10. Mehmet Ali Körüklü and Political Legitimacy: Empowering Regional Roman Music as ‘Folklore”


The official recognition of Mehmet Ali Körüklü from Edirne as a leader within the Roman community marked a significant shift in official government attitudes in conferring state legitimation of Roman communities as a recognized ethnic minority. Mehmet Ali Körüklü was selected by the municipality of Edirne in 1992 to represent the Roman communities under the administrative title of çeribası. In this case, the Edirne municipality shifted the in-group term for leadership into a government-appointed position, thus in effect tapping into past Ottoman administrative practices (see also section 5). This move was presaged by other similar efforts in the 1990s by both government officials and local Roman communities to establish and recognize local Roman cultural associations. In addition to sponsoring these institutions, the Turkish government has promoted research on Roman communities in regional studies and in terms of selected aspects of Roman cultural production. Thus national institutions generated a new discursive field for Roman as representative of regional folklore. [28] This development is striking in that official Turkish national discourse has been structured on an ideology of monoethnicity (cf. Andrews 1989; 2002). In 1999, Körüklü’s leadership position was enlarged to include the supervision of an eight-member Roman music and dance ensemble under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, with each member receiving a monthly salary. When I visited in summer of 2003, this ensemble had acquired its own office in the Edirne Municipal building, and was receiving invitations to perform in Turkey and abroad.

The state-supported ensemble uses a combination of visual and sonic representations that signify emergent meanings of Roman-as-folklore, thus showing the imprint of received discourses in the sense of Foucault, but are also evident of strategic re-combinations that present the potential for new discursive meanings, in the Ricoeurian sense. I also want to note here that each of these representations have deep historical associations, understood by local Roman and non-Roman community members.

Roman Folk Dance Ensemble,

established by the Ministry of Culture in Edirne

under the leadership of Mehmet Ali Körüklü

In dress alone, three discourses are brought to the fore. The first discursive influence is shaped by modern nation state practices of folklore. In this ensemble, Roman images are presented as folklore, in that the young female dancers are depicted in folklorized regional dress, with red headdresses, red vests and baggy pants (şalvar) over a white blouse, similar to staged presentations of Thracian regional dance. A second set of discursive practices are evident in the dress of male instrumentalists. The instrumentalists wear white shirts and ties typical of urban professional upper-class restaurant musicians rather than regional rural dress. Such dress is linked to notions of “high society” (sosiyete), musicians who are

trained in the more prestigious Turkish classical and urban repertoires, and suggests a sartorial distinction from lower-class wedding musicians. This upper-class association is also underscored on their business card, “(Turkish) classical instrumental group”, a self-categorization that is associated with restaurant and nightclub musicians.

A third set of discursive references are evident in the leader’s dress that contain a complex of Roman in-community signifiers and non-Roman references attributed to “çingene.”  The leader’s dress expresses multiple layers of references, including some stereotypic elements drawn from non-Roman representational repertoire. He is dressed according the non-Roman stereotype of the lead figure of Roman nomadic groups (çeribası). As “çeribası” Körüklü wears a wide-sleeved white shirt, a wide red sash, and a flower over his ear. The visual elements of this discursive repertoire derive from older Ottoman forms such as the shadow puppet theatre mentioned above, public street theatre (orta oyun), story telling (meddah), theatrical song and dance interludes (kanto). Performances and readings of these cultural forms displayed a particular view of Ottoman society as comprised of members from historically marked ethnic, religious, linguistic communities. In the context of popular cultural performances of the time, characters were portrayed as types that stand for whole communities, reproducing social hierarchy on the stage. [29]

Mehmet Ali Körüklü's business card

Musically, this group also draws from these discursive repertoires. During a multi-cultural festival in 1998, this ensemble performed their composite self-categorization by opening their concerts with a fasıl or suite-like format that is part of the Ottoman and Turkish classical tradition. Their first piece was a composed Ottoman classical piece, (a peşrev), followed by several urban folkloric songs associated with a prestigious historical genre, “Rumeli” or Turkish regional music of Southeastern Europe, that is also linked to state conceptions of Thracian folklore. They performed these works in the suite-like formation (fasıl) in a single melodic mode (makam), a tradition that is linked to urban Ottoman practices. Musicians followed this light-classical suite with a series of dance pieces typically performed at local Roman weddings. The leader (çeribası) interspersed speeches between pieces, narrating what it means to be Roman, as well as portraying the life of a metal-smith Roman. [30]

In the 1990s, Körüklü has shifted an in-community social position into one of political power through combining folkloricized representations alongside non-Roman representations of a “Gypsy” (“çingene”) stereotypes and meaningful in-community forms of cultural production. While reinscribing older and potentially stereotypical components with more prestigious and politically representational images, elements of “çingene” are updated and empowered as new configurations of “Roman” within the framework of state recognition, local clout, media coverage, and the possibilities of touring.

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