chapter  10
20 Pages

Music and reconciliation in Turkey

ByOZAN E. AKSOY

In this chapter, I seek to demonstrate that, despite the ongoing violent conflict in Turkey during the 1990s and the 2000s, there has been noteworthy progress in the musical scene in terms of linguistic, religious, and ethnic plurality in the cultural expressions of musicians. In particular, I argue in this chapter that there has been a markedly positive shift in the context of performing songs that narrate the political and cultural aspirations of the Kurds. The 1990s witnessed the transformation of expressive forms of music, from being banned or holding a restricted status, to at least a linguistic pluralism in musical and artistic forms for numerous minorities, particularly for the Kurds. This transformation has opened a more accessible space for defining and representing the Kurdish identity and for transcending the official representation of it in Turkey. The Kurdish conflict transformed into a national issue in Turkey during the past 30 years and created major difficulties for the articulation of Kurdish identity demands. Whenever Kurds have been mentioned in the public sphere by the Turkish media, government officials, and others, it has been in the context of the conflict and intimately connected to discourses of political violence, separatism, or terrorism. Contextualised within a historical account that traces the emergence of

Kurdish and other non-Turkish music produced and disseminated in Turkey, the late 1990s show encouraging productions and collaborations among musicians from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Such close collaborations have invariably contributed to reconciliation by lessening the effects of deepening polarisation between the Kurds and Turks, which has become more and more visible during the 1990s as a result of the escalation of the conflict. In particular, the efforts of the band Kardes¸ Türküler (Ballads of Solidarity) – established by students in Istanbul’s Bog˘aziçi University in 1993, on the principle of living together in solidarity and taking a firm stand against polarization and conflict – stand at the centre of the solidarity and reconciliation activities of musicians in Turkey. Those efforts, I argue in this chapter, have throughout the 2000s con-

tributed to the emergence of an alternative polycultural dissension against

the discourse of war and exclusion, promoting instead the development of a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question (Kürt Sorunu) in Turkey. In particular, music has been an important medium to articulate political and social demands; and music produced by Turkish and Kurdish musicians in Turkey has reflected, and in certain cases helped to accelerate, the process of change in the perception and recognition of the rights of the Kurds. Music reveals a deeper yearning for a more peaceful era by echoing more loudly the claims for peace, unity, and reconciliation. Although the efforts of many peace-seeking musicians and artists have helped to open an alternative and peaceful discursive environment, and have contributed to a greater public understanding of Turkey’s ethno-cultural diversity, there is still a long way to the resolution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.