- Introduction:Theatre and Politics in Turkey and Its Diasporas
The idea for this special issue grew out of our concerns as scholars, teachers, audiences, and theatre-makers during a time of ever-intensifying autocracy in Turkey. The oppressive sociopolitical environment under the economically neoliberal, socially conservative, and Sunni Islamist governments of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party), hereafter AKP, has deeply affected all aspects of theatre. Censorship and self-censorship have intensified; the distribution of public funds lacks transparency; a number of venues have been demolished while the emerging theatre spaces have served neoliberalism and gentrification; migration and recession have changed the audience profile; a number of theatre professionals and scholars have been dismissed or persecuted while others have had to leave the country for political reasons; and the control over the press and the academia affects the production and dissemination of scholarship as well as criticism. [End Page 185] Curiously, the dynamics of oppression have not simply curtailed artistic production. On the contrary, against all odds, independent companies flourish, especially in metropolitan centers, and minoritarian cultural producers are perhaps more active than ever. As such, theatre serves as a critical venue where artists and audiences resurrect silenced histories, build communities, negotiate the politics of subjectivity and belonging, and explore alternative visions for the future amidst constant political tension and violence.
The anti-democratic atmosphere that prevails in Turkey, combined with the effects of social polarization, political instability, environmental destruction, economic injustice, and most recently recession, has resulted in a new wave of migration from the country. This new generation of migrants comprises primarily white-collar workers, including many artists and scholars as well as members of ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. Together with local artists, the growing Turkish diasporas in Europe, North America, and the Middle East are also producing both mainstream and alternative productions. Minoritarian communities from Turkey, particularly Alevis and Kurds, continue to use theatre in their struggle for recognition. In an increasingly xenophobic Europe, Islamic productions especially are creating controversy.2 Diasporic communities from Turkey thus employ theatre to negotiate the politics of visibility and belonging, build communities, and intervene in national and international politics. In the meantime, the growing immigrant populations in Turkey, especially from Syria, also produce both amateur and professional theatre for similar purposes.
With its rich history and politically charged present, the study of theatre can bring a vital new perspective on the current sociopolitical dynamics in Turkey and provide important insights into the historical relationship between theatre and power in and beyond the country. The critical literature on the subject, however, has remained relatively limited, especially in English. In part as a consequence of the Orientalist legacy, European and North American scholars have primarily focused on the Ottoman popular performances such as the story-tellers known as meddah, the shadow theatre Karagöz, the farces known as ortaoyunu, and the köçeks, male dancers who entertained men.3 The vibrant culture [End Page 186] of European-style theatre in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey thus went largely unnoticed by Orientalists and later international scholars. Turkey's complicated relationship with Europe has resulted in its exclusion from studies of European theatre. In many cases, Turkey is also ignored in studies on Middle Eastern theatre, which is dominated by works on Arab, Israeli, and Iranian theatre and performance cultures. These trends affect scholarship on Turkey's minoritarian theatre cultures as well. As İlker Hepkaner argues in his essay in this volume, for instance, studies on global Jewish theatre often do not cover Jewish theatre in Turkey.
Scholarship on theatre has also remained relatively limited within Turkish academia. In Turkey, most theatre departments focus on studio training and the faculty largely comprises teaching artists. In the few research-oriented departments, the language of education is Turkish and the faculty also tend to publish in Turkish, which limits dialogue with contemporary global scholarship in the fields of theatre and performance studies. Other than the few scholars in theatre and dramaturgy departments, the literature on theatre and performance in Turkey is produced mainly in departments of history and Turkish...