A pianist in Turkey handcuffed: you’ll know it’s the end when the music dies

As I sat down to write these lines, the ever-developing story of Turkey continued to pass before me like a fast-forward movie – perhaps, like a docu-drama whose inspirational roots go back to Germany preparing for a referendum in August 1934.

I could not keep my thoughts away from the picture of a young piano player, in handcuffs.


But there was so much more.

So, that, a little later.

The weekend had begun with the arrest of my colleague Deniz Yücel, correspondent of Die Welt.

It went on with the deeply censored events taking place in some Kurdish villages in Nusaybin, a town bordering Syria, where according to the opposition parties torture and execution of villagers took place after a siege that lasted for more than a week.

Photo of a badly beaten Kurdish peasant made public by Sezgin Tanrıkulu – a deputy of Kurdish origin with the main opposition party, CHP – raised the concerns. Yet the ‘mainstream’ media did apparently not see any news value in it.


Then came the arsoning of the arts center, owned by Müjdat Gezen, a popular, secular comedian, known for his staunch opposition to Erdoğan. Suspicions were proven correct when he later confirmed that the footage showed an activity outside the building early Monday morning.

The arrests and releases and re-arrests of the parliamentary deputies of pro-Kurdish HDP has from last week on turned onto the ‘automatic pilot’ as a yo-yo game. The most recent example was İdris Baluken, HDP’s Diyarbakır deputy, who after being released, was sent to prison. Meanwhile, co-chairpersons of the HDP, were delivered some punitive measures: Selahattin Demirtaş -kept in prison since November last year – was sentenced to 5 months of prison for ‘insulting Turkishness’, while Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chairwoman, was stripped of her position as deputy by a vote in Parliament. HDP, shattered by the series of what it sees as harrassment, described the developments as ‘de-facto closure of the party from activity’, as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said that the ‘cancellation of deputyships of the HDP will continue’.

As the referendum approaches, all signs point out to a full-scale escalation, and demonisation targeting the opposition in general. An apartment flat belonging to a fiercely pro-Erdoğan columnist was shot at during Tuesday night. Nobody was injured, nobody was caught. And, during the same night, Selin Sayek Böke, an expert economist who is also spokeswoman of the secular main opposition, CHP, was busy explaining why she and her party was going to vote ‘no’ in the referendum, when the TV channel, CNNTurk, received a phone call, with someone saying ‘she will not be able to reach home, we’ll put an end to her life’. She was told to stay, and could fly back from Istanbul to Ankara under heavy police and special-ops escort.

Intensifying drama: Turkey enters a most delicate phase, with a battle between yes and no, to an absolutist merger of presidency and prime ministry. Stuck, legally, under the suffocating State of Emergency, which makes it possible for all the President’s men to set the scene for an autocratic rule: as I write this chronicle, not so coincidentally, a series of trials of putschists began, with a wide coverage of pro-government media, determined for ‘extrajudicial execution of all traitors’, and calls of the masses for reintroduction of death sentence. Wild West, in other words; but with a difference that the sheriff seems to be on the lead of frenzy.

I was actually going to write about the single tragic story – amongst many others – of Dengin Ceyhan. The decision to detain this young piano player came in the midst of the fast-forward footage from Turkey; its symbolique larger than its nature as a single incident.

This young man is well-known in his generation: he was on the frontline during Gezi Park protests with his piano, which he played in Taksim Square together with Davide Martello, a German-Italian musician. Later, both of them helped a campaign to launch scholarships – ‘Piano fo Soma’ – for the children of the victims of Soma mine disaser, where 301 workers had died.

Ceylan was arrested in February 14, for tweets in which he protested harshly against Erdoğan; and the court ruled that he deserved to be sent to pre-trial detention. Under the circumstances, it seems he will have to spend some time behind bars, like journalists, and many dissidents.

In a sense this arrest underlines the ‘left-overs’ of the spirit of Gezi generation, whose cultural resistance during the hot weeks in June 2013 was fed by their love for music – as a fuel for smart rebellion. Three years later, as Turkey is invaded by an aggressive form of provincialism and bigotry, not much is left of the power of music; as the urban culture and its sub-cultures that made Istanbul a magnet until a couple of years ago, is waning rapidly.

Erdoğan and his consumer-oriented provincialism has won; succesful in breaking the backbone of a generation, whose resistance based on imagination is torn apart, replaced by a sense of defeat, fatigue, retreat.

Ceyhan and his coevals had chosen the Pera District and Taksim as a laboratory for connecting their dreams with like-minded friends in Berlin, London, Barcelona, Prag, New York and elsewhere. But, the in-your-face policies of the AKP turned the entire neighborhoods in Pera to shopping centers; clubs of counter-culture being imposed alcohol bans and licence restrictions; a boom of vulgar tourist venues meant that the youth started to lose their appetite for meeting in those sizzling alleys.


A recent, detailed account by a colleague, Zulal Kalkandelen, a keen observer of the sub-cultures in Istanbul, is alarming in its depiction. Hit by creeping Islamisation (AKP has 10 days ago begun a project to erect a big mosque at Taksim Square) and the series of fierce terror attacks, the music has been leaving a key part of its fertile ground, burying joie de vivre into ground, as she sums up.

‘Taksim and surroundings are the public places where opposition is the most visible,’ tells Güneş Duru to Kalkandelen.

‘Taksim is the place the power wants to tame. This is where the loudest disagreement, Gezi resistance, took place. For 30 years, maybe longer, the biggest dream of those from Milli Görüş (National View) was to build a mosque here. Now the final decision is made apparently.’

Another musician, Mabel Matiz, says that a lot of bars, concert venues, exhibition halls and historic places shut down. ‘Now Pera is much less diverse than before’ she adds.

Murat Kılıkçıer, member of the indie rock group, In Hoodies, says:

‘Darkness that spreads from the power holders has crept into all the social relations and now covers the streets.’

Hakan Dedeoğlu, publisher of the sub-culture magazine, Bant Mag, paints an equallygloomy picture:

‘Pera is now a place destroyed by the state’s violence and its anti-urban, visionless culture. Our memories of Gezi is buried under the abandoned ground of Pera, Taksim. People do not want to feel it anymore, so they don’t go there…’

This is exactly what Ceyhan’s detention means in depth.

When a nightmare in form of provincialism, bigotry, self-declared supremacy, cultural barbarity and ruthlessness invades a society, it can merge into fascism – as it received its legitimacy in the German referendum in 1934 – and kills, in delight, all the dreams of its youth.

This is how a society, dragged by violent illusions, commits suicide.

The current one, in Turkey, is a horror movie; and no force seems to be able to stop it.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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