Ali Aracı, Öznur Turan and Cihan Keşkek are members of the politically active Turkish folk music band Grup Yorum.
In this 12-minutes interview they talk about their personal experiences of music censorship in Turkey. See also transcription below.
|Speaking on behalf of Grup Yorum, Cihan Keşkek took part in the session ‘Turkey: Crossing the Bridge’ at the 3rd Freemuse World Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2006.
The video interview as well the performance of the song ‘Cemo’ was recorded by Mik Aidt assisted by Gaëlle Gauthier-Brown on 25 November 2006 during the third Freemuse World Conference. The signature song was performed live by Jason Carter at the conference.
Because of their political activities and the dissenting direction in the content and presentation of their music, the band members have faced numerous custody cases, arrests and prohibitions. Several members of the band were tortured and have been sentenced to decades of prison time. In his presentation at the Freemuse conference, Cihan Keşkek mentions an incident where the band’s CDs and cassettes were fired at by security forces.
For a full transcription of the interview which was conducted on 25 November 2007 in Istanbul, see the English translation below.
Translation of the video interview
Cihan Keşkek’s presentation at the conference
Welcome to you all.
We have been through so many things during the last 21 years. We are going to present only a small section from these. Our group was formed in 1985. We have released 19 albums so far. We have been arrested, taken into custody, tortured, and our albums were banned countless times.
When you compare me with our older sisters and brothers, I feel you might think I am too young. I have been in this group for the last eight years. There have been many times we have been enquired after as draft-evaders and got arrested. Our albums were banned. The radio DJ’s were sacked for playing our songs. Some of our listeners were taken into custody and got tortured for having our albums. But none of the law suits that were filed against us have come to a conclusion. We have never received any punishment. But some of our members are in prison at the moment. 60 members have come in and out of the group so far. We have 10 members now. As I have mentioned before, only eight members can come on stage with us.
One of our members, İhsan Cibelik, is being held in prison, in Ankara. Another, Ufuk Lüker, is abroad and has to live in exile.
We were arrested for the first time on 10 September 1988 in İstanbul, for singing a Kurdish song at an event. Then in the same year, for joining a solidarity night for Palestine, we were investigated and taken into custody. And then there was a concert in Mersin, in 1989, which was another milestone in our career. A few hours before the concert, our friends learned that the concert was banned. And as a protest, the audience sang our songs in front of the concert hall. And the police beat and detained our friends. Our nine friends were held in prison for one-and-a-half months in Mersin. During that time a new Grup Yorum was formed in İstanbul. So we could confuse those who thought they could silence Grup Yorum with arrests. From then on the group undertook a mission like a snow-machine, which moves fast to clear the road anonymously, with an indefinite number of members.
In 1991, our album ‘Cesaret’ (Courage) was released. While our albums were on a truck on the way to Diyarbakır, a Kurdish city, the truck was raided by the police. And when they saw the boxes that were tagged ‘Grup Yorum’ they took the boxes out and shot at them. Those cassettes that were shot at are here now. You may have a look at them. This happened in 1991.
A concert we wanted to give in (Northern) Cyprus on 2 September 1993 was banned. And this time the reason for the ban was quite interesting. The excuse was that the concert hall was “instable”. Our friends were taken into custody and got deported.
And in 1995 at the Ortaköy Cultural Centre where we work was shut down by the police. As a protest, our friends invaded the İstanbul head quarters of a leftist party CHP (People’s Republican Pary) and after hours of invasion, with the intervention of some members of National Assembly, our centre was reopened.
On 20 March 1999, this time just few hours before a concert in our centre, the centre was raided by the police and we were taken into custody with the 41 people who had gathered, so far. On 30 July 2000, our friends, who gathered in front of the hall of justice in Istanbul to protest against the repression of the police, were beaten and detained. One of them got a broken nose, and another a broken hip. I was one of them.
In 2001, our album ‘Feda’ (Sacrifice) was taken off from the market with no clear reason given. And we still don’t know what the reason was. We recently found out the ban on this album was lifted in 2006.
In 2004, within the same year, our three friends were arrested for various reasons. One of them is here among us today. One of them is still being held in prison. And the other couldn’t show up here, but he is outside and free. We campaigned against these arrests then.
In 2006, the concert bans continued. Our concerts in Zonguldak, in İstanbul, in Trabzon, in İzmir-Alaçatı and in İzmir-Selçuk were banned by the police.
So these are the things I can tell you, in brief. And all the things I have been telling about do not only belong to our reality. These make up the history and reality of Turkey. And I hope you had the chance to have a closer look to what we as artists of Turkey, have been going through.
And once again, we thank you all for coming.
Interview with Grup Yorum:
Grup Yorum was founded in 1985. And during the 21 years, we have released 19 albums. We have encountered countless restraints and arrests. Tens of law suits have been filed against us.
Yet, all of them are pending. We are continuing to make our music under pressure.
I will take it from here. This will be a short interview, anyway.
Tens of suits have been filed against us, in the last 21 years. Before our album ‘Cemo’ was published our friends were arrested. Because a song was sung in Kurdish for the first time in this country our friend was arrested. Our album ‘Feda’ (Sacrifice) was banned by the Ministry of Culture. Apart from this, our albums were permitted by the Ministry of Culture, but they would be banned regionally, with orders from governors. Even when they weren’t banned, the police would make sure the albums weren’t listened to. People would be arrested and threatened for listening to our albums. These things, these repressions still happen.
Lately, our album ‘Feda’ was banned, and this brought concert bans. Öznur can tell you about these.
Things both my friends tell, also say a lot about the repression process in this country. Our group faced repression and bans many times since it was formed. One of the most important of these is concert bans. They were very important, very crucial for us. Our concert in Northern Cyprus was hindered in 1993. The reason for this was very simple and funny. It was because the concert hall’s construction was claimed not to be resistant to such noise. In fact it wasn’t true. Despite that, our concert was banned without any serious reason given. Our friends were taken into custody and got deported. Of course these bans didn’t happen only back in 1993. Even now when the buzz about EU is around, these bans continue in disguise. So nothing has changed in our country.
Our concerts are still banned in many regions of Turkey, Anatolia. The recent examples of these were the bans in Trabzon, in Zonguldak, on the grounds that the concert halls were not appropriate. And this year, in 2006, our concert in Selçuk was banned by the municipality without any solid reason. We are aware that as long as Grup Yorum continue to make music, there will still be repression and bans. Because Grup Yorum oppose the system.
Let’s add this: These things happen to us because our music is political. We have a political attitude. We have an ideology. We stand for solidarity. We conduct an organised struggle. While we sing our songs, we live among people. We live like they do, we think like they do.
We struggle with them. They are trying to detach us from the people, from our audience, from the people of Turkey, our people. They are trying to isolate us. And this is the reason for the things that happen to us. We are organised and we conduct a political struggle.
As an addition to what Cihan has said:
We make music of the repressed people. It is usually said that musicians are neutral or artists don’t take sides. No, we say the opposite. Our music takes side. We take side with repressed people, we make their music. This is what I can say on our music. And our ideology can be summarised as ‘we want an independent country’. We want a democratic country. And we believe in socialism. Our common ideology is based on independence, democracy and socialism.
Maybe we should also say this:
We make our songs collectively. For example, none of us composes a song on their own. Sometimes friends who are arrested can make a song. They send us the songs. It is discussed by all members of the group. It becomes a song which tens of people work on. So we reflect the collectiveness in our lives to our songs. This is what we can say about our production. Our songs are based on realities of people, life, as well as repression in the world. The attacks and invasions of imperialism. The invasion of Iraq can be a theme to a song. The mass killings in Palestine by Israel Zionism can be our theme. The hegemonic power that the USA has over the world can be a theme. Everything that is a part of the universal struggle can be a theme for our songs.
Our group consists of ten members. Actually eight of us are together physically. Our two friends are not with us. Because our member İhsan Cibelik is in an F-Type prison, in Sincan, at the moment.
Another member, Ufuk Lüker cannot stay here because of the cases brought against him in our country. He lives in exile, in Europe. We can talk about this, too. I think, not much is left to be said.
The F-type prisons Öznur talked about…
Muharrem Cengiz, and I… we have been sent to F-type prisons. The F-type are isolation prisons which have been used in our country for seven years. People are put in cells and isolated in those places. Of course we struggle against this. And we get our share. We, too, have been sent to F-type prisons. We have been subjected to isolation. Three members of Grup Yorum have been sent to F-type prisons. I am one of them. Another is Muharrem Cengiz. And İhsan Cibelik is still being held in an isolation prison. It is an important problem in our country.
Some prisoners are on a death fast. Our friend İhsan Cibelik had started a death fast in protest against F-type prisons. And he continues his life in prison as a disabled person because of this fast. And they live under very difficult circumstances. As Grup Yorum, this is what we can say generally. Thank you.
But this should also be mentioned. Various things have been said and written on Grup Yorum. In the world press as well.
We were interviewed by the BBC, once. But this was never broadcasted and was hindered somehow. This is what Freemuse is about. It is founded against censorship. And we are a group that seriously got its share of censorship, repression and bans in Turkey. And of course we are against repression.
And we will be in this struggle against repression and censorship. We thank you.
How do you feel about this?
First of all, despite all we’ve been through, we try not to lose our optimism and our hope that some things will change. Besides, that very hope is what helps us carry on. Of course, we are angry. There are times that we are sorry. There are times that human emotions take hold. But because we always keep our belief that things will change this keeps us holding on. Of course, we are angry. We are angry at those who exert pressure. But we are hopeful. We love what we do. And it is a difficult thing to do in our country. You remain under heavy pressure. But as long as we have hope we will keep going on. For 21 years, Grup Yorum has been in struggle. Unlike many other groups, a lot of artists have joined the group. Grup Yorum has brought up their own members. Some of them have left. But the group has been going in the same direction… for 21 years.
It’s a group that keeps growing with the increasing number of its audiences. And of course, we are happy because of this. We are very happy for being a member of Grup Yorum in this country. We give concerts in many other countries in the world, too. We have audiences in other countries, too. Not only in our country. Our group is getting bigger, our audience is increasing in numbers. And this is something we take pride in. All that can be said is said. I think there is nothing for me to add to.
Do you think this situation will change?
This is what I think.
Some laws have been changed. But these changes have been non-functional. Because what’s effective in Turkey is not what it says in the constitution but how they are put into practice. And nothing has changed practically. For example in the past we wouldn’t be able to get written authorisation from the police for our concerts. They cannot do that anymore.
They have to give authorisation. But this time, the concert venues are threatened. And the organisers are threatened. So this is how the concerts are obstructed. There are still the same difficulties but they are transformed. And when the EU looks at the laws, the prohibitions are not there. They say the concerts are not banned. But our concerts are banned unlawfully. So we don’t believe democracy will come through the EU.
Like Cihan, I believe this will be achieved through the democratic struggle of the people of Turkey.
In fact, I think this is connected to your previous question – whether we have a resentment or not.
High on mountains, fire’s burning
Beret with the star on its forehead
Translated by Doruk Yurdesin.
|Why was ‘Feda’ banned?
Grup Yorum never found out. They write on their web site:
"…They moved with great speed to confiscate our cassettes, and though we moved quickly to get them to explain concretely why they have done so, a month has passed and there has been no reply. It is known that if an album does not pass the control commission’s scrutiny, it is because of one line in a song or an entire song. Or else there are several songs like that.
"…If in history it is recorded that songs were banned, it is also recorded that those who banned them were forgotten. But songs will still be sung from century to century…"
Text in full on www.groupyorum.net – 29 February 2004: