Tall Armenian Tale


The Other Side of the Falsified Genocide


  Last Days of the Fez   
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Mahmut Ozan
Edward Tashji
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 Here is an already outdated (1995) "update" of what is happening with the one clothing item Turks were most... and sometimes still are... identified by. (The cartoon below, from The New Yorker, appeared only a few years ago.) 



The New York Times
March 22, 1995

Fez Journal

Last Refuge of the Tall Tasseled Ottoman Hat

FEZ, Morocco In the Middle East it still matters what you wear on your head. The Sudanese have floppy turbans, the Palestinians red and black checkered kafiyehs and the Saudis the white ghutra. But the maroon, brimless fez, once the epitome of old world courtesy and taste, has become, for most Muslims politically incorrect.

"It's a hat of the oppressors," said 26-year-old Abdel Jouad. "This is why no one wears it anymore."

Only the Moroccan royal court has resisted the Muslim world's onslaught against the fez. King Hassan II is the only Arab leader to wear it. And Cabinet ministers, the royal guard and the palace staff all favor the fez, although the staff members wear a floppy, conical-shaped fez that denotes their status.

Any socially ambitious Moroccan man, hoping for an invitation to one of the King's dozen lavish palaces, would not dare show up bareheaded at the gate. And in the narrow cobblestone alleys of Fez one can still see men, often in immaculate suits, made a few inches taller by the bucket-shaped, dark red hat with the black silk tassel.

"In Morocco the fez was seen as a form of protest against the French occupation," said Chakib Laroussi, the director of the Ministry of Information. "To put on a fez was to make a statement that one was a nationalist. The fez has, for generations, been a symbol of the royal palace and part of our national dress."

The origins of the fez, which Moroccans call the tarboosh, Is disputed.

The design may have come from ancient Greece or the Balkans. It gained wide acceptance in the early 19th century when the Ottoman rulers, who actually never controlled Morocco, moved to modernize traditional costumes. The brimless hat did not get in the way of a Muslim's daily prayers and was cleaner, and less cumbersome, than the folds of cloth wound into a turban. The name fez is believed to come from this city, which once produced the dye, made from crimson berries, to color the hat.

But the fez fell on hard times after World War I with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk outlawed the fez in 1925 as part of his drive to turn Turkey Into a modern, Westernized state.

Men who wore the hat were imprisoned. The military officers who overthrew the monarchies in Iraq, Egypt and Libya condemned the fez as a royalist symbol. And Western fashions, which dropped the bowler and the fedora, left the chic in the Muslim world, like the chic in Europe, bareheaded.

The decline in the fez's popularity had its effect in Morocco. It is rare to see a young man, unless he is a member of the court or has dressed for a wedding or a funeral, wearing a fez. But enough Moroccans still need the hat to keep alive the small fez workshops, with their wheezing steam ventilators and bronze presses.

The Barrera Brothers Vox workshop, on Mohammed El Hayani Street, occupies three small rooms with low ceilings behind Fez's main vegetable market.

The company has been producing the fez for the royal court for almost 100 years. Fifty years ago, at its height, it employed dozens of people in workshops that lined the narrow Derb al-Barka Street in Fez's old city. Today the company has fewer than a dozen employees.

The cramped workshop has rows of bronze molds and presses to shape the wool, which is imported from South Africa and Australia, into the hats.

The workers cut the brim of the fez by hand. One man sews in the leather hatbands on a machine. And workers lick their fingers to rub off any spots on the finished product before brushing the fez and wrapping it in white tissue paper.
"We make three grades," said Bachir Berrada, one of the owners. "We make one for everyday use, one for more formal occasions and one that is worn to Special events, such as the court. It takes two days to finish a fez."

Hamid Ginoon, wearing a soiled gray work coat, stood over a pyramid-shaped tin cone that had steam rushing out of dozens of small holes. He was straightening the black silk tassels over the steam before sewing them by hand on the top of the hats.

"The hardest part is when we place the wool over the inside pile," said Mr. Ginoon, who has worked here for more than 20 years. "You have to make sure there are no creases or bubbles between the wool and the lining. Otherwise the fez is ruined."

Amor Abdel Haman, a 57-year-old clerk, sat under the arches of an old stone arcade later that day, squinting Into the sunlight. He wore a black suit coat, a tie, gray slacks, polished brown shoes and a fez. "I have worn the fez every day since I was a boy of 12," he said. "It is part of my identity."

When it came time to leave, he stood and bowed slightly, letting his right hand rest gently on his heart.

"It Is sad, monsieur," he said, "but the fez is dying out, even among my generation. Dying out like elegance itself."




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