No more Yozgat Blues?

No more Yozgat Blues?

If you really want to know Turkey well, you should know something about Yozgat, the Central Anatolian town just east of Ankara. 

This is not because Yozgat is a big city that produces goods or culture that deeply influences the rest of nation. No, quite the contrary, it is because Yozgat is a small city that produces little and changes little. It is full of good people who want to preserve their traditional way of life, as I know from my own relatives, and have little connection with the outside world. Few people from outside come to Yozgat to visit, let alone settle, whereas the most talented youth often leave the city to find opportunities elsewhere.

That is probably why the 2013 film, “Yozgat Blues,” was a hit. The very name of the movie combined two contradictory things, the parochial Yozgat and the all-foreign “Blues,” making people wonder what it was all about. It was about an unexpected emotional affair between a barber from the city and a singer who came to work in a small music hall-bar. In an intentionally claustrophobic style, the film showed very little about the city itself, but did grasp the sprit of small-town Anatolia. 

This week, Yozgat became maybe more famous than ever. The reason? The city’s governor, who is appointed by Ankara as all governors in Turkey are, took a weird decision. Taking advantage of the state of emergency law, which is supposedly about averting coups and terrorism, he closed down all “alcohol-serving venues,” such as bars, music halls and night clubs. The exact kind of places, in other words, where another “Yozgat Blues” could be filmed. 

Naturally, this decision made the national news and received reaction from the more secular side of Turkey. Others, however, cheered the decision. Daily Yeni Akit, the crudest voice of Turkish Islamism, ran a happy headline which read, “State of emergency gives its fruits.” Most of “the people,” the paper argued, were happy with such steps.

In the face of reactions, the Yozgat governor took a step back, saying that “not all places serving alcohol” were shut down, but the ones “with low standards like bars.” He also said the purpose was to protect “the family,” as some of the bar-goers were married men who “spend all their money” there. 

Here are my two cents on this affair: I don’t know whether “alcohol-serving venues” in Yozgat will survive, and personally I would not care about it much. But this incident shows us two worrying things. 

First, it shows that there is a tendency in the bureaucracy to use the state of emergency not merely to avert real threats such as juntas and terrorists, but also to get rid of any undesired element in society. The Yozgat affair may be an isolated incident, but there are more serious and centralized ones. In the past two days, the government has closed down 20 TV or radio channels which were all operated by either Kurdish or Alevi left-wing groups. 

The second thing is that Turkey’s dominant conservative/Islamist class bears a tendency to build or preserve a “moral society” by relying on the state’s authoritarian dictates. This does not mean that they want to impose shariah and stone women to death, as some in the West may fear. But it does mean that they see the “family values” of the conservative camp as the values that the whole nation must abide by. That would not make Turkey an “Islamic republic” with religious police. But it would make it a monochrome, boring, dull republic. It would take all the Blues, in other words, out of Yozgat and the like.