Turkey: Pop star both condemned and praised for political statement


14 September 2009


Pop star both condemned and praised for political statement

A statement in favour of a new plan on how the Turkish government should approach the Kurdish issue turned fans of the popular Turkish pop diva Sezen Aksu up against her. She was defended by the Kurdish singer Ferhat Tunç

For decades Turkey has been torn by cultural, religious, ethnic and political conflicts, and several artists who have been actively involved in public debates over the issues have found themselves targeted by the state, and as a consequence suffered imprisonment, or death threats from extremists.

Singer Sezen Aksu — who has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, and whose nicknames include ‘the Queen of Turkish Pop’ and ‘Diva Aksu’ — has avoided taking public part in these conflicts and debates, so when in July 2009 she supported a new political initiative, ‘hell’ suddenly broke lose.

A debate broke up in public media after the Turkish interior minister Beşir Atalay had made an announcement stating that the government will take a new approach to the Kurdish issue by creating a ‘democratization package’, the steps of which would be concocted along the way, taking contributions and suggestions from intellectuals and civil society.

Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan backed up the initiative and said, “We also hope to see support from the art world.”

Sezen Aksu then called the prime minister to thank him for the initiative. Others — including self-exiled Kurdish singer Shivan Perver; and singers and musicians such as Gülben Ergen, Sibel Can, Ajda Pekkan, and İbrahim Tatlıses — also publicly expressed their support to the initiative.

Angry comments from fans
But Sezen Aksu made enemies with her inititiative. According to an article by E. Bariş Altintaş in Today’s Zaman hundreds of Internet users reacted negatively.

“Who on earth is Sezen Aksu? Who are her parents? Who are you? You are shameless. So many people have died. How can there be such ingratitude?” one commentator said.

“I have broken and thrown away all my Sezen Aksu music. [Addressing Aksu] to me you are not an intellectual anymore, but [embody] darkness. Sezen Aksu and her kind are forever over for me,” wrote another.

Yet another lamented: “Shame on you. You are officially over for me. I hope you know that you have lost so many of your fans this way.”

“Would you be able to talk this comfortably if it was your son they had slain?” inquired one.

“I condemn Sezen Aksu for supporting something that she doesn’t know anything about,” said another user.

Defended by Tunç
Kurdish singer Ferhat Tunç defended Sezen Aksu’s stance which he found “worthy of an intellectual individual”. Ferhat Tunç supported her by saying that she had “earned a spot in the hearts of all Kurds and everyone who supports freedom.”

Others were more hesitant. Actor Tarık Akan, thespian Müjdat Gezen and singer and talk-show host Hülya Avşar said they wouldn’t want to support or oppose the initiative until they are sure of the concrete items on the government’s list.

Paid the price
In Turkish society, diversity and the issue of the Kurdish minority has been a topic which was suppressed for a long time. Ferhat Tunç has for years been targeted by the state for voicing the Kurdish issue and he has paid the price being the target og endless trials.

In the current debate in Turkey Ferhat Tunç reminded the readers of Today’s Zaman of the price paid by other artists. “Someone who was first in this sphere was Ahmet Kaya, and he paid the price with his life,” he told the Turkish daily.

On 12 February 1999, famous singer Ahmet Kaya was almost lynched — at the hands of fellow artists — because he said, at an award ceremony, “I am singing songs in the Kurdish language because I am a Kurd.” He later had to flee the country and died in 2000 abroad in exile.

Ferhat Tunç also criticized the media coverage of increasingly politicized statements from artists, expressing concern that these could transform into stories with more of an entertainment news aspect.

“As far as I can see the mainstream media has chosen to bring to its headlines artists who have never moved a finger on this issue all their lives, instead of relying on views of artists who have paid and are paying a price in this area.”

But why do so many artists make political statements today, particularly on the Kurdish issue?, asks E. Bariş Altintaş. Many commentators in the Turkish media have expressed doubts on the sincerity of these increasingly frequent utterances, saying they could be attempts to look “cute” to the government, or appear in headlines.

Tunç: Conscientious stance is important
Ferhat Tunç believes that it is a shame, and one that will not be forgotten, that many artists kept silent, even when the late singer Kaya was being attacked at an award ceremony by fellow artists. However, he emphasizes that Sezen Aksu — albeit a latecomer — stands apart with her recent stance worthy of an intellectual individual and has earned a spot in the hearts of all Kurds and everyone who supports freedom.

Ferhat Tunç, a singer known for his activism, stated that it is important for artists to assume a role in such historical processes:

“For artists have always had the power to leave an important mark on the consciousness and the emotional world of society. We have seen in the past such sensitive statements have had important effects. I think it is important that artists are taking such a conscientious stance on such an important issue, even if this might come at a cost,” Ferhat Tunç said.

Sezen Aksu

Ferhat Tunç

Click to read more from Turkey


Today’s Zaman – 14 September 2009:

‘Reactions vary as celebrities weigh in on political issues’

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