ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
Amid recent debates around foundations run by Armenians, a long-established non-Muslim population of Istanbul, a 120-year-old Armenian school represents a unique type of Turkish-Armenian solidarity.
The executive board members of the charitable foundation of Getronagan High School, which is located on Professor Celal Öker Street in the Harbiye district of Istanbul, came together with members of the Oda Theater, a private theater based in Istanbul, and made a decision to jointly operate a theater in the foundation’s main building on certain days of the week. It was the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic that a foundation whose doors were open only to members of the long-established Armenian community in Istanbul became a gathering spot for the art connoisseurs of the city, whether they were Turkish, Armenian or from another ethnic background.
Over time, events at the foundation became quite diverse and gave birth to friendships between Turks and Armenians. Homemade meals began to be brought to the foundation’s building and dinners were eaten together.
This unique, peaceful gathering of a group of Turks and Armenians at the Getronagan Foundation did not remain limited to theatrical purposes. Actor Kaan Erkam and Armenian accordion virtuoso Hayk Güzelkeçeciyan together wrote Turkish lyrics for three Armenian folk songs. In response, lyrics in Armenian were written to three Turkish songs. From this, a CD titled “Biz Eskiden” (We in the Good Old Days) that includes all the songs, performed by Turkish artists in Armenian and by Armenian artists in Turkish, will be on the market in the next few weeks.
In addition to Güzelkeçeciyan and Erkam, opera singer Peyman Dorkan, arranger Cumhur Hunuma, and some Armenian and Turkish artists gave their support for the project.
One of the songs on the CD is “Hingala,” and old Armenian folk song for which Güzelkeçeciyan and Erkam wrote lyrics in Turkish. It was at the moment when Güzelkeçeciyan suggested that Erkam listen to “Hingala” that the idea of making an album and naming it “We in the Good Old Days” first came to mind. After all, both Turkish and Armenian artists were happy to get acquainted with each other.
“I had no close ties with the Armenian community in Istanbul. It was really a unique experience to meet them at Getronagan’s charity foundation,” said Erkam. “Knowing that we will leave this foundation one day is so sad. We shared many things here.”
Cooperation between artists
Private theaters in Turkey face severe financial problems and, in recent years, some of them have had to draw their curtains on the audience forever. “As many of the Turkish private theatres cannot find stages to perform their plays simply due to financial reasons and some of them are bereaved of the theatre halls they used to have, the Armenians of Istanbul have opened the door to us of a unique foundation without even hesitating for a moment,” said Erkam.
The Oda Theatre has also made some changes in the physical structure of the foundation’s building. Spotlights were placed in the main hall, where the sound system was also renewed.
Hunuma, the arranger of “Biz Eskiden,” spent his childhood in the Istanbul neighborhood Bakırköy, where a large number of Armenians and Rums (Greeks of Turkish nationality) used to live and still do today. “Almost 80 percent of my childhood friends were of Armenian and Greek descent,” he said.
Many of his childhood friends migrated to different parts of the world, but he said he never cut off ties with them. “I grew up together with them playing on the streets of old Istanbul. We were almost like brothers. Losing them means losing my childhood,” said Hunuma, adding that he frequently corresponds with his friends and talks with them on the phone.
Opera singer Dorkan, who cannot speak a single word of Armenian, learned the lyrics of many works written in the Armenian language after a couple of exercises under the supervision of Güzelkeçeciyan and then performed the songs without making any mistakes in pronunciation.
“Peyman used to speak almost no Armenian, a language with a quite difficult pronunciation. Moreover, it is a language with a very different alphabet,” said Güzelkeçeciyan, who typed the Armenian lyrics in the Turkish alphabet for Dorkan and trained him in the pronunciation.
Erkam and Güzelkeçeciyan said the project they have been taking part in is significant in terms of its power to unite Turkish and Armenian people. They said Armenians and Turks should not look back to the past but should always look to the future.