Saz is a musical instrument of pleasure, sorrow for the Turks in Jacksonville – Way of life – The Florida Instances-Union
Early in his life, Mukhammad Tairov, an Ahiska Turk, discovered that he needed more than food to strengthen himself against the forces of oppression. he needed music – the music that came from a three-stringed instrument known as a saz.
The cycle of cruelty began for his family long before he was born. In 1944, under the regime of the dictator of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, who believed the Ahiska Turks were a security threat, his family was deported from their home in South Georgia to Uzbekistan.
“They separated families, uncles and brothers, relatives dispersed so they couldn’t get together,” said Tairov, 49, through an interpreter, Akif Aydin, director of the Amity Turkish Cultural Center.
“He shipped them on trains. … They did all kinds of bad things [including] Torture.”
Even Stalin’s death and the disintegration of the Soviet Union did not end the tyranny. Ahiska Turks have still been denied the right to return to their home in Georgia and have been exposed to outbreaks of violence. The persecution continues to this day, Tairov said.
But through all of this, he found a weapon that helped him defend himself against this oppression in the Saz, also known as the baglama, the Middle Eastern counterpart to the folk guitar.
And like the folk guitar, the saz is used to express joy and pain, struggle and triumph.
“My older brother went to school to play this instrument and I snuck and played on it,” Tairov said. “In middle school, in seventh grade, I went to music school right after school to play it.
“Even though I was hungry right after school ended at 3 pm, I didn’t go home to eat, but to school to music.”
Foregoing food in favor of the saz not only helped Tairov find a means to channel his pain and perseverance, but it also helped him find a niche in his new home, Jacksonville.
Tairov emigrated with his wife and three children in 2005 through the International Organization for Migration from Russia, which resettled Ahiska Turks in the USA between 2004 and 2007. While he makes a living as a caretaker, he also makes a name for himself playing his saz at local gatherings and Turkish events.
Recently, Tairov played his saz during the Amity Turkish Cultural Center’s annual Dialog Dinner. Once a month it plays on the center’s Turkish nights, where around 100 people with Turkish roots enjoy their native songs, foods and folkways. He has also played at a number of weddings and festivals.
And while Tairov loves to play the rare instrument to entertain others, he still plays it as therapy for himself.
“I still have problems, but different problems,” said Tairov. “I tell my wife, ‘This is the best way for me to rest.’ “”
Until he finally settled in Jacksonville, insecurity and cruelty ruled much of Tairov’s life.
He was born in Uzbekistan, where his parents were deported and where Ahiska Turks were massacred in 1989. Tairov ended up in Russia, but for Ahiska Turks the discrimination and mistreatment didn’t end when the Soviet Union fell. To this day, they have been denied citizenship rights and other basic services.
Tairov knows about the discrimination firsthand.
After learning to play the saz, he said he was banned from college to study music.
“You said, ‘You are Turkish … if you go to this college nobody will pay attention to you,'” Tairov said.
So he decided to study electrical engineering. He graduated but said discrimination had ruined his chances of getting a job in his major.
Tairov took a job as a factory worker. But he continued to experience the pain of discrimination.
For example in 1992 when he applied for a plot of land that was reallocated by the government. When Tairov revealed that he was Turkish, they said no.
“They ask, ‘Isn’t it enough to live?’ ” he said. “You have no right to ask for anything.”
At that time, Tairov decided that the only way to get a better life for himself and his family was to leave Russia. When the opportunity arose to settle in the US, he jumped in on it.
Adjusting to life here has been a challenge, Tairov said. For one thing, he has to learn to speak better English so that he can go back to school because the engineering degree he received in Russia does not match the degrees offered here. But finding time to take English classes and make a living is difficult, he said.
However, Tairov said he was more encouraged by the opportunities in the US than discouraged by the challenges. And one of the first opportunities for him was to take his saz playing to another level by eventually buying his own instrument.
“The only place I could play saz was at the music school because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one,” said Tairov. “This is the first that I could buy. … I ordered it from Turkey.”
As he continues to work towards a better life in his new country, Tairov said he intends to continue playing the saz not only as an instrument of relief but also of cultural struggle and memory.
“I love to play music,” he said. “The Saz is a tradition in my culture. I learned a lot of songs from my mother. … Historically, I have experienced a lot of pain from exile and other things.
“One day I want to be able to share my music with the American community.”
Once Tairov is able to do that, people will learn a lot, Aydin said.
“This is basically folk music, and the people who play this instrument have probably experienced what it experienced.” Aydin said. “The Saz himself has grief because of the place he came from. …
“The people who play and love this music are addicted. That’s the culture.”
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