A plane tree was injured...

A plane tree was injured...

Those people living in Ankara who care about culture and for some reason have been to this city-village, those progressive people whose hearts beat for the people of Anatolia would understand the meaning of Ihlamur Street on the İzmir Avenue. Yes, the subject is the Ankara Art Theater (AST), which was opened on that spot on Dec. 6, 1963, and since then has been a focus of modernity, dedication to art, will to resist all sorts of pressures and progressiveness and peace in all circumstances. There’s no such place anymore, I’m so sorry.

Any consolation? Maybe somehow, the AST will continue to stage plays as the Bilkent Stage has embraced it. Nonetheless, as highlighted in the AST statement that their historic hall had to be closed, it was a tragedy for all of us to know the decision to lock down the hall was made on the day of its anniversary. The 58-year-old AST will no longer be in the basement of that old building at Ihlamur Street.

You can be anything, but you can’t be an artist. That was a shorthand of what the founding father of modern Turkey was once quoted to have said. Turkey is a capable country and has enormous resources. Any Turk would feel proud when someone might come up with an assertion that Turkey is providing budget support to some countries demanding its help. Perhaps that is what a duty of “better off” countries to help countries in distress during these times of global pandemic. But, should not there be some other considerations before undertaking such generous moves?

Especially those who are engaged in music, painting, theater and other visual arts, the basic pillars of cultural life such as theaters, exhibition halls, art centers are waging a struggle to survive. The closure of the historical hall of the AST demonstrates clearly that both the government and the municipalities should develop programs to support the art sector and art institutions. The other day on one TV channel, a musician couple was explaining with tears in their eyes about the hard times that they have been going through. Surviving by selling their musical instruments one by one in the secondhand market must be a painful and traumatic experience for the couple.

The AST’s statement announcing the decision to close its historic hall actually sums it up: “Especially due to the unaffordable costs and burdens arising in the pandemic period, the state benefits that we have been deprived of for years, and the severe conditions imposed by the landowner on a theatre institution and his irreconcilable attitude -- the AST representing the memory, history, and culture of a city and a country where it has helped countless art people to grow up - we were forced to leave our house that hosted plays and all kinds of events. Unfortunately, all our attempts, studies, negotiations and efforts to stay in our hall in this process have been inconclusive.”

The last play I saw at the AST was “What might a suitcase can take?” by Yeşim Dorman. It was a game on the personal tragedies the Turkish-Greek exchange of population deal created. Abandoning a homeland with whatever might fit in one piece of luggage must be very painful.

So did AST on Dec. 6, 2020, 58 years after it staged its first play at that old building on Ihlamur Street on the İzmir Avenue. It left the historic building leaving behind not only its institutional memories but memories of the art lovers who have been addicted to that hall in the basement.

The AST has now taken refuge at the Bilkent Stage. The cultural plane tree of Ankara that raised so many talents over the past decades has suffered a serious wound. Yet it can be saved with the help of either the government or the municipality. Is it too late? Not at all…