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Muazzez Ersoy Biography

Popular Turkish singer Muazzez Ersoy was born into a working class family in Istanbul in 1958. Her father drove a taxi and her mother, a refugee from Greece, worked in a tobacco factory.

Her parents worked hard to send Ersoy to school, but her studies were interrupted when she got married while still at high school. The match did not last, but it produced a child and the young woman returned to her parents' home with her son. To help with living expenses, she started to work as a saleswoman.

During this time, Ersoy also began attending classical Turkish music courses at Istanbul's private Nisantasi Music Training Centre, where her teacher was the noted musician Erol Sayan.

This led to her first engagements as a singer, performing a repertoire of classical songs in small bars in 1983. As her reputation grew, Ersoy started to sing in concert halls around Anatolia on privately organised tours.

A major turning point came in 1990, when Ersoy won a contract with the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation. This gave her national exposure because the organisation enjoyed a broadcasting monopoly at the time.

Her first album, "Nostalgia 1," was released in December 1995 and sold more than 7 million copies. Subsequent albums broke new sales records, while her TV concerts also drew huge audiences.

In 1996, she reached out beyond Turkey and began taking an interest in the plight of refugees and internally displaced people (IDP). She visited Azerbaijan, giving concerts and visiting camps for refugees and IDPs. The following year Ersoy went to Bosnia, where the government honoured the singer for her messages of peace, tolerance and compassion.

In 1998, she focused on women's rights and family issues back in her native Turkey. She performed a musical tribute to women before some 25,000 people in the Black Sea port of Trabzon. The then President Süleyman Demirel awarded her the prestigious title of "State Artist."

Ersoy has become increasingly involved in community work since the late 1990s. She started to build a hospital for children with cancer in Ankara, but the work was briefly interrupted in 1999 when two big earthquakes hit northwest Turkey and killed nearly 20,000 people.

Ersoy turned her attention to helping the needy and the displaced. She supported non-governmental organisations involved in relief efforts, opened warehouses in the affected regions and provided relief goods for quake survivors.

Her work on the cancer hospital triggered an interest in underprivileged children, including orphans. It was her concern about the plight of unaccompanied children that brought Ersoy into contact with UNHCR and its work.

She regularly supports the work of the refugee agency in her public statements and highlights the problems that refugees face in Turkey and elsewhere in the world, while advocating action to address these issues.

In June 2006, she visited refugee families in central Anatolia and opened a community centre in the city of Kayseri, where about 1,000 refugees live. During World Refugee Day activities in the same month of that year, Ersoy invited refugee children musicians to join her in her popular weekly entertainment programme.

She has also spread awareness about the asylum system in Turkey and used her influence to win support for the refugee cause in the political and business worlds.

Ersoy was confirmed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in February 2007.