Mutlu Ol! Bu Bir Emirdir!

A devilish friend forwards to me a wonderful little piece of filmmaking from Turkey that now lives over YouTube — that video-universe of virtual being towards which we’re all hurling at light-speed, it does appear.  

Its title is "Mutlu Ol!  Bu Bir Emirdir!"  And it’s been in circulation via YouTube at least since March 6. 

Although Sinan Çetin created the film in modern Turkish, the story it tells is perfectly clear on all levels.  Still.  Let me share a few words about its era — adding the caveat that I don’t want to romanticize one bit of this history.


One consequence of the First World War (1914-1918) was the break-up and re-ordering of many of the countries and borders and major interstate structures ("empires," including the Habsburg in the west and the Ottoman in the east) that had existed in Europe and West Asia into the early 20th Century.  More locally, another consequence was the founding of the country known as Turkey in 1923 (though to this day the country commemorates it independence from the Ottoman Empire on May 19, 1919), under the dictatorship of a European favorite named Mustafa Kemal, who was referred to as "Ataturk" or "Father of the Turks". 


The Ottoman Empire had been Germany‘s wartime ally.  In the eyes of the victorious powers, Germany‘s defeat also meant the opportunity to break-up the Ottoman Empire.  This was especially desired in the empire’s eastern regions of Mesopotamia, where oil is so plentiful.  A notorious memorandum drafted in 1920 by the British Foreign Secretary George (Lord) Curzon — a man who, as Edward Said once describe him, "always spoke the imperial lingua franca," and who did so much damage to Arab lands — urged his fellow victors in the war to "settle once and for all a question which more than any single cause has corrupted the public life of Europe for nearly 500 years."  That question was the presence and influence of Islam on European soil. Kemal’s contributions to the long-sought answer included the forced secularization of the new Turkey — the "disestablishment of Islam," as the State Department’s official country study of modern Turkey puts it. 


Okay.  Now imagine it’s 1930s Turkey.  Orders have come from Ankara, Turkey‘s capital, that the whole country needs to "modernize," and in President Kemal’s Turkey, to be modernized meant to be Europeanized — to be more like the British, French, Italians, and Germans, and less like the native peoples of Anatolia who actually lived there. –


Sinan Çetin’s little film depicts his vision of one such clash between the army soldiers sent to enforce President Kemal’s order to Europeanize Turkish life, and how these soldiers might have been received by the peasants of a rural village in Turkey in the 1930s.


According to the very fine blogger Louis Proyect ("Forcing culture down people’s throats," March 17):


Just before the soldiers arrive, there are some Turkish words that provide a set-up.  Loosely translated (which is all I am capable of at this point), they mean: "The Turkish government declared that Turkish music was to be banned from the radio. The goal was the widespread dissemination of Western music. It wanted to replace the Turkish musical style with French as part of forcing ‘Western culture’ on society."


As you’ll see, "Mutlu Ol!  Bu Bir Emirdir!" opens with a party of musicians and townsfolk performing native songs.  Kemal’s troops crash the party.   The commanding officer starts reading out from a list of approved "Western" composers: Giuseppe Verdi, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Richard Wagner, and so on.  A second soldier aggressively keeps insisting to the stunned revelers: "Mutlu ol!  Mutlu ol!" — "Be happy!  Be happy!"  


It then occurs to the commanding officer to name a couple of "Western" composers for the musicians to play.  First he demands to hear Mozart.  The saz player (i.e., what we’d call a lute) plays a short excerpt from Symphony No. 40.  Then the CO demands to hear Beethoven.  As the saz player starts to play "Ode To Joy," his entire party breaks out in "Ode To Joy."  Utterly befuddled, the blank-faced soldiers stare ahead.  Then they, too, start moving along with the Beethoven.  And the festivities resume.


Hope you enjoy it.


Sinan Çetin, as posted to the TRUVEO website

"The Quest for Oil," Ferruh Demirmen, Global Policy Forum, April 25, 2003
The Reign of a Monopoly," Ferruh Demirmen, Global Policy Forum, April 26, 2003


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