For the Erased

Diamanda Galás commemorates victims of a long-forgotten Turkish ethnic cleansing

Later I read Peter Balakian's book Black Dog of Fate, which talks about what being an Armenian in America means—it means you're invisible. It's the same with the Greeks. Most people think of Greek culture as a dead culture: Socrates and Aristotle and the statues . . . And they think Assyrians are the same as Syrians.

Then, as a fellow at Princeton in 1999, I studied texts by Giorgos Seferis and others in preparation for a performance at the Vooruit Festival at the Castle of Ghent [in Belgium]. Defixiones was more a song cycle then, with [the underground Greek protest music known as] rembetika and works by Paul Celan, Henri Michaux, and César Vallejo. I concentrated on exiled poets like the Anatolian Greek refugees of the 1920s—my father's people. The premiere was on September 11, 1999, which marked the anniversary of the reign of terror under Charles V, who persecuted homosexuals, women thought to be witches, and other heretics.

Defixiones is somewhat a work in progress? Yes. Currently I'm using texts by Giorgos Seferis, [who] is like my bible—and Nikos Kazantzakis, who people will know from his novel The Last Temptation of Christ. And Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose poem is addressed to the people who survived. Everyone just hated him. And Yannis Ritsos. And "The Dance" by Siamanto, with its description of brides being burned alive. And the pro-genocide poem "Hate," which was published by [the Turkish newspaper] Hürriyet and broadcast by the BBC in 1974, right before the invasion of Cyprus—about why the Turks should decapitate the Greeks.


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  • September is such a politically charged month . . . Yes, starting with the destruction of Smyrna in September 1922. And Black September 1955, when Turkish officials waged a disinformation campaign stating that Greeks had bombed the consulate in Thessalon resulted in the desecration of Greek churches and the mutilation and murder of priests and other men. And the Black September of Ariel Sharon's going into Lebanon in '82. He was doing a real con job. And then the situation in America in 2001 . . .

    Your aggressive style and disturbing subject matter automatically put you outside the mainstream. Yet your music has a surprisingly broad appeal. Well, I've been creating sacred masses, which are not exactly a popular art form in this country today. But they're meant to be, literally, for the people. The American idea of a populist art form is rap. Some of it is good, but most is appalling in that it promotes stupidity and the abuse of the same groups that monotheist totalitarian governments persecute: women, homosexuals, and anyone who doesn't speak precisely your language.

    You must get tons of hate mail. Fundamentalists of all sorts despise me. I'm attacked by my own people too—American Greek men who are homo- phobic and think everything I say is heresy. I got shit recently from a Jewish promoter about doingDefixiones in Mexico. She asked me if I really believed people would be interested. And I thought: "Please don't insult my intelligence—or theirs. They'll understand the concept of genocide as it has occurred and continues to occur to so many people around the world . . . "

    I want to perform Defixiones in Istanbul and Smyrna. The psychic manifestations of violence can be just as devastating as the physical acts—especially when people refuse to recognize them. It's depersonalizing. I have a line in INSEKTA: "Believe me, believe me." Not being believed can kill.

    Who are your fans? People who find it necessary to think for themselves in order to survive, because they're damned by the fact they don't agree with the mediocrity that society shoves down their throats. They rise above this by continuing to educate themselves. This is especially true of homosexuals, who are born outside the law anyway. They're still figuratively and literally buried alive by the Egyptians and Turks. Here in New York they're visited upon by the Aesthetic Realism Foundation and treated with electroshock. In Iran, they hang teenage "infidels." It's unbelievable that ethnic groups still shut out those who can be so disciplined and organized, and who can do great things. [Gay men] either disappear completely or they address the situation. They've had to—to save their own lives. They are great fighters. I say these are the first soldiers you should enlist, not the last. This is the man to whom you should say, "Will you be my brother? Will you help me?"

    Will the Turkish government ever admit these atrocities? I think it will be forced to, through the ongoing work of their own scholars, both old and young, and by artists and writers who want to be part of the rest of the world, despite the horrific censorship that the Turkish government exercises over them. My website is listed as a hate site, which is completely ridiculous. I do not hate the Turkish scholars who are trying to address true events in the world. There are many Turks who want to see things change, but they're not given the opportunity to express themselves. When they do, they get sent to prison or mental asylums. Midnight Express is absolutely the truth.

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