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ASURAH – A Musical Play with a Message About the Others

Garaj Istanbul, Istanbul, January 9 – 24, 2008

On the first day of the month of Muharrem, the first month of the Moslem Hicri year 1428 (corresponding to 2008), a play opened at GarajIstanbul, a theatre just below the Galatasaray Garaj in Beyoglu, Istanbul. Mustafa and Ovul Avkiran of  Sokak Tiyatrosu, who wrote and directed the play, took part in the play as one of the 10 characters who sang, danced and played instruments in a small dark stage illuminated by a moving lighthouse.

In the front of the stage, with only 149 seats in the theatre, two huge cloth screens presented the main message of the play, with the following, one in Turkish and the other in English:

‘’Through History, it has been Jews versus Christians versus Muslims, Muslims versus Jews, Jews versus Muslims…  their religion to go on and on, to go on exile, to meet their untimely death. The other was satisfied and … so on.

The play opens with the sound of a drum and the performers come out from behind the curtain with chairs and their instruments in their hands. The stage is covered with big bottles filled with water and each performer finds a place among them. The main character, Mustafa Avkiran, begins to recite while his wife pounds herself, re-creating the Alevi self beating for the death of Huseyin in Kerbala.

Then Mustafa wraps a cloth around his mouth and begins his walk around the stage which continues throughout the play, changing places and at one time, his wife pouring water over his head from three bottles. He never takes off the band around his mouth.

The cast consists of 3 women and 7 men who play clarinet, drum, bass, saz and sing 25 different songs in Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Arabic, Suryani, Zaza, Pontus, Sefardic, mostly very sad. A lady behind me cried loudly throughout the play and messages appeared on the two screens on the census beginning in 1927, which is also read out loud.

The first message stated that in 1927, the population of Turkey was 13,642,270, 86 % Turkish, 14% the other, also giving a breakdown for each group. Next is for 1935, then 1945, in 1955 around 24,000,000, followed by the 1990 figures, 65,310,000. The final message states that nationalities were not identified after the 1990 census.

The Suryani folk song reminds the audience that people left Turkey, hoping to come back:

Gittiler, dediler donecek, gelmediler
Sokaklar bos, kapilari kapali gittiler
Gorecekler, soyleyecegim, donecekler.

They left, they said they will return, but did not come back
The streets are empty, doors are closed they left
They will see, I tell you, they will come back.

In the end, the musicians lay their instruments down in front of the stage and one by one, cover their mouth with a band, except Ocul Avkiran, who speaks last. .Then the audience is treated to Asure, served by the cast members.

Yuksel Oktay, PE – January 17, 2008

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