Turkey: Protest against political interference at Istanbul City Theatre

A controversy over an allegedly obscene play has been used by Istanbul’s mayor to take artistic control of its municipal theatres. Actors took to the streets of Istanbul in protest – with banners that read, “Oh Sultan! Take your hands off theatres!”

The municipality of Istanbul wanted to remove a play from the city’s theatre because they found a specific scene offensive.

Yildirim Fikret Urag, the Turkish director of the Chilean play ‘Secret Obscenities’, explained that the play would be removed from the repertoire of Istanbul City Theaters due to pressure from the board of the pro-Islamic municipality on the grounds that it has a scene where two actors wear trench coats in their role as assassins posing as perverts planning to flash girls near a school.

“This is political interference on freedom of art,” said Nazif Uslu, an actor and official from the Theater Actors’ Association of Turkey.

Selcan Hacaoglu wrote in Huffington Post that the scene and its themes of nudity and sexual depravity are at the centre of a debate over freedom of expression in Turkish arts, where the Islamic-rooted ruling party has become increasingly critical of plays and television shows deemed to violate moral or religious values.

Selcan wrote:

      Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed a move by Istanbul’s Islamist mayor to take over decision-making at Istanbul City Theatre, a theater troupe which is funded by the city and staged the play that outraged conservative critics.


      Erdogan also threatened to privatize state-run theaters – essentially cutting their funding – in response to resignations and protests by secular-minded artists against alleged political interference.


      That stoked fears that the government, which has a strong electoral mandate, might be seeking to put an Islamic stamp on daily life in this predominantly Muslim country that has long been proud of its secular political system.


      Erdogan for his part accuses artists of arrogance.


      “They have started to humiliate and look down on us and all conservatives,” Erdogan said.


    The prime minister’s remarks triggered an overnight sit-in by hundreds of artists outside an Istanbul theater. The protest came days after hundreds of artists, beating drums, marched through a main city street.

The political comedy ‘Secret Obscenities’ is written by Chilean playwright Marco Antonio de la Parra and criticizes human rights abuses in Chile during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

The play had much in common with the Turkish generals who once locked Erdogan up, and had been performed more than 70 times without protest.

Huffington Post – 2 May 2012:
Turkey’s Artists Protest Islamist Censorship After ‘Secret Obscenities’
By Selcan Hacaoglu

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