Actor Tamer Karadağlı, known for pandering to nationalist rhetoric and the Turkish government, was appointed General Director of State Theatres by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday, marking the latest demonstration of political influence over Turkey’s cultural institutions.
Karadağlı has publicly praised Erdoğan and his oratory skills. In addition, he has been accused of targeting Turkey’s LGBTI communities and supporting hate marches against them. He publicly criticised the acceptance speech of actress Merve Dizdar at Cannes Film Festival, in which she remarked on difficulties that women face in Turkey, accusing her of “complaining about her country to the West”. Two years earlier at the Golden Orange awards in Antalya, he had interrupted the acceptance speech of fellow actress Nihal Yalçın, handing her award to her as she was in mid-speech talking about sexual discrimination in the industry, and he later targeting her when she called for freedom for Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). These actions have fuelled controversy over his appointment.
Erdoğan’s ultra-nationalist ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli congratulated Karadağlı for his public targeting of Yalçın, further aligning Karadağlı with nationalist and conservative political figures.
Meanwhile, Ömer Faruk Belviranlı, who famously orchestrated a choir of students to sing “Long Live Grandpa Tayyip” for Erdoğan’s birthday in 2021, has been appointed General Director of Fine Arts by the same presidential decree, highlighting a pattern of selecting individuals known for pandering to the administration.
The appointments have ignited a debate in Turkey, focusing on the politicisation of cultural institutions. Critics argue that artistic integrity is being undermined, turning cultural institutions into tools for political propaganda. Veterans of the industry are calling for structural reform and merit-based appointments.