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Armenian Question is more difficult than Kurdish Question


Standpoint of Turkey


Armenian Question is more difficult than Kurdish Question

Interview with Vedat Yildirim


 Vedat Yildirim

One of the establishers of Kardes Türküler music group

We were talking with Vedat Yıldırım, one of the establishers and the soloist of Kardes Türküler which gives out a sound to songs in all languages of Turkey since 90’s when it was a taboo to express yourself with different identities. He talks about taboos of Turkey, whom start to live as defeated, the adventure of being the first music group which sings in Armenian without being Armenian, his friendship with Hrant Dink and the point where we are now after 6 years from the day he’s gone. Yıldırım, who intitles KardesTürküler as a “Rehabilitation Project”, believes that discriminatory language which is dominated in Turkey, could be broken with the solidarity of suffered segments of the society.

There is a sentence that you said in several places:  “There are some people in Turkey who start their lives as going down in defeat. Songs of Kardes Türküler give confidence and trust to those suffered segments of society”. Could we regard those who were born in the center of taboo questions of Turkey as “those who start their lives as going down in defeat”?

In our last album, there is a song called “1-0”. Its composer is Arto Tunçboyacıyan. I wrote the lyrics. It is about a peddler boy and his effort to clutch on the life in the big city. With the big migration wave, lots of people found themselves in the center of the city. It is life which they do not get accustomed to. This defeat with the score of “ 1-0”, sometimes could be “3-0”, it could increase. For example, for a Kurdish person, the identity problem is a field of challange. On one side, there are so many economical-financial problems. If you are an Armenian, this score could be 2-0, because at that point, religious discrimination and genocide question come into play.   Armenian question is more difficult than the Kurdish one. For example, some conservative expressions such as “We are from the same religious community” “We love due to the the Creator” could be used in order to convince people about the Kurdish problem.

As per this expression, there is no pretence to love Armenians…

This expression fan the flames of Turkish-Islamic synthesis approach.  Thus, those “zeros” could increase. For example for Gypsies or Alewi people. Once upon a time, the situation of women with turban was similar in universities. Those discrimination issues are always problems in Turkey.

When did you start to explore those problems? 

Obviously, I did not know those when we started Kardes Türküler Project in the university. Official history – that I call violated history-, some expressions and red lines created by the state prevent society from knowing something. Kardes Türküler is a Project which tries to reveal the visibility of different languages and cultures in terms of music. Unavoidably, we started to research those societies, communities and who are their members in Turkey. Since Boğaziçi is a University that was diverted from Robert College, it is some more comfortable.  There were Armenian records in our library, may be there is no other records in any other universities. We found in the library when we said and thought “How could we Access to those musics?” then our relationships with Armenian community increased. One day, when we were working in the university, one of our friend passing through there stopped and said “this is our language,do  you make music in Armenian?”

You did not know Armenian language, did you? How did you sing?

At first, we imitated. On the other hand, there are some pursuit to “Find Anyone”. That Armenian friend helped us then Armenians here supported us, either Agos Newspaper, pr Aras Publishing helped us so much. We have som any good friends of us there. There is a Mekhitarian Association where we gave a concert. There are also Armenians from Istanbul there and other Armenians who migrate from other cities such as Diyarbakır, they also know speaking Kurdish.

Did you meet Hrant Dink at that period?

We met each othe in Mıhitaryan concert. I guess it was 1995. Rakel song a flok song in Kurdish and Armenian there. We sang songs in Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Circassian and Azerbaijanese in that concert.At that time, there was Armenia – Aerbaijan war. It was a protestation, an opposition to the effort of pitting nationalities against others. We thought if a song in Azrbaijanese shall pose a problem, but they knew the song we sang. Those are difficult questions. Now it is more difficult to sing a song in Azerbaijani in Armenia.

How reactions do you get in different places?

Kardes Türküler is such a Project… It is a rehabilitation Project. How rehabilitation is it? Once, we went to Samsun for a concert. Think about it, we sang Armenian folk songs in Samsun in early 90s. Left wingers who called us, thus we did not get any negative reactions from them but there were police officers in the concert hall. We sang in Kurdish and they asked "what is happening?". Then we sang Middle East songs, belly dance musics, then we saw that those police officers started to dance. We try to make a fair musical presentation. We try to give all’musical colours in Turkey without any discrimination, Thus they could not say anything. War questions are something different. The person whose child died in a war, unavoidably prejudges. Supposing that a mother of father, who came to our concert in Armenia, lost their child in a war. HE or she will have a reaction unavoidably when you sing in Azerbaijanese. But, when she or he listens the whole concert, that reaction shall remove. Because they see, those people have different words to say...

I guess, our first album had not been released in Mekhitarian concert. How was your sharing with Hrant Dink at that period? Did he make suggestions to you? I guess you went to Ani together.

Hrant has a spell, it is a metaphysical case. Those people are like that, Che Guevera, Deniz Geçmis, Musa Anter are suchlike. Those are people who establish very well relationships between political life and daily life. Their language and style is modest, they serve their hearts. Our friendship was developped after that concert.  We startd to be together with Agos and its society. We went to Ani with the occasion of Caucasian Festival in Kars. Of course we had sharing of ideas. It was his will on us to go to Armenia. He said; “One day, we went there and Kardes Türküler shall be on the stage with Sayat Nova”. And he knew Anatolian Armenians. In our first repertories, Armenian songs were mostly from Armenian songs which were sung in Armenia or Istanbul. There were rarely Anatolian Armenian songs.

Kurdish language could find itself a place even if it was forbidde at those times. But, Armenian was sung by a group which is not Armenian, may be the first time. 

Probably it was. It could be Kardes Türküler which is the fist group that is not Armenian and sings in Armenian. It is the same for Syriac. When Kardes Türküler develops its repertory, it tries to represent those forms, musics that were marginalized rather than in an approach of “Let’s find a good song”  within a cultural scope. For example, doudouk (“duduk”) is very famous now in Turkey. I guess we are one of those firsts which use those tones.

And we asked ourselves : “They suffered so much, but are there only songs of sorrow, migration or massacre? Where are those songs of happy memories? We worked over  Armenian folk dance songs like Hayninari  and Es kisher hampartzum e.

We do not deal with those musics as only nostalgic elements, we try to update them beyond saying “Past was nice”. We say exactly “Those musics must go on”.

Do your albums cause such an awakening “How societies, communities, how musics lived here” in people who listen to your music? Do you get feedbacks such as “I did not know, I heard those firstly”?

Of course. We sang a Yezidi (Ezidi) psalm in the last album. They said “Wow, there is something like that”. Onnik Gulciyan, from Diyarbakır Armenians has a psalm called “Amen”, when we sing it,  they are always surprised, there is a religious music with tone there.

How do you see the today of Turkey when you think about those times when Kardes Türküler was released first? Where we at in the taboo questions?

We are at a very different point in Kurdish question. The gin is already out of the bottle. Everybody is aware of what is happening and that this question must be handled and solved in any way, because Kurdish people do not give up. They could not be convinced with little things such as TRT Ses.  There are three cases that we could think in the same context in Alevi, Kurdsh and Armenian questions: the murder of Hrant Dink, Madımak and Uludere. Actually, those three cases look alike each other so much.  They are symbol cases which injures the sense of the public. There is a very systematic case here. It is hard to say that those questions are tried to be solved from the basis. Supposing that the shadow government made those. Now, there is a new power, new rulership. We wish at least they deal with the security part of it. The resolution of this problem/question is about the breaking point of the approach / point of view belong to Turkish – Islamic synthesis. If there shall be a relief in Kurdish question, it shall effect other fields and relieve them. Thus, all societies and communities must be in solidarity. It is required to stand by whom is sufferer and we try to do this now.

You performed a concert in Armenia in 2008 by realizing the dream of Hrant Dink. Could you please mentioned how this happened?

It was the will of Hrantç We went with a very crowded team. I could say that we were 100 people in total with the chorus of Sayat Nova. It is nor an easy thing that such number of persons went to anywhere together. Some sponsors and supports were found. We performed in Opera Hall in Erivan. We went to city of Vanadzor, there was a real public concert there, it was so nice. Concerts were full, we made conversations, interviews and communicated with Armenian culture and art places, centers. We went to a Yezidi/Ezidi village, we made some records with dengbej (Kurdish-Armenian folk musicians) and we turned those records into some documentary films.

Is there any idea to go to Armenia again? There was not such an opportunity you caught again, was there?

No, there wasn’t. This is totally economical problem. The team is crowded. LAstly, we made an album with Arto Tunçboyacıyan, as you know. We have an idea to go together but it could not be realized because of economical and financial reasons. Armenia is not a wealthy country. Plane tickets are so expensive. The border is closed. You remember, we took a photo with Hrant in Ani. The opposing side is Armenia, there is Arpaçay in the middle of Armenia and Turkey. He said that “Erivan is 30-40 km far from here. An I will board on a plane and go to Istanbul from Kars, then I will go to Armenia.” This is such a case! Kars is a death city, despite the fact that it is very beatiful, it is death because the border is closed.

Now, I dream of you as performing a concert in the border or in Ani ruins….

Actually, there was a Project like that, you know? It could not be realized, we could not be performed. May be in 2015, it should be done..

May be it shall not be possible to perform at the border. But think about it, you are in the Turkish side of the border and another group from Armenia performs in the Armenian side… Because, in Ani, voices of villagers who work in the other side could be heard in Ani.

Of course it is heard. How nice it shall be. May be we could do such a symbolic thing. Of course this is due to so many things such as the condition of the country and Turkey-Armenia relationships. When we look at the current situation, after Presidents visited each other, Turkey deadlocked the subject to Karabağ. In fact, questions of Karabağ and Cyprus are similar. We have also such a problem. So what? If they shall link this subject to this obvious fact, this won’t get you anywhere.

We mentioned that you sing in Chechen, Azerbaijanese. Chechens or Caucasian groups are known as more nationalist. How were their reactions to your studies? Does it ensures them to be startled when they heard Armenian or Kurdish, since you sing also in their language too?

Of course. Sometimes, it throws you a curve. For example, Chechnia or Palestine Question becomes questions which are always possessed and adopted by conservative segment of Turkish society in Turkiye.  What happens, people must wonder it. There is a cruelty and suppression in Chechnia and they have identities, they have a culture. We went to a place where they live in order them to teach us a Chechen song. We met with them. They also said that “They always staring at us like that?”. We do not give up from questioning that justice, the question of “IS it really that?” or throwing away all prejudgements. Every community has a tragedy and those tragedies are common.

I guess Feryal Önet mentioned that there are ultranationalistic people who listen you and they say “Okey, we understand Kurdish but why do you sing in Armenian?”. 

Thus, Armenian question is much more difficult than Kurdish one. There, those “zeros” increase so much.

Your stage performances includes different themes. I guess you had a stage performance which referred to 6-7 September. Is there any idea to make similar projects?

Yes, we made it for the song called Tatavla. Tatavla is the old name of Kurtulus. We try to reflect what happened with an imaginative language, a performance of dance and music. We have a song called “yo-yo” regarding Palestinian question, we could say that a meeting of Gazze – Cizre. It the fact that children who throw Stones there, are called as “hero” but they are called “terrorist” here. We aimed to break this two-facedness.  We had a show of dance-music performance on that. And this year, we had a dance show with Çıplak Ayaklar Kumpanyası.

Recently, we see you on TV more than ever. Even I remember that I said “ We have never seen Kardes Türküler on TV so much until today.

Yes, sometimes we said “Is it armageddon?” (Laughing). It is a relief. An ambiance of peace is started to be generated. This have so many contribution. And the second factor is events and activities regarding our 20th anniversary.

Once upon a time, there is no television channal which shall broadcast the video clip of Kardes Türküler.

Yes. With Vizontele, this is started to be broken. But it always exists in Turkey. As we say “national” channel, yes actually they are really “national”. It is said that “If it shall broadcast a song in Kurdish, go and broadcadt that on TRT Ses.” To fear from common communal living spaces and to expect from everybody to live in their small communities.  There is an upper culture and there are “baby cultures” under it. It is like “we give you a television, what do you want more?”. Actually it is also discrimination. I live in İstanbul. They mention that there are nearly 9 million Kurdish people living in Istanbul. I could not protect my own culture by making communities.

How reactions did you take in programs to which you particated?

Generally, people were very happy for this meeting. People, who take the fact that communities/societies could live together as a goal for themselves, are always very happy.

Then you did not take so many negative reactions?

The web site of Kardes Türküler was hacked. When you are visible, such things could be happened.  It is the same as the case of Hrant Dink. Someone says “How dare you?”  Kardes Türküler is famous in a special area where people know them. But when you are broadcasted on TV, the number of your enemies increases. As I said before, this is a rehabilitation Project. I hope we shall broket hat discriminative langıage/approach all together. If God allows (Laughs) .

With the TV program you participated in CNN Türk; Turkey firstly entered into the new year with songs in Kurdish, Armenian and other languages. Even, at 00.00, I guess you sang Armenian. How did this new year program develop?

There are some pressures, okey, but actually, those red lines push us to make self-censor at one point.  They avoid. Whenas there are so many people who want multiculturalism. They applaused not only the music of Kardes Türküler, but also the Picture of “We are such a country”. And thus, they felt very happy. This Picture is given in the new year may be first time and people loved it. Then, after that program, invitations came from other channels.  Then you broke that self-censor. This is also about the “positive ambiance” of our country now. We could not know what it shall be tomorrow.

It is said that how we enters into the new year, it will pass like that. Will Turkey go on positively in those problems since it entered into the new year with those songs?

I feel hopeful. This won’t get us anywhere. That tears it! But the roads of the peace are Stone and rocks. Of course there shall be someone who wants to throw a spanner in the works but it is better to be hopeful.