Grup Yorum: the jailed band Turkey can't silence ( Türkiye Grup Yorum'u susturamıyor)
İngiliz gazeteci The Guardian, 11 üyesi cezaevinde olan Grup Yorum'un portresini yazdı. Haberde "Grup Yorum: Türkiye'nin susturamadığı hapisteki grup" başlığı kullanıldı.
Türkiye’de protest müziğin en önemli temsilcilerinden sayılan Grup Yorum’un 11 üyesinin birden cezaevinde olması The Guardian gazetesinin gözünden kaçmadı. Gazete, “Grup Yorum: Türkiye’nin susturamadığı hapisteki grup” başlıklı bir makale yayımladı; “Taviz vermeyen ve son derece popüler olan protest şarkıları nedeniyle 11 üyeleri hapiste” yorumunu yaptı.
Makale, Liverpool Hope Üniversitesi’nde öğretim üyesi olan Lyndon Way’in, Ocak 2016’da İzmir’de yapılacak bir Grup Yorum konseri için Türkiye’ye geldiğinde edindiği izlenimlerle başlıyor. Konser alanına gelişinde polisle karşılaştıklarını, konserin iptal edildiğini ve polisin izleyicilere saldırdığını aktaran Way, “Çatışma, fanlar ile yetkililerin grubu nasıl gördüğünü ortaya koyuyordu. Fanları onlar için çatışabilirken, yetkililer onlardan korkuyor” yorumunu yaptı.
In January 2016, Lyndon Way was heading for the Atatürk Theatre in İzmir, western Turkey, to see the band Grup Yorum. “When we arrived outside,” says the music academic, “we were greeted by police in helmets, riot gear and shields blocking the path to the concert hall.” In the street battles that ensued, he says, police used water cannon and pepper spray on approximately 50 young people, mostly men.
More of a collective than a band, they have released over 20 albums since their 1987 debut. The cover of their latest, İlle Kavga (which roughly means “struggle no matter what”), shows instruments they allege were smashed up by police during a raid last year on the cultural centre the group use.
A raid the year before, which also resulted in the detention of the musicians, drew a statement of solidarity from Joan Baez, who has performed with the band. “The real reason behind your arrest,” she said, “is that your music and work touches people, mobilises them and encourages them, and the fact you are righteous in your thoughts. You should continue to be brave.”
“Every song has a meaning behind it,” says a Grup Yorum volunteer who helps organise protests and concerts across Europe and has asked to remain anonymous. “They create songs that explain events in Turkey, such as massacres. They created songs for Soma, where 302 miners died. They created songs about the coup in 1980.”
They have also sung about capitalism, imperialism, anti-Americanism and the Turkish government’s policies, which they say penalise the poor. One track is about the clearing of poor neighbourhoods to make way for expensive skyscrapers. Provocatively, they also sometimes sing in Kurdish.
The government believes Grup Yorum’s members are affiliated with the DHKP-C, a militant Marxist group regarded as a terrorist organisation not just by Turkey, but also by the US and the EU – it is on the UK’s list of proscribed terror organisations. It is not hard to see why the government considers them to have sympathies, at best, with the outlawed group: Grup Yorum have dedicated songs to DHKP-C members, including those on hunger strike in the mid-90s, while band members have attended the funeral of a militant. Their songs reference, however subtly, armed struggle.
“In more recent years, their music has become far more blatant in terms of sounds and lyrics,” says Way, who describes their politics as “a mix of support for a brand of Kurdish rights, anti-authoritarianism and Marxism. I suspect some agree with their Kurdish-rights stance, some with their anticapitalism, and some like the fact they stick their fingers up at the authorities. Being oppositional is very dangerous – students, academics and journalists are among the many who are jailed or fired, and left unable to find work because they are against what is happening in Turkey.”
The line-up of the collective changes constantly – at some concerts, full orchestras and choirs will appear on stage. Others, particularly recently, are necessarily more low-key. “We manage to make our music and our voice heard,” one singer told the French news magazine Marianne late last year, describing a gig organised by members who had avoided arrest. It took place on the rooftop of a building in Istanbul, from which they hung a banner bearing a portrait of Mahir Çayan, the communist revolutionary and former leader of the DHKP-C, who died in 1972.
And the band is hugely popular: hundreds of thousands of people have attended their concerts. In Europe, where exiled members have set up a sister group, they say 12,500 attended one arena show. “Germany tried to ban us,” says a Grup Yorum volunteer. “They said we were a terrorist organisation, but they really have no evidence for it. They back up their claim with evidence from AKP.” The AKP is Turkey’s ruling party. “They’re collaborating with each other.” This spinoff band, also called Grup Yorum, played London last December, in Wood Green – the heart of the city’s Turkish community. This year, they’re planning concerts in France, Germany and Belgium.
While the group have long attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities, in recent years – and especially since the failed coup in July 2016 – their run-ins with the police have ramped up. “It’s part of the general crackdown on freedom of expression and speech,” says Abdullah Bozkurt, director of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, which monitors Turkey. “You can see that in many different areas, from the media to art. The government is not tolerating any critical expression. We have seen a massive clampdown on expression in the artistic community.”
Before 2016, he says, “the criminal justice system, for all its shortcomings, was functioning. If the government banned Grup Yorum’s activities, which it has tried to do, you could challenge this in a court. But after the failed coup, so many judges and prosecutors were dismissed – almost 4,000. More than 2,000 were jailed on fabricated charges. Those guys were replaced by [government] loyalists. It will be almost mission impossible to challenge these unlawful bans.”
The musicians “never get scared because they are so used to it”, says the volunteer. When musicians join the band, they’re well aware it could land them in prison. “They’re always waiting for that moment. They know it’s going to happen. But they’re used to what’s happening in Turkey. They see themselves as the voice of the voiceless.”
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