This report has been translated as part of the Sivil Düşün EU Programme, with the support of the European Union. The contents of this report can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.
This report has been written with the aim of investigating and documenting how the State of Emergency (SOE) measures introduced after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey have affected the country’s culture and art worlds.
Following the July 15 coup attempt, a three-month SOE was announced on July 21, 2016 on the basis of clauses of the constitution and the State of Emergency Law “in order to eliminate all the components and fronts of the terror organization behind the coup attempt.” The Council of Ministers extended the SOE four more times, on October 19, 2016; January 3, 2017; April 19, 2017; and July 17, 2017. At the time of writing, the SEO remains in force.
As well as focusing on the events that have taken place during the SOE period, this report chooses to read them as a continuation of the repressive policies that had already been increasing in the lead up to the coup attempt. It is suggested here that these repressive policies will not end with the lifting of the SOE, and therefore that actions aimed at protecting and improving human rights must be planned for the long term.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which had been the majority party in power since 2002, lost this advantageous situation in the June 7, 2015 elections when the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)—a democratic bloc established under the leadership of a pro-Kurdish party, but also composed of feminist, LGBTI, and other groups pushing for political change in Turkey—overcame the electoral threshold for the first time to become the third party in parliament behind the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The AKP decided to call a second election for November 1, 2015, giving the excuse that they were unable to form a coalition. In the period between the two elections, the peace talks between the state forces in Turkey and The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) initiated in 2013 came to a de facto end and clashes began anew. State security forces carried out operations against the PKK in Kurdish-majority cities, openly inflicted violence on civilians, demolished large areas of towns and cities, and displaced many of their remaining citizens.
On March 10, 2017, the UN published a report on the massive destruction and serious rights violations that took place between July 2015 and December 2016. According to this report, the operations carried out by state security forces had affected over 30 settlements, leading to the displacement of 355,000–500,000 mostly Kurdish people, the destruction of the majority of the buildings in Nusaybin and in the Sur district of Diyarbakır, and the stranding of 189 people including men, women, and children—hungry, thirsty and without medical care in apartment basements in Cizre until they were burned to death.
As the violence in the region increased, a series of bomb attacks were carried out against civilians and security forces across Turkey. The bombing, reportedly by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), of a group of young people who came together in Suruc, Sanliurfa to bring aid supplies to civilians in Rojava on July 20, 2015 left 34 dead and around 100 injured. In the wake of this shock, another bomb went off in the middle of a Peace Meeting in Ankara held by dozens of civil society organizations, parties, and trade unions on October 10, 2015 where 107 people were killed. No group claimed responsibility, but there are strong suggestions that the bombing was carried out by ISIS. Police used water cannons and tear gas to prevent demonstrators from trying to help the wounded. The state neither held an official ceremony to commemorate those who lost their lives nor provided their families with any form of support.
At this time, the number of racist attacks and threats made against the HDP and Kurds increased. On the night of September 8, 2015, a practical pogrom was organized against HDP offices and the homes and workplaces of Kurds. Despite these assaults, the HDP again overcame the electoral threshold in the November 1, 2015 elections. However, the AKP increased its vote and reached the majority it needed to establish a single-party government.
At this stage, talking of peace or voicing demands for peace were made impossible. One of the most glaring examples of this was the cancellation of an art exhibition, “Post-Peace,” that was due to open at the Aksanat gallery in Istanbul in February 2016. Even though Aksanat’s board claimed that they had cancelled the exhibition in mourning of the victims of the bomb attack in nearby Beyoğlu, a statement made by the artists involved indicated that the earlier exclusion of one of the other artists, Belit Sağ, whose work’s subject matter was the violence committed by deep state militants in the Kurdish region in the 1990s was the true reason why the exhibition was cancelled.
On January 11, 2016, President Erdoğan personally targeted 1,128 academics who had signed a declaration entitled “We will not be a part of this crime,” which called for state violence to end and the peace process to restart in the Kurdish regions. Erdoğan called on “relevant institutions to do what is necessary” to the academics who signed, describing them as “rough,” “dark,” “oppressive,” and “vile.” Following this call, legal investigations were opened against these academics. Some were arrested, while others were threatened and accused of being traitors by their colleagues and students at the universities they worked for, either in person or via social media. While the investigation and legal process was continuing, the coup attempt occurred, and many academics were fired from their jobs at universities and prevented from leaving the country. Larger groups of people including filmmakers, dramatists, doctors, architects, and the unemployed came together to write their own open petitions in support of the academics for peace.
The bomb attacks, whether claimed by or attributed to the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) or ISIS, continued. From the attack on the (HDP) Diyarbakır rally just before the June 7, 2015 elections to the end of 2016, 33 bombing attacks leading to the loss of approximately 461 lives were carried out.
Around this time, people began to take more interest in Turkey’s role in the war in Syria. News stories were published regarding trucks belonging to Turkish intelligence agency MİT [purportedly] carrying weapons to the Syrian opposition. (One of the journalists who broke this story, Can Dündar, is now in exile in Germany, while another, Ahmet Şık, is in prison for allegedly conducting propaganda for the FETÖ and PKK terror organizations.) Nevertheless, news that Turkey was quietly supporting ISIS and similar jihadi groups proliferated.
The tensions and insecurities caused by these attacks began to oppress everyday life. It was impossible not to be affected by the tensions in urban economic and social life, where it became impossible to avoid the fact that the peace process had officially ended and a series of bombings had begun. For a time, people regularly shared bomb warnings on their mobiles, and there was a great amount of fear, especially in the big cities. An atmosphere of mourning added to these losses. One of Turkey’s most important sources of income, tourism, began to shrink. Shopping centers emptied, while shops in city centers began to close. Erdem Dilbaz photographed the closing shops in Beyoğlu, one of Istanbul’s most vibrant centers, to document the changing social and economic life of the neighborhood.
The Coup Attempt and State of Emergency
The polarization of society that had been brewing for a long time was brought to even greater extremes by a coup attempt most people did not expect.
The Gülen movement, which has been seen as responsible for the coup, was not new to Turkey. Journalists had long written that tens of thousands of members of the group, whose leader, Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in America for many years and had once cooperated with the AKP, had been placed into the ranks of the state with the approval of government representatives. On the night of July 15, 2016, Turkey experienced a long series of events that it is impossible to detail here. In the end, the coup attempt failed and 264 civilians who tried to prevent the coup attempt were killed. For the government, this date also represented a turning point. The AKP distributed a brochure to schools at the start of term, explaining the events of the July 15 coup, and with the aim of informing the new generation of its perspective of the coup. The name of the Bosphorus Bridge was changed to the July 15 Martyrs Bridge. The bombed parliament building was left unrepaired in memory of that day. In dozens of cities, citizens began democracy watches at night. And from this national trauma, Erdoğan created himself an epic.
Following the coup attempt, a State of Emergency was declared on July 21, 2016. From that time until March 29, 2017, 22 Emergency Decrees (KHK) were put in place. These measures were aimed at people, companies, and institutions deemed to “have membership, relations or working together with terror organizations or structures, entities or groups found by the National Security Council to have decided to engage in activities against the national security of the state, or those linked to them.” Turkey informed the Council of Europe and the United Nations that as far as possible it would adhere to its responsibilities arising from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but this was far from the case.
Tens of thousands of people accused of having been affiliated with the Gülen Movement (in the judiciary, civil service, university personnel, army, etc.) were expelled from public service and had their licenses to practice professionally revoked, either directly by decree or by their institutions. In addition, thousands of private health and education institutions, media institutions, associations, and foundations were closed, trustees were appointed in the place of democratically elected officials to dozens of municipalities, and permanent changes were made to an array of laws. Most notably, people and institutions critical of the government who clearly have no link to the Gülen movement have also been included on the lists of those fired from their jobs or forced to close.
From July 21, 2016 to February 23, 2017 under the state of emergency, a total of 100,797 public servants were dismissed from public institutions and professions, and had their passports cancelled and banned from further public employment. In the same period, the number of associations dissolved reached 1,401 and another 122 foundations were closed. The institutions and enterprises closed by the Decree with the Force of Law Relating to Precautions Taken Under State of Emergency had all their capital, assets, receivables, rights, and property turned over to the treasury. In an interview with Orhan Gazi Ertekin, a judge who heads the Democratic Judicial Association, in the January 2017 issue of Express, Ertekin said this case was the third biggest seizure of economic assets in Turkish legal history. According to the same article, the total value of the assets seized was $35 billion.
Meanwhile, changes were made to the Municipalities Law and trustees were appointed in place of elected mayors. According to a report by the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), a constituent of the HDP, 83 of the 103 municipalities in the Kurdish region that they had won in elections were taken over by trustees, and 89 co-mayors were arrested.
According to the Women and Trustees in Local Governance Report published December 16, 2016 by the Southeastern Anatolia Regional Municipalities Union (GABB) gains made by women over years after with great effort have been reversed by these trustees. Women’s centers have been closed and some of the women working there have been fired, while others have been appointed to more passive roles. At the same time, documentation of the women who applied for help at these centers has been seized.
According to the recent European Union Progress Report published on November 9, 2016, these State of Emergency decrees were conceptualized as irreversible, meaning that the changes would remain in place even after the State of Emergency ended.
The broad scale and collective nature of these measures raised a number of very serious questions. There are serious concerns with regard to the vagueness of the criteria applied and evidence used for determining alleged links to the Gülen movement and establishing individual liability, applied in a non-transparent and indiscriminate manner, leading to a perception of “guilt by association.” While a relationship of trust and loyalty should exist between civil servants and the state and measures can be taken to ensure that, any allegation of wrongdoing should be established via transparent procedures in all individual cases and ensure the right to respect for private and family life. It is important that the recently created ad hoc appeal commission becomes an effective administrative review mechanism for suspended or dismissed civil servants. Furthermore, any individual criminal liability must be examined with due process, full respect for the separation of powers and the full independence of the judiciary. The right of every individual to a fair trial, including through effective access to a lawyer, is a central element of the rule of law. 
The problem with these emergency decrees has been that they wholesale mark those they target as perpetrators of the coup attempt. Notably, members of the Gülen movement had been placed in these positions during the AKP’s period of government. The ECHR, EU, PEN International, and various human rights groups have published statements saying that whether or not these people affiliated with the Gülen movement, their arrests and firings are contrary to human rights law, that independent research needed to be carried out into who was involved in the coup attempt, and that only those people clearly culpable should be punished on an individual rather than a collective basis.
Domestic and international campaigns have been organized and donations collected to help unionized teachers and academics who lost their jobs because of the signed peace petition. Any of them can apply for regular support from this pool of resources, yet it seems that only oppositionists who are members of trade unions or solidarity networks have made use of these funds. How those outside these networks—those who are not unionized and the hundreds of thousands of people connected to the Gülen movement—manage to survive remains an open question. Finding out what the people and institutions connected to the Gülen movement went through after the coup is very difficult.
Under the State of Emergency, a total of 2324 private sector institutions including health organizations, educational organizations, and trade unions were dissolved (55 of them later re-opened). A total of 180 media related institutions including press, broadcast, television, and news agencies were dissolved (20 of them later re-opened). Many of these were operating in the Kurdish region. 170 journalists and media workers are currently being held in police custody, many of them known opposition figures, and 125 of these have had their detention judicially confirmed.
According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2017 Report “Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy,” Turkey is the country that underwent the sharpest decline in freedoms in 2016 and has undergone the second largest decline in freedoms over the last 10 years.
On March 8, 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Monitoring Committee began monitoring Turkey on the basis that its democratic institutions were not operating by European political and legal standards, and requested that the State of Emergency and emergency decrees be ended by 2018.
Art in a State of Emergency
As mentioned in the beginning of this report, violations of the right to free expression in art had already begun to increase before the State of Emergency began. A report presented by Siyah Bant and other institutions to the United Nations in 2014 showed how contemporary censorship was not only being carried out by the government through judicial mechanisms, but was pursued in largely arbitrary ways by other actors. Here censorship does not merely denote the use of legal routes to ban artistic expression, but as encompassing processes that prevent or limit the production or distribution of artistic works through the delegitimization of artists and artistic institutions, threats, pressure, targeting, and hate speech. According to the report, government bans were only one form of censorship. Verbal and written threats made to individuals and arts institutions were more frequently encountered means of silencing. Targeting and scare tactics have been some of the most demoralizing means of censorship in recent years. The use of discretionary powers by police forces and local administrations has also increased. The war on terror and regulations regarding public order have regularly been used to legitimize censorship and limit artistic freedom.
Most of these interventions are arbitrary and often serve contradictory purposes for both political and ideological reasons. In particular, the concept of “societal sensitivity” has been used more and more often by the state and by non-state actors alike to limit artistic freedom. One of the distinctive methods of censorship used by the state is to remove an issue from the confines of the debate on artistic freedom of expression and degrade into an administrative discourse of new regulations and laws. Before the State of Emergency, one of the most characteristic features of the AKP government has been a discourse strengthening anti-intellectualism and increasing social tensions in order to target all types of individuals and institutions that criticize or oppose the government, thereby marginalizing and criminalizing artists as well. The clearest examples of this are the cases opened directly by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then Prime Minister, against artists who he maintained had insulted him.
With the announcement of a State of Emergency, these trends have changed. The precautions introduced in this time have brought more recourse to judicial methods and obstacles introduced in the legal realm to stifle all types of critical voices. Moreover, the self-censorship that resulted from this repression has become the most common form of censorship. The scope and content of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Laws, long criticized for their ambiguities, were widened further by the State of Emergency, intended to target the Gülen movement, which has been accused of the coup attempt. In the process, however, all oppositional actors have become increasingly equated with both terrorism and the Gülen movement.
Kurdish Art and the Fight for Kurdish Rights
From 2011 onwards and even during the peace process, artistic production and presentation in the Kurdish region continued to be under surveillance, and persecuted by the state.
This pressure on artistic production was amplified by the appointment of trustees in place of elected officials in many Kurdish municipalities. Trustees, defined as “those appointed to manage a certain asset or carry out a certain role” are doing a great amount of damage to the gains that have been won in civilian life, especially for women, children and cultural workers, in the cities to which they have been appointed. They have defunded theaters and art galleries, their employees lost their jobs, and their spaces have been handed over to the central administration. Years of struggle and advancements have thus been stopped in their tracks. It seems that the trustees intend to halt social and cultural life in the Kurdish region: in other words, to “stifle the breath of society.” In the words of filmmaker Zeynel Dogan: “The television channels we watched have been closed, the newspapers we read have been closed, the cartoon channel my children watched has been closed, the association through which we showed solidarity with the poor has been closed, our MP has been arrested, the joint mayors of the municipality at which I work have been arrested…”
The employees of the City Theaters of Diyarbakır, Batman, and the Amed Art Gallery and Cegerxwin Cultural Center in Diyarbakır were fired from their jobs, while the spaces themselves were effectively closed down. The appointment of trustees was not just a political move but meant the halting of efforts to institutionalize Kurdish language and culture that had been going on since the 2000s.
The Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality City Theater (DBST) was established in 1990. After being shut down by the Refah Party municipality for a while, it was revived after the pro-Kurdish party HADEP took the municipality in the 1999 local elections. In 2003, the DBST put on a play in Kurdish for the first time. It continued to produce plays in both Turkish and Kurdish until 2009, when it began solely producing them in Kurdish. The audience numbers increased over time as Kurdish became used as a language of art. The DBST began touring Turkey and Europe and became Turkey’s strongest representative of theater in Kurdish. The trustee stopped the DBST’s rise by not renewing the contracts of its 33 actors in January 2017.
Finding themselves unemployed and their former theatre de-facto closed, the actors decided to establish a private, independent theater, and opened their first performances in an 82-person venue. This new space, which allows a city left without alternative artistic and performance spaces to breathe, is also an organized response, a resistance to the trustee who is trying to limit artistic production and the access of women and children to the social life of the city. This group held the 5th Amed Theater Festival under the name Amed City Theater between May 11-21, 2017. The initial festival program was cancelled due to the appointment of a trustee to Diyarbakır. Following this cancellation, around 10 theater groups from Turkey and Europe that were going to be part of the festival put on their plays between November 21–December 5 on their own stages in support of the cancelled festival with the slogan, “We Are The Truth. You Are Playing With The Truth.”
Like theater, cinema has also developed in the region through festivals and educational institutions. Diyarbakır’s municipal cinema workshop, established in 2006, has turned into an institutional filmmaking unit within the municipality. With the arrival of the trustee, the Amed (Diyarbakır) Film Festival held annually since 2012 by the Diyarbakır Municipal Metropolitan Culture and Art Directorate in conjunction with the Middle East Cinema Academy Association (OSAD), was cancelled. The festival made a call to local and international festivals for solidarity between December 22–25, saying that “the duty of art and artists is not to accept these conditions; this is just the time for them to raise their voices to explain the truth.”
The Mesopotamian Cultural Centre (MKM), which has branches all across Turkey, was one of the first institutions producing art and culture in Kurdish. The MKMs emerged in the Kurdish region at a time when the municipalities were still weak. They offered theater, visual art, and film training, and became involved in the production of art. They are now known as schools, each of which has hosted a number of Kurdish artists who remain active to this day. But these spaces have been marginalized and systematically repressed by the state during the most recent stage of the Kurdish rights struggle. Their archives have been destroyed, their members arrested, and they have regularly been closed down after police raids. The Izmir branch of the MKM was among those associations closed by decree as part of the State of Emergency.
From 2002 onwards, when the State of Emergency initiated in 1987 was lifted, artistic and cultural life in the region underwent a renaissance. These were the years when curators from Istanbul started to collaborate with artists from the region who have become very well known in today’s contemporary art world. In 2002, the Diyarbakır Art Center (DSM), which would permanently influence a great number of independent artists, was founded. The DSM brought many exhibitions from Istanbul and overseas to Diyarbakır and supported local artists in producing art.
With its government appointed trustee, the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality has stopped the work of Amed Art Gallery and fired Amed Art Gallery coordinator Barış Seyitvan. The trustees appointed to other Kurdish cities have employed similar moves. The Batman City Theater has been closed. The Yılmaz Güney Cinema, established by the Batman Municipality in 2006, was closed in 2016. After being destroyed by fire earlier this year under unclear circumstances, the venue’s closure has engendered a loss for the city.
The Cegerxwin Art Academy in Diyarbakır—the first art academy to give instruction in Kurdish—the Kurdish Language Research and Development Associations (Kurdî Der) in Diyarbakır and Izmir, the Izmir Mesopotamian Cultural Centres (MKM), and the Kurdish Institute in Istanbul—which worked on Kurdish language and culture—have all been closed. The Aram Tigan City Conservatoire, established in 2010 to give artistic training in Kurdish, has been closed in practice. The Seyr-i Mesel in Istanbul, which in the words of actor Yüksel İnce, was the “first independent and private Kurdish theater in Turkey” was also closed.
The trustees appointed by the state in these cities destroyed monuments and statues. In a report prepared by CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu, he characterized the destruction of various statues, memorials, sculptures, and symbols in the region as a means of erasing memory and assimilating people into a revised political reality.
Thus in this way, gains made in Kurdish language and culture over years of effort have been rolled back. At the same time, this is another attack on institutions that have had their archives destroyed time and time again in police raids. The advantages of the digital world have allowed all these documents to be copied, but the police still attempt to destroy them: “Despite all the directors and members’ telephone numbers being registered at the General Directorate of Associations, and our neighbors in the building offering to contact the directors of the association, the police summoned the headman of the neighborhood and broke down the door to enter the institute. According to witnesses, after hours of searching, the computers were opened up, the cash boxes were opened up, and books they thought looked suspicious were noted down one by one. Then the door to the institute was sealed, so we do not know what is inside. Moreover, as all our documents are inside, we cannot appeal to these proceedings in any way as a corporate entity.”
The Kurdish cultural movement has developed together with the ecological and women’s struggles within the Kurdish political movement, and has been shaped by the arguments about democratic autonomy and models of self-governance. Debates continued about how institutions making Kurdish-language art could ensure that this artistic production was democratic, equal, and pluralistic as a part of the wider movement.
One of the most influential names in the culture movement in Diyarbakır, writer and filmmaker İlham Bakır, was suspended by State of Emergency decree from his civil service job, which he had been carrying out at Kayapınar Municipality in Diyarbakır for 27 years. A member of Kurdish PEN and PEN International, İlham Bakır wrote a column in the culture and art pages of Özgür Gündem newspaper, and he was one of the filmmakers who signed a petition in support of the academics targeted for their peace petition. In addition to making his own films, he taught cinema classes at the Cegerxwîn Art Academy. With the appointment of a trustee, he lost his job at the art academy. Recently, he has been sentenced at the first hearing for “terror organization membership” and “provoking the people to armed revolt” in relation to his writings in Özgür Gündem, and is awaiting his second hearing.
Bakır thinks the most pressing problem in cultural production today is self-censorship. He says that the government’s true aim is to keep writers under surveillance from all sides, and that this has lead them to censor themselves: “That’s how you become an informant on yourself, come to put pressure on yourself. What symbolizes a dictatorship is not censorship but the development of self-censorship.”
The Film Registration Document, State Support, and Cinema
One of the most effective state censorship methods has been the use of new regulations and laws that reduce questions of artistic freedom to technical issues and administrative discourses. One of the examples of this has been the film registration document required from filmmakers.
The film registration document, which should protect artistic producers in terms of copyright and ownership, has been turned into a vehicle of censorship in its own right. The document is now a condition for all commercial and non-commercial screenings, and many films focusing on the Kurdish struggle have not been able to obtain the certificate on the basis that these are “pursuing terror organization propaganda.” Moreover, production companies rather than directors must apply for the document and the high cost of applying for it puts short films and documentaries with low budgets in a difficult situation. The document being made compulsory has created a filter that prevents low-budget productions from being distributed and shown at film festivals. Moreover, it has widened the degree of censorship imposed on films about the Kurdish rights struggle and has intimidated those considering producing any films containing oppositional or “inappropriate” content.
Notably, the requirement for film registration document had long been a formal condition for showing a film at a festival, but it was not put into practice until 2011, when the Culture and Tourism Ministry sent a letter to festivals “reminding [them] of the necessity to get a registration document for films produced in Turkey.” While protests emerged against the implementation of this regulation it was nonetheless adopted by a majority of festivals.
The adoption of the requirement for the film registration document was taken on so strictly in fact, that the documentary Bakur (North) about the daily lives of PKK guerrillas directed by Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, which was scheduled to be screened at the 34th Istanbul Film Festival on April 12, 2015, had to be cancelled at the last minute. The film was removed from the program after the Cinema General Directorate phoned the festival management to remind them of the 2011 letter. This de-facto ban was met with a strong reaction from many filmmakers, and twenty-two withdrew their films from the festival. Juries for the festival prizes also announced that they were withdrawing from their roles, and the National and International Golden Tulip Prizes and National Documentary Prize were cancelled. Moreover, filmmakers and film institutions issued a joint statement demanding “that the law and regulations that allow for censorship be urgently changed.”
In 2016, Siyah Bant carried out research with the aim of examining the effects of film censorship on artistic freedom of expression. Interviews with festival organizers revealed that the censorship of Bakur was indeed a turning point, and that afterwards almost every festival began to require this document as a condition. With the State of Emergency coming into force, the fear that the document would be used as a means of widespread censorship has become reality.
At the 16th !f Istanbul Independent Films Festival, the showing of the short film The Last Schnitzel, which was scheduled to be screened on February 16, 2017, was cancelled. The film was set in the future, and the main character was the President of the fictional Great Turkish Republic. The film’s directors had applied for the document required from the Istanbul Copyright and Cinema Directorate, but were told to remove certain scenes. Responding that they could not do so, the film was withdrawn from the festival program. In an official statement, the festival announced they were bound to abide by Turkish laws on hosting artistic events. The world of cinema criticized this justification and proposed that the festival should describe the procedure as censorship.
Another intervention in which these regulations were used was in the case of Yeşim Ustaoğlu’s film Tereddüt (Hesitation). The aforementioned Siyah Bant report also reviewed the 2013 “Regulation Making Changes to the Regulation on Support to Cinema Films” by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, which stipulates that Ministry-supported films would have to pay back the support paid for its production if it received an “18+” rating, as a potential new method of censorship.
Clause 12 of this regulation contains the expression, “After supported production projects are carried out, should a symbol and written warning be found necessary in the evaluation and classification of the film on release, the support for the project will be taken back.” The film Tereddüt was the first example of this that we know of. The film was shown in its original form at the 16th !f Istanbul Independent Films Festival, but before it went into commercial release, some of the scenes of a sexual nature were cut. The public learnt about this censorship from a tweet by one of the actors, which said, “How sad that you can only see it censored rather than how we originally filmed it.” While the actor described it as censorship, Ustaoğlu said that this was not censorship, that a scene that did not affect the content of the film had been removed, and that “very small cuts in one or two parts had been carried out in order to be able to take the age classification down a notch while protecting the content.”
The director’s comment created a debate among filmmakers. Documentarist Film Festival director Necati Sönmez wrote a piece claiming that the fight against censorship should not be carried out through hiding censorship but by calling it by its name, shaming it, and resisting it: “To expose the mindset and implementation of censorship at every opportunity and to obstinately show those banned films will at least ensure this: that an organ of government or a festival will first think twice before trying to prevent the showing of a film in future, as they will be aware that this is both an insult to democracy and that their effort will be in vain.”
Kurdish director Kazım Öz’s response to his film Zer (Yellow) being censored is one example of the method of struggle Sönmez highlights here. After supporting the film, the Cinema Directorate subsumed under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism requested some scenes be removed from Zer. Rather than removing these scenes completely from the film, Öz chose instead to black them out during the first showing at the 36th Istanbul Film Festival. When the curtain was blacked out, the words “You cannot watch this scene as it has been found objectionable by the Supervisory Board of Directorate General of Cinema of the Turkish Republic” appeared. Kazım Öz said that he had decided to damage the film to bring this situation to viewers’ attention, “but that he thought that the most dangerous form of censorship was that that goes unseen, and that that was why he wanted to show which parts were censored by darkening them.” After this showing, the film, which was awaiting its film registration document in order to be sent to cinemas, had its document cancelled by the ministry and the entire film was prevented from screening.
Both these films were supported by the Ministry and hence experienced interventions by the Ministry after their filming was completed. However, it is also known that the Ministry censors films at the support stage, before the films are even completed. A special dossier by Altyazı magazine entitled “State Support and Censorship” put the functioning of the Cinema Support Board under the microscope and showed how some interventions into cinematic projects, especially those including political content, occurred before screening had even begun. With the State of Emergency, these interventions have become more obvious. In particular, freedom of expression on the topic of the Kurdish rights struggle has been brought to the point of impossibility.
An investigation was launched into the 433 filmmakers who had come together as “Filmmakers for Peace,” after the repression of the academics for peace to sign a solidarity statement saying that they supported the academics’ statement “unconditionally and without reservation.” The filmmakers were reported to the authorities and an investigation report was prepared. The prosecution began its investigation in November 2016, sending letters out to trade unions, associations, and other institutions that filmmakers were affiliated to asking for information on their members. Despite the fact that the academics who had signed the original petition had still not been formally sentenced for a crime, the filmmakers who declared solidarity with them are being investigated for their support. At this time of writing, they still have not been called to testify in the investigation.
During the 67th Berlinale, Turkish filmmakers made a call for solidarity against censorship and repression. The filmmakers, in a statement made in Turkish, Kurdish, and English, noted that under the State of Emergency, journalists and parliamentarians had been imprisoned, and that decrees had led to the illegal removal of academics and public sector workers who defended peace from their jobs and the loss of their fundamental rights. The statement, which described how filmmakers in Turkey had been blacklisted and their artistic activities limited, was made in the name of Filmmakers for Peace.
The discussions about blacklisting the Filmmakers for Peace and excluding them from receiving any funding from the state are ongoing. It has long been claimed that those who supported the Gezi protests of 2013 have likewise been unable to find support since that time. This time, the discrimination was much more explicit. No director who signed the petition has been awarded state support for their new projects. Among them is director Emin Alper, who recently won an artistic prize from the Academy of Arts, Berlin. Alper is both a signatory of the petition declaring solidarity with academics and an academic himself. In an interview recently given by Emin Alper, he described the board as “corrupted.”
Due to the Film Registration Document and the censorship of recent years, we have been through developments that have created big debates and pitted cinematic workers against one another. As a result of the deepening of the political crisis and the limitations of the area of free expression, important changes have been made to two international film festivals.
Kadir Beycioğlu, who had been Cinema Program Director and taken a part in choosing the films that would compete at the Adana Film Festival, was dismissed. The national competition section was removed from one of the most long-established festivals in Turkey, the Antalya Film Festival. This change was carried out by the festival president Menderes Türel, who is also Mayor of Antalya. The reason for this change is said to be concern felt at the increasing number of films critical of the government. In fact, in 2013, the censorship of Reyan Tuvi’s documentary entitled Love Will Change the Earth (Yeryüzü Aşkın Yüzü Oluncaya Dek) created a big debate in film circles. In response to the censorship, some documentarists withdrew their films from the festival, while those who did not withdraw their films said that they would struggle against censorship from the inside. The next year the documentary section of the festival was completely removed.
State and City Theaters
The privatization of the state and city theaters, whose budgets are wholly funded by public sources, came onto the agenda of a 2012 speech by then-Prime Minister Erdoğan in which he pledged to privatize them. Erdoğan’s words were, “Theater cannot be carried out by the hand of the state. Theaters will be privatized, not just privately managed.” The basic argument he made is that theaters have become stagnant and unproductive as a result of the civil servant status of their employees. The Culture and Tourism Ministry has prepared a “Draft Law for Turkish Artistic Institutions with the aim of supporting all branches of the arts and restructuring artistic institutions.” According to the draft law, the actors on the permanent staff at the State Theatre (DT) will retain their present rights, but future actors will not be given civil service contracts. In the future, institutions and artists would be given support on a project basis by an institution similar to the Arts Council in Britain. Thus, these institutions would gain an autonomy that would allow them to run themselves. The Turkish Artistic Institutions Law was last revised on March 3, 2014, and it did not come back onto the agenda until the 3rd National Culture Council was held between March 3–5, 2017. The public theaters, just like the private theaters, made it clear that it was necessary for autonomy to be introduced, bureaucracy lessened, and for there to be sponsorship rather than state-lead direction.
The next steps in this process have not yet been made public. Many of those working in the performing arts believe that the State Theaters gaining autonomy would be acceptable and that this is a reasonable debate. It has been claimed that a project-based mechanism would strengthen the field of independent drama. However, the problem here is who the members of the aforementioned council will be, how transparent their decisions will be, and what values the selection criteria and support mechanisms will be based on.
During the debate on the privatization of the State and City Theaters, it has also emerged that many actors are working under precarious conditions. According to the Turkish Actors’ Union, the social security payments of actors and actresses are no longer paid by their institutions, but instead have become the individual’s responsibility. This situation has left many actors working in the unregistered sector, outside the social security system. They are now employed under the roof of the Istanbul Municipal Theater according to three different levels of status within the institution. Those with the first status are classified as permanent public servants, while those with the second status are classified as “manual workers” for the municipality. The vast majority of actors, however, are illegally employed by subcontractors. The rights violations they encounter differ according to the status under which they are employed. For example, it is more difficult to discharge a government employee from a job than it is to discharge a worker who works with contractor status. Therefore, while an administrative investigation must be initiated to dismiss a permanent actor who is working as a government official, one employed by a subcontractor can easily be laid off without justification. Some of those fired from working at theaters in Diyarbakır were assigned to other departments of the municipality. After the trustee was appointed, he decided to continue employing the actors who had civil servant status as municipal workers (hiring them as cleaners, gardeners etc.). Many chose to resign instead.
The Istanbul metropolitan theaters also went through a similar process, even though the municipality was not taken over by a trustee. Even before the coup attempt, actors who showed open opposition to the government were being dismissed from their jobs. Levent Üzümcü, who had civil servant status at the metropolitan theaters, was fired on August 25, 2015 for “his attitudes towards the Gezi protests and a speech to the Socialist International.” Actors Ragıp Yavuz and Kemal Kocatürk, who had the same status and who had been investigated over their support for the Gezi protests, were fired from the municipal theaters in the final months of 2016 due to posts they had made on social media.
On August 1, 2016, 21 actors and actresses employed by the municipality’s subcontractor were sacked, citing “Inadequate Job Performance” without any written statement or proof. The reason behind the layoffs was sought through interviews with the directorate of City Theatre. However, the authorities also stated that they did not know the details of the matter: they said that they had received a list under the “State of Emergency” measures saying that the actors and actresses would have to be dismissed. The sources of those lists are not yet known. 12 of the 21 actors dismissed by the subcontractor company in September 2016 were later rehired. Those who have not yet been returned to their posts are pursuing legal action.
Ceren Hacımuratoğlu and Edip Tepeli, whose legal cases are still in progress, began working for municipal theaters in 2006 and waited from that time onwards to gain employee status. The pair, whom everyone knows have no relationship to the Gülen movement or coup attempt, believe that they were not fired due to their performance standards but due to the increasing prominence of their trade union work. Both of them had for many years put on plays at the city theaters, but were employed as subcontractors by a company that looked after cleaning and artistic works that was itself owned by Kültür A.Ş., a municipally-owned company that carries out cultural and artistic projects.
Actors carrying out subcontracting work with the expectation of a permanent position are used to producing artistic works while being paid less and working in a more precarious position than their colleagues who hold permanent positions. The name and founder of these subcontracting companies changes every year, and by making actors sign a new contract annually, they lose their rights to termination compensation. Moreover, those who are on temporary contracts get lower pay than those who are permanent, and they lack the same rights to organize. The promise of permanent work is being used as a trump card by theater managements to overcome the increasing reactions to this state of affairs.
The above-described changes have made an organized response to these inequalities more difficult under state of emergency, and actors who already have positions have been threatened with the loss of their jobs should they react to the firing of their colleagues. As for the top management, they are clearly and determinedly standing against the actors, putting pressure on them not to open legal cases and trying to break their resistance.
Withdrawing from the World
The political and economic crisis that Turkey is experiencing has inevitably affected the country’s urban social and cultural life. Open-air festivals have been canceled under the State of Emergency. The Kadıköy Youth Festival, the 17th Munzur Culture and Nature Festival, and the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University year-end festival were all canceled. Within five days of the State of Emergency being announced, 11 festivals and concerts were canceled due to the security reasons. The Sinop Biennale was postponed due to the chaos around the country. Plus, the comic magazine Leman saw distribution of its special coup edition prevented at the printing-house by police.
The music sector has been hit most badly. Murat Abbas, the executive director of Zorlu PSM, reports that a number of shows have been cancelled or rescheduled over the last year. “In our case, eight out of ten artists we approach refuse outright to play in Istanbul, while one asks for fees that are way above what they normally charge,” he says. On the one hand there is a feeling of insecurity created by the series of bombs going off in Turkish cities, while the effects of the economic crisis have meant that people prefer to gather in their homes or in alternative venues. This situation has directly affected music venues, with many establishments and institutions no longer being financially viable.
Joan Baez, Muse, and Skunk Anansie canceled their appearances at the Istanbul Jazz Festival in the summer of 2016 for security reasons. In a text explaining her reasons, Baez said that, “Of all the times I’ve gone into war zones, countries under dictatorships, or any other civil strife, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like the immense and unpredictable danger which presents itself in today’s Turkey.” Jazz Festival Director Pelin Opçin wrote an open letter in response saying she was not convinced that Turkey was as dangerous as Baez made out, that it was going through difficult times, but that by speaking in this way she had made those who loved her feel very much alone.
It is known that many different events in the field of contemporary arts have been canceled, whether the press has reported it or not. One of those canceled was the Çanakkale Biennale. AKP MP Bülent Turan accused its curator Beral Madra of being a “coup supporter” based on her social media posts critical of Erdoğan. This led the Biennale’s sponsor, the Çanakkale Municipality, to cancel the event despite protestations to the contrary due to the organizers’ “developments not related to art which have prevented the practice of art under these conditions.”
Rumors have been traveling by word of mouth that it is not only security concerns of the international artists or people working in the art organizations that has forced the cancellation of certain exhibitions at big museums, but also a refusal of insurance companies to insure artworks brought to Turkey.
Foreign artists invited to the country have canceled their trips for security reasons. The most recent example of this was the talk planned on March 17 at the Ulay Pera Museum as part of the exhibition “Cold Winds Blowing from the Balkans,” which was canceled due to personal concerns over the problematic atmosphere from a diplomatic perspective between Turkey and Europe.
Institutional directors and exhibition curators talk of a reduction in artist and audience participation in international events, having to answer detailed questions about whether Turkey is secure or not. Often times their responses have been found unsatisfying, and the arrival of overseas participants have been cancelled. This stagnation, following a time when Istanbul was fashionable in the international arts world, when all artists were excited by the idea of being able to participate in cultural and artistic events in the city, represents a major change. This means the end of the golden era, fewer sales made by collectors, and the closing of some contemporary art galleries that are undergoing both economic and cultural difficulties. This marks the beginning of a new era in which the art world in Turkey is insulated from the rest of the world.
The role of artists and artistic institutions in periods of autocracy has begun to be discussed in the media and on social media. One of the most important actors in Turkish cinema, Şener Şen, was met with negative reactions in social media after he was selected for a Presidential Culture and Artistic Grand Award and attended the award ceremony to receive the prize from President Erdoğan. Despite Şen dedicating his prize to peace, it was said that his attendance at this ceremony was wrong and that he was being used as a tool to legitimize Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime. Kutluğ Ataman, whose contemporary art works have been a part of many large and international exhibitions including the Biennale, has openly supported the AKP in recent years, and his recent actions in targeting filmmakers who signed the peace petition in Berlin have created a similar reaction.
In Place of a Conclusion: Intimidation, Ambiguity, and Solidarity
At times like these, people who are under threat (artists, activists, journalists) are likely to migrate to other countries as political refugees or under temporary protection. Those not under direct threat, but who wish to live more secure lives, can be added to this list. Over the last few years, articles have been circulating at meetings and on social media sharing stories of those who have left Turkey and the reasons why it is important to stay. People with the means to leave the country have begun to ask themselves whether they should stay or go. Can those under threat leave the country and find a freer environment for artistic production elsewhere? Or should they stay and continue the struggle?
Many artists, activists, journalists, and academics under threat have gone overseas with the support of emergency grants. Special funds have been established in Germany, especially in Berlin, for academics for peace, journalists, and artists. Some academics were able to leave before their passports were canceled, while others found their passports canceled as they tried to go through customs or afterwards. Journalist Can Dündar, who left the country due to threats and court cases against him, has settled in Berlin and established a new newspaper named Özgürüz (We are Free), which employs journalists who have been targeted in Turkey. International institutions and programs such as Scholars at Risk, PEN, ICORN, Artists at Risk, and Perpetuum Mobile have supported many artists, journalists, and academics who have been forced to move abroad. According to data collected by March 31, 2016 in Germany on what is being called the “New Generation Diaspora,” there are 37,729 Turkish citizens living in Germany on 1–4 year residence permits. Journalist Irfan Aktan claims that the AKP is happy with this situation, considering it an intentional policy of intimidation. The AKP’s intention is “to deprive the opposition in Turkey of its feeling of being settled and to ensure that they have to suspend their resistance and the feeling of disgust that makes them rebel.”
Another pervasive feeling is hopelessness and not knowing what to do. “How can this city, in which we have spent our whole lives, get into this state? How is it that no-one raises their voice against this? What else must be done? How should we organize? How much risk will you take? Is it possible for there to be solidarity without risking security?” These fears emerge at every step, but at the same time, the statements of fired academics and jailed journalists—however difficult their emotional and financial situation may be—say that they do not regret what they have done, and that their resolve has strengthened in face of adversity. Writer Aslı Erdoğan, who was imprisoned recently over her pieces written for Özgür Gündem newspaper, still speaks out after her release from jail. One of the ways in which these feelings of intimidation and hopelessness can be suppressed is by inspiring everybody to work as well as they can and to continue the struggle for justice wherever and however they can. In the end, despite dozens of attempts at suppression, the solidarity groups and collectives that emerged before, during, and following the Gezi protests, including those of artists, still continue their work. Thousands of volunteers have watched the polling booths for Oy ve Ötesi, a group that aims to keep elections fair. Building these experiences, a collective called BiraradayızBuradayız (We’re Together, We’re Here) was one of the most important actors in the No campaign during the referendum. As part of the No campaign, they created a “Presidential Bill” designed to look like an electricity bill with the economic, social, and political costs of the state of emergency and distributed it to homes.
While academics fired from universities prepared to establish a Solidarity Academy, at the same time theater societies have come together under the name Amateur Theater Solidarity to challenge the repression, censorship, and barriers they face. The Solidarity members work together to overcome the repression, censorship, and hindrances from university management they experience at all the stages of choosing a play, carrying out work on it, and performing it. They recently held a Street Academy Festival in support of the students and teachers in the Ankara University Theater Department, one of Turkey’s oldest conservatories, in reaction to the firings there which have led to the department’s practical closure.
A short while ago, eight human rights activists including Amnesty International Turkey Director Idil Eser were detained at a closed meeting they had held. In July they were judicially arrested, and at the time of writing are still in prison.
Journalist, documentarian, and activist Kazım Kızıl was detained on April 17, 2017 while protesting the referendum results in Izmir’s Küçük Park. He was judicially arrested for the crime of “insulting the president on social media.” Three months later he was released pending trial at his first hearing on July 10.
These arrests are being seen as a warning to human rights institutions and activists that monitor human rights violations by the state.
In July 2017, PEN International published an open letter entitled “Turkey: Defend Freedom of Expression.” The letter, which was signed by 35 PEN centers, emphasized that Turkey has become the biggest prison for journalists and that PEN has never seen so many writers imprisoned in any country in its almost-hundred-year history.
This report calls all the international actors, human rights groups, and activists, (and those in the culture and art sectors), to take urgent action to stop human rights violations of the state against its citizens. Such action, in solidarity and alongside those by artists and activists alike in Turkey is an essential, and only, means of ending the current repression and a return to creative freedom.
 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the human rights situation in South-East Turkey, July 2015–December 2016,” Feb. 2017.
 Yavuz Baydar, “Turkey ‘pitch black’ – What does the arrest of journalist Ahmet Şık tell us?” Temporal, Dec. 29, 2016.
 “Turkish journalists charged over claim that secret services armed Syrian rebels,” TheGaurdian.com, Nov. 27, 2015.
 “Criticism of Turkish support for jihadists, including ISIL, and of targeting Kurds,” in “Related Criticism of Turkey.” Main article: “Turkish Invovment in the Syrian Civil War,” Wikipedia.
 Pinar Tremblay, “Gentrification glitter fades into dust in Istanbul’s heart,” Al-Monitor, Aug. 19, 2016.
 “Turkey’s failed coup attempt: All you need to know,” AlJazeera.com, Dec. 30, 2016.
 One of the only sources from which information can be obtained on this topic is Amnesty international’s report of May 2017 entitled Turkey: No End in Sight: Purged Public Sector Workers Denied a Future in Turkey. The report is based on people removed from their jobs in the public sector during the State of Emergency period and researches the effects of these firings on these people’s lives.
 Express, Ocak 2017 Sayi 148, S.63
 Freemuse, Siyah Bant, and the Intiative for Freedom of Expression, “Universal Periodic Review: Turkey: 2014: Joint Stakeholder Submission.”
 Express, January 2017, No 148, pp 20-23.
 Sezgin Tanrıkulu, “Tanrıkulu’ndan ‘kayyım raporu’: Hafıza silme çalışması,” Susma24.com, Jul. 16, 2017; “Tanrıkulu’ndan ‘kayyım raporu’: Madde madde ‘hafıza silme’ operasyonu,” diken.com.tr, Jul. 16, 2017.
 Freemuse, Siyah Bant, and the Intiative for Freedom of Expression, “Universal Periodic Review: Turkey: 2014: Joint Stakeholder Submission.”
 Siyah Bant, “Türkiye’deki Film Festivalleri ve Sanatta İfade Özgürlüğü,” 2016.
 http://blog.ifistanbul.com/if2017_sonsnitzel/ If the film Tereddüt had been rated “18+” for its lovemaking scenes, the ministry would have had the right to take back the support the film was given.
 “Berlin Film Festivali’nde Sansüre ve Baskıya Karşı Dayanışma Çağrısı,” Bianet, Feb. 14, 2015.
 Vedat Aydemir, “Alper: Son derece yozlaşmış bir kurul tablosu karşımızdaki,” evrensel.net, Feb. 3, 2017.
 “Şehir Tiyatroları’ndan atılan Levent Üzümcü: Şükrediyorum,” Cumhuriyet.com.tr, Aug. 25, 2015.
 Interview, 17th February, 2017, Istanbul.
 Interview, 17th February, 2017, Istanbul.
 “OHAL’in 1. yılında sanat; yasak, ihraç ve sansür kıskacında,” Susam24.com, Jul. 20, 2017.
 Siné Buyuka, “How Istanbul’s music community is making sense of terrorism,” Dazed.
 Zülal Kalkandelen, “Müzik sektörüne ağır darbe: Yeni Türkiye yeni Beyoğlu,” Journo, Feb. 18, 2017.
 “SANATÇI ULAY PERA MÜZESİ’NDEKİ KONUŞMASINI İPTAL ETTİ,” KÜLTÜRLİMİTED, Mar. 15, 2017.