Vahe Sarukhanyan

Istanbul Diary: Kardes Turkuler Uses Music to Keep Cultures Alive

A CD has just been released entitled "The Child Has Rights". It's a collaborative effort by the group Kardes Turkuler (Songs of Fraternity) and Arto Tuncboyaciyan.

To promote the new CD, Kardes Turkuler and Arto will be giving a series of concerts in various Turkish cities from April 23 to May 16.

During my conversation with Saro Oustan, a Turkish-Armenian who is the producer of the group and also is its accordion player, he said it will be the band's first CD even though they have 4 albums under their belt.

Kardes Turkuler has been around for more than 15 years. It started out at the Folklore Club of the Bogazici University in Istanbul. They were people from all different cultural backgrounds who studied and performed music at the same time.

"There are different religions, nationalities and cultures in Turkey. We got the idea that it was necessary to keep these cultures alive without animosity," says Saro.

Currently, there are Turks, Armenia Kurds, Azeri Macedonians and others in the group. Saro told me that once a year they stage a big concert in Istanbul and invite other groups as well. There can be 60-70 musicians on the stage at once.

In 2008, Kardes Turkuler performed in Yerevan along with the Say at-Nova Choir from Istanbul. The symbolic name for the concert was "Open the Doors".

"Armenia is kind of special for the Turks since the two peoples are neighbors. But the doors are closed. As its musical base, the group has selected cultural fraternity," Saro explains, adding that they are ready to return to Armenia on a moment's notice but that there are no plans to do so right now.

The group has been collaborating with Arto Tuncboyaciyan for the past five years or so, But Saro has known Arto for much longer. They first performed together in Istanbul in 2007, on the 40th day after the murder of Hrant Dink.

The new DVD has 16 songs sung in a number of languages – Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Chechen, Zaz, and Armenian. Saro jokes and tells me that there's also a song in what he calls "Arto's language".

He also points out that while such a collection is culturally rich, the language problem always confronts the group. No one in the Kardes Turkuler speaks all the languages they sing in.

To prepare for a Kurdish song, the group member who knows the language goes over the words; their pronunciation and meaning.

The DVD is now in the stores. Saro says that the group has a specific audience that prefers folk-based alternative music.

"You won't catch us singing songs like Tata Simonyan or Turkish singer Tarkan. This isn't pop music. I wouldn't be boasting if I said that Kardes has a big following both in Turkey and in other countries with sizeable Turkish and Kurdish communities."