Turkish conservatives face the “immoral” world of music

Turkish conservatives face the “immoral” world of music

Turkish singer Melek Mosso in concert in Istanbul on 1er June 2022. At the beginning of June, a concert by the artist scheduled for Isparta was canceled by the municipality, which questioned his attitude, his outfits and his positions “immoral”. Yasin AKGUL / AFP

Cancellations and concert bans are on the rise in Turkey a year before the elections which could endanger President Erdogan and his Islamo-conservative party, the AKP.

With her bare and tattooed shoulders, her cleavage and her feminist remarks, Melek Mosso has become one of the last scapegoats of Turkish conservatives. The pop singer crystallizes what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamo-conservative party, the AKP, hate, anxious to flatter the most conservative fringes of the electorate. Taking back control of the country’s musical life has become one of the government’s priorities, in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for June 2023, which promise to be perilous for those in power.

The town hall of Isparta, in the center of Turkey, where Melek Mosso was to perform in early June, thus yielded to a conservative group which accused him of an attitude “immoral” and was moved by her dress. But his calls for women to dress and speak freely were equally targeted. The singer denounced those who “question his morality” and promised that sooner or later she would return to sing in the rose capital of Turkey.

Cultural tour

This intervention is far from isolated. Concerts canceled, festivals banned… Many Turkish musicians have been unable to perform in recent months due to behavior deemed “inappropriate” or because they sing in a regional language. At the end of May, the AnadoluFest music festival in Eskisehir, between Istanbul and Ankara, was also banned by the governor after calls from an Islamic-conservative group who protested that “girls and boys camp there together” and denounced “inappropriate scenes due to the presence of alcohol”according to local media.

Turkish musicians Apolas Lermi (left) and Eren Demir (right) in Istanbul, June 7, 2022. Apolas Lermi was taken to task by politicians for showing his solidarity with a Greek musician accused of making comments “hostile to Turkey“. Yasin AKGUL / AFP

Along with pop singers or idols, those who sing in minority languages ​​in Turkey are particularly targeted. Thus, the artist of Kurdish origin Aynur Dogan, just like Niyazi Koyuncu, who sings in the languages ​​of the Black Sea, or even Metin and Kemal Kahraman, musicians of Zaza origin (Kurdish community speaking Zazaki), saw their canceled concerts. All were judgedinappropriateby the AKP town halls of the cities where they were to perform.

Apolas Lermi, whose repertoire draws on the traditional melodies of the Black Sea, has drawn the wrath of local officials after showing his solidarity with a Greek musician, Matthaios Tsahouridis, accused by Turkish nationalist circles of making remarks “hostile to Turkey“. In May, one of his concerts was canceled at the last minute by the Trabzon football team, Trabzonspor, who had originally invited him to celebrate their Turkish title.

Apolas Lermi then refused, out of solidarity, to go on stage. “A politician accused me on Twitter of being an enemy of Turkey, a separatist”deplores the singer who, in addition to a lynching suffered in the media and on social networks, saw two of his concerts canceled at the last minute by organizers, including one by the AKP town hall of Pamukkale (west).

Youth step up

These repeated cancellations were condemned, at the end of May, by the bars of 57 cities. “These arbitrary decisions discriminate against languages, cultures, lifestyles and genders. (…) We reject these archaic prohibitions”, they lamented in a press release. “These bans are unacceptable“, was also moved Recep Ergul, of the Professional Union of Authors of Musical Works, who is worried to see these circles attempt “to shape society” seeking to control culture.

Prohibitions also struck at the end of the academic year of “spring festivals” organized on campuses, causing an outcry on social networks and an outpouring of solidarity towards the targeted musicians. At the beginning of June, an impressive crowd thus converged on Sishane Square, in Istanbul, for a concert by Melek Mosso authorized by the opposition town hall. “They try to scare us and keep women out of public life. But we’re not going to let them.” ensured at the foot of the stage Ezgi Aslan, who came “on purpose” to show solidarity.

Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy refuted these accusations. “We support art and culture. Our ministry is paving the way for festivals more than ever.”, he said on private television. But these bans contribute to tarnishing the image of President Erdogan among young people. “Cancelling festivals or banning artists… Stop it!”recently launched the mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu, one of the figures of the opposition. “A free environment for art and culture is an elixir of youth for society. We will produce it in abundance”he promised.