Old Armenian Songs of the Dersim Province Restored by the Musician from Turkey: “There are no Boundaries in our Hearts, Politicians are those who Set them”
“I have produced this album first of all for me, than for the Armenian nation. It gave me an opportunity to find a part of me and now I am feeling complete”.
Michael Aslan has taken an interest in Armenians since his childhood. As a child, he was repeating the names of the neighbor villages – Norshin, Khopik, Akhveshi, Sorpian – but could not find any equivalents for them in his mother tongue. He got a very short answer from his mother: “My son, these are names left by the Armenians”. Well, where are the Armenians who named those villages and left behind ruins of cemeteries and temples? It seems they have disappeared into the earth. The stones of the ruined churches now have become a part of the walls in their houses. It was in 2005, at the meeting with Hovsep Hayreni, a friend from Brussels, when Michael came up with an idea to make an album. Later on he describes it like this: “It seemed to me that the inscription revived from the stones and started whispering to me”. While Hovsep was reading excerpts from Hambardzum Gasparyan’s book “Chmshkatsag and its colors”, Michael was already singing along “Armenian folk songs of Dersim”.
Over the five years of working on the album, Michael was getting more and more engaged into the history and culture of the Armenian nation. He collects more than a hundred of Armenian folk songs from Dersim and its neighbor towns, selects twelve of them for the album and releases the album “Petak- Armenian folk songs of Dersim”. Together with the musicians Tigran Hakobyan and Lilit Simonyan, Michael accomplished really tedious creative work. Maro Muradyan, Norayr Grigoryan and the assembly “Akunq” greatly contributed to the creation of the album. Michael writes:
– Today, the melodies sung by the Armenians for centuries may sound again and again. There is no sound lost in the universe. Not only did we want to create just an album, but to establish links between this and that sides of Ararat, as there are no boundaries in our hearts, they are set by politicians.
We would like the Armenians living in the Eastern Armenia to preserve their identity, culture and live in freedom; this is one of our general goals. When I am performing songs from the album “Petak” I am trying to inspire them brave and desire to know their identity. Twenty years ago Turkey was conducting targeted policies of islamization and turkization of the population, that’s why the people were afraid of speaking their mother tongue. They were pulled away from their ethnic identity so much that were prohibited to speak their mother tongues even within their families. As revolutionaries from the universities, we started writing music in our language Zaza . The songs, we were writing, were against any kind of assimilation. Soon, condemning people started to appear among my nation with questions in mind: “So where did that language Zaza come from?” However, ten years have passed since then and now everybody is listening to our music. The youth now is fond of our art. When I started producing the album “Petak” they were asking: “Where did that Armenian language come from?” The Zaza language like the Armenian language came from your place. This was my answer. It is necessary to fight against deep-rooted stereotypes among the population. Over fifteen years nobody was writing songs in Zaza, but during the last years children are growing up listening to the music, which my friends and I are writing. I think that the child’s identity emerges from the moment it listens to the song. That’s why it is important that children grow up surrounded by the songs in their mother tongue. They will never forget the language they have heard in the mother’s womb. I hope it is so. Together with Ezides, Assirians and Zaza, Kurds awakened and entered a new epoch. Once, everybody in Turkey was called a “Turk” or a “Muslim”, but the situation is different now; awakening from winter’s sleep has taken place.
Michael mentions that there are still serious problems in Turkey in regard with the national minorities, especially with the Armenians:
– The Kurd pretends to be a Turk, the Alevi pretends to be a Kurd, the Armenian pretends to be an Alevi… The biggest taboo in Turkey is being “Armenian”. That is an awful taboo: being Armenian is an assault. My close friends have been keeping in secret from me their Armenian origins for a long period of time. This is a very complex issue for a country like Turkey. To break the Armenian taboo, one should be too brave. Apart from the state policy, a group of radical people was trying to discourage me when I was making this album. They were saying: “Michael Aslan has become an Armenian”, “Michael has become an Armenian missionary”. The people are so passionate about this kind of propaganda that will try to destroy even the sole representative of the Armenian nation who will dare to speak about the Armenian songs.
For the Turkish population, Armenians are foreigners, but when the assembly “Akunq” appeared on the stage in Dersim, the people realized that the Armenians did not differ from us; the Armenians are not from far lands, they are a nation from our lands, it means they are a part of us, they are our neighbors who have been living with us for centuries. The alienation was dictated by the state powers, but the problem is that people are used to admit what is imposed upon them. This is where you can see the power of our music; just a song can remind you about thousands of years. Every time the people of Dersim are listening to the album “Petak”, they are thinking of their neighbors.
I would like to speak about those who had inhabited these territories before us. They have paid their price. The people like Hrant Dink, have paid a high price (…) The friendship we wanted to exits between our nations was not established by us; it was established before us - by the people of Dersim and that is confirmed by the historical facts. We are just travellers who follow the path of that friendship. We wanted the people to think of those friendly relations which had been frozen for centuries. (…)
Michael Aslan – a popular and talented musician from Turkey – was born in 1972 in Dersim, in a family of the Zaza representatives (an ethnic minority in Turkey). For political reasons, he had to drop out of the University and go to Turkey from Germany. Since 1995 he has been writing music from there. Since 1999 he starts releasing albums in Zaza language. In 2010 he released the album with Armenian songs of Dersim Armenians. He has worked hard for four years on the album, a little by little collecting old melodies and songs.
Translated Manan Ajamyan