A country of step children: Tuluhan Tekelioğlu’s “Üvey Evlat”

© Mine Krause

What a luxury it is

  • to wake up every morning and feel safe;
  • to see policemen on the street and know that you can ask them for help;
  • to say and write whatever you want whenever you want;
  • to dress the way you like;
  • to be free.

In this Western part of the world, the word “justice” has not lost its meaning yet. However, defenders of human rights in Turkey have to fight for this justice every single day. It takes courage. It takes energy. It takes strength. It takes sleepless nights. And, maybe most of all, it takes an endless belief in the good of mankind.

© Mine Krause

Last week, Tuluhan Tekelioğlu came to the Turkish film festival (Festival du Cinéma de Turquie) in Paris to present one of her latest documentaries called “Üvey Evlat” (“Step Child”) at the cinema Le Brady. Being a well-known journalist, writer and director of documentaries at the same time, she has the clear-sightedness, idealism and analytic mind it takes to put the unspeakable and unthinkable into words and pictures. What can you tell about a country on a screen in 53 minutes? You will be surprised. In her documentary, Tuluhan Tekelioğlu succeeded in creating a mosaic of many different voices: artists, actors, sculptors, writers, musicians, politicians, poets – all of them tell their personal stories about how they have been struggling for democracy in their homeland. Politically speaking, they are regarded as traitors of their country. They are Turkey’s “step children”, loved by one part of the population, hated by the other. Among them, we find pianist and composer Fazıl Say, writer Ahmet Ümit, sculptor Mehmet Aksoy, musician and writer Zülfü Livaneli, poet and journalist Sunay Akın, actress Şebnem Sönmez and many others. They all have something in common: their passion for art and their ardent wish to struggle for a more democratic Turkey. To this very day, they are all punished for their idealism. Most of them lost their jobs. Their works have been censured or destroyed. Lawsuits are regularly filed against them. However, they continue to fight with all the strength that characterizes those who have a clear conscience.

At the end, Tuluhan Tekelioğlu answered the questions of her audience in flawless French. Highly aesthetic in terms of sensitive filming techniques and musical background, this documentary is indeed a real work of art. It shows us what you can put into 53 minutes: Bitter truth. Profound idealism. And indestructible hope.

© Mine Krause

Recently, Tuluhan Tekelioğlu’s book of the same name was published where the 18 interviews partly shown in the documentary were printed in their entire length.

  • “What I can do is to grow flowers and to understand people. To spread joy, to read, to dance, to sing songs. As an actor, I can add beauty to this world. This is the path I choose” (Şebnem Sönmez, theatre, movie and TV actress).
  • “We need to learn how to love one another. The first thing, I will teach my son is to love. Then he will learn how to struggle for what he loves. And he will learn how much courage this takes” (Barış Atay, actor).
  • “If I keep my mouth shut, my children and their kids will have to face an even more terrifying future”(Ahmet Ümit, writer).
  • “Whatever happens, the flame flickering within an artist will never die” (Arda Aktar, Opera singer).
  • “We have one single future. And it is us who determine today what this future will be like” (Levent Üzümcü, actor).
  • “Art makes you free… People have become like robots. They don’t think, they don’t want anything, they no longer have any passions. Art turns us into more beautiful human beings” (Güvenç Dağüstün, opera singer).
  • “I have not allowed fear to invade me (…). If fear had got hold of me, I wouldn’t have been on the streets. I wouldn’t have been an activist” (Defne Halman, actor and activist).

    Genco Erkal
    © Mine Krause
  • “If you believe in what you do, if you believe in what you say (…), this makes you stand up for it and keeps you going” (Genco Erkal, actor).
  • “One of the reasons why I returned to Turkey was that I wanted to create beautiful things in my own country” (Fazıl Say, pianist and composer).
  • “I want to die like Michelangelo. Sculpture to the last minute. Passion to the last minute.” (Mehmet Aksoy, sculptor).
  • “Right now, we are living in a country with no judicial system. (…). Freedom is the source of creativity. In an atmosphere of freedom, there will be things you don’t like and things you like.  You take what you like and leave what you don’t. After all, what we don’t like can nevertheless be beautiful in its own way” (Ertuğrul Günay, former Minister of Culture and Tourism).
  • “We all want to be immortal. Some try it by writing novels, others by writing poems or making movies. I wanted to become immortal by planting trees. Every tree makes the world a more beautiful place.” (Mustafa Alabora, actor).
  • “We should have been moving forward but exactly the opposite is happening. We are moving backwards… That is what dictatorship is all about” (Müjdat Gezen, actor).
  • “Maybe this is a defence mechanism you develop in prison to survive torture: When you are in jail, you need to laugh, you need to make jokes or do something else that gives you hope” (Zülfü Livaneli, musician and writer).
  • “Throughout history, Turkey has been a country of forbidden books” (Sunay Akın, poet and journalist).
  • “There’s nothing left to be afraid of. We have been through everything. It has become difficult to breath in this country. We try to keep up our hopes because we don’t want to lose our creativity” (Orçun Sünear, musician).

    Fazıl Say
    © Mine Krause
  • “You can’t hinder me, you can’t wipe me out, you can’t make me disappear, I will always exist and remain your trouble” (Metin Uca, narrator and writer).
  • “Art teaches us to be analytical. It makes friendships and communication grow. I know for a fact that a city – regardless of how modern it is – won’t make people happy if it has no culture and art to offer them.” (Yılmaz Büyükerşen, politician and current Head of Central Municipality of Eskişehir).

These are the voices of Turkey’s step children. Even though they are not wanted by the government and everything possible is done to make their resistance disappear, they still love their country with all their heart. These step children are Turkey’s “real children”. Those who don’t close their eyes when they see injustice. Those who speak up for human rights. Those who fight for democracy. Those who don’t fear death. Those who have nothing to be ashamed of when they look into the mirror. Turkey’s step children tell us that their country will soon see better days. With her documentary and her book, Tuluhan Tekelioğlu gave them a voice. By asking the right questions, she showed us that art is not just a hobby but real work which – especially in Turkey – is synonymous of social and political responsibility. Together with all step children of her country, Tuluhan Tekelioğlu says: “You can change the world. You can do it.” 

Paris, 04/04/2017      © Mine Krause

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