Friday, February 05, 2010

Religious Songs of Trebizond (Sunday Feature Radio 3)

As I download photos and videos of our trip to Turkey, here are some relevant programmes. Last week's Sunday Feature is a programme on religious songs of Trebizond. It uncovers the complicated religious history of one Turkish city in which the personal and collective religious beliefs reflect the changing religious history of the region.

The shepherds in the high mountains behind the city of Trebizond, who for more than a thousand years had driven their flocks up onto the high plateau in summer and back to the narrow coastal plain in winter, sometimes adopting a Christian persona, sometimes a Muslim one, disappeared and the economy has never really recovered. Worse than this for some, the architectural jewel that was Trabzon (as it is now called) has become an almost Soviet-like conglomeration of tower blocks. The final insult came five years ago with the much opposed construction of a coastal motorway, which has chopped this once great maritime city off from the Black Sea. The isolation that kept ancient cultures protected has finally gone - along with the cultures. Tom de Waal traces some of what has been lost to the Soumela Monastery where every August 15th people of Pontic descent from across the globe come to remember the feast of the Virgin. Here there is a collision of Russian, Turkish and Greek interests, which provides a lesson in modern regional politics. But connecting all of these disparate people is music - the Greek Lyre and the Turkish Kemence, a small violin played like a 'cello. They play the same, they dance the same. Culturally connected and politically divided this is a story of people who are really cousins, or even brothers, but cannot quite bring themselves to admit it.

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