‘The Suppliant Women’ on stage for the rights of women and refugees
On March 8, Istanbul’s DasDas Theater is courageously celebrating International Women Day with “The Suppliant Women,” Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy that is a reflection on free will, freedom to love, the right to asylum and the moral duty to protect the weak.
Staged for the first time in Turkey and in Turkish, the performance will feature both professional and amateur actors, some of whom are theater students and others who come from very different walks of life.
“’The Suppliant Women’ tells the story of 50 women travelling from Ancient Egypt to the Ancient Greek city of Argos to ask for asylum while running away from the abuse of their own cousins. Their cousins want to marry them but they refuse to be slaves and revolt against their fate. Women were oppressed back then and they still are today. Times have changed, places have changed, but still today so many women are oppressed in society. This story is about women who stand up and ask for their rights,” said Elif Cansu Akbıyık, who graduated in acting last year.
It is also a story about refugees, coming at a very critical point in history.
“There are more than 3.5 million refugees in Turkey. How heartbreaking it is that names and places change but these stories never change,” said Akbıyık.
“Listen to us and hear our voice: Women’s voices, refugees’ voices. Stand up and protect those who need protection. Say ‘no’ to violence and rape. Say ‘no’ together with us,” said Aslıhan Aydoğan Büyükakgül, a former foreign trade specialist who quit her job to follow her childhood dream to become an actress.
“Today women all over the world, have started to acknowledge our abilities, strength and wisdom. We have started standing up for our rights, we have started realizing lots of things that we used to keep inside. Today we are more proud to be women than ever before,” Büyükakgül added, while also specifically commenting on the situation for Turkish women.
“In Turkey it is harder to admit this transformation. For women it is harder to stand up for our rights and say ‘no.’ I always think that we who live in the west of Turkey are living in a kind of bell jar. The east and west of this country are so far away from each other culturally. So maybe we can be their voice, speaking up for them and letting them be heard. Maybe that will give strength to the women who are afraid,” she said.
“For refugees, we are living side by side with refugees in our daily lives now in Turkey. But they are like ghosts walking around us. Do we really see them? Do we really hear them? We are so close but we are so far away at the same time. Maybe it is time to come face to face with them,” Büyükakgül added.
Another performer, Şebnem Ahi, is an IT lawyer specializing in cases of sexual harassment with a passion for theater.
“Being a suppliant woman means feeling the struggles of women for centuries … The play shows that women have the right to refuse forced marriage. And the asking of the people of Argos to make a public decision whether to accept or refuse asylum seekers reminds us of the importance of democracy,” Ahi said.
For the choreographer of the play, Ezgi Künktakan, holding the premiere on March 8 is in itself a statement of what “The Suppliant Women” is about.
“If women do not bow down to authority as individuals, if they act together on the problems they face and if they fight together to beat them, then the strength they get will give them the power to overcome any obstacle. Women should never give up fighting for their rights and for their freedom. The fact that the things such an ancient text tells us are still happening today, the fact that women have faced the same problems throughout history, and the fact that we’re witnessing the troubles of millions of Syrian women so closely makes staging ‘The Suppliant Women’ in Turkey very timely for artists to raise awareness,” Künktakan said.
Representation certainly does count. The portrayal of 50 women bravely fighting against the fate a patriarchal society has imposed upon them, taking their destiny into their own hands, can be refreshing and empowering in a country where one in three marriages still involves an underage girl.
The play will also be on stage at the DasDas Theater in Istanbul’s Ataşehir district on March 12, 19 and 26.
Tickets can be bought on the DasDas website: http://dasdas.com.tr/