A comprehensive report released on Monday by the Platform for Monitoring Artistic Freedom (SÖZ Platform), supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), reveals significant challenges faced by artists in Turkey throughout 2023, with a particular impact on women and Kurdish artists.
The report documents a wide range of freedom of expression violations, including censorship, event bans, economic pressures, legal barriers, copyright issues, spatial restrictions, and obstacles to international travel.
Censorship and self-censorship
The Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has emerged as a significant force in censorship, imposing fines, suspensions, and broadcasting bans on numerous television series, music videos, and digital platforms. An example is Kanal D’s editing of a Kurdish song scene from the film “Gönül Yarası,” directed by Yavuz Turgul, illustrating the censorship of Kurdish content in media.
Targeting of specific groups
Kurdish, Armenian, and Greek artists often faced direct or indirect targeting due to “national and spiritual sensitivities”. Women and LGBTI+ individuals were also prominently victimised, with numerous events cancelled following direct attacks or threats.
Examples of targeting
In Cizre, local authorities banned a concert, sealing the venue and directly interfering in Kurdish cultural events.
In Mersin, eleven individuals were detained and indicted for being members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and listening to Kurdish songs, indicating the criminalization of cultural expression.
A legal inquiry into Merxas Viyan’s (Ilyas Arzu) song “Şoreşgerên gelê me (Our People’s Revolutionaries)” was dismissed, underlining the scrutiny of Kurdish artistic works.
The alleged ban on the play “Haylo Dîsa Tevlihev bû” was found baseless, showing the misuse of power against Kurdish theatrical expression.
Ayten Öztürk, charged with “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” for her book about torture, was acquitted, highlighting the targeting of Kurdish narratives.
Poet Fadıl Öztürk and his wife were detained over social media posts, reflecting the repression of Kurdish literary figures.
Actress Farah Zeynep Abdullah faced a court case brought by Musa Orhan, underscoring legal challenges for artists addressing sensitive issues.
The Justice Ministry sought an international arrest warrant for Kurdish artist Ferhat Tunç in Germany, showing the global reach of these restrictions.
Economic Strains and Legal Battles
The economic downturn in Turkey has severely impacted the arts sector, leading to job losses for several artists due to political affiliations and struggles to gain adequate compensation. Legal challenges included numerous detentions, investigations, and trials for artists engaging in artistic activities.
Spatial Restrictions and Bans
Government entities frequently denied space for artistic activities, especially for TV series, leading to revocation of filming permissions due to content issues. Permissions for filming the TV series “Kızıl Goncalar” were revoked, a series that offers a realistic insider look into Turkey’s religious sects.
In response to these challenges, there has been a rise in organised resistance. Unions, political parties, and NGOs have collectively issued calls to action against attacks on festivals and artistic freedoms.