Turkey's latest attack on the arts: A provincial governor cancels a long-awaited music festival

Eskişehir Municipality. Photo by Seyfi Şeren licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Just three days ahead of Anadolu Fest a large music festival that was to be held in Turkey's Eskişehir province, the local governor office announced that all events, including sit-ins, concerts, festivals, and demonstrations will be canceled from May 10–25 in order to “ensure public order and public security, prevent crime, protect others’ rights and freedoms and prevent the spread of violence.” While the statement did not specifically mention the upcoming music festival, the event falls under the calendar days mentioned in the statement. In response, music festival organizer Serdar Can said they will appeal the governor's announcement in administrative court, adding that the festival already sold around 10,000 tickets. The sudden decision of the local governor's office led to a public outcry online, with #FestivalimeDokunma [Don't touch my festival] trending briefly on Twitter.

The Anadolu Fest was intended to be the largest gathering in the province since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. The four-day event was set to begin on May 12 and would feature countless of Turkey's best-known singers. In a separate statement issued by Anadolu Fest, the organizers said they were shocked by the governor's decision, especially after the festival applied for and was granted the necessary permissions:

We condemn this unlawful behavior depriving thousands of young people from their love of art. Our legal processes regarding the decision started and we will continue to inform you, our valuable participants, about the process.

Among those criticizing the decision were members of state opposition parties.

The decision issued today by the Eskisehier governorship is an interference with a lifestyle. It is a special decision, issued to prevent youth from having fun. It is another blow to the music industry that struggled since the the start of the pandemic.

Musicians also weighed in. Acclaimed pianist Dengin Ceyhan tweeted:

While it is already challenging to hear our cherished artists due to the pandemic, and the economic crisis, banning a scheduled festival is shameful and unjust towards the artists, stage teams, and music lovers.

During the pandemic, musicians were among the worst affected by the lockdowns. According to statistics from the Musicians and Performers Union (Müzik-Sen) from September 2020, at least 100 musicians committed suicide during the pandemic. Many of the country's one million registered musicians do not have insurance and therefore could not claim state support benefits. And just when restrictions were being lifted, new restrictions slashed any hope for a speedy recovery for Turkey's music industry.

In June, 2021, President and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey was lifting the remaining restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic effective July 1, 2021. However, as of the same date, all music events would have to end by midnight. “Excuse me, but nobody has the right to disturb anyone at night,” said Erdoğan. The hashtag #Kusurabakiyoruz (we don't excuse you) began trending immediately on Turkish Twitter, with scores of citizens and musicians expressing their displeasure with the new ban.

In March 2022, although most of the remaining restrictions such as wearing masks outdoors and using a contact tracing app when entering public spaces were lifted, the music ban remained. At the time, musicians flooded social media with yet another trending hashtag #MüzikYasağıKalksın [Lift the music ban]. Prominent musicians and artists shared their concerns, arguing the ban was “ideological” rather than related to public health. In a tweet, musician Gaye Su Akyol tweeted,  “As there is no reasonable explanation [for keeping the music ban], let us say: The music ban is an entirely ideological and reactionist practice and it must be urgently lifted.” Others like the musician Edis, described the measures as “discriminatory.” “While the economy is in such a bad condition, I really cannot understand this discrimination against the music and entertainment industry,” tweeted the singer.

Commenting on the festival ban, actor Orhan Aydin asked why the government is banning something that might ease escalating tension in the country:

What does the governor think art and culture is? When the country is on fire, why would it ban a festival that is trying to brighten the mood, color it with songs and poetry? The people of Eskisehir must speak up, who does the country belong to?

Situated just a few hours away from Istanbul and Ankara, Eskisehir [translated, old town] is one of the most popular destinations for university students. The city was featured in the 2019 LonelyPlanet guide where visitors can find “pedestrian-friendly green spaces, colourful historic district and photogenic network of canals.”

The chances of the festival resuming are slim, though not for lack of effort from music lovers. While the festival organizers vowed to challenge the ban through courts, performers also promised to help. A popular Turkish rock music singer, Haluk Levent said he will personally speak with local authorities:

I too was going to perform at the festival on Thursday. I just heard that the festival was not allowed. I will immediately speak with the local authorities. I wish we did not have to speak with the authorities about this situation.

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