The Latest News From Istanbul: How The Arts And Music Community Got Involved

Solidarity Through Music in Turkey


Since Monday the 27th of May, protests have been building throughout Turkey, firstly in the centre of Istanbul then spreading out through the whole country. They’ve now happening in the world at large, stemming from the ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party’s plan to raze the last piece of green area, adjoining Taksim Square (the now famous Gezi Park), and replacing it with a shopping centre and Ottoman-style barracks. There are many other environmentally catastrophic plans in the pipeline, including a third bridge over the Bosphorus, and an enormous canal to lie parallel to the strait.

Two weeks in, with three people officially dead, over 5000 injured and an undisclosed number arrested, the police exited the square, and something of a peaceful commune with book readings, cafes, a library, and progressive rights banners abundant arose. Tuesday the government, led by religious right-winger Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan (now deep into his third term as democratically elected prime minister), once again sent in riot police to clear the crowd with police dogs, CS gas, pepper spray, water cannon and rubber bullets.

Throughout all this (and it should be noted, it’s often much more brutal in the capital Ankara, where the media aren’t looking so attentively), artists and cultural makers in Istanbul have remained solidified, nervously hopeful, and as calm as possible. Street jams and busking have always been common around the central Beyoğlu district, but there is now a bloody-minded determination to them, as they feel that the country and wider world is waking up to their cause.

The sounds of pots and pans being repeatedly hit at 9pm in the South American-originated ‘casserole’ protest style reverberates around the city, the ‘ezan’, or call-to-prayer emanating from the mosques five times a day brings a new kind of comfort-stability, and even the Turkish-techno pop usually blaring out of cars and shops seems to be missed. Outdated, stereotyped images of Turks and Turkey are being replaced by a bold, sincere expression of insistence on rights – very much in the ‘Occupy’ vein – which were previously thought lost in apoliticism.

Cevdet Erek, of legendary Istanbul experimental/math rockers Nekropsi:

‘I can’t foresee what the effect will be, but it will be huge in the Istanbul music world, just as it will be huge in life, here, in general’

Ed Harcourt (having performed in Istanbul more than once):

‘I can’t imagine any right-minded creative being who lives in Istanbul, let alone Turkey, seeing the point of view of a man so misled by oppression and his faith that he uses gas on his own people…I’m just pointing out the obvious. The key problem is the heavy-handedness of an increasingly religious minded regime in a country that has many secular people’

Oğuzcan Ozen, frontman of local indie group The Away Days:

‘If Tayyip keeps attacking people violently like this, he’ll lose. A giant brave nation has woken up to him. No more fascism in Turkey’

John Robb (having played Istanbul with The Membranes and Gold Blade):

‘Istanbul has a great music scene, as fervent and varied as the city itself, I hope the protests work and people will listen to each other so we can still listen to the music in one of my favourite cities’

A spokesperson for leading venue Ghetto:

‘The protests are effecting the music business very badly at the moment, we cancelled all concerts in June, so waiting for the final situation’

Yasemin Mori, one of Turkey’s most individual solo artists:

‘I dont think there is such an industry that involves all musicians. The industry backs, “creates” so called musicians who only go with the system’s flow. The music you should do in order to take part in this system’s industry is already determined by hard edges, and anything unlikely, anything musical, anything mystical and with the soulfulness of the human doesn’t really count. So to say these protests reflect the people’s hunger to be heard and not to be “others” when one is involved in thinking, expressing, singing, acting, living, sharing and loving…it seems our government doesn’t approve either….we are not sorry that we are full of light, energy, love, understanding, peaceful integrity and unity, and we will evolve as universal humanity’

Sean Bw Parker


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