Dear Cyprus, please unite around a different anthem

Part of the border wall separating Greek from Turkish Cyprus. The graffiti sums up what a lot of people think

Part of the border wall separating Greek from Turkish Cyprus. The graffiti sums up what a lot of people think

This week, the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cyprus began talks to unite the country, which has been divided by a wall – literally – since 1974. That’s part of it above.

Will they succeed? Er… fingers crossed! But if they do, can the United Nations please not pick the country’s new national anthem (the Greek part currently uses Greece’s anthem; the Turkish side, Turkey’s)?

In the early 2000s, Kofi Annan put forward this awful tune to be the country’s anthem as part of a unification plan:

It was rejected by voters, along with the rest of the peace deal, presumably for musical as much as political reasons.

The proposed anthem was wordless, something the UN seems to feel is essential if anthems are to help heal decades of trauma. The logic seems to be that uniting a country is hard enough; forcing words upon people – potentially in a language they don’t understand, and filled with symbolism they disagree with – is going too far. Hopefully the music will be inspiring by itself.

The problem is that wordless anthems don’t help. They just leave a vacuum, which people can sing their old divisions over. Bosnia’s anthem? Wordless. Kosovo’s? Wordless. Spain’s? Wordless. You would hardly call those countries good examples of how to avoid ethnic divisions.

For more on wordless anthems, see my book. It has a whole chapter on them.

Being a beauty queen’s more dangerous than you thought

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Back in 2014,  Merve Buyuksarac, Ms Turkey 2006, posted a satirical rewording of her country’s national anthem to her Instagram account. She changed a handful of its words to reference a corruption scandal involving the country’s president, Tayyip Erdoğan.

I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond
I follow state bids, take my bribe and live.

Almost immediately afterwards she was arrested.

This May – two years later! – she was found guilty of insulting the president and sentenced to 14 months in prison. The sentence was only suspended on the condition that she doesn’t insult Erdoğan again in the next five years.

Yes, I should have written about this back in May when it happened, but I somehow only learned about it yesterday while reading about Erdoğan’s crackdown on journalists in his country. He’s jailed 120 so far.

I’ve never heard of someone being sentenced to prison for satirising an anthem before, which isn’t a surprise as if it was a common occurence they’d be literally hundreds of offenders in jail. Imagine how many people have rewritten the words to God Save the Queen and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Turkey’s anthem, the Independence March, turns up surprisingly regular in the country’s political life. People used it frequently earlier this year during the coup that was trying to remove Erdoğan, seeing it as a way to motivate people to get onto the streets, while it also played a major part in the country’s last presidential election.

But this? This is just a disgrace.

For details of more controversial anthems, see my book.

An anthemic coup

Has a national anthem ever kickstarted a coup; soldiers singing it for inspiration before jumping into their tanks, as if to say, “This is what we’re doing it for, boys”?

Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea! But Turkey’s did play a little part in inspiring people to go out on the streets last week to counter the coup against Tayyip Erdoğan, going by posts like this on Twitter:

Turkey coup tweet

Why does Turkey’s anthem, The Independence March, mean so much to people that they would think of it in the middle of a crisis?

Partly, it’s because they can’t escape it – its words are hung in every schoolroom – but it’s also because its lyrics have an intensity you just can’t forget. It’s all about the country’s flag, but features people talking to it as it were a person. “Why the anger? Why the rage?” they ask it at one point, calling on it to smile upon the country instead.

Here are the opening two verses, the ones people sing, to give you a proper feel:

Fear not! For the crimson banner that proudly ripples in this glorious dawn, shall not fade
Until the last fiery hearth that is ablaze in my homeland is extinguished
For the flag is the star of my people, and it will forever shine
It is mine, and solely belongs to my valiant nation

Frown not, I beseech you, oh thou coy crescent
Smile upon my heroic nation. Why the anger? Why the rage?
Our blood that we shed for you shall not be worthy otherwise
For freedom is the absolute right of my God-worshipping nation

This is only the most recent example of Turkey’s anthem playing a part in the country’s politics. In the last election, it bizarrely formed a major part of campaigning. I fully expect Erdoğan to start playing it everywhere soon. After all, he needs to stoke nationalism right now to bolster support for his crackdown on opposition.

The importance of the Islamic State’s music – again

Earlier this week, it emerged that the terrorist in Nice, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, had searched online for Islamic State songs “on a near-daily basis” in the fortnight before the attacks. They may have played a part in his radicalisation, prosecutors said.

If you want to learn more about them, read my book, or scan the audio guide here. Yes, this is a controversial topic, but it’s an important one, and increasingly so.