Tuesday 29 September 2015

Young British musicians needed for unique cross-border music project in Istanbul and Cambridge

The Sulukule Youth Orchestra in action at a Roma festival, Aug. 2014.    Photo: Görgényi Gábor / Facebook

If you’re young, British, musically gifted, and free to travel for a fortnight at the end of October, this project needs you!

A British arts charity is arranging for 30 young musicians from Britain to travel to Turkey to perform alongside their Roma peers as part of an exciting new project called Music Beyond Barriers. A return leg is planned for Cambridge in 2016, with the experiences of the young music makers captured on film for a documentary.

There are an estimated 2 million people of Roma heritage in Turkey and their cultural traditions, commonly comprising violin, clarinet, darbuka, drums, dancing and singing, are internationally renowned. Two of Turkey’s most celebrated Roma performers are Selim Sesler and Sibel Can.

For centuries, Istanbul’s Sulukule district was home to some of the most talented Roma musicians; locals and tourists alike would visit to enjoy their legendary live entertainment. Sadly, between 2006 and 2010, the district was totally demolished to make way for an urban regeneration scheme that pushed all the Roma people out.  

Music Beyond Barriers is the creation of Cambridge-based Balik Arts, which has extensive experience of transnational cultural projects. They are partnered by the Zero Discrimination Association, which works closely with Turkey’s Roma community. Funding is provided by the EU’s Erasmus Plus scheme, with the Istanbul leg hosted by Şişli Municipality.

Music Beyond Barriers patron Mehtap Demir
The project’s music direction will be led by Ethnomusicologist, Asst. Prof. Mehtap Demir. As well as teaching, Mehtap Demir is also a recording artist who sings, and is one of Turkey’s few female kemane players. During her professional life, she has shared the same stage with the likes of Yasmin Levy, Savina Yannatou and Mor Kabasi.

The British musical troupe will fly out to Istanbul on 25th October 2015 and return two weeks later on 8th November. The dates for the Cambridge leg in 2016 have yet to be confirmed.

The project is open to all young musicians aged between 18 and 30 years old who are resident in the UK.

Flights, airport transfers, accommodation, and travel to and from the rehearsal venue are all covered by Balik Arts. However, participants will need to contribute towards some of their meal expenses (the project includes a free daily open buffet breakfast, but there is a small charge for lunch and dinner – subsidised meals cost 9 Turkish Lira) and for any other spending they choose to make during the trip.

Participants need to attend an induction day in October, when they will be required to pay a £50 deposit to secure their place on the trip. This will be returned to them on the outbound journey, once they board the plane to Istanbul

Interested parties should apply by email with details about themselves and their musical talents to info@balikarts.org.uk as soon as possible. Places will be filled on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Aşk – a show about love told through Oriental, Romani and Sufi dance

The Ottoman Court in Aşk.   Photo: Dark Soul Photography

Next Saturday sees the return to London of a spectacular community show called 'Aşk' – Turkish for ‘Love’. Since its world premier in London last May, the show has travelled to Australia for sell-out performances and later this year will tour Japan.

Written, choreographed and starring renowned Turkish Cypriot dancer Özgen, this exotic two-hour dance theatre show takes you on a journey of dark passions, jealousy, romance and tragedy.

The first of two tales about love takes place in a bright and bustling Turkish Romani camp. Passions run high as two men fight for the affections of a woman. The atmosphere changes as we switch to the sumptuous setting of the Ottoman Court. When tragedy befalls, it triggers a deep sorrow caused by a love lost forever.

                                                                                                                     Inflamed Romani passions. Photo: Tristan Creative
Drawing on his ethnic roots, Özgen uses Turkish Romani, Oriental and Sufi culture to great effect, with the sounds, colours and movement adding to the heightened drama of the two love stories.

Live musicians (drummer, violinist) mingle with the cast of 35 dancers, all in stunning costumes. Expect Sufi songs, whirling dervishes, and plenty of Oriental and Turkish Romani dancing.

See the trailer for Aşk with clips taken from its Australia shows. 

Supported by the Arts Council (England) and produced in conjunction with Dunya Bellydance, the show’s cast include both professional dancers and local community performers. Its diverse mix reflects Ozgen’s ongoing commitment to community shows that empower women at different stages of their dance journey through the Turkish style of dance – some of the women will be dancing in front of a live audience for the first time.

Aşk is being staged at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, north London, for one night only. After London, the show travels up to Scotland. 

Show: Aşk / Love
Date: Saturday 3rd October 2015
Start time: 5pm
Venue: Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Town Hall Approach Road, Tottenham Green, London, N15 RX
Tickets: £10-£15 (+ booking fee)
More info: berniegrantcentre.co.uk/ask
Alternatively, call 020 8365 5450 or email boxoffice@berniegrantcentre.co.uk

Women given the confidence to perform through Turkish dance. Photo: Dark Soul Photography


Özgen returns with new community dance show: Aşk / Love, 8 May 2014 

One Day in Istanbul, 20 March 2013

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Take a musical journey down the Silk Road with Arifa this Friday

Forever improvising, Arifa add Chinese, Persian and Bulgarian to their musical mix this Friday

For thousands of years, the Silk Road has carried trade and cultural exchanges from the Far East through to Europe and back again. This Friday, a double bill of artists will draw on these ancient world traditions to make music that transcends time and geography.

Amsterdam-based Arifa have an expansive sound that goes beyond musical genres and national boundaries. The four band members, who originate from Turkey (Sjahin During), Greece (Michalis Cholevas), Romania (Alex Simu) and Germany (Franz von Chossy), have already carved out a name for themselves with their eclectic musical forays into the Balkans and Anatolia.

In this new project, guest musicians, Xiaoxu Meng from China, Niusha Barimani from Iran and Vanya Valkova from Bulgaria add their own traditional stringed instruments and hauntingly beautiful traditional singing styles to Arifa’s melting pot of world sounds.

This exciting new blend has Songlines Magazine exclaiming: “Arifa strikes gold. This is music that can make you shiver with delight”.

Here’s a taste of this week’s Arifa concert here. 

The Lyres of Ur. Photo: British Musseum
Also performing this Friday are The Lyre Ensemble. Led by Stef Connor (The Unthanks, and composer-in-residence for Streetwise Opera), whose voice Resonance FM Joe Cushley describes as “eerily beautiful” and “perfect in evoking the Babylonian blues.”

The Ensemble will be building a musical bridge to ancient Mesopotamia using replicas of the 4,500 year-old Lyres of Ur (the world’s oldest surviving stringed instruments). Babylonian and Sumerian poems are transformed into contemporary songs, offering a fascinating window into a lost world, while lyrics prove to be as relevant today as they were in the past.

The concert is part of the Barbican’s Transcender season of contemporary music events and is supported by the Dutch Embassy.

Concert: Arifa and Voices from the East + The Lyre Ensemble
Date: Friday 25 September 2015
Start time: 7.30pm
Venue: Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, London N1 2UN
Admission: £20 (+ booking fee for online bookings)


Hear Arifa’s musical alchemy of Anatolian-Balkans beats at this year’s EFG Jazz Festival in London, 10 Nov. 2014

Tuesday 22 September 2015

EU must lift TRNC trade embargoes to make Cyprus settlement work, says business leader

Middle three: Fikri Toros (l), Commissioner Cretu (c) & Phidias Pilides (R)

By John Oakes
The economic disparity between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities “poses a serious threat to the sustainability of a federal Cyprus”, said Mr Fikri Toros, President of the Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Commerce (KTTO).

He was addressing an audience including MEPs in Brussels alongside his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Mr Phidias Pilides.

Mr Toros highlighted the importance of CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) that are currently under way using European Union money and expertise. These include the joining of the two national electricity grids, and the interlocking of the island’s two currently separated mobile phone networks, to give islanders the freedom of communication enjoyed throughout the rest of the world. 

He said these developments would help to create a “stable reinforced Cyprus and bring “vast opportunities” through the creation of “synergies, competitiveness and growth enhanced by economies of scale”. But he emphasised that both Turkish and Greek Cypriot Chambers of Commerce believed a continuation of the present division of the island would prevent this happening.

EU funding will help integrate Cyprus' two electricity systems
Both chambers, he said, have been trying to increase the part played by the Cypriot business community in the settlement process by strengthening economic ties, as a way of removing the “fear, mistrust and deprivation of the last 53 years and bringing communities closer to each other and enhancing faith in the peace process.”

Both Chambers were determined to see that any settlement was “transparently and objectively explained to each community”, and they expected the European Union to support their economically-driven efforts.

But Mr Toros warned that it was essential that any settlement should be sustainable, and that “steps should be taken to minimise the disparity between the two economies on the island.”

He continued: “disparity of the current magnitude poses a serious threat to the sustainability of a Federal Cyprusand called on the EU to speed up the harmonisation process and “enable the TRNC to trade directly with the EU ….without delay.”

He added, “A stronger and more competitive Turkish Cypriot economy would only contribute positively to the efforts of finding a viable and sustainable settlement.”

The KTTO President’s comments were echoed in a statement issued by Corina Cretu, the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, after their meeting on 16th September: “I believe the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community is crucial for the reunification of Cyprus.”
Currently Turkish Cypriots forced to pay higher costs to trade
in the EU than businesses from South Cyprus
Following the Turkish Cypriot ‘yes’ vote in the 2004 UN-backed Annan Plan referendum to unite Cyprus, EU leaders pledged to end their international isolation. A direct trade regulation was passed to enable businesses in North Cyprus to trade directly with the rest of the EU. However, following the entry of South Cyprus as a full EU member, Greek Cypriots used their veto to block this measure.

As a result, Turkish Cypriot businesses who seek to trade directly with the EU are subject to higher taxes as northern Cyprus is excluded from EU trade rules. Alternatively, they can trade using the Green Line Regulation, which means approved goods can enter the EU via South Cyprus. Both options add time and cost to Turkish Cypriot businesses, making goods more expensive and less attractive to EU buyers.

Saturday 19 September 2015

London’s Turkish schools re-open this weekend

Students from Dr Fazıl Küçük Turkish School, Catford, performing in May 2015. Photo: Facebook

Turkish schools across the capital start their new academic year this weekend, offering language and cultural lessons to students from primary school age through to high school seniors.

Lessons take place on either on a Friday evening, or Saturday or Sunday mornings during term-time. Pupils learn about Turkish music, dance, literature and history, alongside formal studies to improve their Turkish language skills. It also gives children and parents a chance to broaden their Turkish social connections.

Last year, a record number of students achieved top marks in their Turkish ‘A’ level and ‘AS’ level qualifications. According to a report in Londra Gazete 59% scored an A*, A or B grade in their ‘A’ levels. Along with demonstrating foreign language skills, these qualifications also count towards British university entrance requirements.
Photo: Londra Gazete
Earlier this year, Turkish schools and parents had campaigned to save the qualifications when national examination board OCR decided to abolish Turkish exams from 2017. Many politicians joined in the fight to save not only Turkish, but also qualifications in Polish, Bengali, Gujarati, and Panjabi, which were also under threat.

In July, the government intervened, applying pressure on the examination boards and education body Ofqual to safeguardcommunity languages Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced measures that would guarantee exams would be offered in Turkish and other foreign languages until September 2018.

To find the closest Turkish school to you, visit the Üye Okullarımız (Member Schools) section of the Turkish Education Consortium’s website


More British politicians back the campaign to re-instate Turkish exams, 09 May 2015

Ali Babutsa’s daughter Havva is through to the next round of The X Factor


Havva Rebke, the oldest daughter of well-known Turkish singer Ali ‘Babutsa’ Sönmez, has made it through to this year’s bootcamp on ITV’s hit show The X Factor. The 21-year-old was put through with ‘yes’ votes from all four judges following her audition singing Jessie J’s Masterpiece.

It was a triumphant return for the young Turkish Cypriot, who had first appeared on the show back in 2012. One of the four judges, Rita Ora, then a guest judge, remembered and asked, "Don't I recognise you?" Havva replied that she had auditioned three years previously and had made it through to bootcamp before nerves got the better of her.

In her pre-performance interview, screened on Saturday 12 September, Havva told viewers that: "Everywhere I go, I just sing. I walk around Tesco singing."

Describing her family as her “best friends”, she said, “I just want to go out there and change my life for good, that’s what I dream of every day.”

Opening last Saturday’s show and cheered on by her family backstage, Havva impressed the judges with her unique rendition of Masterpiece, sung with a strong North London accent. Simon Cowell called her performance "a great audition" and that he "loved the fact that she sounded British".

Along with her singing talent, Havva’s bubbly personality also proved a hit with the judges and British media alike. After her audition, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini told the singer: “You’re so likeable!”

On Monday, Havva appeared on ITV's Good Morning Britain, where she was interviewed by Kate Garraway and Susanna Reid, and talked about her singing aspirations, her famous dad and her boyfriend, who looks like One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson. She has also been featured in numerous British magazines.

The X Factor’s Bootcamp begins this Sunday at 7pm on ITV. Havva joins another British Turkish contestant, Ebru, with both competing for a chance to be one of 12 acts to make it through to the live TV rounds. 


Ebru sails through tobootcamp on the X Factor 2015, 12 Sept 2015 

My World: Ali ‘Babutsa’Sönmez, 07 Dec. 2014


Thursday 17 September 2015

Top Turkish chefs will be cooking at this weekend’s Liverpool Food and Drink Festival

Zeki Açıkgöz will be taking Liverpudlians on a gastronomic journey across Turkey this weekend. Photo: Özgür Bakır

Now in its eighth year, Liverpool Food and Drink Festival have teamed up with the Turkish Tourism Board to bring the best of Turkish cuisine to Merseyside. This weekend, Turkey’s top chefs Zeki Açıkgöz, Koray Türk, Haşim Demirtaş, Kenan Gün and pastry chef Satılmış Çeribaşı will be cooking and demonstrating delicious Turkish dishes at Sefton Park.

Each year, the Festival transforms Sefton Park into a foodie’s paradise where talented local and international chefs serve up a giant feast, allowing visitors to enjoy both new and familiar culinary tastes from all around the world. There are multiple food zones to explore over the two days, including Street Food, Scotch Corner, Healthy Living, and the Heavenly Chocolate Garden. There’s also an interactive children’s zone and live music entertainment.

Kebabs have helped make Turkish cuisine one of the most popular in the UK
Alongside celebrity British chefs Valentine Warner and Rachel Koo, will be Zeki Açıkgöz, the head chef at the Sheraton Hotel, Ankara, and a host of other leading Turkish chefs who will be cooking up gastronomic treats that reflect the rich culinary heritage of Turkey. Visitors to the Turkey marquee will be able to learn about the techniques and recipes for both traditional and modern Turkish dishes, including mezes, meat and vegetarian meals, and pastries and desserts.

As this year’s main Destination sponsor is Turkey, the UK Turkish Tourism Board is also running a competition where one lucky winner will get the chance to go on a 5 star all-inclusive family holiday to Turkey, including accommodation, flights, transfers and a guided tour. See here for more details and visit the Turkey marquee during the Festival for your chance to win.

Ali Selçuk Can, Attaché of Turkish Culture and Tourism Office in London, said,
“Turkey has it all: brilliant beaches, rich culture and world famous cuisine. What’s more, it’s only four hours away on one of several routes from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. We wanted to give one lucky family a taste of the magic, which is why we’re offering this fantastic competition prize in conjunction with the Liverpool Food & Drink Festival.”

Delicious baklava. Photo: Salih Karadeniz
Event dates: Saturday 19th – Sunday 20th September 2015

Location: Sefton Park, Croxteth Drive, Liverpool L17 1AP

Times: Saturday: 10.30-19.00; Sunday: 10.30-18.00

Ticket prices: Advanced Adult Day Pass £5 (£6.50 on the day) / Adult Weekend Pass £9 (£13 on the day).Children Under 14 – FREE.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

3,500 watch ancient Greek play Hippolytus at Salamis amphitheatre

Greek and Turkish Cypriots watch Euripides' Hippolytus on Friday 11 September. Photo: CNA

On Friday night, theatre lovers were treated to a spectacular performance of Hippolytus, an ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides, at the ancient open-air amphitheatre of Salamis, Famagusta. An audience of 3,500 people watched the play, produced by the Theatrical Organisation of South Cyprus (THOC) and performed in Greek, with English and Turkish surtitles.

The sell-out event was a collaboration between the Greek Cypriot theatre company, a bi-communal group called Famagusta Our City, and the Famagusta Walled City Association (MASDER), and supported by the UN Bi-communal Technical Committee on Culture. The audience comprised some 2,800 Greek Cypriots and 700 Turkish Cypriots.

MASDER spokesperson Serdar Atai said, "It was a very nice evening. Together we made a journey to our roots, to [share] our common cultural heritage. It was a very emotional night, really we all felt very nostalgic”.

Several Greek Cypriot politicians, such as EDEK’s Kostis Efstathiu, criticised THOC for their performance in North Cyprus, claiming a performance in the “occupied territories…sent out the wrong message”.

However, the chairman of THOC Yiannis Toumazis defended their performance, stating that it proved culture has the power to create a new chapter in the history of Cyprus. He said:
The cast of Hippolytus. Photo: Kibris Manset
"Culture is the main weapon in our quiver as a European country in this very troubled region of the southeast Mediterranean. We must develop and exploit this weapon with our cultural heritage and cultural power.”

Toumazis' comments were echoed by Pavlos Iacovou, the President of the Famagusta Our City initiative, who told the Cyprus News Agency that the event was a message of peace: “For us who believe in the reunification of our country, culture is a way to unite people.”

Hippolytus was the second event organised under the auspices of the UN Bi-Communal Technical Committee for Culture. It follows a music concert at Famagusta’s historic Othello Tower in July, which was attended by the two Cypriot leaders, Mustafa Akıncı and Nicos Anastasiades. 

Learn the art of Islamic calligraphy at the Yunus Emre Institute this autumn


Calligraphy is the beautiful art of writing. This decorative art form combines visual aesthetics with the precision and functionality of hand-drawn letters created using pens or brushes.

One of the most renowned forms is Islamic or hat (an Arabic word that means line) calligraphy, an artistic practice that is derived from the Arabic alphabet and Islamic cultural heritage. You can see examples of Islamic calligraphy in books, mosques, carpets, tiles and more, from Spain through to China – anywhere touched by the Islamic world.

The art form flourished under the Ottomans and from 3rd October, Londoners have the chance to learn Hüsnühat calligraphy at the Yunus Emre Institute. Places on the eight-week course are limited so early registration is advised.

There are two weekly sessions on Saturdays in central London, one catering for beginners, the other for continuing students who have already completed an introductory Hüsnühat course. Both are run by Gulnaz Fatima Mahboob, a qualified teacher and Islamic Calligrapher (hattat), authorised and classically trained in Istanbul by renowned Master Calligrapher Hasan Celebi.

Gulnaz Fatima Mahboob offers a practical introduction to Islamic/Arabic writing and provides participants a step-by-step guide to writing the Arabic letters. Students will be shown how to construct each letter through basic strokes and learn the traditional practice, tools and materials used for Hüsnühat.

They will be given an insight into the traditional methods with the emphasis on physical hand instruction and demonstrations. Students will explore and experiment with the relevant tools and materials, including learning to cut and prepare a traditional reed qalam (calligraphy pen), as well as to analyse the measurements for Arabic letters, practice pen angles, both thick and thin strokes, and progress through to shapes.

The course is open to people of all abilities and background, including those who have an interest in writing. No knowledge of written or spoken Arabic is required. Participants with prior experience of calligraphy can attend.

Course dates: 3rd October - 28th November 2015 (there are no classes on Saturday 14th November).

Times (8 weeks / 24 hours in total):
v      Introductory class: Saturdays, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
v      Beginners (continuing students) class: Saturdays 2:00 to 5:00 pm

Location: Yunus Emre Institute Turkish Cultural Centre, 10 Maple Street London, W1T 5HA (nearest tube stations: Warren Street or Goodge Street)

Course fee: £ 150.00 – includes all course materials.
Applicants must pay 50% (£75.00) of their course fee by the registration deadline of Monday 28th September to secure their places.

More information and application form: email turkishinstitute@gmail.com or call Mrs. Emel Albayrak on 0207 387 3036.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Yet again we march

Refugees Welcome London march, 12 September 2015.  Photo Facebook/Ertanch Hidayettin

By Ertanch Hidayettin

Yet again we march. With arthiritic knees, painful backs, we march on.
What are these compared to the suffering of refugees,
victims of wars, destruction.
Victims of Western foreign policy, western greed.

We march to demand compassion, justice and humanity for refugees.
Refugees, facing inhumane treatment, at home and in Europe.
The Europe where they thought they would be embraced with
compassion, humanity, kindness.
The Europe where they meet instead with barbed wires and Molotov cocktails.
Not to mention an uncaring reporter’s cruel kicks.

A leaflet I see sums it all up. A man forced to fight Mediterranean waves,
his clumsy dingy having been overturned.
Words in the bubble read “we are not chasing your benefits; we are escaping your bullets”.
Londoners of all ages & ethnic backgrounds join the Welcome Refugees march.  Facebook/Peray Ahmet

On a warm September day in London, we march on.
We march with heavy hearts, images of Aylan’s little body lying on that lonely beach,
still fresh on our minds. Will that image ever go away? I hope not.

Cries of “say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here” echoes in Park Lane,
in some of London’s wealthiest avenues.

                              Photo: Facebook/Peray Ahmet
In an unforgiving land in Europe, a Syrian mother marches too.
She carries a 2 year old in her arms and pushes a pram.
Her two other toddlers walk beside her, hand in hand.
The pram contains all the family’s earthly possessions.
What she managed to salvage. The dad? Probably dead.
She walks among thousands of other refugees.
Refugees with shattered dreams, destroyed futures.
The woman’s desperate tears and driving rain mix together.

We pass the Hilton, the Intercontinental.
Not one face looks out of the thick hotel windows.
Shameful indifference.

An Arab woman hurries through the revolving doors of the Hilton.
Her hands bulging with mostly Harrods bags.
She doesn’t even glance at the marchers. She has no time for us.

Many children are among the crowd.
Some are being pushed in their prams; some happily hopping along their parents.
A most hopeful sign. A woman with sight difficulties walks ahead,
her loyal Labrador her escort.

A cacophony of noise fills the warm air. The camaraderie of marchers warms our hearts.
It fills us with hope. We are one. Differences do not matter here.
What matters is that we share same feelings of compassion, justice, humanity.
Compassion, justice, humanity that are denied to refugees.

Will our voices be heard this time? 

T-VINE columnist Ertanch Hidayettin is a Cypriot Turk of African heritage who came to the UK in 1970. A qualified teacher he chose to pursue a career in local government, working for local authorities in a variety of posts including as an Equality Officer for Islington Council, before retiring in 2007. Since then he has worked with the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE). He is a community activist and a commentator in Turkish and Cypriot media.


Really sorry Aylan Kurdi05 September 2015

Marching against racism24 March 2015

Saturday 12 September 2015

Ebru sails through to bootcamp on the X Factor 2015

Ebru after being told she's through to the next round on this year's X Factor. Photo: Facebook/EbruMusic

A London Turkish singer wowed all four judges during the second week of auditions on this year's X Factor to book her place in bootcamp.

Appearing on the 6th September show, 27-year-old Ebru Gursoy’s rendition of David Guetta and Emelie Sande’s What I Did For Love received a standing ovation from the audience.

In their post-performance review, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini told Ebru,“I believe you’ve got star quality.”

Ebru received four ‘Yes’ votes from the judges, with Cheryl, mimicking Simon Cowell, adding “I didn’t like it. I loved it!”

The talented singer was tipped for stardom earlier in her career, but decided to change her management and took time out in 2014 to ‘rebrand herself and write new songs’.

You can keep a track of Ebru’s journey on the X Factor and beyond via her Facebook page.