Special Issue on Turkey: Introduction




This special issue began some years ago with discussions involving various friends and scholars in Turkey, and my feeling that a small collection of English language articles, published on a web journal, could contribute to an increasingly warm and productive climate of discussion on the subject. Minorities and attendant questions of ethnicity and identity may be less prominent in English-language academic ethnomusicology than they were ten years ago, and in some regards now very much on the back burner. But they are positively on the boil in Turkey, as well as in many other parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, where state traditions cultivating a mono-ethnic vision of their national cultures are one the wane, now challenged by new media, migration, and the complex politics of neo-liberal transformation. This has had important ramifications in Turkey. Ten years ago, right wing nationalist leader Alparslan Turkes was dozing on Mehmet Ali Birand's current affairs program, 'Capraz Ateş', and woke up to hear one of his fellow panelists describe Turkey as an ethnic 'mosaic'. His angry response, 'What mosaic, you bastard?' ('Ne mozaiği ulan?'), initiated broad public debate. Though positions have changed, and gained in nuance and sophistication over the decade, it is probably fair to say that a long-repressed public debate about ethnicity and difference within the national space is well underway, and that, for all of the problems that beset it, the extraordinary vitality of the public sphere and intellectual life in Turkey at the moment owes much to the broaching of this issue. To stress the contribution of Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Kurds, Laz, Arabs, Georgians, Roma and others ('minorities' for short, but the term is certainly not a good one) to Turkish musical life and the musical life of the region as a whole is not necessarily to detract from the 'Turkishness' of these musics, or to de-emphasize the defining conditions of empire and republic, or the majority culture of the major cities and the Anatolian countryside. But it is to ask about how these diffuse and complex senses of identity, and the practices around which they take shape impact on music life in today's Turkey, and beyond. It is to ask, without assuming answers in advance, whether these make a difference, and if so, what kind of difference they make, and to what. The door is wide open, but the work of musicologists and ethnomusicologists has only just begun, and there is a great deal to do. Aksoy and Seeman's articles in this special issue suggest new approaches and directions, as well as some timely reflections on Kurdish and Roma music making in Turkey today.


Minority issues may be though of less in terms of discrete groups, and more in relation to the under-representation, silencing, and devaluing in public and intellectual discourse of everyday and important musical practices. 'Belly dancing', along with its associated arts and music, is one of the most fully and problematically neglected topics of discussion, not only in Turkey, but in the entire region. Fully neglected, because, it hardly needs saying, the art is considered degenerate, 'popular' in the most polluting sense, and a form of light sexual entertainment only a step away from prostitution and pornography, of no conceivable value. Problematic, because this attitude coincides, with no apparent sense of contradiction, with an equally prevalent idea in Turkey: that there is something about this art that touches, with peculiar and particular directness, core social identities; that it involves extraordinarily high levels of skill, expertise, and technical knowledge; and that it constitutes a musical substratum that underlies, informs and provides a vocabulary of affect for all others (perhaps a little like blues in American culture in this regard). The neglect and the 'problematic' go hand in hand, of course: truly significant things have a habit of being obscured from view by the dominant forms and processes of representation. Potuoğlu-Cook's challenging and visually thought-provoking article on Turkish belly-dancing reminds us that with web-journal multimedia publishing we may now, at last, be able to take the next step forward in integrating dance and music study. But also that new directions in Turkish music study will benefit greatly from a critical and systematic consideration of everyday popular culture, which has long been neglected.


Finally, the record review section offers a brief tribute to Kalan and its director Hasan Saltık. Kalan's tireless work over the last decade in unearthing forgotten (and in many cases repressed) areas of the Turkish classical, folk and popular repertory has been the most extraordinary boon to those of us who love Turkish music and spend our lives studying it, playing it, and thinking about it. The special issue concludes with a review of two relatively recent recordings that seemed appropriate to the general theme, but that will also, we hope, serve the general purpose of directing readers to Kalan's catalogue (see www.kalan.com/english/scripts for the English-language web-page).  



Martin Stokes
The University of Chicago

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