Freedom of… Depression!

by    /  April 23, 2015  / No comments

The Ataturk Cultural Center has been closed for seven years. Photo provided by the author.

Tarık Günersel provides a round up of last month’s obstacles to freedom of expression in Turkey. He adds an Earth Day remark as an Earthling.

“Why is Ataturk Cultural Center closed?”

Opera, ballet, concerts: in Turkey, the Ataturk Cultural Center (Atatürk Kültür Merkezi, or AKM), in Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul, is the best building for all such performances. But the AKM has been closed for seven years!

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
  3. Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
  4. Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
  5. Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. Tarık Günersel is a poet, playwright, aphorist, librettist and short story writer. He is the president of PEN Turkey and an ex-member of the PEN International Board. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English. A dramaturg at Istanbul City Theater since 1991, he has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’? His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. He has recently initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.

Yes, Erdoğan’s government has kept the AKM inactive. It was shut down prior to 2010, when Istanbul was the Capital of Culture in Europe. The official statement was it was shut down for renovations. Protests stopped its demolition. Lovers of opera and ballet lovers have been miserable, because they/we simply cannot trust a government infamous for its destructive steps against the arts.

So now art lovers have begun a new campaign demanding the AKM’s urgent renovation and reopening. “Why is AKM closed?” reads the sign in the above image of the building.

Peaceful protesters are under fire

If you have been to Istanbul, and/or thanks to the Gezi Park protests in June 2013, you will recall Taksim Square. Those protests remain a symbol of solidarity and hope for democratic opposition. The peaceful democratic environmentalist protesters were brutally attacked by the police on then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s direct order. A dozen youngsters were killed in various parts of Turkey, and a number of people lost their eyes.

Spokespeople for the Taksim Solidarity Platform, such as Professor Büşra Ersanlı, face long-term imprisonment. The doctors who helped the wounded have also been taken to court! Actor Memet Ali Alabora faces 20 years imprisonment because of a tweet, translated as: “Don’t think these protests are merely limited to environmental issues.”

Since June 2013, Erdoğan (president since June 2014) and his circle, as well as the supporting media, have condemned the Gezi Park protesters. They – or, let me say we – are considered “terrorists and traitors, agents of foreign bond interest lobbies.”

Erdoğan’s aggression and hate speech

Erdoğan’s AK Party government has shut down Twitter and Facebook several times, leading to protests not only nationally, but also internationally.

Erdoğan’s non-stop hate speech leads to more and more anger, cartoons and criticisms, and more oppression. BBC’s Mark Lowen is right to draw attention to the issue:

“Over 230 people have been investigated, with 105 indicted, for insulting the Turkish president in seven months, sparking complaints over freedom of speech restrictions. The law has been in place for some time but was rarely applied in the past. Turkish people are now questioning the validity of the rule.”

Critic Üstün Akmen is also in court

Critic Üstün Akmen, former president of Turkish PEN Center and the Turkish Center of International Association of Theater Critics, has been sued by Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ömer Çelik. Both Theater Critics Association and PEN Turkey Center protested with a joint statement on 16 April: “The destructive new law about the future of art institutions caused worry, which led to a necessarily strong reaction. The minister should not have selected a few words out of context. The two court cases mean nothing but a revengest attitude, part of the growing oppression.”

What kind of “President”?

Last summer, Erdoğan was elected president by 52 percent of voters in Turkey. He systematically behaves against the constitution, as if he were the head of government. Unlike the presidency United States, in Turkey the Prime Minister is the head of the government, whereas the President stands as a symbol of national unity and state.

He holds meetings in his P/Residential Palace — the construction of which has been scandalously illegal and expensive – where he tries to manipulate the AKP ruling party. Although Erdoğan chose Ahmet Davutoğlu to be the new PM, the two hardly get along: Davutoğlu wants to be a real PM, not merely Erdoğan’s puppet.

Will the general elections be fair?

The June 7th general elections will be very important, as the supposedly “autonomous” TRT (Turkish Radio and TV) has been censoring the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi’s legitimate propaganda material. The Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, or CHP, is the main opposition party; I prefer to translate it as “People’s Republican Party.” Even a court case has been opened against the propaganda video of CHP. But let me focus on the pre-election situation in late May.

Freedom of…

The percentage of the people who use anti-depressants has gone up tremendously in the past decade.

Only one person enjoys 100 percent Freedom of Expression: Erdoğan. He knows no boundaries, in the negative sense. As for the majority, there is Freedom of… Depression!

Earthlings, unite!

I don’t like to limit myself to the situation in Turkey, as it is not limited to one country: it certainly is part of an international crisis, which affects (or will affect) you, too. April 22nd was Earth Day, may it be a good opportunity for positive interactions and contributions. As co-founder of the Earth Civilization Project Network, I’m grateful to the Earth Institute of Columbia University for inviting you, dear Earthling, to include The Age of Sustainable Development by Jaffrey D. Sachhs on your reading list.

About the Author

Poet, playwright, actor, and director Tarık Günersel worked at Istanbul City Theater as a dramaturg. His works include Breaths of Infinity (a mosaic of poems) and My 300th Birthday Speech (short stories). His Becoming consists of his aphorisms and various ideas from world wisdom. His plays include Billennium, Nero and Agrippina, Sociology of Shit, Threat and Virtually Yours. He has written four libretti for the composer Selman Ada: Ali Baba & 40, Blue Dot, Forbidden Love, and Another Planet. His translations into Turkish include works by Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Savyon Liebrecht. His presentation of World Poetry Day to PEN International in 1997 led to its adoption by UNESCO. As the former president of PEN Turkey Center he was elected to PEN International Board in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the collaboration of several intellectuals from around the planet.

View all articles by

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm

Fearless, Ink.