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1.       janissary
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 09 Mar 2006 Thu 11:19 am

Black Sea Personality" Directly or in spirit, the Black Sea people are descendants of the wild mountain tribes that Xenophon described 2400 years ago. To be sure, they are neither wild nor at all primitive today. But one can still sense how their independent and assertive spirit made generations of imperial chroniclers and would-be dominators so wary of their manners.
They are an idiosyncratic lot. The "Black Sea personality" reflects a distinct culture that is far removed from either the dour fatalism of the Anatolian interior or the easygoing style of the Mediterranean seacoast. Two aspects of the land may have shaped its traits.
First, the topography. Inaccessible valleys among trackless mountains constitutes the setting that has traditionally defined the Black Sea lifestyles. Like mountain people all over the world (one thinks specifically of the Scotsmen, the Basques or even the Swiss), their inhabitants have a highly developed sense of clan and community loyalties. They are intense and proud people, quick to respond to any perceived attack on their territory, honor or freedom-if necessary, by taking the law into their own hands. The manufacture and use of guns is a passion. The delimitation of highland meadows among villages and clans has traditionally given rise to serious hostilities that sometimes last for generations. But the same feeling of territory and honor also gives rise to an equally strong sense of hospitality. Any outsider who takes the trouble to visit these far-away valleys is automatically a guest and will be treated to the most cordial welcome. The open and friendly hospitality of the Turkish people is often cited as one of the main pleasures of traveling in Turkey. But the Black Sea region surpasses the rest of the country in this respect.
Second: The land may be wild but it is also prodigiously fertile. Unlike the interior highlands where culture has been shaped by centuries of grinding poverty, the Black Sea man tends to be merry, extroverted and colorful. People enjoy having fun to a degree that the more conservative parts of the country would consider scandalous. Their music is fast and boisterous, its lyrics often risque, its rhythms utterly unlike the melancholy strains of most Turkish music. Alcohol is consumed with gusto. Wit and a certain panache are appreciated, and eccentricity tolerated as a character trait. Telling tall tales is a regional specialty. These characteristics grow more accentuated as one moves eastward. At the eastern end one encounters an extraordinary quota of idiosyncratic individuals, with the unmistakable glint in the eyes and self-deprecating wit that are the Laz hallmarks.
The combination of intensity, wits and a good measure of clan solidarity seems to ensure business success. Spreading around the country, Black Sea people have earned a reputation (or notoriety) for gaining control of crucial businesses everywhere. Much of Turkey's real estate and construction industry is owned by people from Trabzon and Rize. Most shipowners and seamen also come from there. The bread industry belongs to people from Of while (Çamlihemşin has a near-monopoly on pastryshops. The quirkiest financial genius of modern Turkey, thrice-bankrupted billi¬onnaire Cevher Ozden, alias Kastelli, hails from Surmene. The country's biggest export trader of recent years, Hasbi Menteşoglu, is an elementary school dropout from (Çarşamba.
Politics is another field of prominence.
Three major political parties have seen their Istanbul chapters led by men from Rize and (Çayeli in the last decade. A sin¬gle village in Sürmene boasts two major politicians and two top public servants while Of has produced two party general¬secretaries.
Predictably the Black Sea man, or the "Laz" as he is called with a mixture of affection and sneer, has become a stock figure of the Turkish social typology, The stereotypical Laz is called either Temel or Dursun. He sports a majestic nose and speaks Turkish with an outrageous accent. His diet consists of hamsi (Black Sea
anchovies), cooked to the legendary one hundred recipes that include hamsi bread and hamsi jam, with corn bread and dark cabbage to accompany. He dances a wild horon to the syncopated, manic tunes of his kemençe.
His oddball sense of humor makes him the butt of an entire genre of jokes. To a certain extent these jokes correspond to those of the Polish, Scottish, Marsilian or Basque variety, but they lack the crude ridicule that characterizes some of the latter. In most stories Temel either pursues an altogether wacky idea, or responds to situations with an insane non-sequitur. The best ones contain a hint of self-mockery, and it is not really clear who the joke is on. Inevitably the most brilliant Laz jokes are invented and circulated by the Laz themselves.
Laz and Not-So-Laz Underneath these broad generalizations, the population of the Black Sea region forms in reality a crazy-quilt of different ethnic, linguistic and cultural units. The patchwork diversity of the Swiss or the indigenous cultures of the North American Pacific are the parallels that come to mind.
Take the Laz. For the average Turk any native of the Black Sea region is a "Laz". But the average Turk who knows all about Temel and Dursun is often not aware that there exists a specific people called the Liz, who form only a small fraction of the people of the Black Sea. Numbering less than 150,000, the Laz in the proper sense of the term inhabit the five townships of Pazar, Ardeşen, Findikli, Arhavi and Hopa at the far eastern end of the Turkish coast as well as a few villages beyond the Soviet border. They have their own language, unrelated to Turkish, and their own history going back thousands of years. The Mingreli who live north of Batumi in the Soviet Union speak a ver¬sion of the same language and differ mainly in that they remained Christians while the Laz converted to Islam some 500 years ago.
The Laz first surface in history when a kingdom bearing their name came to dominate Colchis through an obscure series of events in the I st century BC. The usual assumption is that they were originally a
tribe or sub-unit of the Colchians. Romantics have speculated about a possible connection between the predominantly blond, blue-eyed Laz and the horde of Goths who devastated Trebizond in 276 AD and then dropped out of sight in this vicinity. No one has studied their language for Ger¬manic traces. In its basic structure it is a linguistic relative of Georgian that is laced with a surfeit of borrowed Greek and Turkish words. It does not have a written form and, with the successful integration of the Laz into Turkish society, it is likely to disappear as a living language within a couple of generations.
The inhabitants of the Trabzon and Rize countryside, too, are often given the blanket appellation of Laz, although they would never refer to themselves as such. The stereotypical "Laz" variety of Turkish is in fact a characteristic of this region. Despite a common accent and other unity¬ing traits (notably female dress), this area presents a kaleidoscope of different cultures. The valleys of Of and (Çaykara, for example, speak a dialect of Greek as their first language and display a marked sense of distinct identity. They also boast the highest proportion of mosques, Quranic schools and bearded Muslim scholars in the whole country The valleys of Tonya and Maçka speak Greek, too. But they tend to take the precepts of Islam with a grain of salt and heap scorn on the pious antics of their linguistic relatives in Of. Both groups earnestly deny being at all of Greek descent-which may be partly an effect of Turkish Republican education, but more likely reflects a dim memory of the times when the Empire of Trebizond forcibly Hellenized the native tribes in these same mountains.
Turkish is the native language in other cantons of the Trabzon-Rite area. Little over 300 years ago though, the traveler Evliya (Çelebi reported that at least two more now extinct native languages were spoken in this area in addition to Turkish, Greek, Georgian and Laz. He recorded one specimen which seems heavily mixed with Greek but is otherwise unintelligible.
There is more to the collage. The dis¬trict of Çamlihemsin in the Kaçkar highlands behind Pazar and Ardesen is inhabited by an altogether different people who are called the Hemsinlis. They display their own sense of communal identity, with their own music, traditional female dress and linguistic peculiarities. They are loath to he called Laz. Hemsinli communities settled further northeast in the mountain villages of Hopa speak a language called "Hemsince", which turns out to be a dialect of Armenian.
The kemençe, a sort of piccolo violin with a tinny short-breathed sound perfectly suited to the neurotic accents of Black Sea music, is used in the Trabzon-Rite area and along the Laz coast east of Rize. The Hemsinlis and the villagers of the Artvin region, by contrast, play the tulum-a bagpipe made of goatskin producing a very Scottish-sounding drone. West of Giresun the customary Turkish zurna (a type of clarinette) and davul (kettledrum) take over the musical scene.
On the 68 kilometer drive between Hopa and Artvin, the traveler passes through four linguistic zones: Laz in Hopa. Hemhsinese in the mountains. Georgian in Borçka, and Turkish in Artvin-town. The Georgian-speakers of the Borçka-Camili and Meydancik valleys in Artvin province, located on opposite sides of the same mountain, employ mutually unintelligible dialects of the same language.
The Giresun highlands host a large number of (Çepni comnuinities who are descendants of the Türkmen tribes who settled here in the 13th century. They are said to adhere to the Alevi faith, a " heretical" variety of Shiite Islam. When pressed for clarifications, though, they seem unable to explain the differences between their sect and mainstream Sunni Islam. Fatsa, Bolaman and their hinterland, by contrast, are more self-consciously Alevi and consequently embrace the left-wing political sympathies usually associated with that sect.
Giresun and Ordu also have large elements of immigrants from various parts of Turkey who moved in three generations ago to replace the departing Greeks. Trabzon city has a substantial community of Bosnian Muslims, immigrants from Yugoslavia. In the districts of Onye and Ordu many villages are populated by descendants of the Georgian and Abkhazian refugees of 1877, some of whom retain their old Ianguage.

SOURCE: www.karalahana.com

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