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Turkey's Armenian Artists Honor Their Community's Past


Of course, Turkey still rejects the term genocide to describe the Armenian killings, but the government is gradually allowing its minority populations more avenues of expression, including the arts. NPR's Peter Kenyon attended a rare and moving Istanbul concert performance of Armenian music and poetry this week. Here's a taste of what it was like.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Despite modest advertising, people showed up in their thousands for this concert, which the government allowed to be staged in a major Istanbul venue. Turkish columnist Yavuz Baydar was proud to see a large, mixed crowd coming to hear a show evoking what actually happened to Armenians a century ago.

YAVUZ BAYDAR: It is an historic moment. A hundred years ago, here in Istanbul, 24 of April, 235, 240 intellectuals were assembled, arrested and sent to deportation camps and to death. And those were the dark times. And this is a waking up moment.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Daniel Borujen's (ph) poem, "Blessing Of The Earth," was read over the sound of a wheat field rustling in the wind. It reads, in part, (reading) in the east side of the world, may there be peace. In the west side, let there be a blessing. Happiness spreads in all four corners. Honey from the comb, the glasses spill wine, the love songs are sung.

These songs did speak of love, but also of deep loss and longing, sometimes tinged with anger.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing in foreign language).

KENYON: There were songs of lonely rural life, of young women with no loved because all the men were gone. And the melodies, both traditional and more modern, received polished performances from major Armenian artists, including Ara Dinkjian, one of the world's top players of the Eastern stringed instrument, the oud.


KENYON: For Turks like Yavuz Baydar, who have, at times, despaired that the government will ever come to terms with the past. The concert was a ray of hope that civil society may someday succeed where politicians have failed.

BAYDAR: It's such a great manifestation - full haul, thousands of people showing their remembrance of those dark times. And it's a very, very powerful visibility of the changing times. This is the civilian society that is advancing forward.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.