Turkey loses cultural heritage

Young people leave for the big cities, while elder people slowly pass away. Slowly the traditional dances and music from the small villages gets lost. ‘We need equal rights for every tradition and a national and local mediation unit for culture’, says Olcay Muslu Gardner from Istanbul Technical University.

2016-02-15 15-31-20 Ekran görüntüsü

By Laurens Bammens*

Olcay Muslu Gardner has a Ph.D. in musicology and music theories from Istanbul Technical University. In ‘The Parameters of Cultural Sustainability in Turkey’ seminar at Bilgi University, she talked about the old traditions disappearing, certainly in the many small towns of Turkey.


For her studies, Gardner went to Domaniç, a town in the Kütahya Province. She conducted her first field work there in 1998. She said everything was intact. The dances and the music were being performed by the many inhabitants of the town. When she went back in 2013, many of it had disappeared. The drums were nog used anymore and other instruments were just put on display, but were not used.

Engendered, endangered

At first Gardner made a catalogue of the dances that were still being performed. Not easy since men and women’s dances in Domaniç are performed separately. They do not like outsiders to have a peek. The gender-split might be one of the biggest problems the cultural sustainability has. ‘If development is not engendered, it is endangered’, is a quote by the United Nations.


Another big problem is the decrease in interest for the cultural traditions. The younger people are leaving the small towns for the big cities like Istanbul. The older people slowly pass away. Since they think none of the young generation is interested in their dances, they do not talk about, they do not teach them. ‘I proofed that when you show these people there is an interest in their culture, the motivation to pass the traditions on is much greater’, said Gardner.

The power of government

Gardner urges to have both a national and local mediation unit to help the people preserve their traditions. Right now, the culture is being preserved by several ministries. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, National Education, Ministery of Youth and the Ministry of Development. According to Gardner, it would be much better if there was one unit for culture preservation.

On a local level, there is a certain hierarchy of the local administration. On top there is the province, then comes the municipality and then the villages. The problem is that these levels have no way of dealing with all the different ethnicities and cultures inside the small villages. There are many political tensions that prevent some people to even leave their house for their cultural events. Even in Germany, Turkish expats are more free in organising their own events.

World Dance Day

According to Gardner, the local community is built up of four profiles. There are the nostalgic urbanites, those who left for the big city, but have fond memories of the traditions back home. Then there are the local villagers who may or may not know about the traditions. There are the tradition bearers whom are the ones that know the most about the traditions. They know the dances and music and have the power to teach them to others. At last there is the young generation. They are very important since once they have learned the traditions, they can participate in competitions or festivals.

Every years, Istanbul Technical University organises World Dance Day. A day where the people from Domaniç and other towns can visit and perform their cultural dances. It took Gardner a lot of willpower to convince the people to show off their culture, but it worked out. All of them returned happy and with more motivation to pass on their traditions.

In conclusion, Gardner says there can be so much more studies about cultural traditions. Every town is a case on its own, so in every small town, years of research can be done. Then at one point we can reach equal rights for every subculture and no-one will be shy to show off their cultures anymore.

**Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016



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