Today's Zaman 27.06.2008

Songs Of Fraternity

Nicole Pope

It is not always easy to reconcile the different facets countries present to the world. Take the United States, where a strong legal system protects individual freedoms at home yet hard-line politicians wage war and promote illegal detentions abroad.

Turkey, too, often reveals aspects that appear contradictory, but despite the setbacks experienced during periods of political turmoil, the promise of change and better days is always lurking under the surface.

A World Public Opinion poll released to mark the International Day for Victims of Torture revealed one of the country's darker sides, suggesting that only 36 percent of Turks unequivocally condemn torture. This is a strikingly low figure for a country where, according to the Human Rights Association (İHD), 1 million people have experienced torture since 1980. In France, Spain and the UK, more than 80 percent of people are against torture in all circumstances. Among the 19 countries surveyed, only 9 percent expressed broad acceptance of torture in general while 26 percent condoned it if innocent lives were at stake. Particularly disturbing in Turkey's case was the spectacular rise from 24 percent supporting torture in 2006 to 51 percent this year, seemingly fueled by strong reactions to Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) attacks.

In sharp contrast, there are moments when the other Turkey, the one that is proud of its multi-cultural heritage, tolerant, open-minded and does not just see "the other" as a threat, shines through with absolute clarity. We then get a tantalizing glimpse of the richness the country has to offer when it overcomes its fears and approach differences from a different angle. The concert organized on Tuesday by Kardeş Türküler to mark the band's 15th anniversary was one of these magical moments -- a midsummer night's dream on a politically cloudless night. The setting, by the Bosporus, undoubtedly contributed to the atmosphere but it was the music performed by the band, whose name translates as Songs of Fraternity, and several famous guest artists such as Aynur, Birol Topaloğlu and Neşet Ertaş, that kept the audience enthralled long past midnight. Beautifully choreographed folk dances completed a well-balanced performance.

Kardeş Türküler initially came together in 1993 for a concert organized by the Boğazici University Folklore Club with the aim of exploring Anatolia's rich musical heritage. Fifteen years later, the group is still going strong. Over the years they have expanded their range and borrowed songs from Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Laz, Roma and Georgian cultures and put their own musical mark on them. From the start, the group stood in favor of peace, gender equality and tolerance. Throughout the ####, poems and a video #### underlined the group's support for dialogue, civilian rule and multiculturalism. It is perhaps a symbol of Turkey's current travails that a message as universal and simple as the promotion of fraternity and diversity should have such resonance and be perceived as intensely political. In the current circumstances, hearing a crowd of 6,000 applauding with equal enthusiasm a türkü performed in Armenian by Leman Sam, dedicated to murdered newspaper editor Hrant Dink, a Kurdish song by Aynur or a gypsy tune belted out by the colorful Esma Redzepova from Macedonia was particularly heart warming. People got up and frantically danced the halay in the aisles. The performers and the spectators displayed a side of Turkey that is not reflected much in the media headlines these days, but which offers real hope for the future.