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Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is a Boston-based musician from Cyprus.
?I am a Turkish Cypriot. All of my heritage goes back to the island of Cyprus.?
Sanlikol is the head of Dunya, a Boston-based musicians’ alliance that promotes Turkish music. Dunya also supports cultural exchanges between Turkey and other parts of the world.
And for a Turkish Cypriot, what part of the world could be more ripe for cultural exchange than the GREEK side of Cyprus that’s been estranged from the Turkish side for more than three decades?
The idea came to Sanlikol when he was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
?And I have had the good fortune of meeting my friend Theolodos Vakanas, who is a Greek Cypriot, and excellent Greek Cypriot musician. And it was through our collaborations which had nothing to do with Cypriot music for a long time, somehow I just figured it’s time to put all the efforts that I had been putting into collecting music of Cyprus, and I thought it was time to do this project because, you know, apparently no one had done it before.?
No one had done it before.
Mehmet Sanlikol says that part of the reason he was able to do is that he and Theodolos Vakanas don’t LIVE in Cyprus.
They’re not constrained by the bitterness between Turks and Greeks there.
Although Sanlikol says there was an even more fundamental obstacle to the idea of this project.
?I don’t think it’s so much about hard feelings, although clearly they’re there. It’s more about the conversation that was never taking place. Especially between a handful of musicians from a small island.?
And so, in February 2007, a subset of the handful of those musicians — Greek and Turkish musicians in Boston — set out on this mission: to play each other’s music…together.
That recording has just come out. It’s called “Music of Cyprus.” Mehmet Sanlikol sings and plays the oud and flute-like ney on the CD.
Theodolos Vakanas sings and plays violin.
Songs like “Kartal” are featured on a part of the recording titled “Cyprus Re-Constructed.”
Sanlikol wanted to take the listener back a hundred years or so to hear a different sort of Cypriot music.
?A kind of music that no longer exists on the island. Then you have certain numbers where you have both Greek and Turkish language spoken in the same song. It’s not invented by us. That’s how it was. And then it’s just this adventure through these styles on the island to get a bigger perspective.?
The trick now would be for Greek and Turkish leaders in Cyprus to get that same perspective. The Dunya organization recently took the project to Cyprus where they played several well-attended shows.
Mehmet Sanlikol put together a similar performance of Greek and Turkish Cypriot musicians in Boston some time ago.
In that audience was a big fan of the project: former presidential candidate and now poli-sci professor at Northeastern University, Mike Dukakis.
?I’m a guy who’se very proud of his Greek origins. My dad like a lot of Greeks happened to have been brought up in Asia minor in western Turkey. And for years I’ve thought that this ongoing hostility between the Greeks and the Turks made no sense at all, and…in any event, the concert went ahead, it was absolutely packed, it was terrific, and it was a wonderful example of how music and culture can bring people together.?
Turkish Cypriot Mehmet Sanlikol echoes those feelings.
?I strongly think that musical contributions to these kinds of situations is more than almost anything else out there. I strongly believe in this, and I think that these kinds of things are gigantic steps, they can set examples. And the example is that “we’re friends.” We can play together. To me, that’s the most enjoyable thing in life.?
For The World, I’m Marco Werman.

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