Theater actors are the latest group targeted by the Turkish government's post-coup crackdown. Professional associations have labeled it a "witch hunt."
Many intellectuals and artists unrelated to the coup attempt have now been included in Turkey's latest lay-off frenzy. One of the victims of the 1980 military coup, director Ragip Yavuz, is in shock: "I was investigated in different periods. I was fired from the theater during the [1980 coup] period. Yet for the first time, I am being investigated to somehow see if I am involved in the Gulen movement and whether I am pro-coup d'etat. This is both shocking and degrading."
Yavuz is one of tens of thousands of people in Turkey who have lost their jobs following the failed coup. Dismissals began in city theaters around Istanbul. Along with Yavuz, six staff actors and one civil servant were removed due to their alleged ties to the coup. In addition, 20 subcontracted actors were dismissed because of a "lack of performance."
A joint communique titled "Neither Coup nor State of Emergency" issued Thursday by nearly 20 professional associations - intellectuals, journalists, writers, poets and theater actors and actresses unrelated to the coup - says they are the victims of a "witch hunt."
"Everyone involved in the coup attempt has to be brought to justice and be punished based on the laws," reads the communique. "However, the government, seizing this opportunity, is taking steps to liquidate all opposition... to achieve absolute political power."
'Art requires freedom of thought'
Levent Uzumcu, one of the co-signers of the communique and the president of the Istanbul Municipal Theater Actors Association (ISTISAN), believes that the state of emergency is being used as a tool against those in opposition to the government.
"It is being used against those who do not approve of the government's education, economy, or foreign affairs policies," he said. "When one looks at the names of our dismissed friends, they by no means would be involved with any religious sect or organization."
"Art requires freedom of thought," Uzumcu added. "Our colleagues are among the best actors in Turkey. Our viewers know this very well."
Uzumcu, himself fired from his job, was one of the leading actors during the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013. He was dismissed right after the protests because of a political speech he gave at a Socialist International meeting in Istanbul. His press briefings and social media posts were also used as evidence against him.
Crackdown needs investigating
Sevinc Erbulak, an actress who lost her job, says she is not happy about being labeled a coup supporter.
"Naturally, I had an opinion and a stance of my own about what has been going on in my country, in what I wrote, drew or thought, or what I said based on what we have been through at the theater," said Erbulak. "But the situation or the trap or whatever it is we are currently in, is beyond my mind."
Erbulak added that what needs to be investigated is the source of the current post-coup crackdown.
One of the dismissed actors, Ragyp Yavuz, says many of the productions planned for the opening of the new season in October are now in jeopardy. Quite a few of the subcontracted actors dismissed for "lack of performance" had important roles in the plays, Yavuz said.
The Istanbul Municipal Theater administration refused to answer journalists' inquiries due to "an ongoing legal process."
Many vacant positions unfilled
Istanbul Municipal Theater is one of Turkey's most controversial art institutes due to political interference. According to the performers, the government is trying to have more influence over which plays are performed. There are also increasing calls to close state-funded art institutions.
Uzumcu said that while 180 performers are employed as staff, just as many positions remain vacant. "No one is being hired for those vacant positions," he said. "Why not? Because if they are filled, city theaters will continue to perform and they don't want that."
"I am worried that within this dust storm, before anyone realizes what is going on, all state-funded art institutions, including the Municipal Theater, state theaters, and the Presidential Symphony Orchestra may be shut down by governmental decree," Uzumcu said. "The butchery we are observing right now is mind-boggling."