Turkish Music, For How Long A Taboo?

Yeghishe Hajakian, Mahwah NJ, 25 December 2010

This issue has been a bone of contention for many years among Armenians whenever we remember and hum Turkish melodies and even dance to their tunes.

Having been present at an Armenian wedding recently, along with western and middle eastern songs, a few invitees sang and danced to one Turkish tune causing an atmosphere of  “what’s going on in here?”

Yeghishe Hajakian, Mahwah NJ, 25 December 2010

This issue has been a bone of contention for many years among Armenians whenever we remember and hum Turkish melodies and even dance to their tunes.

Having been present at an Armenian wedding recently, along with western and middle eastern songs, a few invitees sang and danced to one Turkish tune causing an atmosphere of  “what’s going on in here?”

As a consequence, we witnessed a heated debate whether playing, singing and dancing to a Turkish song was proper at this function where everybody present was Armenian; how dare pure blooded Armenians give so much credit to our enemy’s music when we still have unfinished business with them!!. Some guests exited the ballroom shaking their heads. Many were shocked and kept asking questions “How can this happen? Where do we draw the line?”

The band leader told us privately that although he could sing Turkish songs, yet on an occasion like this such an act would be tantamount to placing a loaded gun to his own head. He stuck to singing Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, American and mostly Armenian songs, as is the custom.

Every other nationality’s culture is welcome by us except the Turk’s. “Not even a piece of Turkish candy to my children” had declared an Armenian I knew once upon a time.

Now what was the causality of this phenomenon?

Only a few years subsequent to the Armenian genocide, many Armenian deportees found themselves scattered in the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. A good number of them spoke only Turkish, sang Turkish songs, danced Turkish dances and this culture was ingrained profoundly into the memories of the future generations.

Not only the charming village, the sacred land abounding in succulent fruit trees, the land of milk that did not need sugar when they drank it, the babbling brook behind their home, the path shaded with canopied trees, the narrow, winding lane leading to the pond, but also the music they sang and danced recalled the idyllic past. Even many of their weddings were blessed in Turkish songs!!!

This present generation of Armenians who are now in their sixties and seventies are genuinely enchanted with this music. This can be seen through their poetic movements and ecstatic expression on their faces as they ride away on the wings of “finjaneh dashtan oyallar anam”.

Their parents cried and danced with this music.

Can anybody try to usurp their Armenian identity from them? Let’s see if anyone can succeed….Even beyond the cemetery they will declare that they danced and sang “those Armenian songs” that their parents of blessed memory bequeathed to them as they were growing up….

Dear Yeghishe:

Hovsep Melkonian, Annandale, VA

You have tackled a difficult issue that makes a "jezz" in my heart. I grew up in an "Adanatzi" family and picked up enough Turkish to follow conversation. We did not have the luxury of owning a radio then, so I did not hear Turkish music until I started venturing into some areas of Bourj Hammoud. By then there was a full fledged "baikar" against everything that reminded us of Turkey (do you recall the wall posters plastered everywhere saying DO NOT SPEAK TURKISH , REMEMBER THE ONE MILLION?), although in many articles we published in "Yeridassart Hay" in the early 70s, we kept hammering the same point as to "we ought to know more about the enemy", study its history , culture etc. if we want to succeed in our case.

So, as far as being open to other cultures, the answer is emphatic yes. For many years we refused to learn Arabic in Lebanon, mostly because we thought there was an association between Arabic and Islam and therefore between Islam and our past in Turkey. It took several generations (and the imposition of the Lebanese baccalaureate) to force the new Armenian generation into learning Arabic for their own future. Somehow speaking Arabic was tantamount to betrayal of our values!

Believe this story or not !!! I met recently in Boston at the Armenian Church there a very old and distant relative of ours (she was the wife of the vice principal of Neshan Palandjian Djemaran) . She recognized me alright but after more than forty years of separation, she looked me up in the eyes and said: "when you lived in Beirut, in Watwat, we considered you lost to the Arabs (yes, living in an Arab neighborhood we spoke impeccable Arabic but always Armenian at home!). The poor lady did not understand how I could still speak Armenian since we were "odarasatz hayer". It was insulting and I felt slighted, but there was no reason for me to break the heart of an old "fanatically armenian" woman that she was wrong in our case as she was wrong in the case of many others she had excluded from her list of “good Armenians”.

Thus linking the notion of our being Armenian, good Armenian, faithful Armenian etc. to our knowledge of Armenian frankly does not wash with me . Recently I wrote a lengthy article in L.A.’s "Nor Gyank" under the title "ՍՓԻՒՌՔԸ ԱՊԱԳԱՅ ՈՒՆԻ՞" arguing that at the present rate the Armenian speaking segment of the diaspora will soon be outnumbered by those who do not speak it . What would we do then? Would we throw out all those who fail the "Armenianness" test on that score alone? What about creating new basis for our new generation to feel re-connected with their being Armenian through other tangible, pro-active programs and concepts with which they can identify and thus express themselves in?

The French say wisely: "Les gouts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas". Individuals are free to love whatever they want, taboo or no taboo, and we can not judge them for better or for worse. A recent survey of Israelis by Israeli pollsters showed that a large majority of them ( in fact 73%) did not want to buy any German made stuff and did not want to hear Wagner . An Israeli conductor faced the ire of the audience when he tried to explain that the link between Hitler and Wagner (and hence the rejection of the latter by the audience) was an artificial one and hence illogical. Did he win?
No ! But attitudes will change over there the same way they will change among us. Mixing oranges and apples has never been a good idea under any circumstances.

Just a final word. In the early 60s when I was attending the Mekhitarian Secondary School at Hazmieh in Lebanon, we had several Armenian-Americans who were boarding (kisherotik) students there. One of them was called Aram, the other Malcolm ( I do not recall their family names). They came to Beirut to study Armenian and had brought with them LPs of Armenian music made in America. When we heard these records, we, the “Beyrutsi” crowd, looked at each other askance and told Aram and Malcolm that the music was not Armenian but Turkish played by Armenians! Aram and Malcolm were horrified, hurt and angry at the same time. How could this be so? They had heard this music in Armenian homes, homes of Armenians born in the States!!!

It was only after we came to the States in 1981 that I understood and discovered what the story was. Armenians who had come to the States before 1915 had carried this music with them, and cherished them because it reminded them of home! So these songs remained in the repertory of these Armenian souls for generations, were picked up by others and remained in their families ever since, until those of us who came from Beirut and Aleppo bust open their bubble….

I love music, but my choice as to what I like to hear depends on the time and circumstances of the day, taboo or no taboo !!!

With warm regards,



  1. It is amazing that the Jews

    It is amazing that the Jews have gotten recognition, and reparations from the Germans, yet such a high percentage of them, especially in Israel, do not want to buy German products or even listen to the wonderful operas of Richard Wagner. Yet, Armenians have got neither recognition nor reparations from Turkey and we are debating whether or not listening to Turkish music is appropriate.

    I suppose to each his own on this point. However, it is probably for the best that the author did not bring up the issue of Armenians traveling to Turkey or buying Turkish goods at the store. Those, are not okay!

  2. Your choice of music would

    Your choice of music would mean nothing to me or us. I happen to love music too. But Turkish is not one of them neither will it ever be. Turks could create beautiful pieces of arts or music but it does not stop them being […..]and the […] of the earth.

    If I ever be in a party with Turkish music I would pull the electircal plugs on you so that you could dance on it with your headphones on.

    1915 NEVER DIED and it WILL NEVER DIE IN ME, taboo or no taboo!

  3. Turkish Music

    Although I am against playing Turkish music in public places, I should confess that when I hear their music in a private environemt I remember my early years in Turkey…

    Having said that, how many of you know that classical Turkish music was created not by Turks but mostly by Armenians and the rest by Jews and Greeks? Turks did not have much to do with creating music as they were busy elsewhere. Even the modern interpreters of Turkish music were Armenians….Has anybody heard of Udi Hirant, the ud virtuoso… If I hear Turkish music only, it does not bother me as much as when I hear the lyrics in Turkish…

  4. Armenian Contribution to Turkish Music

    Dear Keghart Readers,

    After my posting about Turkish music appeared on Keghart.com this week, I had emails and telephone calls from friends and acquaintances. They had one common theme which I found educational.

    Studying our links with the past without emotion and to know how these links affect us is an important self-discovery and a historian’s responsibility.

    I told a friend once that as an Armenian I do not have enemies: I have legitimate human rights issues and HYE TAHD (Armenian Cause). I will pursue them with all my energies and determination, keeping my ears and eyes open to developments around me.

    Readers interested in the contribution of Armenians to Turkish music should read an article that appeared this week in "Nouvelles d’Armenie" of France, titled "Le rôle des Arméniens dans la musique classique de l’Empire ottoman", deux livres témoignages sur l’apport des Arméniens au développement de la musique classique Turque. http://www.armenews.com/article.php3?id_article=66302 .

    "Happy New Year" to dear readers of Keghart.com.

  5. Music

    I have a problem. Can anybody tell me what is the diffrence of  "yes Hayem", I am armenian,  and  "ermaniam"?

    In my undersanding every region has its own singing and dancing, and does not matter in what language.

  6. Turkish Music – I find it inexplicable

    I find it inexplicable that the subject of listening to Turkish music is even mentioned in Armenian communities. There’s nothing to talk about, let alone listen to, as long as Turkey denies the butchering of 1.5 million, the deportation of 500,000, the forced Turkification of countless Armenians, in addition to occupying our lands and destroying our Cilician and Western Armenian culture, folk art, folk music, buildings, and stomping on our heritage. Who are these "sophisticated" or "universalist" Armenians who can blandly suggest that we separate the music from the people and their government? Other than a handful of righteous Turks, mainly in Istanbul and in Germany, no Turk out of the 75-million plus population has come forth and admitted the incredible crime of their government and, yes, their nation. And of those who have admitted to the slaughter of a whole nation, few–if any–have suggested reparations or the return of some of the Armenian lands.

    If these music aficionas hunger for chiftte telly, they can always listen to Greek music. Besides,there are 195 states and at least 5,000 nations in the world, plus countless types of music. It’s not as if these fans of Turkish music are on a desert island and their only choice is a Turkish LP.

    The parallel with Israel and German music, or particularly Wagner’s music, is false. Germany recognized the Holocaust soon after WWII. Since then, in addition to billions of dollars in reparations, Germany has provided financial, commercial, military, and diplomatic aid to Israel. The country was also instrumental in making the Israel nuclear bomb program possible. It remains Israel’s number-one ally after the U.S., and German heads of state regularly go to Yad Vashem in Israel to pay tribute to the Holocaust dead.

    I know it’s neither here nor there, but from what I’ve advertently heard, Turkish music is elemental, repetitive, and imitative. In other words, snoozathon. Armenian composers who wrote Turkish songs were merely pandering to Turkish public taste. Since they composed in the Turkish idiom, their contribution to Armenian culture is probably nil. I understand they had to make a living under difficult circumstances.

    I am surprised that Keghart.com has found it fitting to run the article about the desperate state of Armenian fans of Turkish music. Pass the Kleenex, please.


  7. Black and White

    Oh my…. again the subject of Turkish music. This is an issue where there is no compromise whatsoever. Debate is futile and yet here I am posting. Will I never learn?  I am convinced Sisyphus was at least half-Armenian.

    Here is my opinion:

    [1]  Of this particular music issue:

    [2]  My "tsantsrutiun" with others telling me what I should or should not do or like as in this posting of mine:

    OK…his posting may not directly apply; it is in the same vein. The “you” I refer to in these comments on Turkish music is the same generic preachy holier-than-thou you in this blog posting.

    You cannot have an azad angakh Haiastan without the both the AZAD and ANGAKH parts…period. Even if the Haiastan we have doesn’t measure up entirely, we in the Diaspora, should uphold and adhere to these very noble values. Otherwise, we are truly no better than the Turks.  

    Go to an Armenian church in Istanbul and hear them speak Turkish in the church and even from the altar at times as easily as we speak English in our churches in the US or Spanish in our churches in South America. Does that make the church less Armenian or the parishioners less Armenian or less Armenian Christian? Are we going to deny Hamshen Armenians from moving to Armenia at some future date because they are Moslem? I suppose there are those that would do exactly that.

    The Armenian Weekly can have Turks and Kurds writing columns for them and yet I am not allowed to listen to or perform their (our) music?

    Why do I say our music? Simply, we had some influence many aspects of what many think is their culture. I refuse to sweep part of our heritage under their carpet. The world thinks Kutahya pottery is part of Turkish culture exclusively… it is not. They cannot have all the credit for it.

    And don’t say I am not patriotic or not a good Armenian just because I can separate politics from culture and you can’t. I am really OK if you have built a wall around you and defined explicitly what is and isn’t Armenian. I am OK with your wall. I am not OK with your threats to beat me over the head with the tools you used to build that wall.

    I will honour you and not perform or listen to this “Turkish” music within earshot of you or in most Armenian venues. Why not? I respect your taste and sensitivities. I respect your views and am not hear to overtly irritate you. It is not, unfortunately, a two-way street.

    I will end with quoting another commenter: “1915 NEVER DIED and it WILL NEVER DIE IN ME.” I think of it everyday. I listen and perform music that links me to that time and to my grandparents. I want justice, recognition, and reparations. But, I am also a free and independent person. Stop telling me what I can and cannot like culturally.  

    I will go now and listen to Kemani Tatyos Efendi’s Suzinak Saz Semai–a favorite of my grandfather, father, and mine. Hey, I do believe that Tatyos was, in fact, an Armenian



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