not mention the indigenous people of the area that much, it is a good work covering the chain of events in recent Balkan history from before WWI, see:  The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999

For an excellent historical read on the development of Balkanization, see:  The Roots of Balkanization: Eastern Europe C.E. 500 – 1500 by Ion Grumeza

For a most beautiful re-thinking of the Balkans, see: Imagining the Balkans by Maria Todorova –

Here is a summary of the movie:  ‘Time of the Gypsies from Wikipedia:

(Serbian: Дом за вешање, Dom za vešanje, literally “Home for Hanging”) is a 1988 Yugoslav film by Serbian directorEmir Kusturica. Filmed in Romani and SerbianTime of the Gypsies tells the story of a young Romani man with magical powers who is tricked into engaging in petty crime. It is widely considered to be one of Kusturica’s best films.

The film revolves around Perhan, a Gypsy teenager with telekinetic powers and his passage from boy to man that starts in a little village inYugoslavia and that ends in the criminal underworld of Milan.

The movie’s soundtrack was composed by Goran Bregović.

Goran Bregovic’s music has been called  ‘intoxicating, bridging the extremes of euphoria and melancholy.”

Here below is a image video of a song, which is among my favorites, from the soundtrack of Time for Gypsies entitled “Erdelezi.”

The SONG is a traditional Balkan region song.  The Roma people celebrate Spring Festival/equinox with this song, and there are variants in the Turkish and Serbian spring songs.  The version on this video is arranged by Goran Bregovic and has been recorded by many artists throughout eastern Europe as well as the Turkish regions.

Lyrics in the Roma language, followed by English translation below:

Sa me amala oro khelena
Oro khelena, dive kerena
Sa o Roma daje
Sa o Roma babo babo
Sa o Roma o daje
Sa o Roma babo babo
Ederlezi, Ederlezi
Sa o Roma daje

Sa o Roma babo, e bakren chinen
A me, chorro, dural beshava
Romano dive, amaro dive
Amaro dive, Ederlezi

E devado babo, amenge bakro
Sa o Roma babo, e bakren chinen
Sa o Roma babo babo
Sa o Roma o daje
Sa o Roma babo babo
Ederlezi, Ederlezi
Sa o Roma daje

All my friends are dancing the oro
Dancing the oro, celebrating the day
All the Roma, mommy
All the Roma, dad, dad
All the Roma, oh mommy
All the Roma, dad, dad
Ederlezi, Ederlezi
All the Roma, mommy

All the Roma, dad, slaughter lambs
But me, poor, I am sitting apart
A Romany day, our day
Our day, Ederlezi

They give, Dad, a lamb for us
All the Roma, dad, slaughter lambs
All the Roma, dad, dad
All the Roma, oh mommy
All the Roma, dad, dad
Ederlezi, Ederlezi
All the Roma, mommy