A Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Thursday that Athens will press its claims on a shadow-puppet theater tradition that the United Nations cultural watchdog UNESCO has deemed to be part of Turkey’s cultural heritage.
“Karagiozis is an inextricable part of our culture,” Grigoris Delavekouras told reporters. The spokesman invoked the UNESCO convention on “intangible cultural heritage,” noting that it “enables neighboring countries to access the same commodity.”
Karagiozis – Greek for the Turkish “Karagoz,” meaning “black-eyed” – is the central character in a popular shadow-puppet theater series that originated in Turkey and was very popular in Greece up until the 1990s.
In the Greek show, which features a cast of social stereotypes and is set loosely during the Turkish occupation of Greece, Karagiozis is a hunchbacked con man who makes a living bamboozling Turkish officials. Karagioizis is also a common byword for “clown” in the Greek vernacular.
The Greek Theater of Shadows, one of the few forums for enthusiasts that continues to stage Karagiozis shows, yesterday issued a press release criticizing the government for its delayed reaction to the “Turkification” of Karagiozis, noting that UNESCO had placed Karagoz on its list of intangible cultural elements, associating it with Turkey, last September.
“We wrote to the Culture Ministry last year, describing the matter as one of national importance and seeking its support… but, instead of sensitivity and interest, we faced total indifference,” the press release said.
The theatre group called on the government to subsidize Karagiozis performances and promote the Greek shows, and their history, to foreign visitors.