20 Ağustos 2013 Salı

An interview with Bedri Baykam

Pubblicato il agosto 17, 2013

Bedri Baykam is a well-known Turkish artist and an intellectual mind often critical of Recep Tayyip Erdoĝan view on politics. Baykam is an appreciated neo-expressionist painter despite his art is sometimes considered too extremist and controversial. He also became very famous as a writer in 2000 when he published a book (translated as ‘the Bone’ or ‘Sex’ in English and Italian versions of the book in 2005) that predicted the events of 9/11. In 2011 he was stabbed by a Turkish religious fanatic after a press conference where Baykam criticized Erdoĝan because the prime minister ordered the demolition of a statue dedicated to the Armenian people and made by Turkish artist Mehmet Aksoy.

During the protest in June 2013 I had an interview with Bedri Baykam and we talked about the Gezi Park and about AK parti and Recep Tayyip Erdoĝan political view.
-          Some Turkish artists, such as writers Orhan Pamuk and Elif Şafak and pianist Fazıl Say, justplaced an advertisement on several Turkish newspapers asking the end to the use of hate speech, are you among them? What is the position of Turkish artists about what happened and what’s still happening in Turkey?
Bedri Baykam: «No, I am not among them. This is a very fast done action on the go and many artists signed for the first time against Erdoĝan’s AK Parti. Some of Turkey’s most well known writers had unfortunately said nothing against the AKP ever. If even they finally changed their attitude than things must be going really bad! The real resistance against the AKP is the “Artists Initiative” (Sanatçılar Girişimi) created  a year and a half ago by poet Ataol Behramoğlu, actor Orhan Aydın and myself. Actually we had started the struggle even years ago but we didn’t have a group name. The group includes Turkey’s most important names such as Ferhan Şensoy, Genco Erkal, (theater directors) Rutkay Aziz, Tarık Akan, (Actors), Mehmet Güleryüz, Ekrem Kahraman, (painters) Edip Akbayram, İlhan İrem, Fazıl Say, Nejat Yavaşoğulları (musicians). Actually we had been doing several things before that like stopping the destruction of the Atatürk Cultural Center and reacting to the non secular schooling regime to which the country is being pushed to. We have organized several street actions, large scale events, concerts and speeches etc. Our slogan was “we refuse” (reddediyoruz) which meant that we refuse all the fait accomplis of AKP making ridiculous distortions in the country’s law system, secularism, fascist pressures, war-calls against Syria, police brutality etc. For us living under the AKP oppression is nothing but a life that almost doesn’t deserve to be lived! Hence all the reaction we’ve been giving for years. We also want to show the country that  they can do anything to us but they cannot scare us! For instance I was stabbed almost to my death 2 years ago by an Islamist fanatic obviously sent there by a religious sect. I was saved by a miraculous operation and I stayed two weeks in the Hospital. But as soon as I came out, I started to write and fight again. Can they hit me again? Yes, but they cannot scare us»
-          I was very impressed when last year I read for the first time that Erdoĝan ordered to destroy an art monument dedicated to the Armenians made by Mehmet Aksoy. Last year I had an interview with satiric comic artist Bahadir Baruter and he told me that he’s prosecuted because of one of his satiric illustration mocking religion. What do you think about these episodes? Have you ever had difficulties with the government while exhibit your art paints, books or other things related to you as an artist? Do you think that these problems related to art could had triggered the people when they decided to go in the streets to protest?
Bedri Baykam: «Almost two year ago Erdoğan went to Van and suddenly decided that Mehmet Aksoy’s Monument of Humanity was an ignominy, a monstrous thing, that deserved to be destroyed. I had been writing about that monument long before that, praising it for the brotherhood it projected between Turks and Armenians, without getting stuck in the same disputes like was there a genocide or not. As the President of the Turkish Artists Association, (UPSD) Together with our Executive Committee we organized press conferences, panel discussions and conferences. Actually I got stabbed coming out of one of those press conferences on April 18, 2011. Actually even his Ministry of Culture tried to dissuade Erdoğan from his decision but it didn’t work! Baruter’s cartoon irritated the religious people because the Turkish democracy and freedom of speech is unfortunately not as large as France or Italy! In the past I have had my novel “the Bone” forbidden in Turkey for 8 months before it was acquitted in court. Also 4 other books I published from other authors have been forbidden also. They were all acquitted. However these were before the AKP government. I have had court cases going both ways between me and Islamists several times. The AKP started to pressure the whole secular society and attack our lifestyle. No, I cannot say that it’s just the attacks on different art forms that triggered the Gezi Park clashes. It’s much deeper and complex than that. AKP is trying to get rid of all the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular lifestyle, the freedom of speech and democracy, they just hate all that while they call their government “advanced democracy”. This is like a dark black humour of our century, what can I say? Worse than a case where let’s sat Berlusconi would preside a commission called “ethics in politics”! And the tragic thing is that till the Gezi events started, most of Europe saw them as something-like christian-democrats. So they were mostly caught by surprise. The main reason of the start of everything was that even this apolitical new generation couldn’t face to be humiliated anymore, insulted any longer. They could not keep watching Erdoğan interfering in their everyday life more and more. It came spontaneously and suddenly what we call “the Empire of Fear” died that night on the 31st of May».
-          I have the sensation that Erdoĝan turned to be much more authoritarian especially since 2011 when he had almost 50% of the support in the election. Do you think that Erdoĝan has became much more authoritarian? When this transformation did take place?
Bedri Baykam: «Well, in fact he didn’t get 50% of votes from all the voters. Many people didn’t vote and due to the 10% barrage in order to enter the Parliament a lot of people voted for parties that can be considered as opposition forces but without any representative member in the Parliament. Let’s say he got votes from 40% of the Turks. But with his recorded figure getting close to 48% he did become more sure of himself and his ego got a boost out of it, that’s for sure. Let me tell you how he became more and more authoritarian: when he first came to power in 2002-2003, he felt quite intimidated to “take over” the Republic of Turkey. That’s quite a big enterprise to operate you know! Also he had the Army, the press, the Judiciary system, The universities, the youth against him. Then one by one, he started getting rid of all his opponents, thus became stronger and stronger. The stronger he became, the pitiless he was. So as time moved forward and he managed to fulfil his operation, he became who he is now, which is the real him. In fact he had a really masterly planned storyboard and stick to it faithfully. In the beginning he used the EU as a shield against the Army. At the end of their first term in 2007 I had a book published and the name was: “the AKP express: En Route for Teheran with a European Ticket” ! I still think it was the best way to summarize the situation. Later it became obvious to everyone that he was not trying to enter Europe and most of Europe didn’t want Turkey as a full member either but they needed each other. Europe needed Turkey for the market, and the AKP needed the EU for making sure they were going to stay in power instead of risking a memorandum at best by the army. His macho- Islamist leaning voters wanted to see some real changes in the “Neo-Ottoman Turkey”! So Erdoğan talking more and more, became obviously more intolerant towards seculars, kemalists, leftists, to please his electorate. Especially after the Army was totally left aside, he started feeling totally free to do whatever he wants to do. For him democracy means that if you got the most of electoral support, the country almost belongs to you and you could do anything! He has no idea that democracy also means human rights, freedom of speech, minority rights, peace and universal brotherhood values in large, equality of all citizens no matter what sex or religion»
-          I was impressed to see a huge diversity in the people decided to take part in the protest of last summer. There were people who normally don’t care so much about politics or even people that when they normally go in the streets to protest are on opposite sides (such as Kurdish people and the most nationalist persons among CHP or MHP supporters). I first thought it was a historic sign and something very positive. What do you think about that?
Bedri Baykam: « The love of freedom and the hate of the oppressor united all the far ends and many of them felt like brothers in the Park. As you say the most different parties got so close with one another there, all fighting for their right to be respected and live like a free democratic human being no matter the divergences in their thoughts. The Park was such a unique experience for the whole world: a unique experience where people from all different social classes got together: the jobless, the CEO’s, the artists, the university students, the grandmothers, the fruit sellers, the prostitutes, the gays, the ex-army members, the high school or elementary school kids, all colours were there! There was no money, you could go and pick up the food or drink you wanted. It was a real communal life. It could only be compared maybe to the 60′s and the Hippies in the care for sharing and loving each other. The Park that it would be compared the best to would be Berkeley’s People Park, heart of the anti-Vietnam protests in the 60′s. It was something very positive of course! The real feeling about democracy, for the first time since they were born! Most of them, more than half were young kids discovering politics for the first time! Everybody thought they would stay away from it forever in play station rooms night clubs or football matches. Even the harshest football rivals like Fenerbahçe-Beşiktaş and Galatasaray became brothers in arms dancing and chanting with each other and everybody else. I am so happy I have been there! Everybody who was there, will forever stay proud of it and remember it.
Most of the protesters lived under the economic level of the Americans occupying wall street maybe. But there was one thing more important than bread in their eyes and that was freedom and honour. This is what they wanted to retrieve out of these protests. Not that their economy was any good but those other values were even greater in their eyes. It’s more comparable to people who protested in 1968. Those Gezi Park protesters had nothing against the people living in Islamist lifestyles. Strangely enough, most of the Islamist lifestyle people can not stand any other lifestyle, they are close to zero tolerance, well thank God not all of them. The 68 generation besides love-sex freedom and sharing, did everything for peace. Which made the movement universal and historical in the most beautiful sense. The new kids, they preached peace as well and were very angry to the government but they all stayed without arms, protesting peacefully. They only tried to defend themselves…»
-          What is the main reasons of the protesters in your opinion?
Bedri Baykam: «As I said previously, they were tired of having to go through each day with the same aggression coming fom the Prime Minister. Like a high school’s master teacher shouting endlessly to the students! Also they couldn’t take any longer that the founder of the Republic be insulted every day, either openly or in between the lines. Erdoğan calling Atatürk and İnönü “two drunkards” while referring to the politicians who did the laws about alcohol at the beginning of the Republic was also among the drops that made the bucket overflow. Well later they said “he didn’t mean them” but that was nonsense, it Just like the green they were really sincerely trying to protect. The government and the Municipality really didn t care anything about ecology or the Park. But they started saying “hey, it s just not about the Park, you see?”. Well of course it’ s not “just about the Park! Before the Park, AKP had already started to attack the lifestyle in Beyoglu. Many bars and Cafes started to close down because they couldn’t deal with all the new law demands, no smoke inside, no table outside etc… Also they started the Taksim renovations without asking anything to the crowds using Taksim: to us, to students, to the Taxi drivers, to the artists of the opera house etc… It s a government that has been always proud to provoke, to scare and create the “Empire of Fear”. Can you believe that hundreds of thousands of people are being tabbed and listened to? They spread the rumors that the mobile phone can record the talks even when it’s switched off and thus you have husbands and wives who switch off their phone and go place it under theit bed and come to the kitchen to still.. WHİSPER. to each other to be able to criticize the government! Can you believe that!? Worse than being in the opposition during Stalin or comparable to! You treat people like trash for years and you get surprised when they remember they were in fact human beings with as much rights as Mr Erdoğan! Can you believe that right now supposedly the government’s prosecutors are busy looking for “outsider” triggering points to the clashes just because the whole world has sent solidarity messages to the Park’s protesters?? They still could not get the messages! Or maybe this  is how they want to look! Also the Prime Minister kept sending threats even after the protests: “I am having trouble keeping my 50% in their homes” he said in a defiant tone making overt threats. Than couple days later he made his own rally while there were all his equipped police with gas and water tanks blocking the ways to Taksim. And he asked funnily enough to his crowd:” Hey, Istanbul are we all united, are we all here?” It’s like a bad taste joke. No other leader since WWII has ever divided his country in two rival poles like that, that s unheard of.»
-          In EU media presented the situation as a clash between secular people and religious people, is the situation just like that or is there something more?
Bedri Baykam: «No, we cannot summarize it like that. It s freedom seeking people against oppressors or islamo- fascists, not religious people. We have nothing against religious people. It’s people who want to make the best use of power for themselves against democratic people. Provoked by Erdoğan, many islamist people see it as their rights to insult us in Twitter or Facebook. For instance he has been telling for days and days that protesters drank beer in the Dolmabahçe mosk without any proofs!! Just the same way Erdoğan keeps insulting the CHP with all its people history and “roots”… İt’ s the regular clash between secular and islamists but this time officialized by the Government siding itself with the İslamists. And let me remind you that officially this country is fully secular and you don t have the right to introduce ANY religion into politics according to the Constitution and and the political Parties laws and legislations. After the Constitutional changes’ referendum done in 2010, the Judiciary system is not independent any longer and depends on the Ministery of Justice and hence Erdoğan himself. Can you believe that the EU kept applauding this so-called reform canceling totally the checks and balances in the country’s regime? Nobody with the right mind can explain that!»
-          EU condemned what happened in Turkey but Angela Merkel was particularly violent in attacking Turkish government. Do you appreciate this kind of reactions from EU?
Bedri Baykam: «As I said in the previous question, the EU kept doing all the wrong things concerning the relations of Turkey and the EU. The persons who have been in charge of Turkey’s case like Arie Oostlander and Claudia Roth who kept applauding all the erasings of the Atatürk period from Turkey thinking that it would be good for democracy. It was so ridiculous to follow for anybody who knew what was going on in the country. The misunderstanding of Atatürk has been one of the biggest problems of the EU politicians and the european press. But on the other hand what can we say? Some people in Europe think that Erdoğan “democraticized Turkey”. İf they are so unable to follow Erdoğan while his times are being broadcast live every day, how do you expect them to know the times of Atatürk besides AKP or second republican collaborator journalists’ interpretations? I can understand Merkel’s behavior but this is not a solution. What she’s saying is accepting the presentation of AKP. They must force the real democraticization of Turkey and accept that so far the EU has done an extremely bad job in seeing whether Turkey’s democratic standards were being put aside or back during the AKP reign! They must push Turkey towards real universal and European standards of democracy»

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