TUNE OF REBELLIONS[1] Mustafa Demir


 

Power of music is something mystical which needs to be enquired. However it has various kind of powers on different matters[2], in this paper its explanatory power on social issues and its relations with masses aimed to be looked in the case of so-called “Arab Spring”.

Music and poetry have been used in different ways to create a unity or a case to stand behind. So that every political unit, especially national-states, has a national anthem, which construct a commonality, unite its people or talk about virtue of being unite. Also when you look at political or human right activists, most powerful ones are poets or singers who provide a powerful voice of a cause/purpose with their influential melodies and lyrics. Because these “special” figures feel and reflect feelings and demands of the societies they come from. As if they carry a soul of that society. Even sometimes, via their poetry and music, they create a common feeling or a cause for their societies to rally, to stand behind. For example Nova Canco in Franco’s Spain against repressive policies of Franco regime on Catalan language and culture, Maria Farantouri in Greece against Military Junta with Mikis Teodorakis, and of course Sivan Perwer against state repression on Kurds have produced protest music and poetry projecting demands of their communities/groups.

Masses in the process of mobilization create their own “tune” through these special tunes/ lines reflecting sufferings and demands. Not only in our “modern” world but also in the history there are examples of such poets. The history of insurgencies has lots of examples such voices. For example during the Ottoman era in 19th century against the centralization of Ottoman state machinery majority of nomadic tribes rebelled[3]. Avshars[4] was one of these nomadic groups. A poet who was called Dadaloglu was the symbolic figure of Avshars. He was composing and singing folk songs. His songs were identified with the insurgencies against the Ottoman Empire in 19th century. The main theme of his poetry was standing erect against centralization policies of the Ottoman Empire. In one of his famous poetry he gives the reasons behind the famous Avsar insurgency in 1864.  The name of the song is Ferman Padisah’in Daglar Bizimdir, The order is Padişah´s, but the mountains are ours.[5]

Avşar folk stood up and migrated

This slowly going folk is ours

Arab horses make the distance shorter

The roads pass over the grand mountain are ours

 

The swords on our belly are kirmani (a type of sword)

The head of our spears bore stones

The state has given the order about us

The order is padişah´s, mountains are ours

 

Dadaloğlu tomorrow there will be a fight

Guns will sing, paddle boxes will be hit

Many strong brave man will fall dead

Many will die but the remaining will be ours.

As it is seen in the first line the poem describes the living styles of Avsars, which they would like to sustain, then ultimate decision of the people is being put into words in the rest. As the poem indicates they were ready to die but not to obey. Alongside reflecting character of the mobilization, singing such poetry would motivate, create a common societal sense and soul, a common cause. The historical records confirm that motivated tribal men clashed with the Ottoman army violently and a large number of people lost their lives[6].

Lets look at our times and tune of the streets to have a grasp of incidents such as Arab Spring.  As known the year of 2011 witnessed a new trend in the region of MENA (Middle East and North Africa). The people of the region took the streets and claimed their freedom: Freedom from oppression, freedom from economic austerity etc. Majority of the people poured out to the streets were young.  The so called “spring” first sparked in Tunisia. A 21year old youngster, a university graduate looking for a future, a stable job, Mohammad Bouazis, burnt himself.  And the incident has been the sparking point of region-wide uprising. Why this teenage burnt himself was the question in the mind of many. Again in this historic uprising a song  by an exile with its powerful lyrics marked the stage, Kelmti Horra by Emel Mathluthi. In a way, the song is providing the answer to the question in the mind of many.

Emel Mathluthi is a Tunisian singer. She has been writing and singing political songs. She herself also is a political figure in Tunisia. Tunisian government in 2008 banned her songs. However in 2011 during the Tunisian Revolution her well known song Kelmti Horra (My word is Free) has been a kind of national anthem for the Tunisian youth. Lets look at these powerful lyrics.

Kelmti Horra (My Word is Free)

I am the right of the oppressed

That is sold by these dogs (people who are dogs)

Who rob the people of their daily bread

And slam the door in the face of ideas

 

I am those who are free and never fear

I am the secrets that will never die

I am the voice those who would not give in

I am free and my word is free

I am free and my word is free

Don’t forget the price of bread

And don’t forget the cause of our misery

And don’t forget who betrayed us in our time of need

 

I am those who are free and never fear

I am the secrets that will never die

I am the voice those who would not give in

I am the secret of the red rose

Whose color the years loved

Whose scent the rivers buried

And who sprouted as fire

Calling those who are free

 

I am a star shining in the darkness

I am a thorn in the throat of the oppressor

I am a wind touched by fire

I am the soul of those who are not forgotten

I am the voice of those who have not died

 

Let’s make clay out of steel

And build with it a new love

That becomes birds

That becomes a country/home

That becomes wind and rain

 

I am all the free people of the world put together

I am like a bullet

I am all the free people of the world put together

I am like a bullet

In a very powerful and clear sense, these lyrics is reflecting the stock of current conditions in the MENA region. The change in the MENA region or claims for change was inevitable. When we take stock of current conditions in the MENA countries, neo-liberal policies applied by the governments in the region, particularly in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria caused a number of fundamental problems; unemployment rates in these countries dramatically increased, the applied neo-liberal policies brought unparalleled wealth to a few and marginalized majority. While richest minority became richer the rest has become poorer. So that the lyrics in the first line very rightly states that “That is sold by these dogs (people who are dogs)/Who rob the people of their daily bread/ And slam the door in the face of ideas.” In parallel with this, Bulent Gokay in his on- going work on “Political Economy of Arab Spring”[7] rightly argues that the rise of new authoritarian neo-liberalism led to backlash of economy and an extremely unfair distribution of wealth.

When we look at the data given by The World Bank in the last ten years, Tunisian economy seems growing. As the table 1 below indicates the GDP nearly doubled from 27 billion dollars in 2003 to 45 billion dollars in 2012. However when we look at the unemployment rate it is clear that this is unparalleled with the increasing GDP.  This is just one indicator that Tunisian economy has not been creating jobs, but instead was bringing marginalization and misery to many.

Table 1. Tunisian GDP from 2003 to 2012, source: World Bank

Table 2 Unemployment rate

Table 3 Economic growth

Country Name

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Tunisia

4.93

5.12

3.02

4.32

5.33

3.56

1.96

1.93

-3.14

2.60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a nutshell, sometimes lending an ear to the poetry and melody is more effective to see either the symptoms of an upcoming problem or reasons behind such historical incidents/ social movements. Also for such historical incidents this gives us an opportunity of double-checking the “truths” recorded by the winners!


[1] First draft of an ongoing study

[2] ref

[3] Bates, Daniel G. “Yoruk Settlement in SoutheastTurkey”. When Nomads Settle: Processes of Se-dentarization As Adaptation and Response . Ed. Philip Carl Salzman. New York: J.F. BerginPublishers, 1980. 124-39

[4] A nomadic Turkmen tribe living in Azerbaijan and Anatolia

[6] ref needed

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