THE TITLE OF this blog is a direct translation of the Turkish idiom “Çingene çalar, Kürt oynar“, taken to mean bedlam, pandemonium, out-and-out chaos. It doesn’t require a particularly perceptive reading to realise that the expression doesn’t rate highly on any scale of political correctness. With its implication that allowing Gypsies or Kurds the run of a place is a recipe for mayhem, it carries with it a fair hint of Turkish nationalist prejudice. A Turkish friend once conceded this much to me, but at the same time remarked that in its own way the expression was “tatlı” (sweet).
I don’t like the prejudicial aspect of it, but I get the “tatlı” thing, too. For all of its pejorative tone it has a poetic ring. When I first read the expression in a Turkish-English dictionary on a wintery İzmir afternoon it was immediately evocative.
I pictured a Gypsy firing off lightning fast riffs on a fiddle, while a Kurd stamped and whirled in abandon and assembled onlookers cheered and clapped. It was a vision of sweaty, lamplit, joy, of unbridled rhythm and melody. Such a scene may strike some people as chaotic, but what fun! And it conjured thoughts of different peoples coming together to produce something distinctive, of traditions and ideas and cultures blending. Over time I have come to imagine this scene not just in Turkey, but elsewhere in the southeastern corner of Europe that so fascinates me, where Turkey bumps into the Balkans, or further east where Turks and Persians and the peoples of the Caucasus have commingled for a millennium and more, and no one can definitively say where Europe ends and Asia begins.
For the purposes of this blog, my gaze will be primarily trained on modern Turkey and its various peoples, but I am equally fascinated by Iran and its culture, the former Ottoman domains of the Balkans and the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and Xinjiang. My purview will be politics and society, but also literature, arts, events and cultural curios: I reserve the right to include basically any “stuff” that interests me. In doing so I hope to investigate both the “bedlam” of the Gypsy fiddlers and the whirling Kurds, the Turkish pedlars and the Persian teahouse regulars, the Georgian vintners and the Uyghur shepherds, but also their collective creative output. I hope to muse on the “mayhem” of domestic politics in Turkey and parts thereabouts, but also to bring to light the rich cultures and artistic traditions of that broad dusty expanse from Sarajevo to Kashgar.