• July 16, 2024
 Freedom of Art Under Siege: Turkish cultural festivals face ongoing censorship struggles

Freedom of Art Under Siege: Turkish cultural festivals face ongoing censorship struggles

In a disturbing trend, the creative and cultural industries in Turkey have been grappling with mounting pressures and intimidation tactics targeting art and artists. These forms of censorship, both overt and covert, have been steadily normalized through various channels, raising significant concerns. The impact of this censorship spans from self-censorship by artists to direct interference in the freedom of artistic expression.

Censorship in Turkey’s Creative Landscape

This issue extends its tentacles from official institutions to the private sector, involving municipalities and even social media trolls. The consequences are far-reaching, affecting musicians’ attire at concerts, the personal lives of artists, the content of films, the political stances of directors, literary events, and festivals. Most recently, the controversy surrounding the inclusion of a documentary in the competition selection at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, Turkey’s longest-running film festival, has brought this issue to the forefront.

Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival: A Battleground for Artistic Freedom

The situation escalated until the documentary titled “Kanun Hukmu,” directed by Nejla Demirci and shedding light on the struggles of public workers dismissed through statutory decrees, was removed from the festival’s selection. The festival, which had previously experienced controversy in 2014 with the exclusion of a documentary related to the Gezi Resistance, faced another uproar as the documentary “Kanun Hukmu” shared a similar fate, leading to the festival’s cancellation for the 60th time.

Artists and Organizations Taking a Stand

In the face of such censorship, artists and professional organizations have taken a firm stance against these challenges. The repercussions of these decisions resonate throughout the creative and cultural sectors, impacting filmmakers, poets, writers, painters, theater actors, and directors alike. History reveals that oppressive governments have detained, imprisoned, and subjected artists to pressure and torture, leading to the banning of their works.

Archival Records Shedding Light on Censorship History

One of the striking developments is the availability of archival records on censorship decisions made by the state over the years. Notably, Prof. Dr. Ali Karadoğan and Prof. Dr. S. Ruken Öztürk have extensively examined the history of censorship in Turkish cinema through their research on Censorship Decision Books from 1932 to 1988. Their findings reveal that the reasons for censorship have remained consistent, but the priorities may shift with changing political landscapes, influencing what audiences are allowed to watch.

The Role of Film Festivals in the Creative Landscape

In this challenging environment, film festivals play a crucial role in providing a platform for films that often fall outside the purview of major distribution companies. They serve as vital cultural spaces where filmmakers and enthusiasts converge. However, the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, Turkey’s oldest and longest-running festival, has experienced significant interference from festival management, leading to controversial decisions and a festival cancellation.

Artistic Resilience and Unity:

Despite the pressures and threats that persistently loom over artists, some remain resolute in addressing societal and global issues through their work, while others opt for a more conformist approach. These choices, borne out of the challenging conditions, will have a lasting impact on the history of cinema in Turkey.

The Fight for Artistic Freedom Continues:

In response to recent events, juries and industry associations have united against the censorship practices, offering their support for filmmakers and their commitment to safeguarding artistic freedom. The festival’s cancellation reflects the broader challenges faced by the cultural and artistic community, who must continue to stand together and fight for the preservation of their creative spaces in the face of mounting pressures. In a time when art is under systematic control and scrutiny, unity and determination are essential for the survival of Turkey’s creative and cultural industries.