ARTS AND POLITICS DEBATE IN TURKEY AS NEW SPACE OF POLARIZATION

upa-admin 23 Ocak 2022 613 Okunma 0
ARTS AND POLITICS DEBATE IN TURKEY AS NEW SPACE OF POLARIZATION

Recent days in Turkey we witness a rather bizarre debate about the song lyrics written by Turkish pop music diva Sezen Aksu in 2017. In one part of the song titled “It is a wonderful thing to live” (Şahane Bir şey Yaşamak), Aksu says: “We got onto an omen, going to the doom. Say ‘hi’ to those ignorant Eve and Adam” . The song has lit a hot debate in society dividing the society into main opposing camps: One camp defending Aksu and arguing that the lyrics have a metaphorical meaning, while the other camp slams Aksu for insulting Islamic values. It is obvious that, in Turkey, the act of talking about the art and politics corresponds to an intellectually provocative action for the vast majority.

When we look at history, art in Nazi Germany had legitimated the position of high culture and added many symbols and images to the cultural missions of the Nazis. We can understand this with a quote from Walter Benjamin, “Fascism is recorded as aestheticized politics”. According to famous painter Ad Reindhart, “Art is art, everything else is everything else.” Art most of the time reveals the products of mental and emotional processes of the artist rather than justifying an idea or an ideology. Art is a purpose in itself.

Sezen Aksu is one of the most essential artistic figures in Turkey who has contributed to the dynamics of Turkish pop music for over 40 years. She did not only produce amazing songs, but also paved the way for the rise of successful pop stars including Tarkan. Aksu’s song has lately been criticized by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “No one’s tongue can reach our Master Adam. It is our duty to cut those tongues out when appropriate”, Erdoğan said. Moreover, Turkey’s media watchdog RTÜK called TV and radio channels not to air Sezen Aksu’s song “It is a wonderful thing to live”. Hot debates about the song have also been dominating the social media scene as well. It can be said that clashing discourses over Aksu’s song has just become a space for polarization on Twitter.

On the other hand, good examples existed as well through which art overpowers the confrontational language of politics. An example of this is the establishment of the East-West Orchestra composed of Israeli and Palestinian youth by Daniel Barenboim. This can be seen as very good example of how the youth of the countries ruled by opposite ideas can be united in art and music. In a similar vein, Sezen Aksu gave concert series called “The Songs of Turkey” in 2002 at the Izmir Ephesus Antique Theater, Antalya Aspendos Open Air Theatre, Istanbul Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Theater, and the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels. In these concerts, Aksu sang songs in Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Kurdish with a choir of 74 people.

Certainly, there is a huge debate history on the subject of art and politics as well as the theoretical bond established by some thinkers between art and politics. For example, Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) telling the story of the crucifixion of Jesus drew great reaction from Jewish film distributors in United States. Mel Gibson had been accused of antisemitism not just for his movie, but for saying, “Jews are causing world’s great wars.”

If we look at the Turkish context, it is known that after the 1980 military coup took a depoliticized identity occurred among the masses. Thus, until the 1990s, art was thrown into a medium that got rid of politics. It is also known that the empowerment of identity politics in the 1990s pushed art towards a different course. The early 2000s in Turkey saw a relative degree of liberalization and freedom of speech; however, the recent years harbor the weakening of this freedom environment. The arguments over Sezen Aksu’s song can be seen as a sign of this weakening.

Dividing society into polarizing camps through adopting a stigmatizing discourse against artists causes only waste of time. Instead, both ruling elites and journalists and intellectuals must adopt a constructive language with the aim to make people become aware of the real problems in Turkey like unemployment or inflation.

Dr. Begüm BURAK

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