Actor Levent Üzümcü: No venues to put on my plays in Anatolia

A famous Turkish actor dismissed from his job at a state theatre for his vocal criticism of the government has pledged to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, saying there is no rule of law in Turkey any more.

Levent Üzümcü was sacked from his job at Istanbul’s City Theatre in 2015 after criticising the government’s heavy-handed suppression of protests that spread across the country in 2013 over plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul. They were the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist party came to power in 2002.

“In Turkey, there is no justice or law anymore. Those who claim the country is governed under the rule of law are lying. It is as if the law is clamped tightly between two lips, not independent,” Üzümcü told Ahval in an interview.

The management of the theatre where Üzümcü worked from 1996 supported him, their most famous and most award-winning actor. A star of the popular TV sitcom “Avrupa Yakası”, Üzümcü was a big draw for audiences. But officials within Istanbul municipality, which owns the City Theatre, insisted he be removed from his job.

“I went to the administrative court that deals with civil servants. I said I had been thrown out of my job unfairly, they said ‘no, it was fair’,” Üzümcü said. “Then I went to the higher court, the council of state, but there are no judges left at the council of state. They have all been appointed to FETÖ cases,” he said, referring to the Fethullahist Terror Organisation, the name Turkey gives to the followers of Fethullah Gülen, who it says carried out the failed 2016 coup attempt.

Levent Üzümcü
Fotoğraflar ve video: Efe Naci Akyüz

Tens of thousands have been jailed and more than 100,000 have lost their jobs after being accused of links to Gülen, who lives in exile in the United States.

“I am waiting for the council of state to examine my case. Most probably it will reject it, then I’ll go to the Constitutional Court, they’ll reject it too and finally I’ll apply to the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.

Turkey has thousands of cases against it at the European court, which has warned it could become submerged under the weight of the complaints against the Turkish government following Ankara’s ongoing crackdown on Gülenists, Kurdish activists and liberal Turks who supported the Gezi protests.

Üzümcü criticised many in Turkey’s acting community who had chosen to remain silent.

“In this huge Turkish theatrical community, specifically within the award winning theatres, 99 percent of actors who I thought were friends have refused to speak out, they have elected to remain silent,” he said.

He posted on Twitter, speaking of his disappointment.

“All of you who have left us to stand alone, in a world we all used to believe in, by remaining silent just so you can continue to earn a few more cents … If we all protested together, they would not be able to take away our rights … but unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way, you all have put aside your principles for another day,” Üzümcü wrote.

Despite the climate of fear, Üzümcü said he was determined to continue to speak out.   

“People are my guiding principle, my Mecca. I exercise freedom of speech and thought in my personal life, maintain my principles and positions. I was always like this, even as a child. I want my conscience to be clear when I go to bed at night, and it is.  How others behave or what positions they take is on their own conscience.”