Governor bans Istanbul’s first municipal-backed Kurdish play

The district governor in Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpaşa district on Tuesday served the actors preparing to take stage at the Istanbul City Theatre a notice banning a Kurdish-language play just hours before curtain over terrorism propaganda.

The 106-year-old institution was set to host its first Kurdish-language play, an adaptation of Italian playwright Dario Fo’s Trumpets and Raspberries, staged by the Mesopotamia Cultural Centre’s (MKM) Teatra Jiyana Nû troupe.

The move was part of the municipality-run theatres’ efforts to support arts communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The day will come when arts are free,” Istanbul Municipality’s City Theatres Director Ceyhun Ünlü told reporters. “We will not remain silent.”

In a statement released in Turkish and Kurdish, actors Rugeş Kırıcı and Ömer Şahin said the police served them the governorate notice hours before curtain, accusing the play of “disrupting public security.”

“We will stage our plays in these theatres. We will uphold our language and our art,” the statement said.

Director Nazmi Karaman said the ban was “against Kurdish theatre itself,” and called on all actors in the country for a display of solidarity, news website Duvar reported.

“This is a shame for all troupes dealing with theatre and arts that a Dario Fo play was banned at this day and age.”

Pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) issued a statement condemning the ban.

“A Kurdish-language play is banned in Istanbul, home to five million Kurds. This is the fascist mentality we challenge. These people can’t push back one step a language that survived the most violent practices of the September 12 military coup,” the HDP said in a statement released on Twitter.

“My language is my honour,” HDP concluded in Kurdish.

“These are days when those who begged for votes with Kurdish religious books in hand come to ban plays in Kurdish,” fashion designer Barbaros Şansal said in a tweet.

Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya responded to criticisms on Twitter, saying the play had been banned “not for being in the Kurdish language, but for containing terrorist propaganda.”

According to the governor, the play would have disseminated propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for Kurdish self rule for over four decades.