Sezen Aksu and lynching artists politically
The relationship between art and politics has been a source of debate throughout history, as artists challenge political systems and institutions, while those holding power use art as a means of delivering their messages.
In Turkey today, the polarization in society has evolved to the point where everyone wants the singer, actor, etc. they love to say what they want to hear and nothing else.
Especially since the Gezi protests in 2013, every single word that comes from such figures has been carefully analyzed, placing him or her either in the government’s or the protestor’s camps. Those who joined in or hailed the protests were embraced by protestors, but labeled as provocateurs and even traitors by the pro-government front. Calls for boycotts grew, especially on social media, against artists who criticized the protests.
In such an environment, many artists chose to remain silent; fearing that expressing their political views would be harmful to themselves in one way or another. Some, on the other hand, preferred emerging as signature names of either camp, fiercely attacking the other side while being hailed by their own people.
In this political environment, Sezen Aksu, one of Turkey’s most famous and successful singers, criticized a recent government decision to allow girls to wear headscarves in schools. This ignited yet another fierce debate.
“Instead of covering us, discipline your desire, you fools!” Aksu said twice during her concert Sept. 29. She later released a statement on her official website to clarify her remarks.
“I support unlimited freedom. I bow respectfully before every decision made by an adult on his/her own will, as well as their beliefs and ideas. I stand against all kinds of discrimination. My whole life is full of these kinds of examples,” the statement read.
“But I completely refuse this sexist approach that implies turning a school-age girl into a woman by covering her head. This is the matter. What happens onstage is irony and a show,” it added.
While Aksu’s remarks resonated among many, she immediately became a target for government supporters.
The daily tabloid Takvim described Aksu as a “washed-up sparrow” in its headline, referring to her popular nickname “little sparrow.”
Another media outlet famous for its blatant use of hateful language, the daily Yeni Akit, described Aksu as a “so-called singer,” slamming her remarks as “arrogance.”
It was not the first time Aksu became a target for her political remarks, but her attackers were different then.
In 2009, Aksu called then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and reportedly told him that “those who oppose the Kurdish peace process are tainted. I will do my best to successfully complete the process.” She immediately became a target for those skeptical of the government’s move.
One of her critics was singer Yavuz Bingöl, who later warmed to the idea and seemed very happy in photographs with Erdoğan at the ruling party’s invitation to iftar, just before the Aug. 10 presidential elections.
In fact, Erdoğan’s invitations to artists, be they for an iftar dinner, a reception or a “consultation meeting,” have always been a hot topic. Those who attended were labeled “Erdoğan supporters” (some really were), drawing fierce reactions and even insults from Erdoğan’s critics for being “the artists of the government.”
Sezen Aksu was always in a different position. She has always been an independent person, speaking as she believes. In 1989, she sang “Son Bakış” (Last Look), a tribute - with Aysel Gürel’s lyrics and Onno Tunç’s melody - to Erdal Eren, a leftist student who was executed by the military junta in 1980 at the age of 17. Aksu has also been an advocate for gay rights, winning the hearts and minds of the gay community in Turkey.
But when she announced that she would vote “yes” in a 2010 referendum for the constitutional amendments proposed by the government, she was labeled a traitor by the “no” camp. When she said “those people have said extraordinary words with extraordinary language” about the Gezi protests, she was accused of “bowing to the pressure of Erdoğan’s enemies."
When Çanakkale Mayor Ülger Gökhan invited Aksu for a concert in the city in August 2013, he had to defend his decision from criticism that the singer was a Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporter. “She said ‘yes’ in the referendum, but she also supported the Gezi protests,” Gökhan said at the time. “She is a brave artist who speaks out [about] what she believes in; we need artists just like her.”
It is no secret that being close to the government, or even giving off such an image, opens many doors for artists, while criticizing the government can even result in trial, such as in the case of the actor Mehmet Ali Alabora.
Sezen Aksu has taken a bold step, and her past “sins” should not be reason to avoid defending her right to speak out now.