Istanbul (AFP) – A tattooed pop star banned for her tight dresses and support for women’s rights. Kurdish artists blacklisted and concerts canceled over alcohol-fueled antics between boys and girls.
Turkey’s summer festival season has gotten off to a politically charged start that foreshadows the cultural battles brewing in the polarized country ahead of next year’s elections – the toughest of President Recep’s two-decade rule. Tayyip Erdogan.
Artists fear the fun will be drained from Turkey to flatter the conservative Islamic core of Erdogan’s eroding support.
Folk singer Abdurrahman Lermi, known as Apolas Lermi on stage, is a good example.
Lermi has seen two of his concerts canceled and social media lit up with anger after he refused to take the stage in solidarity with a Greek violinist banned from performing in the traditionally conservative northern port of Trabzon.
Lermi’s decision to back a fellow artist from a country Turkey has spent much of its history battling seemed too big for organizers in a municipality run by Erdogan’s ruling party.
“I was accused of being the enemy of Turkey, the enemy of the Turks and a separatist,” recalls Lermi.
The association of Turkey’s leading musicians is understandably upset.
“These bans are unacceptable,” Turkish Music Owners Society President Recep Ergul told AFP.
Musicians and other performers have often felt unfairly singled out by Erdogan’s government for their socially liberal views.
A broad crackdown following a failed coup attempt in 2016 led to the closure of many independent theaters.
Concert halls reopened during the coronavirus pandemic long after almost everything else.
Many now fear that their concerts will be sacrificed in the coming months as a show of force aimed at restoring Erdogan’s image in front of his nationalist and conservative voters.
Musicians who sing in minority languages such as Kurdish seem to have been most affected.
Popular ethnic Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan was banned from performing in a ruling party-run municipality in May after organizers deemed her concerts “inappropriate”.
Dogan had previously been targeted by pro-government circles on social media for championing large protests against Erdogan while he was still prime minister in 2013.
Other minorities banned in recent months include Niyazi Koyuncu – whose repertoire includes songs in Armenian dialects and ancient languages of the Black Sea region – as well as brothers Metin and Kemal Kahraman, of Kurdish origin but based in Germany.
“These arbitrary and political decisions constitute discrimination against languages, cultures, lifestyles and genders,” the bars of 57 Turkish cities said in a joint statement.
The resurgent cultural influence of conservatives under Erdogan is perhaps most visible in the Turkish music scene.
An Islamic group has successfully pressured the governor of the northwestern city of Eskisehir to ban a festival because ‘girls and boys camping together’ engage in ‘inappropriate scenes’ because of alcohol.”
Another group managed to get pop star Melek Mosso’s shows in the western city of Isparta canceled because of his “immoral” low-cut dresses.
The tattooed star is a strong supporter of the Istanbul Convention against Violence against Women which Erdogan – under pressure from the more conservative elements of his ruling coalition – withdrew from Turkey last year.
Turkey’s Supreme Court is due to decide in the coming weeks whether Erdogan had the power to overturn the treaty in an overnight decree.
The European convention has been ratified by parliament and would theoretically need its approval for Turkey to leave.
Mosso pushed back against those who “question” his morality and vowed to sing in Isparta “one day”.
She then drew a large crowd at a public concert in the more liberal city of Istanbul organized by the Turkish Ministry of Culture.
“Blow to women”
Culture Minister Mehmet Nouri Ersoy denies the existence of a government policy targeting minorities and embracing conservative values.
“Let’s try to get an overview,” the minister told a private channel.
“We support art and culture. It’s our government policy.”
The interpreters disagree. More than 1,000 artists and composers issued a joint statement proclaiming that “music and musicians cannot be silenced”.
Many young women attending the Mosso show in Istanbul said they felt victimized by Erdogan’s government.
These bans “deal a blow to the presence of women in social and professional life”, said viewer Ezgi Aslan.
“Values like women’s rights are not upheld by the ruling party,” added audience member Selin Cenkoglu.
© 2022 AFP