How the Turkish Musician at the Age of 40 Found Out that He is Armenian
Cover photo: Lavinya.Net Galeri
After the genocide of 1915 there were many Armenians in Turkey who conceived their Armenian descent, changed their religion and names to survive. Today there are many stories about the descendants of Armenians who were brought up as Kurds and Turks, learn about their Armenian origin. There is one story on the list that stands out: it is the story of one of the most famous Turkish rock musicians Yashar Kurt.
Yashar Kurt was born in 1968 in Istanbul and grew up as an ordinary Turkish boy unaware of his Armenian origin:
"I always had this feeling of contradiction with the society, in which I live, I always felt that there was something wrong with me, but did not understand what was specifically wrong".
With aging this feeling only grew more and when he became a musician, Yashar displayed it through his work. He was perturbed that the state trampled the rights and freedom of the citizens, propagated hate towards ethic and religious minorities, but he truly did not understand where this hatred came from:
"When I did know about my origin yet, I did not understand why Turks disliked Kurds and representatives of other religions. Then I realized why: the country was originally built on this hatred".
Opposition-leaning activities of Yashar resulted in a situation where some of his albums where prohibited by the Ministry of Culture and in 1992 his song "Fear" became the reason for his arrest. According to the ministry it "contains appeals of renunciation to serve in the army".
The political repressions forced Yashar to leave Turkey. He settled in Germany, where he freely developed his creative activities: wrote music, recorded albums and on his return to Turkey he was already a very famous rock musician. Watershed meeting During a concert Yashar Kurt met famous Armenian multi-instrumentalist, avant-garde musician and composer Arto Tuncboyajyan (who was also born in Turkey). They easily found common grounds:
"I looked at him and realized that he looked liked my father. And I thought 'no, it is impossible, why do you look so much like my father' and he told me 'hey, in very deed you look like my father'. We laughed. Then we left for Armenia together to record the album 'YashAr' (the name of the album is made up of the first letters of the names of musicians – ed. note)".
The trip to Armenia leaves a big impression on Yashar. According to him he had a feeling he knew these people on the streets:
"I knew them. I saw people, walking on the street and they looked like members of my family".
But the most interesting thing Yashar discovered when he decided to pop into a small music store:
"When I went into the music store, I bought a CD, I looked on the image of the disc, it had a writing on it that said “Komitas Vardapet”. He had a strong resemblance to me! And I thought: Why do I have such a strong resemblance to an Armenian if I am Turk?".
The musician returned to Turkey full of turmoil and with many questions in his head.
"I went to the representatives of older generations of our family and asked: 'Hey, where do we come from?' They said that we are from Van. O, Van! Why did not you tell me?..."
The relatives of Yashar told him that the family had to flee Van during the genocide, but only one child; Yashar's great grandfather survived who made it to Rize (a province in the northeast of Turkey, the coast) and stayed there. According to Yashar it was an Armenian village and Islamized Armenians lived there (Hamshen region). Later on the survived member of the family married a Hamshen girl from the village:
"My mother’s side converted to Islam long time ago, in the XIX century, but my father officially became Muslim only after the genocide. He was not a faithful Muslim, but every year he made a sacrification and thanked God for saving his family. He encountered many misfortunes in his life: his family was killed, he never talked about this. His father’s brother was also killed. He was close-lipped and thoughtful and then I realized why".
All this time the family hid their identity and origin, as it is dangerous to say that you are Armenian in Turkey, especially in the 1970-1990s when ASALA intensified its activities and thus there were strong anti-Armenian sentiments.
That way at the age of 40 Yashar learnt that he is not a Turk, but an Armenian. The news took Yashar aback. He left Turkey and spent about two years in Europe.
"I did not return, because I was angry. I did not want to talk, did not want to write music".
Many of his friends lost touch with him, once they learnt that he was Armenian, and one of the bosses said "we will no longer work with Yashar". Yashar accepted this with indulgence:
"I lost many of my friends. Even among my friends there were people with nationalistic mindset. It is the result of official propaganda".
However, there are many people at Yashar’s side today who support both him and his activities. He communicates with the Armenians of Istanbul and tries to learn the Armenian language. Also, to emphasize his Armenian identity, Yashar was baptized in the Armenian Apostolic church and received a new name Arshak.
For all that Yashar says that he would not want to leave Turkey since it is his country, his ancestors lived on this land for thousands of years. He continues to bring up sensitive issues in his songs and also actively studies the Armenian culture and the musical heritage: in his songs one can trace the Black sea rhythms that remind of his Van-Hamshen heritage.
"All the members of my family are artistic people. My sisters are very fond of singing. Armenians are intelligent and creative people. I can say that the most artistic people of Turkey are the Armenians".