Maria Farantouri and Zulfu Livaneli are two artists with a great contribution to the culture of their two countries, Greece and Turkey respectively, but they are also well known and popular worldwide. They have become a symbol of friendship between Greek and Turkish people, as both associate their lives with the struggle of their people for democracy and peace.
The two artists are coming to Cyprus at the invitation of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot trade-unions PEO, DEV-IS, KTAMS, KTOS, KTOEOS, BES, KOOP-SEN, TURK, SEN and the BI-COMMUNAL INITIATIVE UNITED CYPRUS for a concert, to take place in the UN-controlled buffer zone, which separates Cyprus` northern Turkish occupied areas from the southern government controlled part of the country, to mark 1st of September, the World Day of Trade Unions.
They return to Cyprus once more to give a concert “symbolic of the peaceful coexistence of Cypriots,” Farantouri tells CNA in an interview. “Maybe, we will also contribute in our own way to peace,” notes Livaneli.
Both of them replied in writing to common questions, via email, addressed to the two artists. They also answered, separately, specific questions put to each one of them, bridging distances, geographical or other. They cross borders, lifting any language barrier and become global in the way they both express their constant drive to contribute to peace and serve through their music their people.
The two artists unite their “voices and songs” in yet another message for peace, wishing that “the language of peace is heard again on this beautiful island”.
CNA invited the artists to explain what draws them back to Cyprus, divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion, and what is the symbolism conveyed by their acceptance of the invitation Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot trade unions had extended to them to participate in such an event in the buffer zone.
“Indeed, after twelve years we visit Cyprus again”, Farantouri says. “We had promised that one day we will return and here we are for the concert in the buffer zone,” she said, expressing the hope that the buffer zone (in Greek `dead zone`) will come back to life.
“I have visited Cyprus many times in the past. I have many friends of Turkish and Greek origin,” in the island, Livaneli says.
“Our concert sends a symbolic message of peaceful coexistence among Cypriots. We are obviously not proposing a solution, this is something the politicians will negotiate and Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will decide,” Farantouri points out. She notes that they are artists who raise their voices above the divide and unite their songs, dedicated to all Cypriots.
She sees the joint invitation by both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot trade unions as an example of efforts for normal co-existence.
“To hear the language of peace on this island and to see it sail into a common future is one of my biggest wishes,” Livaneli confides. The painful events of the past and any continuing tension is not to anybody`s benefit, he goes on to add. “In my view, nationalism should give way to coexistence based on justice and mutual respect. Those who will decide on that are the Cypriots,” he notes.
He expresses hope after following the resumption of UN-led negotiations for a Cyprus solution he and Farantouri will contribute in their own way to peace.
Asked if they agree with the perception, prevailing among many people, that through their joint performances they have become a symbol of Greco-Turkish friendship and if they see politically orientated songs, and art in general, playing a role and having a voice in today`s conditions, they both referred to the symbolism of their collaboration in support of people`s struggles and peace.
Farantouri says she has worked with Livaneli for many years and they have performed in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Europe, even in New York. “Our songs touch a cord with people, the purpose of art is to bring people together,” she says.
“Our songs have a history, they symbolise the struggles for peace and democracy. We do not interfere with the policy of governments elected by the people,” she adds.
“Greco-Turkish friendship is always present in our work,” Livaneli notes and explains that Mikis Theodorakis and Maria Farantouri are respected all over Turkey.
“My late friend Ismail Cem (former Turkish Foreign Minister) when he was taking the first steps towards peace with George Papandreou (the former Greek premier) thanked me saying `we are walking on the carpet you have laid down for us`”, he says. Elaborating further, Livaneli describes culture as an act of peace and peace is always the basis of his actions, which, as he explains, are not only related to Greco-Turkish ties but are also linked to efforts to promote other issues such as relations between Turkey and the Kurdish people and Turkey and Armenia.
The two artists were also invited to comment on the diversity of cultures in the light of the situation the world is witnessing today with the huge flows of refugees fleeing their countries and knocking on the door of the western world for a chance to save their lives and secure the welfare of their children.
Diversity enriches art and equals additional knowledge, Maria Faranturi notes. She cites the example of her cooperation with Charles Lloyd, the American lead saxophone player of Jazz music with whom she performed all over the world.
Most certainly, today, with the massive flow of refugees to the western world many things will change, she acknowledged and recalls that in the not too distant past Greeks fled to the US and Australia in search of a better life. Nowadays, faced with the financial crisis, she says, mainly young people are seeking a better future in other countries.
Livaneli goes one step further and attempts an explanation of the situation.
“Cultures and identities are even more important than ever before because masses protest against the capitalist plan to globilise the world, thus eliminating all local colours and characteristics and cultivating individuals whose only concern is consumerism,” he says.
He believes that as this influx of refugees increases, defence expenditure will also increase. However, he says, this is not the solution to the problem. “If the world`s wealth is no more evenly distributed, the refugee inflow cannot be stopped, nor can all other painful situations be eliminated,” he says.
In 1975, Zulfu Livaneli wrote a novel “A cat, a human and a death” in which he prophetically talked of the wave of refugees to come. “For me it was all clear,” he says.
Zulfu Livaneli is a bestselling author, poet, composer and singer. He is considered one of the most significant and influential authors and intellectuals of his time. His books were translated into almost 40 languages. He was imprisoned many times during the 1971 Turkish coup d` etat because of his political views and lived in exile. His work and cultural and political activities and his contribution to world peace were recognised by UNESCO which appointed him Goodwill Ambassador. He continues to be a political activist and has served in the Turkish parliament.
Having all these in mind, he was invited to explain how he combined all these different forms of art and culture and how they interacted with people.
He referred to ancient times and a discussion between philosophers and artists, whose conclusion was that there is a fundamental relation between them, a point of view that he shares and promotes. He describes the 20th century as a wrong era during which the specialization in sciences prevailed, an approach which is now being sidelined.
On the influence of politics in his life and art, he confessed that he does not love politics. “In problematic countries like ours, you cannot stay away from politics: The people assign duties which you are called upon to carry out. When I was young, I was not interested in politics, politics took an interest in me,” he says and explains that when he was 20 years old he was imprisoned by the Turkish junta. Therefore, he notes, politics was not an option, it was a duty. “It is a shame because it seems this will continue for life because in my country I see no signs of improvement,” he says.
Maria Farantouri has also had her share of difficulties as result of the political situation in Greece, which was ruled for a number of years by a military regime. She was described as the nightingale of the struggle of Greeks abroad against the dictatorship, she is the main performer of Mikis Theodorakis` songs, and also sings music by other great composers, such as Manos Hadjidakis, as well as foreign composers, including Zülfü Livaneli.
Invited to single out one moment, one song or a period in her life that stands out, Maria Farantouri says that being in Cyprus brings back memories. “I remember during the dictatorship I could not return to Greece. I met my parents here in Cyprus, in the areas occupied today by Turkey. The President of Cyprus at the time was Archbishop Makarios. This was the last time I saw my father alive,” she recalls.
“Cyprus is dear to my heart and I get emotional every time I visit,” she says.
Greece is going through a difficult situation but art and song will always keep their special place in our life, Farantouri says.
In the conditions Greece is experiencing today, what is the fate and place of art and music, and the artists? Are the financial difficulties also becoming spiritual or artistic? Can art blossom or is it withering?
“Music turns into a flag, a love expression or poetic exaltation. Lullabies accompany us when we are born and we say goodbye to our dead with a song, a requiem,” she explains.
“Yes, today circumstances are extremely difficult but once again singing is our comfort. I believe in young people, they will find their way and they will express their hopes and aspirations. This is what I wish for them,” she says.
Maria Farantouri concludes in a poetic manner. “Music is our mother, never ending and protective. It also survives through hardships because it is the direct expression of feelings. Thankfully, it will always be there, accompanying us.”
(Note to editors: Zulfu Livaneli`s interview was translated from Turkish into Greek by Ralli Papageoghiou)
CNA , CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY