PaganStudio Writings

Smoke Took Over the Mountain Top

Title comes from the Turkish nationalist marching band song named “Dağ Başını Duman Almış.” The original article was published in Agos Daily on August 10, 2007. Translation by Dilay Yalçın.

When we are faced with an issue that is as colossal as the mountain, which way should we face the mountain? From Yerevan or East of Bayazid? Should we call the mountain Ararat, Agri or Masis? While sipping the 20 year old Noah cognac, we discussed at length which angle glorified the mountain more and where those animals kept running off to in couples? Throughout the week we spent in Yerevan, we swallowed many words, that were actually on the tip of our tongues, accompanied by an apricot and a sip of Cilician beer; our tongues got lazy, words were left in suspense, we took shelter in sarcasm, bottled up, danced a little and also, danced the halay. We drank a glass for Hrant Dink, may he rest in peace.

We not only drank, of course, we also ate. Stuffed eggplants, stuffed vine leaves, ayran, kebab… All were very familiar. When saying “How similar is that!” we were aware of the huge mountain between us.

We not only ate, we also talked. A lot. For the workshop “Art and Politics” we cooperated with Armenian Open University and the State University of Yerevan. We spoke about art’s global institutions, politics and about alternative art practices with the participation of pope and pagan from xurban_collective and curator Beral Madra. Before the words, idioms and similarities we shared on both sides of the mountain faded away, we noticed how ironic it was that while we were talking about “plurality,” English bundled up everything. We silently agreed upon how strange and contradictory the deadly discourse of nationalism was to the art practices we discussed.

We really do assume that the raison d’être of the work of art is completely free of all autonomous political discourses and communications. This, in fact, is the reason why art that can be truly political succeeds in deep penetration and in transforming circumstances; looking at the existing situation (global war) from an “uncomplicating” point of view can turn into a multi-layered research. This is why we can feel close to not the nation or the religious community but to the people and the living with which we have shared this land, in the past and today. Although the idea of archaeological excavation seems ironic to those that live on the eastern part of Mount Ararat, we think that the description of atrocities in the history of this land should not be left only to historians, politicians, the religious and the nationalists. We can see clearly that the grand controversy over the genocide (denial and insistency) is a monumental phenomena that, just as all other grand monuments, hinders speech with grand discourse.

While political art makes up the main title of our work, it never occurred to us that we would have to confront the concept “militarist art.” A video shot by a young, voluntary soldier, at a military camp in Artsakh transformed from a Soviet-era opera house, froze the participants of the workshop. The reason surely was not the attitude of the Turkish Republic in the Qarabakh issue or the wrestling match it got into with Russia over this issue. While this blue eyed guy with crew-cut hair showed us this souvenir from his days in the military (meaning in the war), that were not very different from those of American soldiers that we are used to seeing almost every day now, it suddenly occurred to us that he was actually making art. As a matter of fact, we had been talking about how hard it was to discern between art and life in this land; this video rolled over our workshop discussions about art’s global issues, institutions, politics and alternative art practices, like a power cylinder. Would a voluntary soldier make an artist? This must be a Caucasian trick; we did not even put this question forward. The answer is predetermined: “Your voluntary soldiers make politicians, so why can’t ours make artists?”

Vernisaj, the open bazaar

We got round to museum visiting and shopping on Sunday. Vernisaj, the historical open bazaar we went for shopping, also serves as a museum that displays artwork. With the Baby Lenin we bought from the bazaar and our SSSR pins, we visited the National History museum both as Turks and communists. Being doubled-damned is one of the tastes of this region and we were familiar with the concept, too. Being both Kurdish and Alevite, Armenian and communist, gay and unemployed… all are misfortunes we are used to seeing. We, too, made the best of being double-damned every day. To think about how we were treated as the heirs of that legacy when visiting the Museum of Anotolian Civilizations in Ankara; we the bright, enlightened and well-read artists of the Republic… We found ourselves walking in Yerevan, double-damned and eyes on the pavement. Although, the pots and pans and copper artifacts we were looking at, tell of Anatolian civilizations, just as the name implies; only difference is that the deer figures are exchanged by sheep.

Paradjanov, a napkin with 301 and a church embroidery

We had gone to Yerevan with the images of Paradjanov on our minds and his grandchildren did not surprise us. With only a quick look inside the studios, it was clear to see that there is nothing they cannot do with their hands, stones and earth. It did sadden us to look at their Eastern neighbors, who made an art out of shaping minds through constitutional laws, from this side of the border when these people can shape everything with their hands. But we did not show our sadness and laughed it off. It really was like a joke that the picture of the church, as well as the date of the establishment of the Armenian church, 301, was embroidered everywhere from billboards to napkins. We believe there is no place for even one line that mentions this number in this newspaper.

The border issue

One of our biggest pleasures as xurban, is to jump into the car and drive along the border. The goal is to find one little hole. We want to leak through that hole that the army missed – or just to show whatever leaks through it. xurban touched upon what leaked through this border -the border that runs along the smokey mountain on the right side of the road from Yerevan to Keghart- in 2003 (http://xurban.net/scope/containment/cover.html). The view is the same when we look at it from the other side of the border in 2007. The people of Igdir (Turkey) who miss the chance of seeing “Norma” on a Friday night because they are 40-50 km’s away, are actually just as unaware of the program of Ankara State Opera and Ballet for the same night. Our government which turned domination -through opera, ballet, army, its supreme court and monetary policy- into its motto, must allow for free border trade to this land -for a change from only allowing soldiers.

We did not run in the elections this year but here is our commitment to the people: “That border will be opened!” Hail to Kars, Yerevan, Igdir, Qarabagh.

Ulus Baker

Before we conclude, let us say that we lost Ulus Baker, our closest friend to speak Russian, last month. He promised in the hospital. He was going to undertake translations for students to come from Armenia. If he was alive, he would also be laughing at what is written above. May he rest in peace.