Ankara playing politics with COVID-19 restrictions, say Turkish musicians


Turkey’s musicians feel unfairly singled out with the industry virtually ignored amid a nationwide post-lockdown reopening of everything from health clubs to bars and restaurants, Agence France-Press (AFP) reported on Tuesday.

Musicians are pointing the finger at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative politics for being placed on a backburner, AFP said, in the country that remains sharply polarised.

Following a 17- day lockdown that ended earlier this month, Turkey’s restaurants and cafes have reopened at 50 percent capacity with reduced hours, while curfews have changed to night-time, starting at 9 p.m. daily. But the government has failed to address the fate of large swathes of the entertainment industry, which have effectively been unemployed for over a year. Concert halls, theatres and other live music venues remain closed.

Musicians “symbolise the ‘secular’ and inappropriately ‘hedonistic’ lifestyle that the government dislikes,” Doğan Gürpınar, a historian at Istanbul Technical University, told AFP. “It is not surprising to see the government reflect its cultural preferences whenever it has the chance.”

Meanwhile, Istanbul’s opposition municipality has rolled up its sleeves to help, providing musicians with stages to sing and dance on open squares.

Seventy-one-year-old Vedat Sakman, an artist who rents a cafe with a performance stage in the Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, explains how many musicians are in a bad place.

“There are musicians who apply to the city so that they can pay their 100-lira ($11) water bills in instalments,’’ Sakman said, adding that the Turkish music scene had not seen such peril since during the 1980 military coup.

“In those days, we would close the doors and perform from midnight until 5:00 a.m. But now it is much worse. There is nothing — nothing,” he added.

Musicians without other sources of income and insurance do not qualify for state benefits or bank loans, AFP noted, leaving them to suffer more than most during the pandemic.



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