Preserving Turkish tales

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Preserving Turkish tales

Unrivalled collection of thousands of oral fairytales and myths passed down on the plateau bordering the Black Sea is at risk of being lost forever, say experts

The phoenix-like Zumrutu Anka from Anatolian folklore
The phoenix-like Zumrutu Anka from Anatolian folklore

Turkey has launched a cultural salvage mission to protect the stories that comprise its famed Anatolian folklore, which draws on Jewish influences.

An unrivalled collection of thousands of oral fairytales and myths passed down on the plateau bordering the Black Sea is at risk of being lost forever, say experts, so a massive collation exercise funded by the Atatürk Cultural Centre is under way.

The storytelling draws on the Arabian Nights and Brothers Grimm, as well as Kurdish, Persian, Slavonic, Jewish and Romanian influences, from the Caucasus mountain range through to the Caspian.

In the tales, princes are cursed by witches and turned into stags, beautiful maidens are borne of oranges, mice cut hair, donkeys run errands, and tortoises bake bread, in a land of peri (fairies) and ifrit (demons) who live alongside farmers and sultans.

Most or the tales are hundreds of years old and, as with many other stories from the period, Jews were often cast as villains, alongside witches. Turkey’s secular founder, Mustafa Kamal Atatürk, saw the folklore as backward and rejected it.

The project, called Masal, is aimed at collecting and indexing 10,000 stories to preserve for future generations, with 3,000 having been collected to date.

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