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Turkey: A movement of artists against darkness

An NGO movement led by Turkish artists has risen in protest against the governments decision to bulldoze the AKM, an important cultural centre but also a political symbol ...

di Asli Kayabal

A non governmental movement led by Turkish artists, the Movement of artists against darkness, has risen in protest against the governments decision to bulldoze the Ataturk cultural centre, a building that not only serves a cultural function but also has symbolic meaning to many, as it was built in honour of the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafà Kemal Ataturk.

The Ataturk Kultur Merkezi, also called the AKM, is built in rationalist architectural style and lies in the heart of Istanbul?s city centre closing off Taksim Square from the Bosporus. But its value is more than just architectural, as the AKM is home to Istanbul?s State Theatre, Opera house, ballet school, symphonic orchestra, an art gallery and a cinema. It is a lively cultural village and an important meeting place for young people and for all those who follow the cultural activites that take place within.

European cultural capital
In 2010 Istanbul will be Europe?s cultural capital. With this in mind Ankara?s Islamic government, with the approval of the Minister for Culture and for sport, wants to tear down the cultural centre, that was rebuilt in 1970 following a fire, in order to build a newer and more modern building in it?s place.

Seen in context of the current confrontation between Islamic and lay sections of Turkish society, however, the government?s decision has a very symbolic impact. Many think that it is no coincidence that the AKM was built in honour of the republic?s founding father, and believe that the government is deliberately attempting to delete the city?s lay symbols.

Artists against darkness
It is against this hypothesis of destruction, dressed up as an opportunity to embellish the city for 2010, that the Artists Movement Against Darkness is fighting. According to the association, there are still no development plans for a new centre and the Minister for Culture and sport has not yet said where the theatre, opera, ballet, orchestra, art gallery or cinema will go if the AKM is torn to the ground.

The protest seems destined to take on national dimensions. Artists have said that they will, over the course of the week, set up a tent in front of the AKM to make their voices heard and to let the government know that they consider this decision to be a political one. The movement has been met with widespread support, and in a very short time a great number of intellectuals and artists from across Turkey have signed on and guaranteed their participation to initiatives planned in Istanbul.

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