On November 18, New York Times European cultural correspondence Rachel Donadio reported that in today’s Turkey state censorship of the arts is rapidly increasing since the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this year. Erdogan is the founder of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has positioned itself as defender of Turkey’s observant Muslims. The Turkish government currently allocates arts funding to institutions that are then free to use the funding as they choose, but a proposed law would create an 11-member council appointed by the cabinet which would fund the arts on a project by project basis. Artists and cultural operators fear that the new law would prioritize politics over artistic considerations.
Turkey has a history of government censorship, imprisoning critics and suppressing the voices of ethnic minorities like the Kurds, but critics say that things have worsened since the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Erdogan describes state sponsored cultural institutions as a thing of the past and last year two of Ankara’s leading state theatres were sold to private businesses. Other theatre administrators say that they are now required to submit plot synopses to the government for production approval and it is harder to depict stories and characters not approved by the conservative government. Many are opting for the route of self-censorship rather than risk losing state funding or provoking the intervention of the current administration. The censorship extends to literature and other art forms as well. The Presidential Symphony Orchestra stopped performing the works of composer Fazil Say who has run afoul of the conservative government. Artist Iz Oztat was asked to remove references to the 1915 Armenian genocide from a guide book she wrote for a government funded exhibition, and novelist Elif Shafak faced criminal charges in 2006 for her book The Bastard of Istanbul, which also addresses the Armenian genocide. The Turkish government does not officially recognize the genocide.
For more details on Turkey’s growing arts censorship, check out Rachel Donadio’s story “In Turkey, the Arts Flourish, but Warily”.