WHERE CULTURE IS IMPOSSIBLE?
Anadolu Kültür – one of the Turkish organisations that work with the major social issues like the holocaust in Hungary, East-versus-West communication issues, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict and domestic violence against women.
KORYDOR found out how the two projects supported by Anadolu Kültür operate on the opposite sides of Turkey: the exhibition space DEPO in Istanbul and the art centre in the city of Diyarbakir in the east of the country. The talk began with culture issues, and finished, which is inevitable in present-day Turkey, with politics.
Revitalization without problems
In order to get to the DEPO cultural center, go down the narrow streets of Taksim Square towards Karakoy Port. There on the street of Lyuledzhi Hendek you can will see a gray three-storey building – a former tobacco factory warehouse. There on the corner you will see a rusty sign that says «Tütün Deposu».
This is one of the many post-industrial Istanbul’s objects which has received a new life. Today some of the former tobacco warehouses serve as a private university, an opera, a hotel. The program coordinator of the centre, Asena Günal is proud to say that, unlike these facilities, DEPO is a non-profit platform: “We strive to be an independent space within the very commercialised milieu of Istanbul. Exhibitions that are being held at DEPO are not easy to spot in the commercial galleries. ”
The building, where apart from DEPO, there are offices of several non-governmental organisations, was repaired by the owner on his own initiative. Osman Kavala, a businessman who owns the warehouse, inherited it from his grandfather who was a tobacco-seller. In 2002, Kavala founded Anadolu Kültür organisation which later launched DEPO as its cultural centre.
“In 2005 this space was used as one of the locations for the Istanbul biennial. Between 2005 and 2008, the centre served for various events. Nevertheless, it was repaired only in 2008. The building was hardly touched: only the heating and the air conditioning systems were installed. Since 2008 DEPO hosts with exhibitions, film screenings and discussions”, – says Asena.
DEPO, like an Anadolu Kültür, mainly deals with human rights, minorities, the complex issues of the history and urban transformations. These are the topics that are hushed in the Turkish society and the government doesn’t support their discussion either. For example, one of the centre’s recurring subjects is cultural cooperation with Armenia.
Asena mentions exhibition “Never Again! Apology and Coming to Terms with the Past” which took place in 2013: “We have cases of apology from nine different countries. For example, an apology for Holocaust from Germans, or Serbians’ apology for Srebrenica. We have chosen these stories, in order to show Turkey the phenomena of other countries coming to terms with their past, and the ways these issues can be treated. We don’t need to hide or suppress, but make concessions.
We wanted to reach the audience beyond the liberal community. That’s why we had chosen the case of Serbia, because those who died in Srebrenica were Muslims, so the local Muslims could feel the connection. The same applies to Bulgarian apology for the assimilation of the Turkish community”.
I asked Asena Günal what Turkey has to apologise for.
“Unfortunately, there are many things”
“Name three most crucial then”
“The Armenian Genocide, the Istanbul riots against non-Muslims in 1955, and the abduction and killing of people by Turkish paramilitary units that fought Kurdish guerrillas in the 1990-s.”
“The Kurdish issue”
Therefore, we pass to the Kurdish topic. Which makes sense, since there is an exhibition dedicated to the celebration of Nowruz media representation on the first floor of DEPO. Moreover, in the Kurdish east of the country, there is urban fighting between the Kurds and the Turkish army and special units of the police. These events are already have been called the most severe aggravation of the Kurdish-Turkish conflict over the past 20 years.
Nowruz stands for a new year that the Iranian people, and the Kurds in particular, celebrate at the end of March. But in Turkey it also signifies the powerful political demonstration. This year the government has banned public celebrations of Nowruz in all cities, except for the unofficial capital of the Turkish Kurds Diyarbakir (which is called Amed in Kurdish).
The walls of DEPO’s exhibition hall are covered with newspaper clippings and a few black tires are placed in the middle of the room. This resembles Maidan, but here it represents rather the traditional Nowruz which symbolises liberation of the ancient Kurds from the tyrant. This is an old legend.
I am asking Asena of how sensitive the issue of the Kurdish people in Istanbul is.
“Now the situation is very tense, and there is strong pressure on the Kurdish movement. People are under control, what they can’t speak freely on the Kurdish problem. For example, scientists who have signed a peace declaration were accused of terrorism, and some of them are now in prison”.
Therefore, preparing a Nowruz exhibition, Asena and her colleagues have decided not to post any symbols which could be associated with the national Kurdish colours (red – yellow – green) on the front of DEPO: “I was worried. There had been attacks on the stores and the offices of the Kurdish parties and even one lynching reported before the elections. So now we have to be careful as we advertise our events”
Istanbul – Diyarbakir
Anadolu Kültür has only one location outside Istanbul, which is located in the largest city of country – Diyarbakir. Here from the Western Turkey’s perspective, culture is impossible. Perhaps, that is why Osman Kavala, the founder Anadolu Kültür, opened a Diyarbakir Art Center (DSM) right here back in 2002. This space was meant to create a platform for discussion, where young people, students and Kurdish intellectuals would have met people and get to know art from Istanbul.
DSM is located on the 6th floor of a glass fronted building typical of the downtown of Diyarbakir. I’m greeted by a program assistant of centre – Ezel Yilmaz. Ezel comes from a big city in Western Turkey. She came to Diyarbakir she because due to her dissertation’s topic which deals with cultural aspects of the Kurdish civil society.
I am curious if it’s allowed to take this topic in Turkey and if the education system allows such proposals. Ezel smiles and says that she is studying in France.
Despite the fact that Ezel has no Kurdish ancestry, she has developed the interest in the Kurdish movement – literally, the most dangerous topic in present-day Turkey.
“I wanted to study the Kurdish issues in Turkey in general. People who want to understand why we (the Turkish state and the Kurds) are fighting have to have something to start with. I took culture for my starting point. But, you know, I’m trying to avoid calling it ” the Kurdish issue”, I want to change my language. Because it’s is not exclusively Kurdish, it is our common Kurdish-Turkish problem”.
Ezel agrees that the cultural scene of Diyarbakir is not very diverse, unfortunately: “There is only one institution that organises cultural events, and it’s the municipality”.
On the other hand, people from the West of Turkey don’t believe that any artistic life is possible. Diyarbakir and Kurdish southeast are strongly associated with military conflict. Members of her family, Ezel said, couldn’t have described what she was doing here: “It’s hard for them to imagine that you can do artistic projects in Diyarbakir”.
And her family has a point. It is difficult to have a different idea when you hear of the killings in the city and in the Kurdish region in general from the news on the daily basis. For the last eight months these were the only type of news. Ezel says, that everyone without exception is paralysed by what is happening in every sphere of life, not only in culture: “We are trying to understand what is happening, what the next step of each party is going to be. We are analysing PKK’s discourses (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê – Kurdistan Workers’ Party banned in Turkey) and state’s actions. We all are very passionate it” However, cultural organisations have to deal with the everyday issues: “We know that culture can’t change the situation. However, it can contribute to the peaceful solution of the conflict. In fact, nothing can change anything else alone. Cultural projects get involved in working with the past, and help to overcome the effects of trauma and violence».
Back to DEPO
I go back to Istanbul to ask Asena Günal of the women’s movement in Turkey and women’s projects launched by the centre. After all, the government policy towards women serves an indicator of where the state is heading. Asena has also edited the book “Feminism in Turkey in the 90’s”.
In recent years, Turkey has been moving toward conservatism, says Asena. “Turkish men are scared because women are gaining power” – this is how she’s seeing the situation. But new members keep joining the women’s movement, and pressure from the government only contributes to this.
The sorest issue the women activists are faced in Turkey is domestic violence against women. “On average three women die in this country daily due to domestic violence. Homicides happen when a woman says “no” to a relationship or marriage “- says Asena.
A feminist movement activist Özlem Kaya joins our conversation and says that today they don’t really focus on numbers – be it three or five, women die every day still, this is already a problem in any case. Instead, they are trying to show that we are talking about male abusers, and those who commit it are usually very close to the victim. This is either a man or a former husband or a lover, sometimes even a father. But definitely a male family member.
«However, the focus on these murders restricts us to the victim language. So we started to discuss ways to show women struggle against men and patriarchal society. For this reason, we have focused on the cases of men homicides committed by women. We wanted to show that when a woman kills her husband it’s mostly due to the threat to her life”, Özlem says.
“Today”, Asena continues, “the Turkish government is trying to restrict women to the household so that they were more of a homemaker. But, on the other hand, the requirement to be active in the labour market remains, so women are being imposed to the double duty. In addition, the government and the president openly say that a woman and a man cannot be equal.
“I have hopes for the younger generation – you had Maidan, we had Gezi. This is how young people react to totalitarian methods. And young won’t let anyone oppress them”, Asena says, “This disagreement is not coming out in a structured political movement yet. But I hope that someday it will”.