The letter sent by the Turkish ambassador to Athens, Kerim Uras, was received with great surprise as far as the arguments on the origin of Karagiozis shadow theater.
Mr. Uras states in his letter that Karagiozis shadow theater is a “popular folklore tradition of Turkey” which is “acknowledged by an official act of UNESCO 2009” and the “European Court of Human Rights”.
The Turkish ambassador responded to an article published on the English edition of protothema.gr (www.protothemanews.com) concerning a relevant exhibition at Floisvos in Athens and wanted to “make a clarification about its origin”, as he stated.
The complete letter of the Turkish ambassador is cited below.
“Proto Thema” asked Minister of Culture, Konstantinos Tassoulas, to comment on the letter sent by Mr Uras. Mr. Tassoulas stressed the ‘right’ of the shadow theater to declare itself Greek. “I was surprised by your question on whether Karagiozis is Greek or Turkish tradition. I was also surprised by the Turkish opinion on this subject” said the Greek Minister of Culture.
“I know that Karagiozis often becomes “Turkish” through Chatziavatis or Uncle George character. I also know that Greece has many talented shadow players of Karagiozis. There is also the famous Spathario museum of shadow theater in Maroussi in Athens. To tell you the truth, I have not closely studied the arguments of the Turkish side or the decisions of the European Court. But, judging by the joy, fun and learning that Karagiozis has provided to Greek children and the way it illustrates with humor the Greek reality, I can say that Karagiozis is Greek. ”
As Ms. Kate Tzitzikosta, president of Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO, said to “Proto Thema”, “the fact that Turkey registered Karagiozis on the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO does not mean in any way that Karagiozis has acquired a specific origin. On the contrary, the convention is governed by a spirit which is opposed to statements like those of Mr. Uras: monuments of intangible cultural heritage, as Karagiozis or the Mediterranean diet, belong to humankind and not to any particular country. Besides, the story of shadow theater has probably begun from India, so India could claim it as its own cultural heritage”.
So, in conclusion, at least as far as UNESCO is concerned, Karagiozis may well belong to many folk traditions regardless of whether Turkey or any other country has taken the initiative to register it on UNESCO.
Moreover, an experienced member of the Ministry of Culture said that “When a state registers elements as intangible cultural heritage, it means that in its territory there are communities of people identified by this element. If in the file submitted by Turkey to register the Shadows Theater there was a reference to “Turkish origin”, the request would be certainly rejected. The shadow theater is a cultural tradition whose origins are lost in time. It probably comes from India, but through a long journey in time and space it became part of the living tradition of many countries in the Mediterranean: Karagiozis is a very popular type of folk theater in Turkey, Egypt and Greece.