Turkey’s PM threatens theaters after actor ‘humiliates’ daughter

The Guardian reports: In a tale which could have come straight from the time of the sultans, when one wrong word could seal your fate, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is threatening to withdraw state support from the country’s theatres after his daughter said she was insulted by an actor during a play.

Erdogan, who dabbled in amateur dramatics as a student, has a reputation for wearing his heart on his sleeve. But his tirades against “arrogant, alcoholic actors” and an arts establishment he claims holds ordinary people in contempt have shocked Turkey.

Theatres cannot take government subsidies and then criticise the hand that feeds them, he said. “They have started to humiliate and look down on us and all conservatives.”

Actors took to the streets in protest after civil servants were handed artistic control of Istanbul theatres overnight last month in a separate row over an “obscene” play.

“If support is needed, then we the government can support the plays we want,” Erdogan said. “I am privatising the theatre. No theatres are being run by the state in almost any developed country. Here there is freedom. When we privatise the theatres you can play whatever you want. Sorry, but you cannot get your salary from the municipality and then criticise the management. There is no such absurdity.”

He railed against the “despotic arrogance” of intellectuals who always think they know best: “For God’s sake, who are you? From where do you get the authority to express opinions on every issue, to argue that you know everything? Are theatres your monopoly in this country? Are arts your monopoly? These days are gone.”

What some are calling “Turkey’s culture war” began in April last year when his youngest daughter, Sümeyye Erdogan, 30, walked out of a performance of Young Osman at the Ankara state theatre. Its story of a young, reforming sultan overthrown by a boorish military has a rich echo for the Erdogans and the AK party, who have broken the army’s hold on Turkey. What exactly happened during an improvised sequence when the uncouth soldiers growl at the audience is still disputed, but she claims she was humiliated by an actor, Tolga Tuncer, who picked on her because she was wearing a headscarf, mimicking her chewing gum and making offensive “haka-style” gestures at her.

Sümeyye Erdogan went to university overseas – studying in the US and at the London School of Economics – because headscarves were banned at the time in Turkish academic institutions. In an impassioned letter to Tuncer on Facebook, she appealed for the kind of tolerance she was accorded in Britain and the US. “As an artist you should be first to treat people who are different with respect … you had better get used to people with headscarves. Half of the people of Turkey are women and many of them wear headscarves. I don’t want to live my life fighting you. I will continue to love art and theatre and continue attending the theatre with my headscarf.” [Continue reading…]

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