19 Ağustos 2015 Çarşamba


Berna Kurt, July 2014, paper presented at the 28th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology, Korčula-Croatia (and published in the proceedings)
In dance historical records, (re)naming of a dance from Artvin, Turkey as Atabarı is associated with a local dance event which occurred in 1936. This popular narrative has been reconstructed many times by different writers. In 2010, a new reconstruction of this narrative triggered a discussion among the dancers and musicians from Artvin.

I make an intertextual and comparative analysis on different (re)constructions of this narrative. Exploring the similarities and contradictions, problematizing the gaps and silences in different accounts of dance historiography, I analyze the historical contexts in which those narratives have been constructed or reconstructed.

Keywords: Turkey; narrative; historiography; Armenian; lyrics

When the literature on the dance historical records in Turkey is overviewed, a very popular narrative attracts some attention. This narrative about the renaming of a dance from Artvin as Atabarı came into the agenda in 2010, by a new reconstruction of it, triggering a remarkable reaction among the dancers and musicians in Artvin.

In this paper, following the post-second world war historiographical approaches like history from below, micro history and social history, I make a micro analysis on this narrative construction and try to emphasize the multiplicity of the voices in the writing of dance history.

Narrative in historiography

Narrative has traditionally been the main rhetorical device used by historians. In 1979, when the new 'social history' was demanding a social-science model of analysis, Lawrence Stone detected a move back toward the narrative. He stated that the narrative was descriptive rather than analytical; organized chronologically; focused on a single coherent story and concerned with people rather than abstract circumstances [Stone 1979:3]. The stories of new historians were different from those of traditional narrative historians. New historians were generally concerned with the feelings and behaviours of ordinary people, giving priority to analysis rather than description, opening up new resources and telling their stories differently from that of Homer, Dickens, or Balzac. More significantly for the purpose of this paper, they were telling the stories to throw light upon the internal workings of a past culture and society [Stone 1979:19].

Adopting a similar approach, my analysis of the narratives about the single event changing the name of the dance "will not be an end in itself, but a mean of illuminating some wider question, which goes far beyond the particular story and its character" as Eric Hobsbawn states [Hobsbawm 1980:4]. Doing so, I take a different position from the tendency Stone generalized as "a decline in the thrust of historical research to ask the big why questions" [Stone 1979:9]. My big why question or my research question is: "Why the narratives about the Atabarı dance miss the commonality of this dance heritage between the Turks and Armenians?" Asking such a question without attempting to identify the origin of the dance as Armenian or Turkish, I analyze the narratives in historical and political contexts, as constructions of the early Republican era and reconstructions in a current political atmosphere. Rethinking on such a popular narrative in dance history of Turkey, I work on a more pluralist dance historiographical approach.

The dominant narrative as a common denominator of different accounts

In some written or oral accounts, renaming of a dance from Artvin as Atabarı has been associated with a dance event. In 1936, after a competition in the Second Balkan Dance Festival, a ball is organized in the Palace of Beylerbeyi, Istanbul. During the performance of the winner team from Artvin, Atatürk - namely 'the ancestor of the Turks' or the founder of Turkish Republic - participated in the dance. He performed all the steps competently and took the lead of the dance group. After the return to Artvin, the performers proposed to change the dance's name to honour him. They consulted with the local governors and they sent a telegram to Ankara - the capital of the new Turkish Republic. After taking Atatürk's offical approval, the dance name became Atabarı - namely 'the dance of the ancestor'.

Afterwards, some performers' accounts have been published and this event became widely known in Turkey. Year after year, the dance has been an important part - generally the beginning - of Artvin dance repertoire.1 It is still being performed in Artvin and in other parts of Turkey.

Intertextual analysis of the narratives

1. Who narrates?

Considering that history is not a line from past to present but an interplay between different discourses, I raised the classical question, "whose 'voice' gets heard in historiography?" In the case of Atabarı narratives, the 'narrators' were generally the members of the Artvin performance group who participated in the ball organized in 1936. (Two narrators of the currently written records published in 2010 and 2011 were Coşkun's and Çağal's family members Nezahat Sezgin and Erol Çağal referring to their accounts).

The written accounts about the ball were published in some books, encyclopedia articles or dissertations. They included three different narrators' accounts:
1) Murat Coşkun - the accordion player [Hacıbekiroğlu, Sürmeli, Akalın 1994:101, 132;
Ünal 1995:43; Sezgin 2010:website],
2) Ali Osman Çağal - the director of the Artvin People's House, defined as the founder of the performance group [Erol Çağal 2011:website],
3) Hüseyin Gürel - another name defined as the founder of the performance group [Tokdemir cited in Artvinli:manuscript].

2. How do they call that dance?

While trying to interpret those secondary resources, I took for granted that all accounts were personal and partial. When the narrators were giving information on Artvin dances or referring to the event that gave rise to the renaming of dance as Atabarı, they were calling the dance differently.

The ways of calling the dance's name were indicating different political viewpoints. Before the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the dance was being performed by Armenian, Georgian and Turkish populations living in Artvin. At that time, many people were calling the dance as Ermeni barı - Armenian dance - or Someh - meaning 'Armenian' in the Georgian language.2 But after the big massacre of the Armenian population by Ottoman state officials in 1915 and the Turkification policies of the later Republican period, many people in Artvin chose to be much more 'silent' about the commonality of this dance heritage between different ethnic groups.

During the analysis of the resources stated above and other ones [Ay 1990:103; Gazimihal 1991:VI; Benninhaus 1992:36; Özturk 2005:122; Su 2000:166; Artvinli 2014: interview: Ural 2014:interview; Oflaz 2014:interview; Melaşvili 2014:interview; İnce 2010: interview], I derived six different names of the dance: 1) Atabarı - the dance of the ancestor -, rated 16 times; 2) Ermeni Barı - Armenian dance -, rated 9 times; 3) Artvin Barı - dance of Artvin -, rated 6 times; 4) Çoruh Barı, - dance of Çoruh -, rated once; 5) Düz Oyun, - the simple or regular dance -, rated once; 6) Ağır Bar - the slow dance -, rated once.

3. How do they narrate?

3.1. Factual differences
Many factual differences can be observed in the reconstructions of the past resources. The place and the date of the dance festival and the ball afterwards differentiate. In some accounts, the names of the performers are missing. The founders, the directors and the members of the performance group are diverse. Initiators of the change in dance name and the process afterwards also vary in different narratives. (See table below.)

are the PARTICIPANTS of the EVENT?
(not specified)
Cemil Demirsipahi
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Murat Coşkun
and Ahmet Çevik
E. Hacıbekiroğlu, N. Sürmeli, Z. Akalın
1936, 1937
Dolmabahçe Palace and
Park Hotel
Director of the team: Mr. Servet  +
Mr. Hüseyin, Mr. Murat, Mr. Ahmet, Mr. Ziver, Mr. Tahsin and  Mr. Ali
The Governor of Artvin sends a telegram to Ankara and takes Atatürk’s approval
Murat Coşkun
→ Adil Ayter
→  Şahin Ünal
1) 02.09.1936 İstanbul
2) 1937
Dolmabahçe Palace
The Governor of Artvin (Refik Koraltan) sends a telegram to Ankara and takes Atatürk’s approval in half an hour.
(not specified)
Sarı Çiçek Monthly Local Journal
Özhan Öztürk
02.09.1936 Beylerbeyi Palace
Hüseyin Gürel
(one of the dancers)
Hüseyin Gürel sends a telegram to Çoruh People’s Houses Director.

They take Atatürk’s approval in two hours

Murat Coşkun
and Hüseyin Tanto

→ Nezahat Sezgin
07.03.1936 (independence day of Artvin)
 Ankara, Karpiç Restaurant
Founder of the team: Kadir Çağıl
Director of the team: Hüseyin Tanto +
Ahmet Çevik, İsmail Çevik
Murat Coşkun (accordion player)
Hasan Öztürk (bagpipe player)
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk don’t like the name of the dance as ˈArmenian danceˈ
Thherefore, the performers to demand the change


Ali Osman Çağal

→ Erol Çağal
Istanbul, Ali Rıza Paşa’s Seaside Residence
Founder of the team: Kadir Çağal

Performers tell about the event in Artvin. The Town Council decides to change the name and they write this decision in People’s Houses’s register.
The Governor of Artvin sends a telegram to Ankara and takes Atatürk’s approval.

Hüseyin Gürel

Hayrettin Tokdemir

Taner Artvinli
02.09.1936 Beylerbeyi Palace
Founder of the team: Hüseyin Gürel

Dancers: Ahmet Çevik, Ziver Bayar, Tahsin Bayar, Ali Şentürk

Murat Coşkun
Hüseyin Gürel
Hüseyin Gürel and The Governor of Artvin sent a telegram from Istanbul to Artvin People’s Houses
They got a positive response from the Çoruh People’s Houses Director Ali Çoruh and Republican People’s Party’s Chair Dr. Cemal Kazancıoğlu
A day after, in an entertainment at Tepebaşı Gazinosu, Istanbul, at the corner of the scene, it was written by the lights “Atabarı (Artvin Barı”. Governor of Istanbul made an explanation to Atatürk and he has been very glad.
Table: Factual differences in different accounts of the same event.

These factual differences raise the concerns in macro history about the memory and the blurring of distinctions between the 'fact' and the 'fiction'. As Husbands states:
If the boundaries between history and fiction are no longer clear or distinct... the understanding of the past is itself a creative act which can be rendered differently by historians, novelists and poets… the place of the imagination in the construction of historical accounts becomes central [Husbands 1996, cited in Carter 2004:5].

Maybe an intertextual analysis of the outcomes of the different imaginations may help us to reconstruct more pluralist narratives of dance historiography.

3.2. Discursive similarities

Some remarkable similarities exist in different accounts of the same event. For example, most of the narrators were emphasizing the democratic and participatory process of the renaming of the dance as the one 'from below' which is a rare happening in the early Republican period. But the narratives of Cemil Demirsipahi and Nezahat Sezgin were the exceptions pointing out to Atatürk as the one demanding change in dance name.

One other common issue in different accounts was the portrayal of Atatürk as the 'best dancer'. Many narrators emphasized his self-confidence and competence in dance performance. He had demanded from the dancers to show more complicated steps and could immediately perform them. Other audience-participants had already left the dance floor when he took the lead of the dancers. Therefore, he was also a charismatic leader in the dancing space.

There was also one interested allegory reminiscent of the national construction period's political symbolisms. Hüseyin Gürel's imagination was as expressed as such: "We were all sitting around him as a semi-circle, forming a crescent around him as the star" [Artvinli: manuscript]. This description was the central figure of the Turkish national flag.

3.3. Gaps and silences

The past is not that which vanishes at every second that passes, but rather that which presents itself in the present as a forceful absence, a set of references, signs, lines of forces, all traversing the body on stage and defining the ground on where dance (all of us) stands [Lepecki 2003, cited in Carter 2004:176].

Trying to acknowledge a common ground between the past and the present; to understand how history is conceived, created and interpreted; I also analyzed the gaps and silences in historical records. These were the products of culturally constructed, hierarchical and generally biased perspectives on the past. But such biases could also be the strength of the research as long as we were aware of what they could imply.

I made interviews to make a comparative analysis between the historical records and the informants' accounts. All informants stated that Artvin has been a multi-cultural city where especially the Turks, Georgians and Armenians lived together for many years and shared a common culture [Öztürk 2014:interview, Artvinli 2014:interview, Ural 2014:interview, Oflaz 2014:interview, Melaşvili 2014:interview, İnce 2010:interview]. The Turks and the Georgians still live in Artvin but since the Ottoman Empire's big massacre at 1915, it's almost impossible to find any Armenian inhabitant in the city. They also expressed that this dance was known as 'Armenian dance' in Artvin. But today, it’s a part of popular 'Turkish dances' repertoire, having a different Turkish name - Atabarı - and a lyric in Turkish language. The elders of Artvin knew about the former names of the dance but they don't want to express it in public space, therefore participate in the existing 'silence' about the issue.

In such a context, after almost seventy years of the change in dance name (in 2010), one of the first narrators', Murat Coşkun's daughter, Nezahat Coşkun, stated that Atabarı was originally an Armenian dance [Coşkun 2010:website]. Her statement, as a new reconstruction of the dominant narrative, triggered severe reactions from some of the Turkish people living in Artvin. Such reactions occurred almost a century after the big massacre of the Armenians, in a changing political atmosphere defined as the 'normalisation of the diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia.'

It has to be noted that the historical records do not include any information about what happened before the ball in 1936. This remarkable gap in historical records and the silence about the subject give rise to the deficient narratives that miss many human voices, many lived experiences, many cultures and identities of the past.

Therefore I had to look for one of those 'missing' parts. Thanks to the help of my friends - ethnomusicologist Burcu Yıldız and my former teacher of Armenian dances, Minas Oflaz - I found the dance song's Armenian version called 'Arnem Ertam Im Yare'. Most of the people from Turkey did not know about the Armenian version of this popular Turkish song called Atabarı.

Atabarı song in the Turkish language is a love song having lyrics like: "This is a wedding house, with a garden and vineyard / They sent my hazel eyed into the army". Probably after the ball in 1936, the most popular couplet of the song was added: "We have Atabarı as a reminder of our ancestor". The song's Armenian version was collected by the famous Armenian composer Gomidas Vartabed. It was also a love song whose title can be translated into English as "I will go up the mountain with my love"3 This popular dance music's bilingual lyrics was an indicator of the common culture which had been forgotten or silenced many years ago in a very tense political atmosphere.

Concluding remarks

When trying to make a critical analysis on a very popular narrative in dance historiography of Turkey, I wanted to listen to more people and to incorporate more voices on this single issue and open a way to (re)construct more pluralist narratives about it. In terms of dance historiography, the change of a name can perhaps open a discussion on what really happened in the past.

1. See online a video of this dance, "11 Artvin Yöresi Dansları.mp4-DHDT", <www.youtube.com/watch?v= frA9voW9Yxw>, (accessed 2010 March 01). This is the well-known Artvin dances' choreography by Suat İnce, for Turkish State Folk Dances Ensemble. Atabarı dance and song is at the beginning of the video.
2. Bar means 'dance' in Armenian language. In Turkish language, it is the name of a collective dance form in northeastern region of Turkey.
3. I am grateful to Minas Oflaz who translated the lyrics from Armenian to Turkish for my research. See online a video of Sahakyan Ensemble, an Armenian music group based in Istanbul who performs the song in both languages: "Arnem Ertam İm Yarı (Sahakyan Korosu)" <www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMIe6GEsySg>, (accessed 2014 July 02).

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