01 December 2007

2223) Turkish Armenians In Istanbul Call For A Peaceful Future

'Together from the past to the future,' project aiming to show the peaceful social life of Armenians and Turks during the Ottoman era, features a photo exhibition in Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall that explores the Armenian Balyan family’s role in the architectural style of Ottoman palaces and a concert, which brings to light 69 Armenian-Ottoman composers in . . Lütfi Kırdar International Congress Hall

A concert organized by volunteer Armenian choirs and Aşiyan Musiki Association (Aşiyan Music Association) is bringing to light 69 Armenian-Ottoman composers on Dec. 9, at 7:00 p.m. in Lütfi Kırdar International Congress Hall. Titled “Together from the past to the future,” the project also features a photo exhibition in Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall that explores the Armenian Balyan family's role in the architectural style of Ottoman palaces.

Nazaret Özsahakyan, the project coordinator, spoke exclusively with The Turkish Daily News.

From research conducted with the Armenian diaspora and in family archives, Özsahakyan was able to unearth musical pieces so rare the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) archives weren't aware of them. Özsahakyan compiled a total of 1,200 musical manuscripts, with help from musician Erdener Koyutürk.

“The Armenian diaspora is known for its strict attitude,” Özsahakyan said. “However, Armenians from Istanbul became the first to provide support after hearing about this project.”

The photo exhibition titled “The Role of the Balyan Family in Architecture” features a collection from the family of architects that played a role in Ottoman palaces. The project includes photographs by Atlas Magazine's Gökhan Tan depicting 64 Balyan creations. The exhibition will be open from Dec. 23 to Dec. 30 in the foyer of Cemal Reşit Rey in Istanbul. Professor Afife Batur and Dr. Elmon Hançer researched the Balyan family.

On Dec. 9 in Lütfi Kırdar Congress Hall, high-ranking members of the European Union, as well as Şişli Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül, and Turkey's Armenian Patriarch Mesrop II will attend a concert – and admission is free.

“We invite everyone who believes in peace and friendship. Our invitation is for tolerance,” Özsahakyan said. The concert begins at 7:00 p.m. Billboards advertising the event will be shown on İETT buses, thanks to the efforts of the Greater Istanbul Municipality Culture Co.

Along with a European Union grant, sponsors of the project include: The Greater Istanbul Municipality, Şişli Municipality, 118 E Lions Administration Circles Federation, Beyazıt Lions, United Istanbul Armenian Choirs, Aşiyan Musiki Association Music Center and the Beyoğlu Üç Horan Armenian Church Foundation.

The Diaspora shows interest:
Active for 26 years in various nongovernmental organizations, primarily the History Foundation, Özsahakyan's first EU-sponsored project was a documentary film titled "May Colors not Fade and Cultures Not Disappear."

The film consisted of interviews with Armenian, Jewish and Greek minorities living in Istanbul. The film was shown to audiences last year as part of the International Istanbul Film Festival, and was also broadcast on the Digitürk İz TV documentary channel.

A key feature of the project was the interest shown by the Armenian Diaspora. Armenians in Los Angeles, California, have already uploaded the documentary to an Internet site at www.oia.net, Özsahakyan said.

Since it went online, thousands have watched the film.

As for how he thought of putting “Together from past to the future” together, Özsahaykan said it all began when he was listening to Radio Karmaturka in his car.

“There was a traffic jam when I arrived in Beşiktaş. I was listening to the works of the Armenian-Ottoman composer and violinist Sarkis on the radio, and the Dolmabahçe Palace built by Armenian-Ottoman Garabet Amira Balyan and his son Nigoğos Balyan was standing before me with all its grandiosity.

“In a split second, I decided to explore this project. We live together on the same land today as we did in the past.”

The EU gave a grant of 52,000 euros to the plan, which was signed near the end of 2006. However, that was not enough. There was a budget deficit and leasing a hall for the concert was another issue. Özsahakyan received financial support from many organizations and has beaten all the odds. Now, he is getting ready for another project.

Called “Minority Youth in the Enlargement Process,” it will reflect the lives of Armenian youth living currently in Istanbul, and Turkish youth living in the Western Thrace. The reason for his newest project is that: “People over there [Western Trace] are Turkish, but are facing difficulty for their identity. This is about being minority,” he said.

TRT archives not sufficient:
In addition to Turkish classical music pieces, Koyutürk and Özsahakyan found cantos and tangos composed in the 1800s.

“These composers are the architects of Turkish classical music, however their works are not in Turkish archives. We scanned TRT archives and came across something very interesting. There are lyrics and documents on some composers but no musical manuscripts,” Özsahakyan said.

He posted a plea on a Yahoo! Discussion group, asking people with any Armenian composers' manuscripts to contact him.

The first answer came from the southeastern city of Bitlis. Koyutürk and Özsahakyan continued to research and dig.

Contacts were established with the diaspora and the manuscripts of violinist Sarkis, of which not even a trace can be found in the TRT archives, were found.

The most important feature of the musical manuscripts is that they were written in the Hamparzsum Note System. Hamparszum Limonciyan is the inventor of the system, and lived during the rule of Ottoman Sultan Selim III in the late 18th century. He changed and arranged an old form of musical notation used in Armenian church music, called “Khaz,” and harmonized it with the Turkish Music System, creating the first Ottoman note system. Most Turkish classical music opuses were written using the method.

Gökhan Tan, Photographer, Atlas Magazine
The Balyan Family has an important place in the Ottoman architecture. Until I began this project, I didn't know I would find such a big and influential family; I even could say that I didn't know any of them. I do not believe that I created the work to reflect the significance of the Balyan Family the way they deserve. Architectural photography is completely different from conventional photography; you must see the details and equipment as totally different. What I did was find the solution through the eyes of a journalist. What I did could be termed better as “photojournalism.” I took photos of 64 architectural pieces built by the Balyan family. Most fell into ruins and some had vanished totally. My work is important for being the first collection of the Balyan artworks. The process getting permissions was difficult. The Balyans created architectural pieces in a wide range of structures, including palaces, military buildings and mosques. So, permission was necessary for each site, and that was not easy. I had to convince each relevant institution that I would reflect these in proper publications and do my best with them. All the Balyan structures are splendid. It would be impossible to build them with today's technology. The stone works are unbelievable. Every single room inside the buildings is a palace on its own.

The Dolmabahçe Palace:
located on the European side of the Bosporus, right across from Üsküdar and between Kabataş and Beşiktaş. Dolmabahçe was originally a bay in the Bosporus that was filled gradually during the 18th century to become an imperial garden, much appreciated by the Ottoman sultans. The name comes from dolma meaning “filled” and bahçe meaning “garden.” The palace that stands here today was built between 1842 and 1853 during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid, on the site of the old coastal palace, by the Armenian-Turkish architects Garabed Amira Balyan and his son Nigoğos Balyan.

The Çırağan Palace:
located on the European shore of the Bosporus between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy. The palace, built by Sultan Abdülaziz, was designed by palace architect Nigoğos Balyan and constructed by Sarkis and Hagop Balyan between 1863 and 1867. Abdülaziz spent 4 million gold liras for its construction.

VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU
Turkish Daily News
December 1, 2007