Karamanlides – Turks or Greeks?

Ethnic identity can be a slippery fish! Take the case of the Karamanlides, whom everyone agrees were named after the town of Karaman, in what is now the country of Turkey. Karaman was the first Turkish kingdom to use Turkish as the official language. The Karamanids themselves, a Turkic tribe from the Azerbaijan area, overran the region in 1230. The region at that time had been part of the Greek Byzantine Empire, populated by Christians who spoke Greek and whose religion was Greek Orthodox. By 1300, various Turkic tribes had conquered most of the former Byzantine Anatolia. Each tribe had its little fiefdom.

Over time the Turkic Karamanids came to rule the area around their town of Karaman (in orange).
At its height the Beylik of Karaman was a mighty state.

So here’s the controversy. Did the Karamanids, the invaders, convert to Orthodoxy, or did the native Orthodox Greeks adopt Turkish as their language? The debate continues to this day. Whatever their origin, a population of Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox believers emerged, known as the Karamanlides. Though they spoke Turkish, they wrote it using the Greek alphabet.

Ancestral homeland of the Karamanlides

Authorities and locals weren’t too troubled by these people who seemed neither fish nor fowl – until 1922 when Greeks and Turks tried to settle their constant warring by agreeing to exchange populations. The idea was to move all Turks to Turkey and all Greeks to Greece, so neither country could complain of the other country oppressing their resident minorities. But what about the fish/fowl Karamanlides – where should they reside? The Karamanlides considered themselves Turks, but somehow negotiators decided that wasn’t important – they were shipped off to Greece. Since they spoke Turkish and considered themselves Turks, they had a poor reception, and didn’t much like their new homeland. Nearly 100 years later, time is healing wounds. The Karamanlides are gradually accepting and being accepted.

A Turkish account of the Karamanlides can be read here https://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2016/06/17/the-karamanlides-a-turkish-speaking-greek-orthodox-community-in-anatolia

The slightly different Greek account can be read here https://eu.greekreporter.com/2016/06/17/the-story-of-the-karamanlides-orthodox-turkish-speaking-people-native-to-anatolia/

Dances of Karamanlides

Yvonne Hunt, in Traditional Dance in Greek Culture, speaks of Cappadocian Greek dances in general, but it seems to apply to the Karamanlides in particular, judging by the few YouTubes of Karamanlides dancing I can find. “...each vilage or group of villages…performed dances that were done by the general population of the region. For the most part these dances were the karsilamádes (face-to-face dances) with the dancers accompanying themselves with wooden spoons and the syrto-type dances. Iosifidis tells us these antikristi (karsilamades) with wooden spoons were danced during the entire duration of the celebrations, and especially from Easter to Ascension Day slow circle dances with very ancient roots were performed. Sometimes dances were known by names descriptive of the formation: Makroulas, long-line; Strongilós, circular; Stavrotós, cross handhold. The steps for these were the same, known as ‘Isos, a type of sta tria.” For more on sta tria, see https://folkdancefootnotes.org/dance/a-real-folk-dance-what-is-it/about/sta-tria-greece/

“The most popular dance in all the villages seems to hve been the karsilamás. The rhythm for this ‘karsilamas’ is not 9/4 or 9/8 as is usually associated with dances of this name. Rather it is 2/4, accented as quick-quick-slow. (It is interesting to note that today younger descendents of Cappadocians are changing the accent to slow-quick-quick, especially in performing groups. It produces an entirely different feel to the dance.) It is sometimes referred to by the name of one of the favorite songs, ‘Konyali’. Today, perhaps then, too, if wooden spoons are not available some dancers will accompany themselves with small glasses held on two fingers of each hand and ‘clinked’ together in time with the music.

Although the karsilamas is a couple dance it is rarely danced by members of the opposite sex together. According to information from the Asia Minor Society of Efkarpia, Thessaloniki, the dances were always performed by pairs of men or pairs of women. Soumbasi describes how the men did not dance in public with women. Only at family parties would a man ‘…if he want to, take his wife or his sister to dance, However, neither one should dance very close to the other. It was shameful if a man and woman would dance together who were not related in some way.’ In general ‘…all the dances of Cappadocia are distinguished by modesty, seriousness and sanctity, in other words, they are [in a manner] befitting a sacred place or person.”

It seems the majority of Cappadocian dances were unaccompanied by musical instruments. Dances were performed to songs sung by the participants playing wooden spoons. Soumbasi tells us that at paniyiria (see https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/special-occasions/panigyri-%cf%80%ce%b1%ce%bd%ce%b7%ce%b3%cf%85%cf%81%ce%af-greece/) ‘they were dancing dances with the tefia. In other words, to the accompaniment of the tambourines (défia). Evpraxiadis indicates that it was an instrument which almost all the women knew how to play. In some villages musicians extisted; in others they did not. As in other regions of Greece musicians were hired from neighboring villages when the situation warranted, i.e. at weddings. ‘Sometimes musicians came from other villages bringing the ‘tsalgoudia,’ instruments. They were the flute and the violin.”

Recreation of a Karamanlides henna night ceremony – by the local Karamanlides dance group in Ano Vrontou. For more on henna night, see https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/special-occasions/henna-night-kina-gecesi-a-favorite-of-turkish-brides/

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