Voyage 7. THE… “SUN LANGUAGE”
“HITTITES, SUMERIANS, EGYPTIANS, Romans, Indians and Chinese, they all owe their existence to the Turkic race: their cultures and languages have been created by the Turks; Arabs and Jews are of Turkic origin: the prophet Muhammad was also a Turk; and all the languages of the world are derived from Turkish, the mother of all languages: the Kurdish language is non-existent; it is just a corrupt dialect of Turkish; the Kurds are nothing but Turkish highlanders”…
Psychotic megalomania? Absolutely; but also a… university thesis – and even more: an official state policy! This aphorism might be the starting point of a synopsis about the official Turkish ideology on the national question. Almost everyone in the Eurasian zone – except perhaps the Hellenes, Persians and… barbarians – owe almost everything to the Turks: their very existence, their language and culture, let alone their music!
“What about the Hellenes?”, some “Romioí” anxiously insist on asking, as they refuse to accept that they have either… never existed, or – most likely – are included among the “Romans” of the above mentioned citation quoted from the gold-bound kitabs of the sages.
“The question on the origin of the Yunanlılar [Ionians] has been clear since the time of Homer”, is the smug reply. “The great rhapsode was also a Turk called Omer. Besides, the Europeans have preserved his name almost intact: Homer”!
Well, I’m not referring to freaks of a sick mind. It is perhaps hard to believe but these ideas have been championed by academics! The “Great Idea” (Megale Idea) has died out in Greece(?) but in Turkey it’s alive and well and (wants to be) the master of the world…
The Kurdish languages belong to the Iranian and Indo-Iranian branches of the Indo-European family. So, they are related to the Persian (Farsi), Indian Sanskrit, Hellenic and most European languages. Even… worse (for the Turkish “linguists”), all the ancient languages in the Anatolian area, still spoken or extinct, such as the Hittite, have also been Indo-European.
Against this panspermia of ancient native Indo-European Anatolian languages and dialects,(a) the Turkic languages (Turkish is just one of them) are relatively newcomers in Asia Minor, and belong to the Altaic family, together with the Mongolic tongues. Some linguists group the Altaic and Uralic (or Finno-Ugric) languages together (in the Ural-Altaic family). No such hypothesis connecting the Altaic and Indo-European languages has been put forward. It doesn’t matter much to Ankara’s “scientists”. Therefore, they teach linguistics this way… à la turca:
Subject: The Sun Language Theory
“As is well known, the word soleil means sun in French. In the Turkic dialect of Yakut [or Sakha] we can find the corresponding word silai. As the ‘s’ of the Yakut dialect becomes ‘g’ in the other Turkic dialects,(b) it is self-evident [!] that the word comes from a Turkic root meaning light. Nevertheless, the Turks prefer the more common Turkish word günes. But the proof of the Turkic origin of the word soleil has been a revelation of a great linguistic and scientific truth, from which most important conclusions are derived”…
Signed (unashamedly): İ.N. Dilmen, professor.
Since I don’t like to be branded as a “nationalist”, I invoke a Turkish scientist in the true sense of the word, the sociologist İsmail Beşikçi,(c) a man who’s spent most of his life in Turkish prisons not because he has committed any crime, but because he’s had the courage to publicize his documented views. Beşikçi has been persecuted / prosecuted because he initially criticized (and polemicized later on) the Turkish ruling ideology as it was set forth in such “scientific” theses – and even more because he has studied in depth a taboo subject: the Kurdish question.(d)
The citations quoted above (except that reference to Homer) are from Beşikçi’s book, Historical Thesis on Turkey / The Sun Language Theory and the Kurdish Question, which cost him three years in prison because he was “reckless” enough not to deny the existence of a nation… The first thing he took into account was the nature of the positions adopted in 1930 by Turkish “scientists” under the guidance of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)! Based on official documents, speeches and such “scientific” theses, Beşikçi analyzed the formulation and development of the ideology of Kemalism, exposing its unscientific, racist and chauvinistic nature. In one of his many apologies (speeches in defense of himself), he attacked the official “Justice” of the Kemalist regime:
“As a repressive state mechanism, this court threatens writers and intellectuals with imprisonment, favours police measures and secret trials, condemns scientific thought, prefers the secret services reports against truth and sociological findings, imposes verdicts without – at least – taking into account the defense of the accused and, using loopholes, accepts colonial oppression and tyranny, denying the reality of the existence of the Kurdish nation, which is an objective fact above the will of people and institutions.
“This court essentially acts as an administrative and political body with a seemingly ‘independent function’ and ‘independent judgment’. It functions like the gendarmerie, police, national security service and other similar services, attempting to impose the hegemony of the official ideology through its verdicts. Rejecting an objective truth, your court is lying, considering the conclusions drawn by our systematic societal research, the reliable knowledge, and the rights we advocate, as incriminating evidence.
“This court acts like the gendarmerie, police, national security
and other services, attempting to impose the hegemony
of the official ideology through its verdicts.” (İsmail Beşikçi)
“In its verdicts regarding my books, your court states that ‘the sacred memory of Atatürk is stained’. What does that mean? It means that the Kurdish masses – men, women and children – will be continuously sent to exile, to the gallows, will be slaughtered, that laws and decrees will be shamelessly adopted on this logic – but anyone who criticizes such phenomena will be tried on the grounds of ‘libeling the sacred memory of Atatürk’. How can one consider genocide, exiles, the complete assimilation enforced in Kurdistan by the Kemalist regime as ‘sacred memory’? The division and partition of Kurdistan, the implementation of the tactics ‘divide and rule’ against the Kurdish nation, may be ‘sacred memory’ only for the imperialists and colonialists.
“The Turkish universities, on the other hand, as slaves of the official ideology, reject in principio scientific thought obscuring and denying the reality of the Kurdish nation. They consider the official ideology, which is based on fraud and indifference towards objectivity, as the only irresistible and definite reality. So they present this official ideology as scientific and legal. It is at this point that the ‘independent’ court and ‘independent’ judgment intervene, trying under threat of punishment to prevent any criticism of the university professors who, through political charlatanism, demand material and social privileges”…
This trial took place in 1979, just one year before the so-called democracy was overthrown in a coup of the army, the mighty pillar supporting at that time the regime. More trials and convictions preceded and followed for Beşikçi. Even if he could live two or three lives, he would not have time enough to serve the 200 plus years in prison imposed on him in total. Released in 1999, he was sent back to court in 2010 – that is, even after the collapse of Kemalism – for “propaganda” because of an article entitled The Rights of Nations to self-determination and the Kurds, which cost him 15 extra months in jail.
In January 1981, he sent a Letter to UNESCO from his prison, stigmatizing the decision of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of the United Nations to declare that year as The Atatürk Year.(e) A new conviction followed. Undeterred he continued sending letters from the dungeons to international organizations that, of course, ended up in the hands of Turkish judges who imposed new sentences. A letter to the Journalist Union of Switzerland e.g. cost him 10 years!
But even in his trials (where we lose count, indeed) with his apologies (several of these speeches have been put together in his book, Defense), he persevered with remarkable courage and selflessness so as to defend the rights of the Kurdish people relying only on the public’s sense of justice – a sense that has ceased to govern even the actions of the “competent” international organizations.
We imagine spontaneously that we have before us İsmail B, personifying Josef K, Kafka’s main character in The Trial. But our association is rather incongruous: Beşikçi has not been a surreal figure of absurdist fiction but an indomitable hero of free thought and scientific knowledge, a symbol of our time – exactly because people like him are so rare today. However, he had the misfortune to be born in Turkey. Therefore, he will never be awarded a Nobel Prize!(f)
Certainly, it’s not me to blame for politicizing the issue of linguistics à la turca, as it is an issue profoundly political. Lay, if you will, the blame on Alain Gheerbrant who “cast the first stone” by paralleling Atatürk to Âşık Veysel (see Voyage 6). No doubt, the French researcher is not an isolated case: it constitutes the rule (that is why we take note of him); which means there are even worse cases. One thing, you see, is to credit “exclusively” the Turks with the music of Anatolia; another thing is to do the same with the music of Constantinople; especially if we bear in mind that the Ottomans described this music as Arabo-Persian; only after the Republic was established, it was called Turkish, or even Ottoman.
● There are cases of “friendly fire” on this issue, which is, nevertheless, anything but crucial. It’s just a matter of orderliness and correct terminology. See e.g. the starting point of the reflections of Stéphane Yerasimos, the Greek-born director of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies, in the booklet of an album with old “Ottoman” music featuring, among others, compositions by Dimitrie Cantemir who was anything but Ottoman:(g)
“This project of performing Ottoman music on original instruments”, Yerasimos wrote in the booklet, “arose from a simple question: why not apply the method that has been already successfully followed in Europe for several decades, and try to re-discover the spirit and the performing style of the Ottoman music of the great period – the 17th and 18th centuries?”
● The Empire that substituted the once powerful Byzantine Empire after its downfall was Ottoman, indeed, as it was controlled by this tribe. But is this sufficient reason to classify also the music of post-Byzantine Constantinople under the same heading? My objection is due to the explicitly ethnic import of the term Ottoman as it means Turkish. On the contrary, the term Byzantine is supranational, referring in general to “the eastern part of the Late Roman Empire that, after the fall of Rome, continued as its successor until 1453”. It is well known that in both these empires, the Byzantine and Ottoman, culture was a collective work of all ethnicities living within their boundaries. Ethnic identities can be found only in those cultures that have been cultivated by peoples distinguished for the originality of their contributions to human civilization. If e.g. there has been no Phoenician civilization, given that the Phoenicians were heavily influenced by the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Hellenes, likewise there has been no Ottoman civilization either. Let alone that compared to the Ottomans, the role the Phoenicians have played, especially in the spread of the alphabet, has been far more important.
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WAS THE APPROACH adopted by Gheerbrant’s namesake and compatriot, Alain Daniélou, as an adviser to UNESCO’s International Music Council, which led to several outstanding recordings of world music such as Unesco Collection: A Musical Anthology of the Orient; Musical Atlas; Musical Sources; and Anthology of Indian Classical Music / A Tribute to Alain Daniélou. As a producer of the Cairo recordings, Taqâsîm and Layâlî, on instrumental and vocal modal improvisations, he made a thought-provoking synopsis that begins as follows:
“The melodic system peculiar to the Arabic-speaking peoples of the countries bordering on the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean is the result of a long evolution. It derives from the adaptation by the Arab conquerors of the ancient Greek, Persian, and Egyptian systems, which gradually developed into a unified and highly original art.
“‘Until the 13th century the theorists refer to Greek theories, but subsequently there arose a distinctly independent theory and an art, cultivated at the court of the Caliphs, which became increasingly refined and elaborate. Until the end of the 19th century, this art continued to develop under the influence of fresh Persian and Byzantine elements, which had become more prominent owing to the Turkish domination’ (d’Erlanger).”
“The melodic system of the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Mediterranean
derives from the adaptation of the ancient Greek, Persian, and Egyptian
systems”… “Until the end of the 19th century, this art developed under
the influence of fresh Persian and Byzantine elements.”
(Alain Daniélou, Rodolphe d’Erlanger)
The conclusions we can draw are quite astonishing, indeed: until the eve of their Empire’s downfall, the Ottomans – at least in the domain of music – were still under the influence of the empire they had abolished before half a millennium! It was natural that the Arabic-speaking peoples, then vassals of the Ottomans in the region, were equally influenced. In this way, the Byzantine echoe echoed and resonated throughout the Mediterranean: Christians were influenced through Byzantine ecclesiastical chant at least until the 11th century when, due to the Schism, Gregorian chant became obligatory for the Catholics; the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were equally influenced – not by ecclesiastical chant, of course, but by the erstwhile secular Byzantine music.
Persian influences may be considered natural, because the Iranians had already achieved their self-determination having their own independent state. But what can anybody say about Byzantine music, especially secular, which – supposedly – ceased to exist as soon as the state that gave birth to it was erased from the map? How could it possibly influence the Mediterranean on the eve of the 20th century and even impregnate it with “fresh” musical elements?
Trying to resume what Alain Daniélou and Rodolphe d’Erlanger have said, and the thoughts they have provoked, we can imagine a historical model as follows: the Arabs (those coming from the Arabian Peninsula), were cultivated adopting the ancient Hellenic, Persian, and Egyptian cultures. They knew, therefore, very well that their empire would not last long if they were not able to assimilate the civilized Mediterranean peoples they had conquered.
The Arabs knew their empire would not last long if they did not
assimilate the ancient peoples they had conquered. This could
only happen through religion (Islam) and language (Arabic),
breaking the ties of these peoples with their glorious past.
All they needed was a combination of incentives and coercion…
Under the circumstances, this could only happen through religion, first of all, and secondarily, language. It was absolutely necessary for the Arabs to break the ties of these ancient peoples with their glorious past making them convert to Islam and – even better – adopt Arabic. That’s how they could exert undisputed control on their vast empire. All they needed was a combination of incentives and coercion. It was a rather moderate tactic compared with the one used for the Christianization of the Hellenes that was an outright violent campaign, a long, widespread genocide: see Chronicle 7*. “We Don’t Need No Thought Control!”).
When the Ottomans took over the Caliphate, they also adopted Arabic culture that had sprung out like an amalgam from these ancient civilizations. Note that this synthesis started bearing fruit only in the 13th century, after Constantinople fell for the first time to the Crusaders and Venetians in 1204. No similar cultural renaissance took place during the Ottoman period. That’s why there were still “fresh Persian and Byzantine influences” onto the Court music and art until the last days of the Ottoman Empire. What exactly was the Ottoman contribution? It was not so much musical but mainly political – through this wide, unified area – allowing these influences to have a great impact on every corner of the empire.
ACCORDING TO THE TUNISIAN PROFESSOR Salah el Mahdi, who spoke at the International musicological symposium at Delphi on Rhythms, Modes and Scales of Mediterranean Music in 1988,(h) the Near East was influenced by the so-called Turco-Byzantine music:
“Arabic culture is an integral and significant part of Mediterranean culture”, he said. “The modes of Arabic music are classified into four major schools:
“a) The Maghreb School; it is represented by the Arabo-Andalusian musical heritage introduced into this area by the Arabo-Andalusian refugees in the 14th and 15th centuries. This music survives today across North Africa, along with the old music of the Libyan people of this region.(i)
“b) The Near East School; it is represented by the musical heritage of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and, of course, Egypt. In part, this school has influenced Libya and Tunisia, which thus participate in two schools, as they are found in between. The Near East School has been influenced by the old Turco-Byzantine music, extending to the Balkans and Caucasus.
“c) The Arabo-Persian School; it is represented by the Abbasid musical heritage that was created in their great capital, Baghdad. It’s been the musical act in Iraq, Iran and all the [former] Soviet Republics of Central Asia as far as China.
“d) The Arabian Peninsula School; it includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, all the Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman, and has had a twofold influence: from India and Africa.”
Now that we are sufficiently informed, and also have the necessary standard of comparison, we may have some fun enjoying Bernard Mauguin’s sophistries:
“Born in the shadow of Islam, Turkish classical music has been confused early in its history with art music of Persia and the Arab peoples. This common origin has been the cause of a persistent misunderstanding and, in general, little distinction is made between these various musical forms, which are usually grouped together under the vague heading of ‘Oriental music’…
“However, just as a knowledgeable listener can easily distinguish a work of Bach from a work of Berlioz, he could never confuse the playing of a Turkish musician with that of an Arab or an Iranian musician. Classical Turkish music has its own distinct personality”…
Mind you! We are talking about such colossal differences: those between Bach and Berlioz! Who would have the guts to disagree? But these were differences of eras, between two composers (one baroque, the other romantic) who created in the same tradition of Occidental “classical” music during the so-called common practice period (baroque, classical, romantic). Racial differences (i.e. German vs. French) were rather insignificant. The same applies to the distinction among Turkish, Arab and Iranian musicians: their main difference, especially before the creation of national states, was also a difference of eras. If Mauguin compared Bach not with Berlioz but with Brahms, he would have noticed that they too are “easily distinguishable”. However, such a comparison between two composers of common origin (both Bach and Brahms were Germans) would have deprived him of any pretext for his chicaneries…
Bach vs. Berlioz: not German vs. French music but
baroque vs. romanticism (plus genius vs. average…)
No doubt that if instead of Western theorists we had their Oriental colleagues, things might have been even worse, since everyone would have “trumpeted one’s own merchandise”. Mahdi in Delphi e.g. spoke of Turco-Byzantine music because he was not a Turk; that’s why he gave no due emphasis to the role of Persian music theorists, something that the Iranian Hormoz Farhat did; but he in turn “forgot” the contribution of Byzantine musicians, which Simon Karas put forward at the forefront – and so on…
What the Orient needs is an era of Renaissance and Enlightenment – something that the Occident intentionally obstructs for its own interests. These interests, I’m afraid, have been served, consciously or not, by those Western theoreticians who can’t see the forest for the trees (or, if you like, focus on the finger and can’t see it’s pointing to the moon), focusing on the secondary – the local differences in music – and minimizing the primary – its common features. The classic recipe: Divide et impera!