Kurdish-Turkish musician Ferhat Tunç was appointed ‘Freemuse ambassador’ in September 2007. In this personal letter from him, he explains about his relationship with the organisation, and what the new appointment means to him.
By Ferhat Tunç
On the fourth anniversary of my acquaintance with Freemuse, I want to share some news that I feel proud of, and in this connection, I would also like to draw attention to censorship, repression, and negative approach on music.
Freemuse is an important international organisation that brings up the issues of censorship in art and music, thus freedom of musical expression, in many parts of the world – from Cuba to Indonesia, Middle East to West Africa, Belarus to China, Turkey to Zimbabwe – and discusses these issues at the conferences it holds in different countries. Many opponent artists and musicians who have fallen victim to censorship, bans and threats act in coordination with Freemuse.
My relation with Freemuse started in 2003. In August 2003 I was imprisoned and was released again soon afterwards. This drew attention both locally and internationally. Through this incident, the Freemuse members that got in touch with me had the chance to get first hand information on the situation in Turkey. This solidarity has been improving ever since.
In 2004 there was a world music fair, WOMEX, in Essen in Germany. During this fair, a series of conferences were held by Freemuse. Human rights activist Şanar Yurdatapan and I were invited to one of these conferences. There I talked about how censorship and bans continue in Turkey, despite EU entrance negotiations. I had the chance to gice examples on how artists in Turkey were still arrested unfairly, groundlessly and arbitrarily, and how concerts were banned and many artists and musicians were banned from performing just because they sang in Kurdish.
After this conference I had meetings in İstanbul with Ole Reitov, one of the founders of Freemuse, who closely watched the incidents concerning me. After these meetings, in January 2006, I was invited by Freemuse and Pen Denmark to attend a three-day programme in Denmark. During this visit, I had meetings with non-governmental organisations, politicians and with many media organisations.
Most importantly, I had the chance to make a speech in the Danish Parliament. I talked about violation of rights and the problem of democratisation generally in Turkey. My speech aroused interest.
On a different note – I don’t know if this has happened anywhere else before – I had the chance to accomplish something which in Denmark was the first time ever: In the parliament, I sang folk songs with my bağlama. I have to say, I was really excited when they told me that this was something that had never happened before in the Danish parliament. I was being investigated, prosecuted, threatened in my own country but Denmark hosted me and appreciated my work. At the same time, this showed me Denmark’s sensitivity to the issues of censorship and bans.
One of the Freemuse World Conferences was held in our country in November 2006 with the participation of guests invited from all over the world. The barriers of musical expression were discussed for two full days at Bilgi University. Many musicians uttered their experiences of repression in their own countries. Turkey was on the agenda as well, and Turkish and Kurdish musicians of Turkey concisely talked about the bans and repressions they experienced.
I witnessed how foreign guests couldn’t hide their astonishment in the face of the reality of Turkey exhibited. They learned how Turkey claimed to be democratic, but at the same time acted cruelly to musicians who has different political opinions and sang in different languages, and how its media ignored these facts.
We in Turkey have unintentionally become inured to many things. The astonishment of our guests made me think we shouldn’t be inured to these facts. We were hosting an important international conference, but media of Turkey applied double standards by giving little coverage. It held almost no importance for them that our people who are tried to be numbed by magazine news should face their own reality.
If we lay all these aside, during these meetings, I had the chance to form new relations and friendships with important musicians from all around the world.
I would like to share a memory with my readers here for the first time. On the last day of the events, Sezen Aksu, a musician of unquestionable artistic value, joined us – thanks to efforts by dear Uğur Yücel. We sang songs of many languages of the world until late that night. I assume that the magazine journalists who learned that Sezen Aksu and Ferhat Tunç came and sang together must have torn their hair out.
My relationship with Freemuse has continued afterwards, be it in Turkey or in Europe. The activities of Freemuse have great importance for me, and has had it since the beginning. The example of solidarity exhibited under this roof by the repressed and censored artists and musicians – who come across barriers and difficulties while presenting their intellectual and artistic works to people – is the primary reason of this importance.
Last August Freemuse proposed a number of important artists around the world to become Freemuse Ambassadors. I was chosen from Turkey, and I accepted this invitation that I take great pride in. In this way I am now required to take a more active role in international activities of Freemuse. As an artist from Turkey, to be rewarded with such an honorary degree is the result of the values that made me Ferhat Tunç and my strong ties with my people. I live for these values; and without a doubt, the attention and love showed to me is a value that cannot be compared with any degree.
3 Eylül 2007