On The Edge Of A New Struggle

by Hakan Silahsizoglu

Istanbul, 25. August 2016. Turkey had its most intense night in its history on the 15th of July with the failed coup attempt. The incident certainly shocked everyone no matter which political party or belief they have and for the first time in the whole country it felt like people were united and had one voice which cursed the failed coup attempt.

While the country is still in shock, many government officers have been taken away from work, mainly from the army, police, educational institutions and judiciary. Many people including artists are concerned because of the actions taken by the Government especially while state of emergency is in place. In the first couple of weeks of state of emergency, the Government cancelled all the annual leaves including the ones that were already started and asked "government officers" to come back to work as soon as possible no matter what department they work for and where they are in the world at that time. The officers who are in the country were also forbidden to go abroad. If an officer serves The Turkish Government for more then 10 years they are eligible for a green passport which allows them to have a free entry to many countries in the world, but after the state of emergency government officers were not able to go abroad as their green passports were crossed checked by Ankara.

Harbiye Muhsin Ertugrul Stage 560Das Harbiye Muhsin Ertugrul-Theater. © CeeGee CC BY-SA 3.0

No profession for cowards

According to law in Turkey, anyone on permanent contract at Turkish State Theatres including actors, directors, technicians and everyone else are government officers. Some of the Municipal Theatres are run under the same rules although there are some exceptions.

Not even a month after the events, some permanent members of the Darülbedayi (Turkey’s oldest theatre, also called Istanbul Municipal Theatre) announced that they were suspended from duty. In total seven permanent artists* were taken out of work during an investigation even though those artists are well known in modern Turkey and its clear that they have no ties to the people behind the coup. One of the artists, Sevinç Erbulak, who has been on Istanbul Municipality Theatres' stage for the last 25 years said that "I wish this mistake will be corrected as soon as possible. Art exists because life is not perfect. And art is not a profession for cowards ..."

On top of that 17 actors, 1 dramaturge, 1 musician and 1 choreographer, in total 20 artists** who worked on temporary contracts announced that their relation with Istanbul Municipal Theatres were ended after a telephone call on the 1st of August. In their joint statement these artists mentioned that "they were not able to get an official response since the process started. They don't know by whom it was decided to let them go."

theaterbrief tuerkei12Demonstration gegen den Putschversuch in Tokat in der Nacht des 15. Juli 2016
© Lubunya CC BY-SA 4.0

Who is going to play?

Currently municipal theatres work with a subcontractor company to employ artists, technicians and all other crew on temporary basis. Those contracts are renewed each year. Recently, some of Istanbul Municipal Theatres’ actors with temporary contracts were sacked by a subcontractor company which describes itself as an "organisation for industrial cleaning and consumer goods industry trade limited company." Its believed that, because of those ended contracts, around 16 plays from last season can not be performed anymore. Only 6 of the plays from the previous season can still be performed with the artists that are still working at Istanbul Municipal Theatres’ 8 different stages in the city.

Currently, some artists are working with the Municipal Theatre Artists’ Union (İŞTİSAN) to take action. The Actors Union in Turkey (Oyuncular Sendikası) is also preparing to apply for a reemployment lawsuit for the artists that got sacked. In the meantime lots of people also spread the word of this injustice on social media with hashtags like #MeslektaşımaDokunma (don't touch my colleague).

theaterbrief tuerkei13Das Verwaltungsgebäude der türkischen Staatstheater in Ankara
© Atilim Gunes Baydin CC BY-SA 3.0

Playing with the fire

It must also be mentioned that the Turkish Government has been long planning to change how the state distributes the funds for theatres in the country. There is a law draft known as TUSAK that aims to abolish the State Theatres in order to turn the theatre market into one for "independent theatres". This extremely questionable decision would result in a lot of permanent artists either retiring or being transferred to different departments of the government. City Theatres throughout the country would also be effected by this new law because of which actors would be placed into different departments in the municipalities.

Also, default & hidden auto-censorship already exists in Turkish theatres. Some of the subsidised municipal theatres in Turkey, especially the ones in cities where the majority recently voted for the opposition, currently had to re-arrange their season repertoire because they didn't want to attract unnecessary attention while the state of emergency still enables the Government to move quickly and without informing the parliament. Nobody wants to "play with fire" right now. 


(*) Sevinç Erbulak, Ragıp Yavuz, İrem Arslan, Arda Aydın, Mahperi Mertoğlu, Kemal Kocatürk, Hüseyin Sorgun.

(**) Ada Alize Ertem, Ahmet Saraçoğlu, Berna Adıguzel. Burçak Çöllü, Cem Baza, Ceren Hacımuratoğlu, Destan Batmaz, Edip Tepeli, Gürkan Başbuğ, Irmak Örnek, Lale Kabul, Mert Aykul, Nilay Yazıcıoğlu, Özgün Akaçça, Pervin Bağdat, Selin Türkmen,Senem Oluz, Sinem Özlek, Ümit Bülent Dinçer, Yeşim Koçak.


Hakan Silahsizoglu30 140Hakan Silahsızoğlu ist Produzent, Schauspieler und Übersetzer. Er ist in der Türkei aufgewachsen und lebt heute in Istanbul und London. Er ist Mitglied von The Fence, einem internationalen Netzwerk von Stückautoren. Darüber hinaus koordiniert er auch das türkische Kommitee von Eurodram, dem größtem Theater-Übersetzer-Netzwerk in Europa. Außerdem ist Hakan Silahsızoğlu auch Fellow der ISPA (International Society of Performing Arts).


#1 Theaterbrief aus Istanbul: leider EnglischElizabet HIntner 2016-09-15 11:44
Da ich kein englisch kann, finde ich es sehr sehr schade das dieser Brief nicht auf deutsch ist, das hätte ich mir gewünscht.
#2 Theaterbrief aus Istanbul: schadeirgendwasisimmer 2016-09-15 15:19
Man kann es sich auch mit größerer Mühe und über einen längeren Zeitraum übersetzen. Es ist aber auch kein besonders gutes Englisch, Freude macht das da nicht... Deshalb ist es schade, dass es keiner übersetzt hat, dem Englisch geläufig ist. Schon wegen der eventuell nötigen Solidarisierung mit türkischen Theatermenschen?

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