Sunday, July 26, 2020


The pandemic rages on in the US. It’s now been over four months of quarantining at home. People are refusing to do the basic things of wearing a mask and social distancing, so at this point, I can’t even foresee going back to normal any time soon. Because you know, idiots. Thankfully, the school chose to delay the start of school, and we were able to sign up for virtual/remote learning for at least the first semester. But it’s summer now, and I’m grateful for being in our house with a huge yard that allows us to social distance a little more at home. And I have a nice kitchen to cook tasty food!

I snacked on a bit of this bread, and I have to say it pairs well with cabernet sauvignon.

So, today I’m making food from Turkmenistan. The first thing I made was Çörek. I’m actually using this bread as part of the next dish. So, in a large bowl, I mixed my yeast in some warm water and let it sit for a few minutes, then I added in my salt and flour. I mixed everything together with my hands for a few minutes until it formed a rough dough. After I kneaded it until it was smooth, I covered the bowl with a little bit of wax paper and let it rise for a bit. When it started to rise after about a half hour, I moved it to a lightly floured surface, patted it down and shaped it into a disk about ¾” thick by 12” in diameter. Then I covered it again and let it rest for about 20 minutes. Once the oven heated up to 480ºF, I put the bread on a baking sheet that I dusted with flour and then poked holes all over the top of the bread with a fork. I brushed the bread with a bit of water, and then placed the baking tray on the middle rack and baked it for about 18 minutes or until it turned golden brown. I thought the bread by itself was really good. It would make a good bread to dip into soup or stew. It seems kind of a basic bread, but there’s a reason these variations have lasted forever.

Outside of the saltlick broth, this wasn't that bad. Gonna try to salvage this.

One of their most well-known dishes is Dograma. I placed some stew beef and some water in a large pot and brought it to a boil over high heat. After it started to boil, I skimmed off the fat scum from the top and added in my salt. Reducing the heat to medium, I covered it and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then I threw in a can of diced tomatoes. I let this simmer for a while until the meat was super tender. In a bowl, I tore pieces of the çörek bread I made earlier into small pieces. Then I tossed in some onion slices and mashed/rubbed them together with my hands. On a cutting board, I removed the meat from the broth and shredded it with my hands. Then I added that to the bread and onions and mashed them all together with my hands. At this point, I took about 3-4 Tbsps of the broth and poured it over the bread-onion-meat mix and let it soak up for a few minutes. To assemble this, I placed some of this mixture in a bowl, added some black pepper to it, and then ladled some of the broth on top of it. I really messed my broth up. I either used way too much salt or didn’t add in enough water. Anyhow, it was just way too salty for any of us to eat. I may try to remake some broth to use in it for later. The rest of it wasn’t bad.

This was clearly the winner! I will definitely make this again.

The next dish I made was Palaw, or Turkmen Pilaf. I made this one with chicken, and I cut them into bite-sized pieces that I mixed with some salt. In a large pot, I heated some oil and browned my chicken pieces and then added in some onion. Once the onion became soft, I threw in some shredded (or julienned) carrots and fried them together for five minutes. After adding some more water, I turned the heat up on high and let it boil for five minutes. Then I took my rice that I had soaked in warm water and drained and added it to the pot with the meat and veggies. I kept the lid off, and as soon as the rice had started to absorb some of the water, I took my spoon and made holes in the rice to allow for more even cooking. I lowered the heat to low-medium and covered the pot, letting it steam for about 20 minutes (it’s ok to stir once or twice during this). When the rice is soft, stir everything up and serve it warm. I immediately recognized this smell when I took the lid off. I tasted almost exactly like my mom’s chicken and rice that she used to make when I was a kid (except that she added in some celery). This was the big hit with my family. We all enjoyed it very much.

Two out of three ain't bad.

One thing I noticed with these dishes was the lack of spices. Essentially salt and pepper. But for being a landlocked country that’s mostly desert, it makes sense. But that didn’t mean their food was bland. They figured out ways to flavor food by using the fat from the broth, for example. Mashing the onions into the meat and bread was another. Needless to say this isn’t a meal for those on a diet. But it was tasty, and in high-stress times like these, sometimes I’d rather just find my happiness where I can get it.

Up next: Tuvalu

Saturday, July 25, 2020


Traditional folk music in Turkmenistan is pretty close to that of nearby Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, sharing many of the same styles and instruments. Probably the most representative category is the mukamlar. It actually refers to a repertoire of music written for the dutar (a two-stringed lute) or it can be for the tuiduk (an end-blown flute). There are several pieces that form the core of this, and they share certain aspects of modality and technique with other traditions as well. The bakshy not only played the dutar at many of the important celebrations and festivals, they also were traveling singers and shamen. This elevated their status to become one of the more important people in Turkmen society.


There are several instruments that are uniquely Turkmen from a cultural standpoint. The dutar plays an important part in Turkmen music and can be used to play several styles of music. It’s generally strummed or plucked. It originally had strings made of catgut, which switched over to silk as the Silk Road stretched its way through the land, and that eventually gave way to nylon strings in modern times. The tuiduk is similar to the zurna as a type of woodwind instrument blown through the end. It’s also the object of legend: some say that the tuiduk is what gave Adam his soul when played by the angel Gabriel (brass players know that woodwood instruments actually steal your soul, not the other way around. I’m joking, for crying out loud.). However, another legend says that the tuiduk was played by the devil (this might be true) (Again, I’m joking. Don’t send me hate mail.) A related instrument is the dili tuiduk, which is a single-reed instrument that’s more like a clarinet. The gargy tuiduk is another end-blown flute that’s like the ney.

While different ethnic groups have their own dances and variations, one dance tradition that made UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list is Kushtdepdi. This performance art of singing and dancing is centered around giving good feelings and well wishes. Basically, any time there’s a celebration or national festival, kushtdepdi is performed. Master singers pass these skills down to amateurs, and it’s seen as a bridge between the generations. I also came across an older article about how everyone in the country was getting ready for their Independence Day celebrations by having the entire country learn a dance. And by learning, I mean, they had government-led mandatory 3-hour dance lessons held in stadiums. Schools would end early so they can learn this dance in the afternoons, just in time for all the office workers to take their lessons in the evenings. I guess, I suppose that could be fun.

"Elini Ber"

I came across a few Turkmen musicians. There weren’t very many on Spotify, although there may be more on YouTube somewhere. The first one I listened to was a song called “Elini Ber” by Parahat Amandurdyyev and Mahri Pirgulyyeva. It’s kind of a dance-pop song, very European in style.


Next I listened to a couple songs by Firyuza: “Boom Boom” and “Soyguni ber.” Her songs were in the same dance-pop category. I thought it was kind of catchy. She almost makes use of some R&B styles as well.

I found a hip-hop artist called Narzes. I was kind of impressed that it was better than I expected. The songs definitely were different enough from each other, and his flow and cadence were good. And there were times when he threw in some English words too.

Last but not least, I found a death metal band from Turkmenistan called Shovel on the Corpse. I’m not typically a death metal fan (I prefer other genres of metal), but at least they are representing their country. I’m sure it’s probably difficult to play and sing that way. And I’m sure it’s a cathartic release of energy for them.

Up next: the food

Sunday, July 19, 2020


Prior to the Russian takeover of Turkmenistan, the country mainly consisted of several ethnic groups living together. Many of these groups were nomadic, which the Russians hated and forced them to stop. I guess it’s harder to force people to do what you say and pay taxes to you if they keep moving around from place to place. But I digress.

World's largest yurt, just outside of Mary, Turkmenistan

Many of these nomadic clans live in yurts, which are decorated with Turkmen carpets. These rugs weren’t just used as floor coverings, but they used them as bags, wall coverings, and door hangings as well. Today, many of these rugs are produced to be exported to other nearby countries; Pakistan and Iran are huge fans of these rugs. These rugs are characterized by their natural dyes (although some synthetic dyes may be used in commercially made ones now), and many are a reddish or brown/tan color. They also tend to use geometric repeating patterns. Some of these patterns have a particular meaning behind them, and some were representative of different clans.

Jewelry has a special place in Turkmen society. Not only is it worn because it’s pretty, but it’s also worn for spiritual reasons as well as to show their standing in society. Silver is commonly used, and it’s often decorated with precious and semi-precious stones. The stones themselves have special meanings to them as well; and some of these stones, they believe have magical powers to them (wonder which stone wards of coronavirus?). 

Another unique part of Turkmen culture is a type of hat known as the telpek hat. These high, shaggy hats made out of black sheepskin look kind of like afros from a distance. However, I think they can come in different styles and other colors. Worn by men in traditional dress, they’re typically accompanied by a white shirt underneath a red robe. Women, on the other hand, typically wore a long slack dress over a pair of thin pants that were usually embroidered at the ankle -- with of course, jewelry! Today, they wear more Western-style clothes.

As far as Western-style painting arts goes, it didn’t really take off until the 20th century. Some of the names to look for include Durdy Bayramov (active during the Soviet era, he was given the highest honor of People’s Artist of Turkmen SSR, known for his portraits, still lifes, and landscapes), Husein Huseinov (known for his landscape painting, he’s also the artistic director for several films), Izzat Klychev (the name that sounds like a question, also a People’s Artist of Turkmen SSR recipient, known for his painting series “My Turkmenia”), Byashim Nurali (painter, art teacher, was killed in an air crash in 1965), and Amangeldy Hydyr (has a focus on nature and Turkmen history, his works are often included in exhibitions on Turkmen art).

by Izzat Klychev

Throughout the country, the Turkmen language is the most widely spoken language used. Many people who live in the capital of Ashgabat also speak Russian, though. Most of their early works were passed down by word of mouth. There were bards known as bakhshi who would recite these pieces of literature or historical tales. Later on, Turkmen literature grew out of influences of Persian literature as well as Uzbek, Turkish, and Azerbaijani traditions. Even under Russian control, Turkmen literature continued to be produced.

Magtymguly Pyragy

Two poets stand out as representing Turkmen poetry and literature. Magtymguly Pyragy is not only an 18th-century poet but was also a sufi and spiritual leader. His poetry generally centered around philosophy, and he was dubbed the father of Turkmen literature. Because he often wrote in Turkmen and not in Persian, one of the main languages of poetry in that area, and because he promoted a unified Turkmenistan, he became a central figure in the country’s history. There are tons of streets and buildings named after him.

Also writing in the late 18th century and early 19th century, Mämmetweli Kemine was a satirical poet of the time. There’s not a lot of information about him out there that wasn’t already the same short, uncited abstract copy and pasted verbatim on most sites I pulled up. However, I did manage to find the article in Turkmen that I ran through Google Translate. It turns out that he switched schools to attend a madrassa in Bukhara, which changed his life. He would often sit around and talk about poetry and music, and he had a lot of close ties with many of the contemporary poets of the day. Many of his poems were centered around life, social relations, and what he thought of as universal love.

Berdi Kerbabayev

One 20th-century author to note is Berdi Kerbabayev. He’s one of the most prominent authors of that century and is most widely known for his 1940 novel Aygïtlï ädim (The Decisive Step) and his 1957 novel Nebit-Dag. Not only was he a novelist, he also wrote quite a few plays and poems and completed several translations.

Up next: music and dance

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


I downloaded this new trivia game the other day, and although I’m really good at world capitals, I’m not so good at world flags. And I’ve always been weak at identifying flags, probably because so many of them look very similar. The main ones I know, but there are only so many colors, and I think some countries got lazy in creating their national flag. I mean, there’s only one country now (Jamaica) that doesn’t have red, white, or blue somewhere on their national flag. But some countries at least took some time to come up with a flag that’s unique, and Turkmenistan is one of them. So kudos to their creativity teams, although it’s really hard to duplicate from memory, I suppose.

The name Turkmenistan is derived from Turkmen + stan. Turkmen, as a Turkic ethnic group, means “almost Turk” and -stan is a Persian ending meaning “land of.” There are a couple other theories as to its origin. While it was under Russian rule, they changed its name to Turkmen SSR but was also commonly called Turkmenia.

Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia, surrounded by Kazakhstan to the north; Uzbekistan to the north and east; Afghanistan to the southeast; Iran to the south; and the Caspian Sea to the west. The vast majority of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert, and the other parts are covered by the Great Balkhan mountain range and the Kopet Dag range. For most of the year, its climate is arid desert with subtropical temperature range and has milder, wetter winters.

Saparmurat Niyazov

Originally, this area was inhabited by Indo-Iranians but was taken over by the Oghuz tribes who were a Turkic group from around Mongolia. The term Turkmen first referred to those from the Oghuz tribes now living in Turkmenistan who converted to Islam. The Seljuk Empire took over in the 10th century and was later defeated, only to have the Mongols do the same thing a century later. By the time the 16th century came along, a couple of Uzbek khanates were quite influential in Turkmenistan, and Turkmen soldiers helped out Uzbek soldiers quite a bit. However, one particular Turkmen group wasn’t really having it anymore and got under the Uzbek military’s skin enough to be kicked to the curb. Turkmenistan was also known for doing its part in the slave trade that spread across Central Asia. So, there’s that. In the late 19th century, Russia took an interest in Turkmenistan and moved right in. Not only did they pull in Turkmenistan as a territory, but they included the Uzbeks as well (talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time). They changed over to being the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, and a decade later, the Russians had killed off what part of their cultural nomadic lifestyle they had left. As Turkmenistan was preparing itself for its independence after Russia broke up in 1991, it found itself being run by the communist leader Saparmurat Niyazov. His guy had such a strong motivation of independent nationalism with a cult of personality to match (he even wrote his own religious book that he made people practically memorize). So, it’s no surprise he made himself president for life. He ended up having a lot of terrible, garbage policies and ideas he implemented (you don’t say!), especially ones that centered on a one-party system, strict censorship rules, human rights issues, and stuff like that (he once closed down all the hospitals outside of the capital and all the rural libraries; like, this guy’s nuts). He died in 2006, and a new guy took over and had a lot of work to do to undo what his predecessor did.

The capital city is the south-central city of Ashgabat (also spelled Ashgabad, Ashkhabad, Ashkhabat, or Aşgabat); it’s really not that far from the Iranian border. It means “city of love” or “city of devotion.” With about a million people today, it started out as an ancient wine-making village along the Silk Road (I can see why it’s the city of love now). Today, it has several universities, shopping areas, theatres, parks, sporting venues, and museums.

Turkmenistan has a lot of natural gas and oil reserves. Even at that, they generally have a pretty high unemployment rate. Some of their problems lie in that they’re landlocked without an adequate way to export. This was especially true about 20 years ago, although I think they have some better trade deals now. And for such a long time, government corruption wasn’t really helping their economy either. Agriculture is also fairly important as well, and especially cotton, which is one of their biggest exports. In an effort to build up tourism in Turkmenistan, medical tourism has been on the rise. Their new president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (what a name!) also had put in a lot of money into building up a touristy area called Awaza (which seems named after the worst typing exercise). It was his attempt to build up a Dubai-like tourist zone along the Caspian Sea and has also been likened to a “Turkmen Las Vegas,” but some reports have shown that, like the real Las Vegas, it’s not quite all as advertised.

Nearly 93% of Turkmens are Muslim, while 6% are Christian. Of the Christians that are there, most adhere to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and more specifically the Russian Orthodox Church; however, there are several other denominations of Christian churches represented throughout the country, probably mostly in the capital and other larger cities. There’s also a small following of Baha’i in Turkmenistan that has been present since the religion began. During the Soviet years, pretty much all religions were wiped out altogether.

Turkmen is the official language, not surprising. It’s related to Turkish and Azerbaijani. However, Russian is still used as a lingua franca in many cities as a way to communicate between different ethnic groups. There’s also quite a few Uzbek speakers in Turkmenistan as well, which makes sense given its close proximity and history. Pockets of other languages are spoken throughout the country based on ethnic groups.

Indoor Ferris wheel

I am all about weird claims to fame, and Ashgabat does not disappoint. They claim to have the highest Ferris wheel that’s enclosed, the fourth-tallest freestanding flag pole, and the Ashgabat Fountain, which has the most fountain pools in one place. And on top of that, the Guinness Book of Records included Ashgabat in 2013 for having the highest concentration of white marble buildings. And the city is also where Turkmenistan Tower is located, which has one identifiable mark: a large octagonal star. Dubbed the Star of Oguzkhan, it is the world’s largest architectural image of a star, according to the Guinness Book of Records. So, there’s something for everyone here!

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, July 5, 2020


The heat and humidity is finally here, and thankfully the 4th of July has finally passed. Last night sounded like a war zone across much of the city. I saw posts of everyone carrying on with their festivities --barbecues and parties and fireworks and shopping-- as if we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. Unbelievable. We stayed home this weekend, like we do every weekend. (Except this weekend, we watched the Hamilton movie, and now my heart is full!)

Black and white, just like my family.

I had trouble narrowing down recipes from Turkey, so I had to split this between two days because I picked so many. Plus, I had a three-day weekend so I had some extra time. For the bread, I made a Turkish Ramadan flatbread called Pide. I put my flour in a bowl and mixed a package of yeast into it. Then I added in some warm water and stirred with a fork, adding in some warm milk after that and doing the same. I added in a bit of softened butter and olive oil, working that into the mix before adding in the sugar and salt. Then comes the hard part: I kneaded it for like 10 minutes before turning it out onto a floured surface and kneading for another five minutes. Then I let it rise for about two hours while covered with a piece of wax paper that I sprayed with cooking spray instead of using a damp cloth. After that, I removed the cloth and divided them into two with a knife and shaped them into loaves (you can pick either oval or round. I picked round). With that knife, I cut a slight circle into the dough about an inch around the edge and then did a criss-cross pattern in the middle of it. In a small bowl, I whisked together a little plain yogurt and an egg yolk and brushed it on top of the loaves generously and sprinkled some black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds on top (the recipe calls for nigella seeds, but I didn’t have any, and I thought the black and white seeds would look cool). I baked this at 430ºF for 30 minutes or until it was golden brown. This was actually really good. It was soft in the middle, and although it was browned on the outside, the crust was very soft. The nuttiness of the sesame seeds was quite subtle.

I have this say, this was so gouda. (Sorry.)

My main dish today was Karides Güveç, or Turkish Shrimp and Vegetable Casserole. I boiled my shrimp (I used fully cooked frozen shrimp) in salted water for a couple minutes and then took it off the heat and rinsed them in cold water to keep them from cooking any more than that. Then I cleaned and diced some onion, garlic, green peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms. I heated a little olive oil in a saucepan and fried my onions and garlic a bit before throwing in the green peppers. After that sauteed for a few minutes, I added in my tomatoes, mushrooms, a little tomato paste and some salt and pepper along with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. I let that simmer down until most of the liquid was gone, stirring often so it didn’t stick to the bottom. Then I added in my shrimp to this and stirred everything really well and transferred the whole thing to a casserole dish. Before I put this in the oven, I covered it in grated cheese: the recipe calls for fresh Turkish kashar cheese, but I just grated some fresh smoked gouda. I set this to broil on the top rack in the oven, so that the cheese starts to bubble. This was really good, and the smoked gouda really added to the dish. That was probably my favorite part.

Not too bad, even without the orzo.

To go with this, I made a Turkish-style rice pilaf with orzo, except not with orzo. (The stores are still a little shaky on how they’re stocked, and my husband couldn’t find any at two different stores. Since I wasn’t using that much, I just broke up a handful of spaghetti into orzo-sized pieces. Not the same, but it’ll do.) In a shallow saucepan, I melted some butter and oil together and added in the bits of pasta to it. I stirred this continuously until it was a dark golden color. Then I added in my uncooked rice and stirred it all together until it was coated in the oil. Then I slowly added my chicken broth to this and a little salt and pepper. I brought this to a boil, stirring a little, and then I turned my heat down and put the lid on it. When all the liquid was gone, I removed it from the heat to let it continue steaming (without taking the lid off, of course). Then I stirred it up a bit before serving. Despite the fact that this was using pieces of broken spaghetti, it was quite good and went well with the shrimp and vegetables.

It's ok no one liked them. I ate the rest for breakfast today.

But yesterday, I made a couple of dishes, too. For dinner, we had Mücver, or Turkish Zucchini Fritters. I actually saw these in a polyglot group, and they looked so good that I HAD to try them. And keep in mind there are a ton of variations on these, too. I made mine by grating a zucchini and putting it in a mixing bowl along with some shredded carrots, feta cheese crumbles, a little dill, a little mint, and a little salt and pepper (next time, I’m adding in some cumin and spring onions). I stirred in one egg (you might need two, depending on how watery your zucchini is) and then stirred in the flour. My recipe didn’t call for enough flour, so I added enough to make a light batter around the vegetables (otherwise, it won’t fry up right, as I found out with the first batch). Then I took a little vegetable oil and heated it up, dropping spoonfuls in the skillet and flattening them into a patty. Once one side was browned, I flipped it to brown on the other side, and then let it drain on a paper towel. I don’t really know what they put on them, if anything, but I did put a little bit of ricotta cheese on top and it was good. Knowing that no one else likes zucchini, I wasn’t surprised that I was the only one who liked these.

I ate three. Maybe four.

I also tried my hand at Lemon Turkish Delights. I think the real Turkish Delights are made with rosewater, but I don’t like rose-flavored anything since I think it smells like old-lady perfume. So, the lemon ones were a good alternative. I suppose you can make them whatever flavor you want if you can find an extract to use. And this recipe was also probably not traditional, since I made it in the microwave. (But it’s also 90 degrees here, so not using my oven/stove any more than I have to is a great thing.) In a 4-qt Pyrex bowl, I whisked together some cornstarch and water until it looked like milk. Then I microwaved for 2 minutes and whisked again with a fork. I microwaved it again for 3 minutes and whisked again. At this point, it was starting to feel like glue. Then I added in a bunch of sugar and some corn syrup. I put it in the microwave for 5 minutes, but I didn’t watch it close enough and it boiled over and made a huge mess out of everything. So, I paused and had to clean up this sticky mess. It felt like a toddler had been here. And that toddler was using a hot glue gun. Then I microwaved it for 3 minutes, pausing every time it got close to overflowing. And then I whisked again. Then I did another 3 minutes in the microwave, and you guessed it, whisked again. At this point it’s starting to get really thick, and I added in a tablespoon of lemon extract and a little bit of food coloring (we had to go with orange because apparently the two stores my husband went to didn’t have yellow at all). I microwaved it for 3 more minutes and stirred and repeated that one more time for good measure. Then I felt like it was probably thick enough. I sprayed a loaf pan with cooking spray and poured it out in there, smoothing it out as best I could and let it sit at room temperature for two hours to firm up. After this, I turned it out and cut it into 1” squares. In an old butter cookie tin, I used wax paper and placed them in there, using another sheet of wax paper between the layers, and let it sit out for almost 24 hours to completely firm up. When it had set up, I mixed together a little bit of cornstarch and powdered sugar together in a bowl and gently tossed each of the candies into the powdery mix. This was my first time making candy (I don’t really count Brazilian brigadeiros as candy, but maybe I should. Who knows?), and I’ve always been a little cautious to attempt it, but I think it turned out pretty well. And they were quite tasty if I may say so myself. So, I can at least say I know how gummy candies are made (somewhat).

I loved everything about this meal. Like, really, really loved it.

I used to say that any country that was once part of the Ottoman Empire had some great food. And, well, I’m not wrong. I don’t know what it is, but I love food from this area of the world. And I’ve read that Mediterranean diets are among the healthiest for you (probably minus the Turkish Delights). And I made it through several lessons of Turkish Duolingo. I like it and am starting to get the hang of things. I may stick with it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll make that trip to Istanbul before my life’s up and see the real Bosporus.

Up next: Turkmenistan


Turkish music should get an Instagram since it was such an influencer. But like every influencer, they borrowed styles from a lot of other people around them. They have their own styles of course, but with bits and pieces they picked off of Greek music, Arabic music, Balkan music, Persian music, and other styles from Central Asia. But there has also been a ton of people influenced by Turkish music as well: from classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart to modern groups like Beats Antique (which draws from a broader “Middle Eastern” sound).

Early Turkish music had strong roots in the music from the Seljuk Turks. Much of their folk music is based on this but with parts of the larger Turkic style that included variations of Armenian, Azeri, Greek, Polish, Jewish, and Albanian music. Folk music thrived in smaller towns as well as larger cities, even leading to different regional variations. And the Ottomans certainly had their own influences on it music and created a few standards on which other genres grew out of.

The backwards flat means the notes been lowered by a quarter tone.

Ottoman court music is based on a traditional form of Turkish classical music using modes and scales called makams. And they actually used several different types of methods of musical notation, eventually adopting the Western style of notation. The main form comprises a prelude, an improvisation section called a taksim (or taqsim), followed by a postlude (seems kind of like a sonata form but on a larger scale like a concerto perhaps.


Traditional instruments are somewhat ubiquitous to what’s also used in Balkan and Middle Eastern music. Some of the instruments you’ll hear in Turkish folk traditions include the ney (an end-blown flute), the tambur (a plucked lute with a long neck), the oud (a plucked lute with a short neck and without frets), a kemençe (a bowed fiddle), the kanun (a type of plucked zither), and a variety of drums. Of course, today modern Western instruments are also played along with traditional ones.

In the royal courts, the women of the family would all live in a separate house, called the harem. And using melodies based on the traditional makams, they developed a type of dance music out of this. I’d say that most people are aware of belly dancing, but probably aren’t aware that belly dancing is a style of dancing that was created by women for women. The dancer, known as a rakkase, is hardly ever seen performing in public. Very different from today’s standard of seeing belly dancers performing in restaurants and festivals (unless it’s part of another’s culture, perhaps).

I was able to find quite a few Turkish musicians on Spotify. The first one I listened to was Müslüm Gürses, famous for singing in the arabesque style of music but was also an actor as well. The key parts I took from this were the traditional styles drums and strings accompanying a melodic line. At times it reminded me of Indian music. He was pretty active in the music scene from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. Arabesque music tends to be about sadness, sorrow, and pain, so much so that scientists have studied the fact that apparently some of his fans would cut themselves with razor blades during his concerts. I mean, that’s pretty extreme. They do know it’s just a song, right?

Sezen Aksu has been dubbed Queen of Turkish Pop for a reason. Even NPR included her in the 50 Great Voices of the World in 2011. Her career spans many decades, and her vocal style has a very melodic quality to it. She’s been a voice for activism, outwardly opposing many of the policies of the current administration and serving as a gay icon in Turkey.

If you’re looking for a more modern style of pop/dance, that brings us to Tarkan. He was actually born in West Germany (back when that was a thing) and moved with his family back to Turkey when he was 14 years old. He began taking an interest in music as a child and it grew to what it is now, eventually performing with many internationally known musicians. Another world pop musician that falls in this category more or less is Mustafa Sandal, although some of his music may be a little softer.

Ok, so I came across several rap/hip-hop musicians. The first one I listened to was Ceza. He incorporates some traditional drumming and other instrumental elements into his music. I have to give him props because I’ve actually never heard Turkish rap, but I think it sounds great (and he can rap kind of fast at times). I’d also recommend listening to Sagopa Kajmer; it’s a little more chill from what I listened to the Ahmak Islatan album. Sansar Salvo livens things up with a kind of electronica/hip-hop sound but some of these rhythms seem overly syncopated and doesn’t seem to match the beat at times. Another hip-hop artist I listened to is Şehinşah, who tends to have faster melodic music behind the music and collaborates with others on his music.

There were actually a few older musicians I listened to and included because I’m a big fan of rock of the 1960s and 1970s, and their sound fit right in. The first was Cem Karaca, and the album I listened to a bit of seems all instrumental and definitely fits in nicely with other psychedelic bands. Both Bariş Manço and Moǧollar have more of a folk rock feel to their music.

And finally I landed on a couple of metal bands from Turkey, both of which I look forward to listening to a little more in-depth. Pentagram has quite a bit of melodic elements to them. (They actually go by the name Mezarkabul outside of Turkey.) They’re probably not as “metal” as some people might expect from metal. Although I do like that they sing in both English and Turkish. Another metal band that uses classical styles mixed with their music is Almôra. This symphonic gothic metal band has been around since the early 2000s, and I just have to appreciate that they’re a metal band utilizing women as main vocalists.

Up next: the food

Thursday, July 2, 2020


Early Turkish art was influenced by several ancient cultures that included groups like the Hittites, the ancient Greeks, and later the Byzantines. You can see some of this in pottery and carvings and such. However, the first major influence on Turkish art was from the Ottomans.

During the Ottoman reign, there were artist workshops in the palaces, but they were physically located away from the main palaces. Apparently, they produced most of the high-end art that you see from this period, and may have been able to take other commissioned work from other people outside of the palace (everyone needs a side hustle, you know). However, pottery and textiles weren’t done in these workshops, though. For many of these artists at this time, these coveted skills were passed along from father to son.

The Ottomans, being highly tied to Islam, developed and promoted Islamic art. The architectural styles that stemmed from this include the use of highly decorative tiles. They also incorporated vaults, domes and semi-domes, arabesque-style walls, and columns in their buildings. Because Islam forbids creating any kind of human likenesses, many of the tile decorations are geometric in design and typically fills an entire space. They also tend to use quite a bit of color and sometimes outlined in gold or silver for a very elegant effect.

Islamic calligraphy has long been a type of artform throughout the Arab world, and Turkish calligraphers even developed their own style, like the mirror writing seen above. Usually drawn upon words and phrases from the Quran or other literature, it can be artistically drawn itself or incorporated into a larger picture. I’ve seen some examples that are absolutely outstanding. I can’t read any of it, but it’s so fascinating to see the creativity. Related to this is the tughra: a type of stylized signature the sultans would adopt as a way of formally signing their name. You never get a second chance at a first impression, I guess.

Turkish carpets, also called Anatolian rugs, is a knotted, pile-woven rug used as either a floor or wall covering. There are different kinds of rugs, like the kilim, that vary in their type of weaving, materials, and designs but all historically dominated during the Ottoman Empire, although it was a practice well before and certainly after that time.

The Tortoise Trainer, by Osman Hamdi Bey

Painting in the European style took a while for it to make its way to Turkey and was slow to become popular. Osman Hamdi Bey was one of the lone painters for a long time, active from about the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Not only was he considered a leading art expert, but he was also a successful archaeologist. And he really paved the way in museum studies, essentially leading the way in the profession of museum curators. He also holds the record for the most expensive painting sold in Turkey. As Turkey transitioned to a more officially secular country, painting and sculpture adapted and changed along with it as artists began to find their own styles.

Turkish literature was highly influenced by Persian and Arabic literature and also includes different Turkic languages. Early Turkish texts used a Perso-Arabic script, which changed over to using a Latin-based alphabet in 1928. It’s somewhat debated on how literary historians divide up Turkish literary eras, but it’s generally pre-Ottoman/Islamic, Ottoman/Islamic, and modern.

Karagöz and Hacivat

Poetry has long been a genre that has lasted since antiquity, relying on many Persian and Arabic styles. Much of their folk poetry used syllabic verses organized into quatrains, and their poetry was very much tied in with music. This folk poetry was mainly told and passed down orally and performed at minstrel shows. Written folk literature had quite a few characters from folktales that outlasted the test of time. One popular character is Nasreddin, a type of trickster character who would kind of play jokes on his neighbors. Another popular duo in Turkish literature was Karagöz, a kind of country bumpkin, and Hacivat, a more worldly city-dweller.

A page of divan poetry by the Azerbaijani poet Fuzuli

The Ottoman era saw the rise in Divan poetry that included quite a bit of influence from Azerbaijani poets and others. Much of Divan poetry is characterized by its lyrical style, but sometimes included romantic themes or narratives. Early Ottoman prose grew out of this style and had to include a rhyme scheme. Their prose included topics like travelogues, political discussion, debates, and biographies. As the Ottoman era entered the 19th century, there was a bit more Western influence in their writing styles, mainly from French literature. However, they were also developing their own national identity at the same time. Toward the end of the 1800s, writers started experimenting with a number of genres that were making their way throughout Europe: Romanticism, Realism, and playwriting.

Orhan Pamuk

As writers moved into the 20th century and their own transition to a republic, literature changed with it. In 1908, a group of people who called themselves the Young Turks opposed the increasingly authoritarian Ottoman rule. (Not to be confused with The Young Turks [TYT], a sociopolitical news commentary show hosted by Turkish-American Cenk Uygur). A genre of literature grew out of this pro-Turkish national identity movement that followed. After Turkey became a republic and their writing system switched over to being Latin-based, a new genre took over: social realism. Authors like Sait Faik Abasiyanik brought up topics like ethnic minorities and the poor and lower classes. One of the most famous novels from this period is Yaşar Kemal’s 1955 novel İnce Memed. Female authors also helped to bring Turkish literature into the modern era with novels like the Adalet Ağaoğlu trilogy Dar Zamanlar. Orhan Pamuk, part of the postmodernism movement, won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. His novel Kara Kitap is one of his most recommended books.

Up next: music and dance