The Islamist transformation of Turkey is making it look like the “new” Iran of the Middle East — repressive and anti-Western.
The Turkish State Theatres, the official directorate of the national theater companies in Turkey, have removed the plays of non-Turkish playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Bertolt Brecht, and Dario Fo from their repertoire.
The Turkish State Theatres will open on October 4, performing eight plays at 65 theatre halls across Turkey. “As humanist nationalists of the homeland, we are opening our theaters with only local plays in order to contribute to the integrity and unity of the homeland and to strengthen national, and spiritual feelings,” Nejat Birecik, vice president of the State Theatres, declared.
Although the Turkish State Theatres will start the new season with the slogan, “The curtains of Turkey are opening with Turkish Theatre,” some of the Turkish plays have been removed as well.
Orhan Aydin, a prominent dissident theatre actor, said that some Turkish plays such as “The Ottoman History with Photos” by Turgut Ozakman and “The Blind Street” by Tuncer Cucenoglu were also censored during the election period in Turkey.
“There are important works by prominent writers in the world theatre,” said Aydin. “The State Theatres have come to this day by performing them. The State Theaters actually owe their existence to these plays. Where can theatre be taken to by giving up on the plays by Shakespeare and Brecht?”
Aydin also added that investigations have been launched against a lot of actors in the institution and that the actors are also exposed to pressures such as pay cut. “Birecik asked the Bursa state theatre as well as other theaters to fire a lot of contract actors,” added Aydin, who described these practices as “fascistic.”
The report “Unveiled: Art and Censorship in Iran” by the human rights organization Article 19 describes how theatre and other forms of art were censored following the Islamic Revolution in Iran:
“The onset of the Cultural Revolution was accompanied by a severe distrust of theatre, especially of the kind imbued with Western tradition,” says the report.
“Many great Iranian playwrights fled the country and although theatre production was not banned, as those in power recognized its potential as a vehicle for propaganda, it was not able to escape the heavy-hand of censorship. The sole permitted purpose of theatre productions during these early years was to laud the Revolution and its accomplishments.
“Under the guidance of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, a new culture, rooted in Islam, began to take shape. In two seminal pre-revolutionary works, Ayatollah Khomeini wrote that expressions of Westernization, such as theatre and dancing, ‘rape the youth of our country and stifle in them the spirit of virtue and bravery.’
“Such prerevolutionary declarations, which Ayatollah Khomeini sought to implement upon the commencement of the Islamic Republic, led to the elimination of dance as an art form altogether, while others such as music, theatre, cinema and literature were in June 1980, all required to submit to the watchful eyes and firm hand of censorship of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council (SCRC).“
Censorship or restrictions on freedom of expression are not new phenomena in Turkey.
According to the 2015 statistics of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Turkey ranked number one in the field of violations of free speech. Twenty-eight lawsuits were opened by applicants against member states regarding their violations of freedom of expression. Ten of those applications were made against Turkey.
After systematic bans on free speech, Turkey’s next target seems to be art and theatre.
Turkey’s policies against Christians, Jews, Muslim Kurds, Yazidis, Alevis, and all other minorities have been institutionally genocidal even though the country’s constitution is officially “secular.” It seems that if the Islamist transformation of the country is finalized, the “new” Iran of the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Turkey, will be even more repressive and anti-Western than the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Sadly, current Western governments seem too blind and ignorant to stop the “second Ayatollah” – the wannabe “caliph” of Turkey – from turning the country into the center of Islamist oppression and jihad in the region.