Turkish President Gül honors once defamed Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya

Turkish President Gül honors once defamed Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya

Turkish President Gül honors once defamed Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya

Ahmet Kaya, a legendary voice of protest music in Turkey, is among the four people and one institution to be awarded by the presidency.

President Abdullah Gül has honored the once-demonized Kurdish singer Ahmet Kaya, who died abroad in de facto exile 13 years ago, posthumously granting him the Presidential Grand Art and Culture Award and underlining the "unifying impact" of Kaya’s overall artistic life.

Kaya, who would have turned 56 on Oct. 28, was given the award on the grounds that “through his music, interpretation and discourse, he brought together a lot of people from different views,” according to a written statement released by the president’s office to announce this year’s awards.

Ahmet Sever, Gül's chief press adviser, said he had informed Gülten Kaya, the singer’s widow, about the award over the phone before the decision was made public. 

“Today is Ahmet’s birthday. This is the biggest birthday present,” Sever quoted Gülten Kaya as telling him over the phone. 

Sever was also a member of the seven-seated selection committee for the presidential awards.

Another striking name on the list of award-winners was renowned economist Daron Acemoğlu, a Turkish citizen of Armenian origin. Acemoğlu was granted the award in the field of social sciences for “his different approach to theory and models of classical growth and development with a different perspective.”

Back in 2011, the Turkish government intended to appoint Acemoğlu to a key diplomatic post, as representative at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Acemoğlu, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said in response that he would be pleased to take the offer in the future, but was currently focused on his academic goals, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at the time, praising his qualifications for such post.

Other winners included Professor Fuat Sezgin “for his precious works in the field of history of science and technology in Islam,” Professor İskender Pala “for his contribution to literature,” Professor Bekir Karlığa “for the point of view he brought to reconciliation between civilizations,” as well as the Union Of Historical Towns, the President’s Office announced.

Bitter story of exile

Ahmet Kaya was painfully forced into exile in Paris amid the undemocratic atmosphere of the late 1990s, a time when it was particularly difficult for intellectuals espousing leftist or Kurdish identities.

This atmosphere was a legacy of the traditional, denialist approach of the Turkish state to the Kurdish issue and was supported by both official governmental policies and the mainstream media. Both official policies and the media played a central role in a lynch campaign against Kaya.

On Feb. 10, 1999, Kaya took the stage at the annual Magazine Journalists Association (MGD) awards ceremony to receive the honor of the musician of the year.

Before singing a song at the ceremony, Kaya said: “I thank all the people of Turkey for the award. I also have a statement; I will sing a Kurdish song on my next album, which I will release in the near future. I will also make a music video for this song. I know there are brave television stations that will air this music video. If they don’t air it, I don’t know how they will face the Turkish public.”

This speech drew a hostile reaction from famous figures in the ceremony, including famous pop singer Serdar Ortaç, who has been reviled by parts of society ever since for his actions in denouncing Kaya.

“You must accept the Kurdish reality,” Kaya said as guests began flinging knives and forks at him.
The incident led to Kaya’s prosecution, forcing him to head for France.

On Nov. 16, 2000, Kaya died of a heart attack in Paris, where he is now buried.