Panayotis League “Çeçen Kızı: Tracing a Tune through the Ottoman Ecumene”

Çeçen Kızı: Tracing a Tune through the Ottoman Ecumene

Panayotis League

Between 1910 and 1914, the great multi-instrumentalist and composer of Ottoman classical music Tanburi Cemil Bey made 181 wax cylinder recordings for Julius and Hermann Blumenthal’s Istanbul-based Orfeon Records, a subsidiary of Odeon and later of Columbia Records. One of these recordings was of a moderate tempo dance tune reminiscent of Anatolian village music, a rarity in Cemil Bey’s catalogue of predominantly classical pieces and non-metered taksim or modal improvisations. The selection was released as a 78 rpm disc stamped with the title Çeçen Kızı – “Chechen Girl”- and became a success among Turks, Greeks, Armenians, and other aficionados of Ottoman music within and outside the waning empire; the virtuosic ease with which Cemil Bey plays the notoriously difficult kemençe, an upright three-stringed fiddle, has been a source of wonder and inspiration for generations of students and lovers of Near-Eastern music.

Indeed, the tune has become an undeniable standard of the Ottoman classical repertoire in the century since it was recorded by the eccentric genius. This is perhaps due to kemençe and tanbur virtuoso Ihsan Özgen (b. 1942), widely considered Cemil Bey’s successor and a mentor to many of the current stars of Turkish classical music, who kept Çeçen Kızı as a standard part of his concert and recording repertoire and taught it to his students as a hüseyni oyun havası – a dance tune in the makam or mode hüseyni – whose form makes it ideal for use as a transitional piece in a set of light classical music.[1] The Turkish classical music community at large seems to take the melody’s authorship by Cemil Bey for granted, and appears to have done so ever since a transcription of the recording was first published in 1919 by Istanbul musician Kemal Emin Bara and Armenian luthier Onnik Zadurian (Example 1).[2] Nearly every extant edition of Ottoman classical music scores includes it, listed either as Çeçen Kızı or Hüseyni Oyun Havası (or both), and it is always presented as a Cemil Bey composition. Every source for Turkish classical music scores on the Internet similarly attributes the melody to Cemil Bey,[3] and the essay by Harold G. Hagopian and Ercüment Aksoy in the liner notes to Cemil Bey’s re-mastered recordings expressly mentions the piece as one of his compositions.[4] YouTube returns, at the time of writing, hundreds of results for the title Çeçen Kızı; nearly half of the videos are performances of the melody originally recorded by Cemil Bey, with versions ranging from solo ud recitals to avant-garde Turkish jazz, and nearly all of them list Cemil Bey as the composer.


Example 1

Example 1 – “Çeçen Kızı” as recorded by Tanburi Cemil Bey (Bara and Zadurian, 39).

There are a number of reasons to question whether Cemil Bey actually composed the melody, which I will examine in the rest of this article, and they lead us on a fascinating journey through the musical, social, and political history of modern Greece, Turkey, and the Balkan peninsula. Just as compelling, though, are the questions raised by the fact that Cemil Bey is so frequently credited in Turkish music circles as the tune’s author. From one point of view, this attribution is not far-fetched at all; he was a prolific composer, and many of his other recordings are of his own classical pieces. However, placed within the context of the rise of the Kemalist republic and Turkish nationalism that followed the collapse of the old Ottoman political and social milieu, the appropriation by the state-run classical music establishment of this extremely popular melody speaks volumes about music’s symbolic import.  As we will see, possible sources for the tune include one of several antagonistic and historically oppressed non-Turkish ethnic groups with aspirations of independence (Kurds or Armenians); and another such group, one that succeeded in breaking free from Turkish occupation (Greeks), explicitly claims the melody as its own. Discussing music’s role in the rise of twentieth-century nationalisms, ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman reminds us that “…music does narrate histories. Music does point the way toward origins and beginnings.”[5] The sociopolitical origins and beginnings evoked by insistence on Çeçen Kızı as Cemil Bey’s composition are firmly rooted in the unified Ottoman state with “global Istanbul” at its core – a vision that resonates equally with both the Islamic and secular sides of modern Turkey’s ideological divide,[6] and that makes an investigation into the tune’s origins all the more timely and relevant.

The emphasis on Cemil Bey’s authorship of Çeçen Kızı also points to the enhanced status of the composer and the written score in twentieth-century Turkish classical music. A departure from popular Ottoman practice, where oral tradition played a much more prominent role, this is only one of many changes brought about by a conscious modeling after Western art music and conservatory culture. Aside from the actual music being performed and some of the instruments on stage, the observer of a typical Turkish classical music recital in Istanbul will find few differences (if any) in dress, atmosphere, demeanor, or personnel from an analogous event in London, Paris, Vienna, or Boston. This controlled environment, in which performances can be meticulously crafted according to a prescribed ideal, fosters a sense of timelessness and deep, personal connection with a national or international artistic tradition – as well as, significantly, with the composer and his presumed intentions. Clearly, the portrayal of these intentions depends upon the ideological lens through which they are interpreted; what then if the lens is that of Westernization, Orientalist fantasy, Turkish nationalism, or “global Istanbul”? When viewed in this light, the question of Çeçen Kızı becomes more than simply a matter of historical curiosity.

All of these issues and tensions are eloquently present in a cursory examination of three of the aforementioned YouTube videos, which contrast in both their original contexts and their reception by their respective online audiences. The first is from a performance on March 24, 2006 by Istanbul Technical University’s Turkish Music State Conservatory Chamber Orchestra (Türk Musikisi Devlet Konservatuarı Oda Orkestrası’nın), where Çeçen Kızı is played by an ud soloist as the rest of the orchestra looks on.[7] The setting is reminiscent of a classical Western music recital: the musicians are wearing tuxedoes and evening gowns, they are seated in a semicircle on the elevated stage of ITU’s modern concert hall, and with the exception of the ud all the instruments would be at home in a Western orchestra. The information provided by the video’s uploader credits Cemil Bey as the composer, and the comments in Turkish, English, and French by other users are generally confined to praising the virtuosity of the soloist and the beauty of the music, referencing Sufism and the Ottoman past.[8]

Another video, uploaded by YouTube user muzbey on May 6, 2008, features an audio recording of a modern Turkish chamber orchestra performing an intricately arranged and highly virtuosic rendition of the piece.[9] The video’s description consists of two sentences, “Traditional Ottoman Turkish Music from early 20th century,” and “Composer: Tanburi Cemil Bey (1873-1916),” and the music is set against a backdrop of three successive images: an Ottoman miniature painting depicting an orchestra of turbaned ney (end-blown flute), tanbur (long-necked lute, for many the Ottoman classical instrument par excellence), bendir (frame drum), and miskal (panpipe) players, a painting of the Bosphorus with Sultan Ahmet mosque in the background, and a drawing of the same scene from a different perspective. Many of the comments, too, reference the shared Ottoman and Muslim heritage celebrated by these images: in addition to numerous religious sentiments in Turkish and Arabic, these statements of Islamic solidarity are typical:

this is a very beautiful clip, thank you for placing it as it brings back the memories from the ottoman glorious days, who did so much for us in hejaz and elsewhere in   the muslim world, may Allah because of them bless the turks for generations to come, we are proud of our turkish brothers and sisters. (by user aazarinni)

The Ottoman Turkish music is one of the most beautiful and the richest in kinds, it needs very accute ears and high musical culture, may GOD bless the souls of all those excellent, long live Turkish Music musicians. (by user clickright)

we should be very proud of our turk brothers and sisters, indeed. I wish those glorious days come back again. When i listen to such magnificent music, i wish that i lived in that era. (by user malazzeh)

Though some dissenting views are represented in the comments, the dominant tone is one of Islamist nostalgia for the glory days of Ottoman rule, when cosmopolitan Istanbul was the center of the Muslim world, and the recording of Çeçen Kızı – here a composition of Cemil Bey – signifies that longed-for time, evoking images of Mevlevi dervishes and the Sultan’s court.

In stark contrast to these presentations and receptions of the piece is a performance of Çeçen Kızı (entitled “Cicen Kizi” in the video) by the Greek group Thria on the program “Stin Ygeia Mas”, broadcast in 2008 on ERT (Elliniki Radiofonia Tileorasi, Greek Radio and Television).[10] The majority of Thria’s members belong to the generation of urban Greek musicians who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s amid a heady mix of regional Greek and Turkish folk music, Ottoman classical music, and Byzantine ecclesiastical music, and many of them, including the principal arranger, have spent large amounts of time studying Turkish music in Istanbul with its most prominent exponents. The ensemble is a mix of Greek folk instruments such as the laouto (steel string lute) and santouri (hammer dulcimer), instruments associated with Turkish or Asia Minor traditions (ud and the long-necked lute known as saz, here referred to by the Greek term tambouras), instruments common to both traditions (clarinet, violin, the goblet-shaped dumbek drum), and the pan-Balkan kaval or end-blown flute.  Indeed, the arrangement of Çeçen Kızı performed by Thria in the video clip, as well as the general playing style, is firmly rooted in the contemporary Greek paradosiaká genre, which strongly references modern Turkish performance practice and aesthetics; and the version performed by the ensemble is clearly modeled after Tanburi Cemil Bey’s recording.[11] While the video’s description makes no mention of Cemil Bey, the uploader decided to use a version of the tune’s Turkish title, presumably referencing the musicians’ announcement of the selection. The scene is fairly typical of Greek entertainment variety shows, with the musicians smartly but casually dressed, on a lighted stage with microphones, monitors, and music stands, performing to a seated audience of the hosts, guests, and various personalities; it is more reminiscent of a nightclub performance than a concert hall, sufi lodge, or imperial palace.

While the context of Thria’s performance differs from the previous two examples, the reaction to the video in the comments section is even more telling of the emotions roused by music’s narration of history. The question of the tune’s authorship comes up immediately, in one of the first comments: “you should have mentioned the composer… Tanburi Cemil Bey…” (posted by user aram34), and the discussion goes back and forth for some time, developing into an argument heated enough that extremely offensive racial slurs are exchanged, several abusive comments are removed for receiving too many negative votes, and many users go out of their way to compensate by emphasizing the shared aspects of Greek, Turkish, and Mediterranean culture. The comment by Alexis022 is typical of these:

Could we Stop to fight like stupids childs?! What happened, just it’s past. Come     on, all together, with Respect to each other. Armenians Turkish Greeks Persians Arabs Kurdish, all of we, The Greatest Musicians, artist, poets in the world! C’mon, enjoy the music, without insults! And try with all your inner forces to understand each other.[12]

Despite the prevalence of such cooler heads, the argument in the comment section of this video continues for over two years, with participants debating not only the origins of the piece in question, but of other songs and musical instruments common to both Greek and Turkish culture. In this case, the history narrated by the sight and sound of Greeks performing Çeçen Kızı proved unsettling enough to some viewers and listeners to spark a violent debate, inflaming passions still seething after nearly a century since the end of official hostilities between Greece and Turkey.


Bearing these various issues in mind, there are several compelling reasons to question whether Cemil Bey actually composed the melody of Çeçen Kızı. First, in the context of the corpus of his work – 181 recordings made between 1910 and 1914 – the piece sticks out, along with at least two others, as a “folk” tune, with an entirely different melodic and aesthetic character than his compositions in pesrev (prelude) or saz semaisi (instrumental theme and variation) form. While the melodic contours of the tune conform to classic hüseyni seyir or melodic progression (with a brief modulation to karcigar makam), the rhythmically insistent phrasing and intervallic jumps are reminiscent of Anatolian folk music, and the ABCD form is typical of such dance tunes. The ud accompanying Cemil’s kemençe, played by Kadi Fuad Efendi, holds a continuous ostinato throughout the performance in the dance-oriented düyek usul pattern rather than playing in unison with the kemençe, as it would in the classical style.

Second, the name Çeçen Kızı is puzzling. While his two other recordings of obviously non-classical melodies have names that give them away as either folk pieces or self-consciously folk-inspired arrangements – such as Çoban taksim (“Shepherd taksim”) and Gaida havası (“Bagpipe tune”) – this tune is simply recorded under a title, as if of a song, the only one of his instrumental recordings not to be classified by makam (or in the case of the two aforementioned “folk” pieces, other clear genre marker) and compositional form.  If Cemil Bey did compose these other two pieces, inspired by regional folk music, it makes sense that he gave them generic names acknowledging the inspiration, much like Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca or, more to the point, Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances. But if Çeçen Kızı was indeed his composition, it seems unlikely, judging by his otherwise strict adherence to naming pieces by makam and form, that he would invent for it a fanciful title invoking a distant province of the Ottoman Empire.  He would probably have simply called it Hüseyni Oyun Havası, as it was eventually classified in later music editions by his successors. But he didn’t.

Third, unlike many Istanbul gentlemen of his time and station, Cemil Bey, who spent much of his life in and around the Sultan’s palace as a bureaucrat and court musician, had a deep appreciation for the regional folk music of Turkey and the Balkans. At the turn of the twentieth century, Istanbul – whose population had grown to roughly one million – was a “heaven of folk music”, according to Cemil’s son Mesut, himself a revered tanbur virtuoso; the city was full of migrant musicians from other regions of the Empire, living in sufi lodges and inns in its burgeoning slums.[13] Cemil frequently visited with many of these itinerant musicians, playing saz (an Anatolian lute) with wandering troubadours[14] and deserting his post at the foreign ministry to listen to the palace cooks and gardeners play and sing.[15] Mesut Cemil recalls his father being so taken with the singing of a blind beggar that he left the house and followed him down the street, writing down the melody in Hamparsum notation (a shorthand developed in the 18th century to transcribe, among other things, Ottoman classical music) on the back of a pack of cigarettes.[16] Mesut, who accompanied his father, describes the tune as a “semi-mystical folk song”, and thinks that it must have been from Harput, Diyarbakır, or Elazıg, areas in Southeastern Anatolia traditionally populated by Armenians and Kurds.[17]

Mesut has quite a lot to say about this song in particular, and the influence of folk music on Cemil in general. The experience of hearing the blind man’s “semi-mystical” melody seems to have been profound for both father and son, and Mesut is “sure that (his) father incorporated this tune into the music he recorded”.[18] Certainly, Cemil was taken enough by the melody to transcribe it, presumably for future use. Discussing the impact of regional Turkish music on his father’s recordings, Mesut writes:

The pure folkloric style in the Kürdi and Gülizar taksims with tanbur, Hüseyni taksim with yaylı tanbur, Çeçen Kızı and Çoban taksim with kemençe, and others… seeped into Cemil’s creative and receptive soul from these kinds of sources, and they took shape there (italics mine).[19]

This statement, when taken in the context of Mesut’s numerous anecdotes, causes one to wonder: could the blind beggar’s “semi-mystical folk song” in fact be Çeçen Kızı, or something like it? We may never know. For all of Mesut’s waxing rhapsodic about the impression the tune made on his father (and presumably himself), he doesn’t notate it for us, or tell us exactly what Cemil did with that pack of cigarettes; and the melody is absent from Cemil’s published personal notes.


But the story doesn’t end in the pages of Mesut Cemil’s homage to his brilliant father, or with Cemil Bey’s wax cylinder recording on the eve of the First World War. Variants of the melody are common in at least two other areas of the former Ottoman Empire, though, as far as I have been able to ascertain, not in Southeastern Anatolia (as one might suspect based on Cemil Bey’s title for it and Mesut’s aforementioned assumptions). In fact, both of these versions are found to the west, in Greece: one on the eastern Aegean island of Mytilene or Lesvos, just a few kilometers from the Asia Minor coast, and the other, interestingly, around the port city of Preveza in Epirus, the westernmost province of the Greek mainland and the opposite coast of the former Ottoman dominion. These two variations display the central melodic and rhythmic features of Cemil Bey’s version while deviating from it in ways that suggest, musically, that all three are related descendents of a common ancestor; and the various names associated with these two tunes, as well as the folklore surrounding them, suggest a myriad of other possibilities for their common origin.

In Mytilene, the melody is generally associated with the village of Agiasos, where it is most commonly known today as Ta Xyla (“The [pieces of] wood” – Example 2). Oral tradition links the tune to the construction of the village’s first steam-powered olive press in 1878, during Ottoman rule. Trees for the building’s roof were felled in the nearby forest and carried to the site on the shoulders of local men; to encourage them and coordinate their steps, the village’s Turkish mayor ordered a military band to play his favorite march, and the tune caught on, becoming part of the local repertoire.[20] The melody is also known in Agiasos as Ta Tabania (from Turkish taban, “board”) and Ta Tsamia (from the Turkish çam, “pine tree”).[21] The military band connection makes sense on Mytilene, whose population has been historically receptive to this musical aesthetic; until very recently, brass bands were extremely popular all over the island, and still survive in a mixed form known as fisera (“group of wind instruments”), with violin, accordion, and guitar playing alongside trumpet, clarinet, and trombone.


Example 2 – “Ta Xyla” as recorded in 1994 by Harilaos Rodinos (violin), Kostas Zafeiriou (santouri), and Stavros Rodinos (guitar), Agiasos, Mytilene.

Older Agiasos musicians also identify the tune as an old Ottoman march. Several elderly musicians interviewed by ethnomusicologist Nikos Dionysopoulos in the 1970s reported that before the Second World War it was usually played as a processional “with a heroic and stately air”, slightly slower than a march, and that before Mytilene was incorporated into the Greek state (1912) it was performed only once a year, at the annual celebrations of the local Turkish police force.[22] In the village of Plomari, it was used only as a processional,[23] and singer Solonas Lekkas claims that it was played in eastern Lesvos as a processional before horse races in honor of St. Haralambos.[24] [25] In light of these associations with outdoor marching and Ottoman military bands, it is interesting to note that Cemil Bey spent much time with the musicians of the Muzika-i Hümayun, the Sultan’s Westernized brass and wind band – the very ensemble that replaced the mehter or Ottoman Janissary bands of the nineteenth century.[26] This suggests another possible source from which Cemil might have learned the tune; and if the anecdote connecting the melody to the pre-1912 years is accurate, it is virtually impossible that he composed it and it then spread to Mytilene, since his first records were made in 1910.

Although the tune is popularly known as Ta Xyla today, it had other names in the past – names which suggest alternative origins and associations. Musicians from Agiasos,[27] Plomari,[28] and Kapi[29] report that it was known before the Second World War as Kiourtiko – “Kurdish tune” – and in Plomari it was also called Kiourtiko Alem Havasi,[30] a hybrid Greek-Turkish title meaning roughly “Kurdish party tune”. Interestingly, violinist Manolis Pantelelis of Plomari claims that an old clarinetist invented the name Ta Xyla or Ta Xylarelia in order to create confusion among rival musicians who knew it as Kiourtiko;[31] if true, this would of course raise questions about the olive press story. Kurdish origins would certainly make sense based on the melody’s character[32], and it is tempting to summon the specter of Cemil Bey’s blind beggar and his “semi-mystical folk song,” who Mesut Cemil speculated was from a Kurdish or Armenian region of Anatolia.

Another name associated with the melody in prewar Mytilene, though less frequently, was Skopos tou Osman-Pasa (“Osman Pasha’s tune”).[33] Osman Nuri Pasha was an Ottoman general and the hero of the siege of Plevna in Bulgaria, fought in 1877 during the Russo-Turkish War, for which he received the title Gazi or victorious hero. Advisor to Sultan Abdulhamid, the staunchly anti-European Osman was wildly popular among the Muslim masses of the Empire, and various military marches were composed in his honor. One of these, variously known as Osman Pasha Marsı or Plevne Marsı, is still among the most performed military marches in contemporary Turkey.[34] Two marches dedicated to Osman appear on Kalan Records’ 2000 re-issue of Ottoman military marches recorded in the early 20th century, though neither of them corresponds to the melody played in Mytilene. It is entirely plausible that a hero of Osman’s stature would inspire a number of popular songs in a variety of styles, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that the siege of Plevna was fought in 1877, a year (or two, depending on the source) before the event in Agiasos that oral tradition connects with the popularization of “Osman Pasha’s Tune.” A year or two is plenty of time for the melody to have worked its way to Mytilene from wherever in the Empire it was composed, especially if the agent of its movement was an Ottoman government official, perhaps newly stationed in Lesvos and full of patriotic fervor. With a little imagination, one can picture him whistling the tune as he drinks his coffee and stamps his approval on the plans for the village’s new olive press.[35]

Around 1935, Mytilenean musicians began playing the melody differently, changing the march rhythm so that it could be danced as a syrtos, one of the most popular dance forms on the island.[36] Since then, it has become one of the island’s most beloved melodies, mandatory at every celebration, and for many people has come to define the traditional music of Mytilene. Violinist Manolis Pantelelis claims that “no matter where you go today, even to Australia, people ask for it and you have to play it”, and says that “it has become like a national anthem” (italics mine).[37] This very phrase is used by many Mytilenean musicians to describe the tune,[38] a curious label indeed for a melody previously associated on their very island with Kurds, an Ottoman general, and the military band of a hated occupying power.[39]


The associations with Osman Pasha and the siege of Plevna lead us to the third version of the tune considered here, recorded under the name “Plevna” by Greek clarinetist Nikos Tzaras in 1933 for Columbia.[40] Tzaras was born a few miles from the Albanian border near Ioannina in Epirus, the north-westernmost province of Greece, and at the age of fifteen left home, eventually settling in the port city of Preveza on the western coast. Though he began his working life as a coachman, his extraordinary talents on the clarinet — and the sudden obsolescence of his profession after the introduction of the automobile — led to his transition to a professional musician by 1911.[41] Aside from his mastery of the local Greek repertoire,[42] he was famed for his proficiency in and special affection for ala Tourka, a pan-Ottoman genre of makam-based music common to most urban centers of the Empire. Like Mytilene, Preveza remained under Ottoman control until 1912, and being a significant port city had a sizable Turkish population before liberation; even in the decades after union with Greece, the musical culture of the city reflected its Ottoman past, as Turkish ensembles continued to be contracted to play for extended periods at the cafés in the Saitan Pazar[43] district, and Tzaras and other local Greek musicians frequently played in mixed orchestras with their Turkish colleagues.[44]

In 1928 Tzaras spent several months in Istanbul, where he performed with renowned classical tanbur player, composer, and singer Münir Nurettin Selçuk, and befriended local musicians whom he later brought back to Preveza for musical engagements.[45] Selçuk was a key figure in the modern Turkish republic’s classical music establishment and certainly would have been familiar with Tanburi Cemil Bey’s “Çeçen Kızı”; but it seems unlikely that Tzaras would have learned the tune from Selçuk, since the version he recorded in 1933 varies even more from Cemil Bey’s rendition than does the version popular in Mytilene (Example 3).

Example3Example 3 – “Plevna” as recorded by Nikos Tzaras in 1933.

There is also, of course, the matter of the name “Plevna”, which, invoking the site of the aforementioned battle, clearly implies a connection to the Mytilenean “Osman Pasha” and the eponymous Ottoman general. Though I am not aware of a brass band tradition in Preveza, it stands to reason that a sizable Ottoman town with vested commercial interests would have had a garrison large enough to boast competent musicians, and it seems plausible that the tune could have entered the local repertoire that way, if indeed its origins lie in the Ottoman military band tradition. Clarinetist Makis Vasiliadis and laouto player Christos Zotos, both natives of the region, claim that the tune was brought to Preveza by refugees from Asia Minor, who settled there after the catastrophe of 1922 that ended the Greco-Turkish War.[46] Either way, “Plevna” appears to have been unknown outside the immediate vicinity of Preveza, and seems to have disappeared from the local repertoire of Preveza itself in the years since Tzaras’ death in 1942.[47] Incidentally, Tzaras’ version was recorded in the 1970s by clarinetist Vasilis Soukas from Komboti in the neighboring district of Arta with the title “Plevra” – presumably a Hellenized corruption of the foreign-sounding Slavic name of the original.[48] This suggests to me that Soukas, or whomever he learned the tune from (or, for that matter, the record company’s graphic designer), was unaware of the melody’s associations with Ottoman military history. Considering the strength of oral tradition in this region of Greece, and Soukas’ notoriously encyclopedic knowledge of the area’s music, this would suggest that such associations never became part of the musical folklore of Preveza — perhaps because Tzaras himself wasn’t aware of them in the first place.


So where does all this leave the question of authorship? For better or for worse, nowhere definitive. While several intriguing possibilities present themselves – the most likely of which seems to be some connection with Osman Pasha and Ottoman military music – the only conclusions we can make are cautiously apophatic ones. In the face of all the evidence presented here, it seems probable that Cemil Bey did not compose “Çeçen Kızı”, and it is just as unlikely that the tune originated in the Caucasus, despite the name under which it was first recorded. Without a detailed survey of Kurdish, Armenian, and Bulgarian music – a formidable project in itself – it is difficult to speculate on possible origins stemming from those regions. In the end, perhaps what we are left with is simply a deeper sense of the richness and complexity of music’s multiple roles, and the fluidity with which it insists on crossing – and re-crossing, and crossing again – so many of the boundaries that we contrive.


[1] Robert Labaree, personal communication; March 1, 2011.

[2] Kemal Emin Bara and Onnik Zadurian, Tanburi Cemil Bey (Istanbul: 1919), 39.

[3] Two versions of the piece, listed as “Oyun Havası (Çeçen kızı)”, are available at — the most popular site for Turkish classical music scores, with nearly two million hits since its inception in 2002 — in the section of classical pieces in hüseyni makam.

[4] Harold G. Hagopian and Ercüment Aksoy, Tanburi Cemil Bey Volumes II & III (New York: Traditional Crossroads, 1995), 12.

[5] Philip Bohlman, Music, Myth, and History in the Mediterranean: Diaspora and the Return to Modernity. Ethnomusicology Online 3.

[6] Martin Stokes eloquently summarizes Istanbul’s theoretical status as a global city as follows: “For Turkish Islamists ‘global Istanbul’ endorses a nostalgic vision of an Islamic social order supervised by Turks, free from petty ethnic squabbles and the ravages of modern capitalism. For secularists it resurrects Istanbul as the cosmopolitan and polyglot intellectual center it was before secular modernists relocated the capital to Ankara.” Martin Stokes, The Republic of Love: Cultural Intimacy in Turkish Popular Music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 11.

[7] “CECEN KIZI,” uploaded by hokelen July 6, 2007 on YouTube, accessed January 14, 2012,

[8] A promising link in the comment section to the “Original of this song on chechen language” (sic), posted by user Shadowlessss, unfortunately leads to an apparently unrelated tune.

[9] “Çeçen Kızı,” uploaded by muzbey May 6, 2008 on YouTube, accessed January 14, 2012,

[10] “Thria ‘Cicen kizi’,” uploaded by mpoulgari on YouTube April 30, 2008, accessed January 14, 2012,

[11] For a nuanced discussion of the genre of paradosiaká, in which Greek, Turkish, and other related elements mix freely, see Eleni Kallimopoulou, Paradosiaká: Music, Meaning, and Identity in Modern Greece (Burlington: Ashgate, 2009).

[12] Incidentally, the comment with the most positive votes – 46 in all – reads “All racist Greeks and Turks should drown in baklava’s syrup!!” (posted by user kostaras2).

[13] Mesut Cemil, Tanburi Cemil Hayatı (Ankara: Sakarya Basımevî, 1947), 71.

[14] Ibid; 71.

[15] Hagopian and Aksoy, 4.

[16] Cemil, 72-73.

[17] Ibid, 73.

[18] Ibid, 73.

[19] Ibid, 73.

[20] This story is repeated – always as a report of oral tradition – in many sources, including S. Kolaxizelis, Thrylos kai Istoria tis Agiasou tis nisou Lesvou, vol. 4. (Mytilene, 1950), 320-321; S. Anastasellis, “Kai diegontas ta,” in Agiasos, 5 (Athens, 1981), 2-4; and G. Hatzivasileiou, “Ena politirio tou 1879,” in Agiasos, 30 (Athens 1985), 9. The year of the olive press’ construction is variously given as 1878 and 1879.

[21] Dionysopoulos, Nikos, Lesvos Aiolis: Tragoudia kai Horoi tis Lesvou (Irakleio: University of Crete Press, 1997), 94.

[22] Ibid, 94.

[23] Ibid, 94.

[24] Solonas Lekkas, interview in “Ekteni viografika simeiomata mousikon tis Lesvou,” Kivotos tou Aiagiou (Lesvos: University of the Aegean, 1997), accessible at

[25] Events of this kind, with horse races and wrestling accompanied by live music – particularly the zurna (a double-reed shawm) and daouli (a two-headed bass drum) – are common throughout the Balkans and Anatolia. Mesut Cemil (1947: 115) mentions that Cemil Bey attended a wrestling event in the early 1900s near Istanbul, and was so impressed by the zurna players that he bought a zurna and taught himself to play.

[26] Cemil, 69-70.

[27] Dionysopoulos, 94.

[28] Georgios Nikolakakis, “Prosopografies ‘Laikon’ Mousikon,” in Mousika Stavrodromia sto Aigaio: Lesvos (19-20 aionas), ed. Sotiris Htouris (Athens: Exantas, 2000), 251.

[29] Dionysopoulos, 94.

[30] Ibid, 94.

[31] Nikolakakis, 251.

[32] The makam (mode), usul (rhythmic cycle), melodic range and various motives are fairly typical of music from Eastern Turkey, including areas with large Kurdish populations.

[33] Dionysopoulos, 94.

[34] Kemal H. Karpat,  The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001),  191.

[35] It may seem odd that Greeks would take such a liking to a piece of music ostensibly celebrating the exploits of a Muslim Turkish general against their fellow Orthodox Christians. Although there was certainly tension and resentment between the two communities, and the nineteenth century saw various revolts on Mytilene put down by the Ottoman forces in bloody fashion, the Greek inhabitants of the island were Ottoman citizens, and the politics of the situation were extremely complex. Further, many Turkish songs are an integral part of the musical tradition of Mytilene as well as virtually everywhere else in areas of Greece once controlled by the Ottomans; Mytilene’s proximity to the coast of Asia Minor – at points close enough to swim across – ensured a centuries-long cultural, economic, and political connection to the mainland that only began to be severed in the early twentieth century.

[36] Dionysopoulos, 94.

[37] Nikolakakis, 251.

[38] Ibid, 270; Konstantinos Lampros, personal communication, April 5, 2011.

[39] Perhaps the military band connection somehow subconsciously suggests the anthemic quality of the melody. On the other hand, there is at least one version of the tune’s history that explicitly engages in Greek nationalist rhetoric: Solonas Lekkas claims that it was played by the defenders of Constantinople during the fateful Ottoman siege of 1453, and is called “Ta Xyla” because at the time of their escape they had only wood to use as weapons (Dimitris Papageorgiou, “Oi mousikes praktikes,” in Mousika Stavrodromia sto Aigaio: Lesvos (19-20 aionas), ed. Sotiris Htouris (Athens: Exantas, 2000), 152).

[40] Panagiotis Kounadis, Eis anamnisin stigmwn elkystikon, keimena giro apo to rempetiko (Athens: Katarti, 2003), 358.

[41] Markos Dragoumis and Gregores Benekis, Gianniotika tou 1930 me tin kompania tou Nikou Tzara / istorikoi diskoi ton 78 strofon apo ti sullogi tou Mousikou Laografikou Arheiou tis Melpos Merlie (Athens: Center for Asia Minor Studies / Syllogos Palion Giannioton, 1996), 5-6.

[42] Much of the folk music of the Preveza region consists of adaptations of Arvanitika – the music of Greeks of Albanian origin who settled in southern and central Greece between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.

[43] “Devil’s Market” in Turkish.

[44] Vasileios Triantis, “Oi Laikoi Praktikoi Organopaiktes,” in I Dimotiki Mousiki stin Preveza ta teleutaia 30 chronia tis akmis tou limaniou (1930-1960) (Masters thesis, TEI Artas, 2008), 3.

[45] Ibid, 4.

[46]Vasileios Triantes, “Ta Organika Kommatia” in I Dimotiki Mousiki stin Preveza ta teleutaia 30 chronia tis akmis tou limaniou (1930-1960) (Masters thesis, TEI Artas, 2008), 11.

[47] Ibid, p. 12.

[48] Soukas’ version is entitled “Plévra,” with the accent on the first syllable, mirroring the pronunciation of “Plévna.” Though the word is meaningless in Greek, it is reminiscent of the word “plevrá,” accented on the second syllable, which can variously be translated as “side,” “surface,” “aspect,” “direction,” and many other related terms.