The puppets celebrate a wedding on the Georgian border


An impromptu wedding celebration dance at the Georgian border (Image by Liz Cameron)

The Karagöz puppets are all a-twitter about the upcoming Valentine’s day celebration.  Between valentine-making parties and the preparation of sweets, you can imagine that they haven’t been thinking much about blogging.

So this morning, I asked them to tell me a story about the best of love, something I could write a blog post about.  And of course, the puppets immediately reminded me of a special experience we had on the Georgian border a few months ago.


It looks as if the road just drops off into the steep valley here at the Turkish-Georgian border (Image by Liz Cameron)

As they recalled, the puppets were a bit carsick after driving through the high-up switchback roads in the mountains on the Georgian-Turkish boarder…you can see one such road here.

It was no wonder they were so quiet and relatively unwilling to get out of the car at the end of the road – even if there was a lovely green park to explore.  I had to drag them along with me through the woods, their clothes got a little muddy as a result.

But what happened next really took all of our breath away.


The young couple, off for a bit of exploring just after their wedding (Image by Liz Cameron)

Upon emerging from the woods after a short walk from the parking lot, we saw a young couple in their wedding clothes, ambling hand in hand by the side of a pristine mountainside lake.

But what was even more wonderful than that, was the fact that this couple in the blush of new love was being serenaded by a Turkish piper who just happened to be up at the lake with some of his buddies.


The tulum player from Artvin seemed comfortable in his skin (Image by Liz Cameron)

Animated and full of hot air for the pipes, the piper played a range of Turkish folk tunes leaning towards the political (he was from Artvin, a well-known hotbed of leftists, as M. relayed to me).  M. translated some of the lyrics – which were clearly Gezi Park-inspired and anti-establishment in tune.  Nobody seemed to mind much.

Turks from the Black Sea region call this the guda in the Laz language, or the tulum in Turkish.  You can read more about the tulum here.  With a blow pipe on top and chanters on the bottom, the Tulum looks and sounds much like a modern-day bagpipe. Made from sheep or goat hide, it is allegedly commonly treated with nothing more than salt. And, although we did not witness this, according to tradition, a shot glass full of Raki, a homemade Turkish brandy of high alcohol content, is poured inside the Tulum after use. Its antiseptic qualities helps prevent the spread of bacteria and even prevents the pipes from rotting.

We were soon enveloped in a circle of dancers.  We presumed they were members of the wedding party but soon found out that this was just a motley crew of visitors to the lake all keen on celebrating the newly-married husband and wife.


Teyze supervises the tulum player on the Georgian border (Image by Liz Cameron)

From the teyze (auntie) replete in her flowered pants and headscarf to the economics student from Istanbul and her friend from Denmark, nobody seemed out of place.  And while I am two left feet-personified in the dance department, nobody cared, and everyone just launched into the celebration of life and hope.







Posted in Puppets on the move around the world, Turkish destinations, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Karagöz puppets have a psychotic experience in Bursa


Karagöz puppet figures from Bursa’s Karagöz puppet museum (Image by Liz Cameron)

Recently, I went to visit the puppets while they were on sabbatical in Turkey.

We met up in Istanbul and took in some sightseeing in Safranbolu before heading to their point of origin – Bursa.

As you may know, Karagöz ve Hacivad were born in Bursa when it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire…that’s a long time ago, folks!


Female Karagöz puppets are somewhat rare to see, as I understand it, and I was pleased to see many female characters at the museum (Image by Liz Cameron)

When I first visited the city in 2004, the puppets chose to inhabit my head in order to help me with my cross-cultural relationship.


Cengi – or lady dancer puppet from the Karagöz puppet museum in Bursa (Image by Liz Cameron)

Of course this was done through some sort of time hop.  We are a magical realism-oriented blog, after all.

It’s been 11 years now since the puppets have been back to their birthplace.

So, of course, they wanted to head back on their sabbatical.

As we drove into the thriving metropolis, the puppets could barely contain their glee.  “Home at last! Home at last! Let’s go get some Iskander kebap!”  But before long, I decided that the amount of cholesterol we would imbibe with that kebap would be a detriment to the diet, so a trip to the Karagöz Museum was in order instead.  What better place to celebrate the history of Karagöz shadow puppetry?  What I didn’t expect is what unfolded next.

We noisily entered the empty museum with great vim and vigor.  Before long, the puppets were spread across the building, revelling in the numerous exhibits of Karagöz puppet characters.  Of course, all of the puppets in the cabinets came out to greet their old friends – but things got a little bit weird when the puppets began to meet THEMSELVES!

Karagöz stared at five to ten versions of himself, and just as he began to feel the room spinning, Hacivad Bey had the same experience.  As they are the two most famous Karagöz puppets, it was no wonder that they experienced a touch of psychosis and/or multiple personality disorder.  Most of the other puppets found themselves somewhere in the museum, with wild-eyes and hearts-a-beating!

But what really sent ALL of the puppets around the bend was the visit to the puppet-making room.  There, the Karagöz puppet master himself showed us how he uses patterns to trace the shapes of the puppets onto cured camel hides.  This is a see-through (albeit cloudy) piece of hide that is later colored.  As he whipped out his exacto knife to show us the technique, the entire Karagöz puppet troupe fainted in one fell swoop.

Have you ever had to administer smelling salts to that many Ottoman-era puppets living in your head? Not a fun time, I assure you.  I practically had to call out the Red Crescent emergency workers to help me.  All’s well that ends well, though, and thanks to a very thoughtful unnamed co-visitor, we even came home with some new friends.


Karagöz puppet master showing us how he cuts cured camel skin in order to make these shadow puppets – he terrified the puppets with his exacto knife (Image by Liz Cameron)






A mother with two children – something I have never seen before in Karagöz imagery. Was this the wife of Karagöz? Could he even sustain a wife? (Image by Liz Cameron)



Posted in Introducing the Karagöz puppets, Puppets on the move around the world, Turkish destinations, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The will o’ the wisp and the Ottoman seal make a comeback in Turkey

Mr. Punch's History of the Great War Ottoman Empire William O the Wisp

Cartoon from Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War, depicting the Ottoman Empire being led astray by a will o’ the wisp named William, presumably after Kaiser Wilhelm. (Image by Liz Cameron, of her Grandfather’s book likely sent to him whilst he was in the trenches in France)

The puppets are all snowed in thanks to Blizzard Juno…and in order to stave off cabin fever, Karagöz led the charge to find some good reading in our vintage book collection.  Hacivad Bey, our resident history buff, came across my Grandfather’s copy of Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War.

Mr. Punch makes a brief commentary on the state of the Ottoman Empire.  During this phase, the Ottoman Empire was famously referred to as “the sick man of Europe,” which the puppets find interesting given the ongoing saga around the European Union’s possible accession of Turkey and debates about whether Turkey is, or is not, European.

Reference to “the sick man of Europe” was indicative of the fact that the once-great power that was the Ottoman Empire was crumbling.   For over half of a millennium, it had dominated the Eastern Mediterranean, held a tight grip on vast swathes of Central Europe, and encompassed Arab lands as far down as Egypt. By the time of World War One, however, all that remained outside of Turkey were Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Image from the cover of Mr. Punch's History of the Great War depicting the puppet Punch of Punch and Judy fame

Image from the cover of Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War depicting the puppet Punch of Punch and Judy fame (Image by Liz Cameron)

The puppets wave me off, with Karagöz in the lead, saying “M’Lady, we KNOW all of this already, let’s focus on interpreting the cartoon you found in Mr. Punch’s book.  He is a lover of anarchy, and a kind spirit to the Karagöz puppets, so, on with it!” And so, dear reader, take a gander at the cartoon we found in Grandpa’s old musty book.

You will note that a will o’ the wisp is referred to in the cartoon’s caption.  So let me start with that, non-Brits and non-Anglophiles out there may not know of this character, so let me fill you in. As a child, my Granny warned me about the will o’ the wisp who laid in wait within the nearby marsh – to lead people astray with his glowing light.  This British mythic creature made a big impression on me…and was used in this cartoon to suggest that the aging and sickly Ottoman Empire had lost its way thanks to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (see the text from Mr. Punch at the bottom of this post).

As I thought through my interpretation of the cartoon, I couldn’t help but think of all of the talk in Turkey around the maudlin glorification of the Ottoman Empire.  This glorification manifests in several ways, the first of which caught my eye in the form of window decals with the Ottoman seal on cars all over Turkey.  This was a precursor to certain political figures’ attempts to glorify (themselves? No, of course not!) the nation by doing things like staging a costume show with sixteen soldiers in costumes from all of the alleged Turkic empires and generally ranting and raving on about the greatness of Turkey in some quite cringeworthy ways.  I must say, at times it seems to me that the Will O’ the Wisp is back, leading Turkey astray yet again, taking it down a dangerous garden path, to be sure.  Time will tell. The puppets are glad to be observing it all from afar, as are we.

Ottoman nostalgia is making a comeback…according to Joshua Walker and many others…

Mr. Punch’s commentary that went along with this cartoon:

“A new and possibly momentous chapter has opened in the history of the War by the attempt to force the Dardanelles. At the end of February the Allied Fleet bombarded the forts at the entrance, and landed a party of bluejackets. Since then these naval operations have been resumed, and our new crack battleship Queen Elizabeth has joined in the attack. We have not got through the Narrows, and some sceptical critics are asking what we should do if we got through to Constantinople, without a land force. It is a great scheme, if it comes off; and the “only begetter” of it, if report is true, is Mr. Winston Churchill, the strategist of the Antwerp expedition, who now aspires to be the Dardanelson (LOL, says Karagöz) of our age. Anyhow, the Sultan, lured on by the Imperial William o’ the Wisp, is already capable of envying even his predecessor:

Abdul! I would that I had shared your plight,
Or Europe seen my heels,
Before the hour when Allah bound me tight
To WILLIAM’S chariot-wheels!”

Posted in Turkish Controversies, Visits from the Karagöz puppets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments