Ten thousand tickets had already been sold, and some of the biggest stars of Turkish rock music had announced themselves for a four-day festival: At the “Anadolu Festival” in the western Turkish university town of Eskisehir, young Turks wanted to celebrate spring this weekend for the first time in three years without pandemic bans. But nothing will come of it now. The authorities banned the festival. Critics accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of waging a campaign against music and the Western lifestyle.
Eskisehir, which is halfway between Istanbul and Ankara with a population of 900,000, is a liberal city with many students. Mayor Yilmaz Büyükersen of the opposition CHP party has ruled Eskisehir for 23 years. But more powerful than the mayor is the governor Erol Ayyildiz, appointed by the central government, who has now banned almost all events in the province until May 25. As a reason, he explained that public order must be protected – from what danger, he did not say.
The organizers of the “Anadolu Festival” are certain that Ayyildiz’s ban was aimed at the planned music weekend. They appealed the decision and continued to set up the stage in the hope of a positive court decision. When the police banned that too, the organizers postponed the festival to June. Whether it can then take place remains to be seen.
Erdogan critics see a political trend behind the ban. CHP MP Ali Mahir Basarir accused the government of declaring anyone to be an enemy who did not conform to its conservative Islamic world view. The columnist Mehmet Yilmaz from the news platform T24 wrote that a “lifestyle police” wanted to impose an Islamic ideology on the Turks.
Erdogan’s opponents find evidence of this not only in Eskisehir. A traditional street festival dedicated to the national liquor, raki, has been banned for years in southern Turkey’s Adana. In Istanbul, the public prosecutor’s office has now launched investigations into a group of young people who met to drink raki during the Islamic month of fasting and showed pictures of the boozy gathering on social media.
Conservative groups in Batman, in south-eastern Anatolia, were up in arms about the guest performance of a singer because the artist, with her skimpy clothes, violated “the values of the people”. A nationalist politician railed on television about an actress whose plunging ball gown was a “crime”.
The authorities often use the defense against supposedly reprehensible influences on children and families as leverage. In recent years, festivals across Turkey have been banned for being sponsored by alcohol companies or for selling beer. Turkey has not participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since 2013 and has not broadcast the event on television.
This is justified by the fact that LGBT artists appear in the competition – which the children watching cannot be expected to do. The governor’s office in Istanbul has been banning the LGBT movement’s pride parades for years. Local politicians from Erdogan’s AKP party make life difficult for alcohol shops in their cities.
Islamic conservative circles welcome the course. The ban on the festival in Eskisehir prevented “young people from being poisoned with alcohol and drugs for days” and that the city had to experience scenes of “moral neglect”, explained a coalition of conservative groups.
During the pandemic, Erdogan imposed a general ban on music from midnight, which hit discotheques, clubs and live organizers hard. The ban now only applies from 1 a.m., but music and dancing until dawn are still prohibited. Columnist Yilmaz asked what’s wrong with music in closed rooms if the volume is turned down late at night. He answered his own question right away: This isn’t about noise pollution, it’s about telling other people how they should live.
Accusations of Islamism against the devout Muslim Erdogan have accompanied the president since the beginning of his career in the 1990s. The head of state always emphasizes that in Turkey everyone can be happy in their own way. But at the same time he is pursuing the goal of raising “pious youth” and accuses his opponents of making a mockery of the religious values of believing Turks. As an example, he cites an alleged incident during the Gezi protests in 2013. At that time, demonstrators drank beer in a mosque, Erdogan said again recently – although the muezzin of the mosque had exposed the story as a fairy tale years ago.
The memory of the Gezi demonstrations play a role in festival bans like in Eskisehir. Erdogan says the Gezi protest wave was an attempted coup. An Istanbul court sentenced nine people in April for allegedly directing anti-government protests. To this day, mass gatherings of young secular Turks remind the government of the Gezi trauma. “The fear of the AKP is still fresh,” wrote the opposition newspaper BirGün.