Ankara State Opera House

The ruling Turkish AKP Government is currently preparing the closure of all the State Theatres, State Operas and Ballet companies, State Symphony Orchestras, State Choirs, State Dance Companies and many more. According to the plan, those institutions would have to be transformed in private organizations. Thus the entire cultural sector in Turkey would depend on a new entity to be created, TUSAK-Arts Organization of Turkey, which, like the English Arts Council, would allocate money to the various actors of Turkey’s cultural life.

The Turkish cultural community fears that this radical change will totally destabilize the cultural life and bring it fully under government control. Many organizations might be not able to convert from state run to private status and disappear. Says Serhan Bali, editor in chief from Turkey’s Andante magazine: « We absolutely don’t like our beloved state funded arts institutions to be abolished by this government. Because these institutions have the mission – stemmed from the founder of our nation, Ataturk – of bringing the arts to the remote parts of Turkey which otherwise cannot have any access to anything related to art. » No wonder that responsible arts leaders in Turkey consider this new politic as a big catastrophe and fight against it.

If this draft bill will be accepted, millions of Turkish people throughout the country will absolutely have no access in their region to any kind of artistic activity. For years, people in Turkey have had the benefit of attending low priced, quality arts programs. The long established state funded organizations, besides operating in their home cities, also have been making regular tours to surrounding areas, and these can also be the remotest parts of the country where people with very low income struggle to live. This arts policy, stemming from the cultural revolution of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, has so far been accepted as the primary social responsibility of every Turkish government.

Basically, the idea of an arts council funding the various institutions might not be a bad idea, as long as this instutution delivers the public funds with fair methods and in a democratic way among the Turkish arts community. However, most of the responsible in the cultural sector believe that TUSAK will definitely not act as an autonomous entity but will work as a fully controlled government agency. All 11 members of the board of TUSAK will be elected by the cabinet of ministers. In AKP’s Turkey, this means that these members will preferably fund the pro-government cultural projects. Serhan Bali says: « We believe that TUSAK will have the sole mission of delivering the public cultural funds only to the people who have been ideologically close to this government. On the other hand, some well known AKP ideologues have set the standards of a so called ‘conservative art’ concept for the last two years. Me and many other people in Turkey believe that TUSAK is the brain child of this new concept. With this tool, they feel that they have the mission to abolish the whole arts establishment in the country and reorganize the arts scene according to their concept of ‘conservative art’. This concept refuses the notion of independence of the arts and the artists as well as the autonomy of the state funded arts institutions in the country. »

The government officials headed by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been expressing their disgust and dissatisfaction towards the artists who are working in state funded arts organizations for quite a long time. These artists are accused of taking active part in the opposition camp and raising their voices to the acts of the government especially in the arts field.

This allegation is substantiated by Erdogan’s own words from April 2012, when he raged over theatre actors who raised their voices when the government slashed the independence of the managements in public theatres.

Though artists, musicians and managers are still trying to explain the government officials that symphony orchestras, theatre-opera-ballet-dance-choral companies cannot survive in a developing country like Turkey without the full support of the government they haven’t been successful in persuading any of the officials.

The arts community in Turkey nowadays makes a word play and justifiably calls ‘TUSAK’ as ‘TUZAK’ which means ‘trap’ in Turkish. Because arts people in Turkey believe that this draft bill is nothing but a trap in order to get rid of the artists and their institutions. Bali: « We fear that in today’s Turkey this new way of arts funding will commercialize and cheapen the arts and pave the way to the desertification of the country in terms of qualified artistic events. »

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