Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Word on the street

If it's Saturday, there must be a protest on İstiklal Caddesi. Of course, the same is true on most Sundays, and plenty of weekdays too. Anyone who regularly transits Istanbul's busiest thoroughfare can pick out the chants from blocks away and say to themselves with just a glance as the marchers pass by, "Oh look, the union folks are out again" or "Hey, there go the communists."

Some regular presences don't fade into the scenery quite as quickly, of course. The sight of the stalwart Saturday Mothers, quietly displaying pictures of missing loved ones to passersby, never fails to pull at my emotions. But the sight of something decidedly different from the usual fare -- a sea of Turkish flags in light blue instead of red; tables and chairs held aloft -- can turn the street itself into a news source.

Walking up İstiklal around dusk this past weekend, I came across a circle of people near Galatasaray, the avenue's halfway point and a major landmark. From a distance, it looked like the kind of crowd that gathers around street musicians for a few minutes and indeed a song was carrying out of the center of the group. The crowd, though, was thick enough to block the "nostalgic tramway" in both directions, and as I drew closer, I saw the musicians were backed by dozens of placards: "Selling concert tickets is not a crime." "Revolutionary art cannot be obstructed." "Listening to Grup Yorum is not a crime."

A headline I had skimmed over earlier suddenly made sense. The members of Grup Yorum, a band that expresses left-wing political sentiments in its songs, have previously become the target of police raids; one musician is still in jail after being taken into custody in mid-December.

Last week, six fans, including four university students, were sentenced to between 1 and 13 years in jail for selling tickets to or attending a concert featuring the group. The charges? Being "members of a terrorist organization" or "spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization" -- increasingly catch-all accusations that seem in this case somewhat akin to jailing M.I.A. fans because of her support for the Tamil Tigers or charging Clash listeners with inciting riots.

UPDATE (Feb. 28, 2012): Posters advertising a Grup Yorum concert in the western city of İzmit have been taken down ahead of the show as part of what officials called a general effort to "get rid of environmental pollution." The ticketing company Biletix (the Turkish arm of the much-reviled global firm Ticketmaster) has meanwhile denied reports that its sales agents refused to sell tickets for the group's shows "because they provided funds for terrorism."


Unknown said...

a very good example of the "advanced democracy" this goverment has been advocating.

Aynur Khan said...

i wish i was there too :(