Reviving Traditional Sephardi Music in Turkey

July 19 2016

Riding a wave of local interest in the music of Turkish minority groups, the Istanbul-based band Sefarad began performing updated versions of Ladino folk songs—some in the original language and some translated into Turkish—achieving no small degree of commercial success. But the moment did not last, and in 2007 Sefarad broke up, only four years after it released its first album. Ezgi Üstündağ provides some historical context:

[Following its esablishment in 1924, the Republic of Turkey] set out to build a national culture, to which music was critical. The state banned Ottoman and religious music, while, [in the words of one historian], limiting conservatories to teaching government-controlled “Westernized” and “Turkified” folk music. Radio stations exclusively played Western and government-approved folk music in these early decades. . . .

Sephardi Jews . . . were still made to feel like guests rather than natural-born citizens in the early years of the republic; often, when a Jew appealed the denial of his request to serve in the military or bureaucracy, the authorities would remind him that his kin “owed a debt” to the Turkish people. . . .

Language became another serious point of contention. While the constitution allowed Jews to educate their children in Hebrew and Ladino, Hebrew [continued to be used for ritual and scholarly purposes] and Ladino was rarely encountered outside the home. . . . . [In practice], Jewish community leaders [began] to educate their children in Turkish for the first time in nearly 500 years. . . . By the 1960s, Turkish had become the mother tongue of most of the nation’s Jews.

Read more at Reorient

More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish music, Ladino, Sephardim, Turkish Jewry

How the U.S. Is Financing Bashar al-Assad

Due to a long history of supporting terrorism and having waged a brutal and devastating war on its own people, the Syrian regime is subject to numerous U.S. sanctions. But that doesn’t stop American tax dollars from going to President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, via the United Nations. David Adesnik explains:

UN agencies have spent $95.5 million over the past eight years to house their staff at the Four Seasons Damascus, including $14.2 million last year. New Yorkers know good hotel rooms don’t come cheap, but the real problem in Damascus is that the Four Seasons’ owners are the Assad regime itself and one of the war profiteers who manages the regime’s finances.

The hotel would likely go under if not for UN business; Damascus is not a tourist destination these days. The UN claims keeping its staff at the Four Seasons is about keeping them safe. Yet there has been little fighting in Damascus since 2017. A former UN diplomat with experience in the Syrian capital told me the regime tells UN agencies it can only guarantee the safety of their staff if they stay at the Four Seasons.

What makes the Four Seasons debacle especially galling is that it’s been public knowledge for seven years, and the UN has done nothing about it—or the many other ways the regime siphons off aid for its own benefit. One of the most lucrative is manipulating exchange rates. . . . One of Washington’s top experts on humanitarian aid crunched the numbers and concluded the UN lost $100 million over eighteen months to this kind of rate-fixing.

What the United States and its allies should do is make clear to the UN they will turn off the spigot if the body doesn’t get its act together.

Read more at New York Post

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations