A musician from Turkey’s Laz minority group said the country’s public television refused to allow him to perform his songs, claiming that new laws adopting democratic European standards exclude the Laz language.
The Laz musician, Birol Topaloglu, said he had been invited to participate in a musical special on March 18 in Ankara on the national television station TRT-INT. He has been involved since 1997 in trying to preserve the culture of the Laz community of about 250,000 people in northeast Turkey.
“But when I arrived at the studio with my pipes and violin, I was told that my songs would not be part of the program,” Topaloglu said.
The artist protested the decision, pointing out that his compositions in the Laz language had already been broadcast on two occasions in the past on the public channel.
Topaloglu said the television network refused him access because of reforms required by the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join in the future.
The reforms authorize the broadcasting of programs in five minority languages — the two Kurdish dialects of zaza and kurmanci, Arabic, Bosnian and Circassian — but no mention of Laz, he said.
TRT television declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
The Turkish Parliament approved the broadcasting of programs in minority languages in 2002, which was seen as a symbolic gesture toward the EU which has been engaged in opening negotiations about Turkey’s possible accession to the bloc.
TRT began in June 2004 to broadcast daily programs in five languages entitled “Our cultural richness.”
The Laz, who live near Turkey’s border with Georgia at the eastern end of the Black Sea, are a Caucasian people who are said to be the descendants of the ancient kingdom of Colchis, immortalized in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. They are today mostly Muslim, although some pockets of Christian Laz survive as well. Their rich musical tradition is closely akin to that of the Pontic Greeks, their neighbors. (ScimitarMusic.com) However, their language, Lazuri, is akin to neither Greek nor Turkish, but is a part of the small Kartvelian (or South Caucasian) language group, which also includes Georgian, Svan and Mingrelian. (Ethnologue; Silvia Kutscher, University of Cologne)
For more on cultural repression of minority groups in eastern Turkey, see our recent blog post on the Ezidis. What is going on in this country, where it seems a growing climate of intolerance and cultural nationalism coincides with a turn towards (ostensible) official policies of tolerance and pluralism aimed at gaining EU entry? Is there some paradoxical unity at play in this apparent contradiction?
For more unsettling news from Turkey, see our recent blog post from a correspondent in Istanbul.