At times, it is easy to fall into despair about anything changing for women in this country. In July, the murder of 27-year-old university student Pınar Gültekin brought new visibility to the dire issue of violence against women in Turkey. Since that time, there has also been a vigorous debate over the Istanbul Convention (a key piece of legislation ratified by Turkey in 2012 that protects women’s rights) after prominent AKP figures expressed a desire to withdraw from the agreement. This comes as 27 women were murdered just this past August.
Yet there are also signs that the ground is shifting. A recent poll by the research company KONDA reveals how much attitudes to violence against women is changing in Turkey. According to a report released on August 20, in 2015 the number of people who agree with the statement “Men can both love [their romantic partner] and beat them” was 20%. As of 2020, this number is only 6%. Similarly, 45% of those surveyed in 2015 believed that it was acceptable to break the law to protect your family’s honor, whereas that number is 21% today. In 2015, 80% said that women should pay attention to what they wear at school and at work in order to avoid facing violence and harassment. Today only 32% agree with that statement.
Finally, despite months of propaganda against the Istanbul Convention by fundamentalist conservatives, the percentage of people who think that Turkey should pull out of the Istanbul Convention is only 7%.
These changes in attitudes should be seen as a direct result of Turkey’s feminist movement. At a time when social movements of all kinds are beleaguered by repression, feminists in the country represent one of the main forces vocally challenging this darkness. As women continue to be murdered with impunity, feminists refuse to be silent.
One good way to gauge how the feminist movement has transformed commonsense perceptions of gender in Turkey is to look at the entertainment industry. Recent statements by actresses and musicians show an increasing willingness of celebrities to speak out on issues long raised by feminist activists: body image, the right to enter relationships without public interference or judgment, and violence against women. While one may question how sincere or effective such statements are, they both influence public opinion and reveal how much society at large has been influenced by feminist activism.
For example, actress Hazal Kaya, famous for her roles in the TV shows Aşk-ı Memnu and Bizim Hikaye, was featured on the cover of Elle Turkey’s September 2020 issue. Her interview touches on the harmful effects of societal beauty standards. She describes how she went to a photoshoot for the cover of another magazine after having gained some weight. When the issue came out, she realized that her photographs had been taken from the cover and buried in the middle of the magazine. Similarly, she states, the television industry does not give roles to overweight women. “This is just one way [women] are devalued,” Kaya asserts, and it pushes women to take dangerous weight-loss pills or to eating disorders.
This is not the first time Kaya, who is the daughter of a feminist activist and lawyer Ayşegül Kaya, has been vocal about feminist issues. In 2018, she revealed that while acting as the lead role in the soap opera Adını Feriha Koydum she refused to play in a scene that showed her character being forced to take a virginity test. The scene was dropped from the show, but Kaya experienced harsh critiques and trolling for this decision.
Earlier this month actress Berrak Tüzünataç, known for her roles in Elveda Rumeli and Fi, clashed with the entertainment and gossip magazine Kadraj over its sensationalist coverage of her current romantic relationships, describing how she has dated the ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends of her friends. On Twitter, Tüzünataç came out with guns blazing, writing: “Leave me alone already. I’m sick of your libel and your lies. We don’t have to explain anything about our lives to you.” While these statements were against people prying into her private life, it does point to a larger issue of condemning people for their romantic choices. For those who are not rich and famous, such interference can often lead to violence.
A similar critique was made by musician Can Bonomo after he and his wife Öykü Karayel were spotted vacationing in Çeşme with the couple Bartu Küçükçağlayan and Merve Özgüle. The gossip pages of newspapers made a fuss about the fact that Karayel and Küçükçağlayan used to date. Bonomo’s statement to reporters in front of a restaurant in Etiler show the potential costs of such seemingly trivial gossip: “Yes, we went on vacation together. There’s nothing to say about this. It’s the year 2020! Later we cry, saying “violence against women,” “femicide.” It’s because you’re doing this kinds of things on television. Let’s not do it anymore.
From judging people based on their appearance to who they date and where: all these attitudes contribute to a wider culture that allows women to be called into account for their bodies and private lives. Certaintly, clapping back at sexism and conservatism by the soap opera industry or paparazzi is not enough to prevent femicides. Yet when those who have a platform use is to raise awareness about feminist issues, it is a sign that the movement is slowly but surely transforming the culture.
Though the topic of Turkish avant-garde composer living in New York may seem obscure, a documentary recently awarded at Antalya Film Festival, powerfully explores themes of love, politics, friendship, and immigration.
If you have watched Turkish TV anytime within the past two months, you have definitely seen ads for the series Kırmızı Oda. The series focuses on a therapist and her patients. Since the pandemic began, levels of anxiety and depression are steadily increasing in Turkey. At a time like this, it is admirable to want to show the public that therapy is always a possibility.
Rap has become a lucrative business in Turkey. Over the past five years, the genre has gone from one subculture among many to an essential part of the mainstream music industry.
When you look at the history of Greece and Turkey in the 20th century, what you find is this shared history of war, dictatorship, and repression. While politicians and civil society leaders focus on friendship or diplomacy, it is the artists who have most successfully given us a vision of what something more like solidarity would look like.
At a time when the dark clouds of economic recession lurk on the horizon, signs of catastrophic climate change appear from the sandstorms of Ankara to the wild fires of California, and the pandemic continues to ravage the world, it makes sense that viewers are captivated by imagining what it would be like to escape to a different reality to undo present mistakes.
Turkish Interior Ministry’s decision to ban both live and recorded music after midnight has led to much head-scratching. Some wonder whether the government is under the mistaken impression that COVID-19 spreads through sound decibels.
These days, whoever I speak to has been watching MasterChef Turkey. At a time when COVID-19 is raging in the streets and the price of basic foodstuffs continues to surge, the cooking reality show provides a much-needed distraction.
The massive outpouring of support for U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris by American celebrities brings to mind the difficult position of Turkish artists who dare wade into politics. One cannot forget the harsh reaction from the ruling AKP to Turkish celebrities who expressed support to Istanbul Mayor İmamoğlu last year.
Amid rising homophobia and social inequality in Turkey, the latest film from director Ümit Ünal is a timely reflection on how love unites people and society rips them apart.
Zoomers in Turkey do not listen to a single genre of music. Indeed, the divisions between rap fans and rock fans, for example, may not be as stark as it was in the early 2000s, but there are K-pop aficionados, metal heads, devotees of trap, followers of arabesk rap, and other subcultures.
You can gauge one’s awareness of the pandemic by how they wear their mask. There are those who wrap their masks around arms or wrists. They avoid seeming completely oblivious to the global pandemic while also maximizing their intake of the Aegean coast’s fabled freshness, corona and all.
On July 21, Turkey was shook by the brutal murder of 27-year-old university student Pınar Gültekin by a man named Cemal Metin Avcı. many of Turkey’s influential cultural figures, from musicians to models, weighed in on Gültekin’s murder and the larger epidemic of femicides.
Earlier this week, writer Adalet Ağaoğlu died at the age of 91. Ağaoğlu’s generation grew up in a different set of “narrow times” than we live in today. Yet her work remains powerful in showing what does remain the same, particularly the political obsession with a single “great man” to rule the nation.
Earlier this week, the Turkish management of the clothing chain LC Waikiki banned LGBTQI+ symbols on their products and displays—or even anything that might be confused as an LGBTQI+ symbol. LC Waikiki’s memo comes as hate speech against LGBTQI+ people surges across Turkey. As LGBTQI+ issues grow more visible, the reaction is ever more vehement.
If anything, perhaps this continual updating of folk music in Turkey does prove its timelessness. This does not mean that these songs are without history, but that however much the world changes, we will always have need for songs that express the meaning of love, infatuation, mortality, and loneliness in the simplest terms possible.
Given the LGBTI+ community’s history of seeking spaces of freedom amidst the ever-tightening grip of individual and organized hate, this year’s Pride Istanbul theme is “Where am I?” The online talks, workshops, and discussions center on issues like migration, isolation, and safety.
Just because 'Naked' moves beyond certain stereotypes does not necessarily make it “Turkey’s boldest woman’s story”. If including nudity or sex scenes was a barometer of political progressiveness, then the Turkish porno craze of the 1970s or the dirty programs watched through satellite TV in the 1990s would be perfect models of feminism.
After months of staying at home and practicing distancing, it is inevitable that people will occasionally swing too far in the other direction—once given the opportunity. This is a wider social problem, one which no amount of “pandemic-shaming” (polarized along political lines like most things in Turkey nowadays) is going to solve.
Though some of the correspondences are superficial, the coincidence of the protests in the U.S. erupting just as people here are commemorating Gezi has lead to some soul searching about the similarities and differences in state violence and racism in both countries.
In Turkey today, 2.7 million people use online dating apps like Tinder, OKcupid, and Bumble. Both of the promises and the pitfalls of online dating have become more extreme as the coronavirus affects how people approach physical and emotional intimacy. A number of recent documentaries shed light on people’s experiences searching for sex, love, and/or entertainment on these platforms.
It’s a spring day in Athens. Over 120 Greek musicians and performers gather on the steps of the southern slope of the Acropolis to sing in Turkish. They gathered to express their solidarity with the Turkish protest band Grup Yorum.
Music festivals are among the many things that COVID-19 has taken away from us. There is simply no way to cram into a sweaty mass of dancing people and preserve one’s social distance. Yet event organizers are trying their best to find creative ways to keep the festival spirit alive.
Nilipek is an Istanbul-based singer and songwriter whose latest album Mektuplar (Letters) perfectly captures the emotional atmosphere of the quarantine days. Trapped between four walls, one is left alone with one’s own thoughts and memories.
The teen drama Aşk 101 (Love 101), Netflix’s latest Turkish-language offering, is full of clichés but is not without a certain charm. Yet the intense controversy that preceded the show’s release on April 24 had little to do with the story.
One positive outcome, if we can call it that, of the pandemic is that many of us have begun learning new skills. Bread has become the classic example. Yet certain habits are more difficult to satisfy at home. For many friends I know, drinking rakı at a meyhane is one of those experiences that they have missed the most.
At a time when many of us turn to fictional narratives to make sense of the mess that is our world, the detective show Alef and the podcast series Karanlık Bölge (The Dark Zone) provide just what the doctor ordered.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Recognizing that artists would also be hit hard financially by the coronavirus, countries like Germany and the UK have created emergency funds for creative workers. In Turkey, securing support for creative workers such as musicians has been an uphill battle.
The Turkish government has encouraged citizens to avoid going outside, even asking them to declare their own state of emergency. Yet many do not have this luxury. A number of recent mini-series and documentaries released online paint a picture of everyday life in the parts of Istanbul where necessity continues to drive people—especially young people—onto the streets.
Music writer Barış Akpolat spent “200 Hours with Ezhel” conducting interviews that shed light on Ezhel’s musical journey from street concerts in Ankara to sold-out stadiums, from a jail cell in Istanbul to the New York Times list of the most important emerging artists in Europe. Akpolat’s book also provides insight into Ezhel’s political beliefs.
Turkey’s usually thriving artistic and cultural scene has been brought down to a whisper amid coronavirus outbreak. For those with the luxury or necessity of self-quarantine, artists and event organizers are trying their best to bring the arts directly into people’s homes. Or more accurately, to their computer screens.
A deadly virus has struck Istanbul. Panicked people flood the streets hoping to snatch up whatever necessities they can find. They attack each other while lining up for bottles of drinking water. Now that The Protector’s third season carries undeniable resonances with the most hot-button issue of the day, contagious viruses, it seems the most we can expect from the show is this kind of accidental relevance.
Since 2015, young, female musicians who upload covers or DIY music videos on YouTube have spearheaded a new strand of Turkish pop. Amongst them is the rising star Ekin Beril who released a debut LP last week.
With such names as ELZ AND THE CULT, She Past Away and Brek, Turkey's darkwave scene is thriving. In a predominantly conservative country, the scene offers spaces of hope.
Turkey's rising rap star Murda shows that the local scene is growing. And with it comes the North American blend of rap, pop and mawkish R&B.
Can Evrenol’s latest film, Girl With No Mouth (Peri: Ağzı Olmayan Kız), cements the director’s place as one of the leading figures of genre film in Turkey. While Turkish independent cinema is experiencing something of a renaissance, the material conditions for making and selling quality films are increasingly difficult.
Despite efforts to silence him, Demirtaş has remained an active figure in Turkey’s political scene, and now its literary scene. In late 2019, Demirtaş released Leylan, his third book written from his prison cell. Amid all denunciations and counter-denunciations, the literary significance of the work itself gets lost. Its voice and structure demonstrate newfound confidence.
For the past five or six years, venues owned or run by holding companies, corporations, and other massive commercial interests are increasingly the only places where music fans can see their favorite bands. One might say music fans are damned with them and damned without them.
2019 was a good year for Turkish music and 2020 is looking even better. A number of Turkish indie bands are releasing uncompromising music that has gained them an ever-growing following across the world. While the Turkish psych trend is in full swing, other bands are building a global fan-base without having to play up their Turkishness.