Ateş Alpar – İstanbul
More than 100 musicians in Turkey have committed suicide during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data from the Music and Performing Artists’ Union (Müzik-Sen).
The music sector and the wider arts and culture industry have been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdowns in Turkey. Musicians, who earn their living through performing in cafes and pubs, lost their jobs when the hospitality sector closed down as a result of lockdown restrictions. State interventions, such as unemployment benefit or funds for musicians, have failed to materialise. Even though the Turkish state announced that it has funded unemployed artists, many musicians have said they have not received any financial support nor have they been given any information on how to apply for funding. A great proportion of musicians in the music sector work without insurance and are precariously employed in Turkey.
Musicians spoke to MedyaNews about the increasing number of suicides, and how they try to earn their living amid the lockdowns.
Musicians forced to sell instruments
“There have always been difficulties for those who are interested in art in this country”, said Bülent Geliç, a musician who tries to make a living teaching online percussion classes. “The lack of organisation among musicians has also always been a significant issue. Frankly, the pandemic has revealed this, and people working in this sector are coming to their senses”.
“Government acts like some charity, expecting people to survive with 1000 Turkish lira [less than half the minimum wage]”, said Geliç. “This is unacceptable. I have not accepted such aid and I will not!”
Artists were driven to despair due to the lack of support amid the pandemic, according to Gelçiç. “Musicians had to sell their instruments and equipment, which are basic resources necessary for their livelihoods”, he said. “Of course, we are facing a hard process that none of us predicted and no one experienced previously. We may be having difficulties in finding solutions, but I think we should remain hopeful. It seems that capitalism’s new normal is to imprison us in cages. However, they should not forget that people, who are keen on their freedom, know how to destroy those cages”.
‘There is no mechanism in Turkey for the musicians to be organised’
“Müzik-Sen’s report on the suicides of musicians has made me very sad”, said Sibel, an unemployed musician from Istanbul who lost her job eight months ago. “We had friends who committed suicide. We knew those people and now I feel the the sorrow of their loss.
“I am unemployed due to the closing of bars and the ban on weddings, since these were my only resource of income”, she said. “I have not received any support during this process. I have heard that there is some funding for musicians, but I have not received a penny.
“Many musicians work for a daily wage, they earn their living that way. They cannot go to hospital even when they become ill. I cannot make a living. I live with my family. I have no job and no chance of earning a living other than performing music”.
According to Sibel, the underlying reason for the spate of suicides is the lack of organisation in the music industry. “Unfortunately, the current government’s goal is to keep people unorganised. There is not a mechanism for getting organised in society in real terms. The music units of the municipalities in Kurdish cities are ineffective due to the appointed trustees. Our friends who are working in those places had already lost their jobs even before the pandemic.
“The poor are getting poorer”, said Sibel. “The social state should develop the mechanism to support poor citizens, but we do not have this in Turkey. Partisanship prevails everywhere. Partisans are supported, not the people in need”.
Workers in the music industry are seen as ‘clowns’
Ferit Sevim, another musician living in the Kurdish-majority province of Şırnak (Şirnex) said that the increasing suicides among musicians show how overwhelming the situation is for artists amid the pandemic. “We face huge financial difficulties due to concert bans. That fact decreases our motivation when it comes to creating new work, and unfortunately we become more passive and less creative. I am using the money I have been saving in order to survive the pandemic as an unemployed musician. I don’t know what happens after all my savings are used up”, said Sevim.
Workers in the music industry are not considered as a part of an industry, but are seen as “clowns” in the minds of the majority, according to Sevim. “Knowing that financial distress is the main reason for these suicides is more painful. It is easy to say when using this as a concept, isn’t it? ‘Financial distress’. But there is a terrible poverty, a hungry reality to this concept. Either people are not aware of that fact or they pretend so as not to feel afraid. ‘Afraid’ because there is no other word that I can use to describe what the state causes its citizens to feel”.
Performing live music in cafes and pubs was the only source of income for many musicians, according to Sevim, because, “it was always hard to find opportunities to organise big concerts for many musicians in Turkey. Bars and cafes were the only stages for the performers to reach their audience. We had to perform in cafes and pubs to present our art as well as earning our bread. Musicians are faced with poverty as a result of the fact that the entertainment industry was the first and hardest hit sector in the pandemic”.