July 15, 2010

Karagiozi Not Turkish, Greek Ministry Says

Karagöz Not Turkish, Greek Ministry Says

July 15, 2010
Hurriyet Daily News

A debate between Turkey and Greece is growing in the wake of a UNESCO decision to declare shadow puppet theater a part of Turkish cultural heritage.

Greece is against the decision and claims that the characters of Hacivat and Karagöz are not a Turkish tradition, the daily Radikal recently reported.

Even Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has become involved in the debate over the legendary characters.

After UNESCO’s decision became effective last September, it raised eyebrows in Greece, prompting Teti Hatzinikolaou, head of the Greek Cultural Ministry department, to write that “Karagöz is a Greek cultural figure.”

Greece is set to press its claim to the style of theater, the Foreign Ministry in Athens said Wednesday.

The developments drew the attention of the country’s Foreign Ministry and the Greek Culture Ministry, while Pavlos Gerulanos, Greece’s culture minister, sought to find more information regarding the UNESCO decision.

Several Greek newspapers have demanded a greater debate between Turkey and Greece on the matter.

When asked to comment on the incident, Papandreou smiled and said: “It is better for both countries to have their own Karagöz.”

"The UNESCO convention on intangible cultural heritage enables neighboring countries to access the same commodity," foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras told a news briefing.

"Greece has tabled a statement that the same practice exists in our country and discussion ... regarding this issue will take place in Nairobi in October," he said, adding that the “Karagiozis” shadow theater, named after the main character, is an "inseparable" part of Greek culture.

Karagöz – Turkish for the Greek Karagiozis, meaning "black-eyed" – was a hunchbacked trickster who tried to make a living by hoodwinking and generally avoided all manner of honest work.

The setting is loosely placed during the occupation of present-day Greece by the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century to the early 19th century.

UNESCO last year placed Karagöz on its list of intangible cultural elements, associating it with Turkey where the character was originally born.

“Karagiozis” is also a common byword for “fool” in Greek.