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Ten thousand tickets have already been sold for the Anatolian Festival in the Turkish student city of Eskisehir. The day before the festival began, organizer Serdar Can and his crew were working hard to prepare the stage, when the police entered the site.
“We had to stop building immediately,” Kahn says. “An order from the governor,” they said. He didn’t know what he had heard. Everything was ready to welcome the festival-goers. A day later, Kahn received an official letter from the governor. The festival has been canceled for safety reasons. It is said that “terrorist groups” planned demonstrations. Details are not mentioned.
A ridiculous argument, according to the festival organizer. This is a deliberate attempt to restrict our freedom.” It soon became clear that religious groups had called for the ban because “immoral” things would happen at the festival.
After two tough years with Covid, the festival season in Turkey was supposed to run at full speed again this summer. Usually, during the summer, young Turkish people celebrate at dozens of rock and pop festivals across the country. But this year it rained cancellation, the counter at seventeen. From concerts by individual artists to multi-day rock festivals. The decision to cancel the festivities usually comes shortly before the start.
For example, the governor of Kocaeli canceled a concert by popular Kurdish singer Einur Dogan in May because her music was “inappropriate”. In June, the cancellation of a concert by singer Melek Musso in Sparta sparked outrage. Conservative organizations have called for the ban because, in the singer’s eyes, she “encourages immorality” with her dress style.
They use these types of festivals to promote LGBTI and homosexuality. Of course we are against that.
At the Cannes Festival in Eskisehir, where the country’s biggest bands and artists will perform, Muslim youth organizations campaigned against the festival on social media. They posted a message with their objections, such as co-ed camping of boys and girls and drinking alcohol.
Mehmet Yaroglu, head of one of those organizations explains: “Festivals are places where young people are encouraged to drink alcohol. Where things happen that don’t fit with our faith and the culture of the Turkish nation.” According to him, he goes further. “They use these kinds of festivals to promote LGBT and homosexuality. Of course we’re against that.”
Yaroglu says his club is a non-governmental organization and does not have the authority to ban festivals. But he is glad their anti-festival campaign has prompted the governor to take action. “There are limits to freedom,” says Yaroglu indignantly. “Before you know it, everyone will be walking down the street naked!”
Festivals are always canceled by conservatives. These are the regional officials appointed by President Erdogan. The government denies taking any targeted action against the festivals and says state governors are making a decision on this.
But critics are convinced that these decisions are part of a political agenda ahead of next year’s elections. They argue that Erdogan wants to placate the most conservative groups in society at a time of economic turmoil that has made his party worse than ever.
After the Million Feast Folk Festival was canceled on August 23 in the seaside resort of Fattah, opposition parties are making their voices heard, too. In a tweet, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on conservatives to stop canceling events as they severely restrict youth freedom. The hashtag #festivalimeDokunma, “Don’t touch my festival,” is widely used on social media.
“A place where opposition comes”
This year, six Sardar Cannes festivals are planned, three of which have been cancelled. The financial damage to Can is significant.
At the TrakyaFest location on the Marmara Sea near Tekirdag, he runs across the stage to check if the band is ready on time. He says it is a miracle that this festival continues. Until the last minute, he took into account that this party would also be cancelled. “It just got so unexpected,” he says. “As a result, people wait until the last minute to buy tickets. That makes it very stressful.”
According to Kahn, there is not only a political agenda behind the abolition of festivals, but also conservative. “This is a place where opposition comes in. At these kinds of festivals, people meet like-minded people. This is not loved from above.”
Before the bands begin, the little ones hang out at camp. In fact, Student Fako had tickets to Zeytinli Fest, Turkey’s longest-running festival, which was canceled in early August. He is angry. “You plan everything, you take time off work to go to a festival. Then all of a sudden it just doesn’t happen.”
Another visitor, Tolay, is happy to finally find a festival that hasn’t been canceled. “This is a place where we feel free. They can’t take that away from us.”