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  • Experiencing Armenian Music in Turkey: An Ethnography of Musicultural Memory by Burcu Yıldız
  • Eliot Bates (bio)
Experiencing Armenian Music in Turkey: An Ethnography of Musicultural Memory. Burcu Yıldız. Istanbuler Texte und Studien 35. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2016. 187 pp., illustrations, photographs, bibliography, mediagraphy. ISBN: 978-3-95650-165-4 (hardcover), $58.00; ISBN: 978-3-95650-207-1 (e-book), $58.00.

This book is a study of musicking—the significant activity that happens around Armenian-language musical activity in twenty-first-century Istanbul. Much of this musicking is part of a project to maintain a collective memory—and indeed, as Yıldız notes, many nonacademic research participants were involved with kinds of musicological or historiographical labor. Although nominally about a specific ethnically defined community (Istanbul Armenians), Yıldız's intent is not to produce a "monolithic, ethnicity-based, homogeneous identity for Turkey's Armenian community" (12) but rather to emphasize its heterogeneity. This primarily ethnographic and multisited project, drawing on US cultural anthropological and ethnomusicological approaches to ethnography, explores how musicking produces space—primarily within Istanbul but to an extent in Anatolia, Yerevan, and Armenian diasporic communities in the United States. Equally important is how space figures into the ways that Istanbul Armenians continue to identify with the ancestral homelands their families migrated from.

It is unusual for an ethnically Turkish scholar to do sustained participant-observational research—music related or otherwise—in Turkey's "other" ethnic communities, which makes this monograph all the more remarkable. Yıldız's research developed as an organic outgrowth of her activities with the respected Boğaziçi University Folklore Club, a group that explored Anatolian songs and dances in both Turkish and non-Turkish languages. She ended up specializing in Armenian-language singing despite not fully knowing the language. Much of the group's source material was cassette copies of albums that had been brought from America's Armenian diaspora, performed in what Yıldız terms a "Soviet" Armenian style. An unsuccessful search for remnants of a performance practice that might sound more reminiscent of "traditional" pre-1915 Armenian village musical practices, including during trips to the only remaining Armenian Apostolic village in rural Anatolia (Vakıflı Köyü, [End Page 121] in the Hatay Province), led to a productive reconceptualization of the project away from issues of performance practice, repertoire, and authenticity and toward the meaning, use, and historiography of music within Istanbul's Armenian communities. Besides writing this book, Yıldız has also been involved with creating documentary recordings and videos, which are highly recommended supplements to this monograph (Günay and Yıldız 2015; Yıldız and Hergel 2014).

Chapter 3 provides a useful summary of the formation of Turkish nationalism out of late-Ottoman/early-Republican-era Turkish state policies toward ethnicities, including language-reform movements and the codification of folklore-collection practices. As Yıldız notes, in addition to their lack of interest in accurately documenting ethnic language materials, early Turkish Republican folklorists featured a "pervasive tendency to otherize through trivialization" (54). Yıldız discusses post-1915 migration patterns, which resulted in Turkey's Armenian population being concentrated almost entirely in Istanbul, except for "Islamized Armenians" such as the Hemşin of the Black Sea region (58). Although the expulsion and massacre of Armenians in 1915 tends to be reified as the "singular" genocidal event that defined modern Armenian history, it was in fact a culmination of decades of related expulsions and massacres (including the Hamidian massacres of 1895–96 and the Adana massacre of 1909), and Istanbul's Armenian community was further maligned by the pogrom of 1955. Beyond the historical specificity (which Yıldız systematically researched), this book contributes to ethnographic attempts to understand the ways that historical traumas become constitutive of life in the present—the development of a "collective amnesia" (60) that works, albeit uncomfortably, in tandem with a place-based sense of belonging. Like most Istanbul Turks, most Armenians define their ancestral homeland as being somewhere in rural Anatolia; unlike Istanbul Turks, though, Armenians are unable to maintain tangible ties with their ancestral villages because...


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pp. 121-125
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