Ankara breaks off the cultural ties with Europe over genocide

Turkey, with a unilateral decision, left the “Creative Europe” program, which supports the culture and media sectors in Europe. The negotiation is started with the officials from European Commission in order to organize Turkey's withdrawal from the program starting from June 1, 2017. This decision is initiated by Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ministry decided to withdraw from Creative Europe, because the program supported the musical project “Aghet” in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on its centennial. This program contributed a lot to culture and arts scene in Turkey. 

Creative Europe is an umbrella program which European Commission started in 2014 with the purpose of supporting culture and media sectors. This program is planned to continue until 2020 and aims to provide financial support to 2,500 artists and workers in these sectors, 2,000 movie theaters, 800 movies and 4,500 book translations with its 1,460,000,000 euros budget. For 2016, it is planned to set up a financial assurance system for small businesses in the sector. While all creative cultural initiatives from EU countries can apply to the program, non-EU countries are also able to apply the program if they meet the criteria. Thanks to an agreement between Turkey and European Commission, Turkey had been providing financial support to the program and the culture and arts initiatives in Turkey had been benefiting from the financial power of the program. In 2015, Turkey was obliged to give around 2,400,000 euros to the program. Leaving the program, Turkey won't give any money and the culture and arts initiatives in Turkey won't be able to benefit from it.

You should ask them”

Speaking to Agos, European Commission Spokesperson for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture Nathalie Vandystadt stated that the negotiations started concerning the conditions of leave. Vandystadt said: "Though this is an unfortunate situation, the Commission respects Turkey's decision. You should talk to the officials in Turkey in order to have more information about the reasons of their leave." And Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey hasn't made a different statement.

The agreement between Turkey and European Commission was signed by Ministries of European Union and Culture. However, the demand of withdrawal came from Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials from "Creative Europe" department in Ministry of Culture said that Ministry of Foreign Affairs is dealing with the issue and it was their decision.

According to the sources that spoke to Agos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs' "disturbance" by the program started a year ago. After the program announced that the musical project "Aghet" will be supported with 200,000 euros, the ministry started to assess the situation. The sources stated that the ministry was very disturbed by the concerts and the way the project was launched in the website of European Commission.

Nothing new

Before the concert where Dresden Symphony Orchestra will perform “Aghet” on April 30, 2016, Ministry of Interior objected to the introductory text of the concert and they managed to change it. Making a statement due to the pressure from Turkey, European Commission spokesperson said, “the Commission temporarily suspended the text due to the reactions against the words that are used in the text. In the next days, a new introductory text will be released.” In the suspended text, there was an emphasis on genocide and other massacres and violations of human right in Turkey. In the second text, the word “genocide” was also used. European Commission put a disclaimer below the text, stating that the commission "is not responsible for any uploaded or submitted content. Such content expresses the views of its author(s) only." However, this wasn't enough for the ministry and they decided to leave the program altogether. Though this decision started to circulate recently, the sources from Brussels and Ankara said that this is not a new development.

Markus Rindt, the Conductor of Dresden Symphony Orchestra, made a statement before the concert and said that Turkey demand the financial support is taken back from the orchestra. The Commission hasn't responded to this demand and after that, Ministry of Foreign Affairs speed up the process of leave.

“Aghet” consists of symphonic concerts that are planned to be performed in Dresden, Istanbul, Yerevan, Belgrade and Madrid with collaboration of different orchestras. Along with artistic performances, it includes discussion sessions and workshops. Composers Vache Sharafian, Zeynep Gedizlioğlu and Helmut Oehring contributed to the piece. 14 musicians from Europe, 6 soloists and a vocal group from Armenia and Turkey are included in the concerts, which are collaborated by 3 orchestras. Anadolu Kültür (Anatolian Culture) from Turkey, No Borders Orchestra from Serbia and Dresden Theater from Germany support the project. Composer and guitarist Marc Sinan also contributed to the piece, which is the last part of a trilogy reflecting the cultures of Anatolia and Caucasus.

We talked to the contributor musicians. Composer Marc Sinan and Dresden Symphony Orchestra Conductor Markus Rindt said: “This is an attempt to punish the artists in Turkey by using our peaceful art project as an excuse.” Zeynep Gedizlioğlu composed a new piece titled as “Notes from the Silent One” as part of Aghet project and she said: “I believe that this project is based on peace and dialog. We experienced an immediate, sincere, real and humane encounter and dialog. For most of us, it was beyond our imagination.”

What is the real purpose?

Creative Europe is crucial for most of the culture and arts initiatives in Turkey, because it is almost impossible to realize most of the projects without such a support. Vasif Kortun, Director of Research & Programs of SALT Istanbul, stated that they found out this decision, while they were preparing to reapply the program for 2017 as L’Internationale Museum Confederation, which is the largest confederation in Europe aiming to create a long-term and sustainable model for public museums. SALT, as a member of this confederation, had the opportunity to benefit from the financial sources of Creative Europe, collaborate with 5 museums and access the archives and collections of these museums. Administration of L’Internationale released a statement titled as “Tearing Down Bridges – Turkey's Withdrawal from Creative Europe”, disapproving the decision of leave. Vasıf Kortun stated that they might be using Aghet project as an excuse and added: “It was possible to express discomfort about the particular project, instead of withdrawing from the program altogether. However, they haven't chosen to do it. The real purpose might be increasing the financial pressure on independent institutions. This is what is happening in India, China, Egypt and Russia for the last couple of years. I wish Turkey would have chosen to follow the example of democratic countries instead of these ones...”

Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) had also projects that benefited from the program and they also have pending application process. IKSV General Director Görgün Taner said: “Ministry of Culture's budget has at most 0.5% share from the total state budget. Creative Europe is a program that we could benefit from, though we are not a EU member. It is important to be a part of this program as a country. While the sources for culture are decreasing day by day, such support programs shouldn't be prevented.”

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Fatih Gökhan Diler