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Prominent Members of Turkey’s Arts Community Released After Arrest at Peace March

Pinar Ogrenci and Atalay Yeni after their release in Diyarbakir (photo courtesy Atalay Yeni)
Pinar Öğrenci and Atalay Yeni after their release in Diyarbakır (photo courtesy Atalay Yeni)

After days in detention, leading members of the arts community in Turkey, and members of the peace initiative “Barış İçin Yürüyorum (I Am Walking For Peace),” were released following their December 31 arrest in Sur, Turkey. Pınar Öğrenci, Atalay Yeni, Arzu Erdemir, Pınar Ercan, and Aziz Kılıç were among a group who were attacked and arrested by Turkish police in Sur, which is located in the predominatly Kurdish district of Diyarbakır in the southeast of the country.

According to a lawyer representing the group, the detainees were held in good conditions and testified before the authorities. The police claimed that handmade explosives were thrown at their forces by the group, but upon reviewing the evidence a Turkish judge released all of the detainees on Sunday, January 3.

The arrests had been a major cause of concern for the Turkish arts community, since many of the individuals detained are prominent arts professionals. Atalay Yeni is a well-known artist, while Pınar Öğrenci is an architect, writer, and artist who runs Istanbul’s MARS independent art space. Öğrenci’s work is currently exhibited at the MAXXI museum in Rome as a part of the Istanbul: Passion, Joy, Fury group exhibition, which deals with political conflicts and resistance movements in Turkey since the Gezi Park protests. Her work is also on view in the Apexart-organized exhibition Apricots from Damascus, which is currently at SALT Galata in Istanbul.

Members of (photo courtesy photo credit: Fatih Göler and used with permission)
Members of (photo courtesy photo credit: Fatih Göler and used with permission)

On December 27, participants of “I Am Walking For Peace” set out on foot from Bodrum towards Diyarbakır (a distance of roughly 1,500 km or 932 miles), stopping in the cities of Muğla, Ankara, Adana, and Urfa, and gathering a group of about 70 people to join their march to Diyarbakır. “The only way to cope with the ordeal we are facing today and to give an end to this war, death, and destruction, goes through voicing our demand for peace louder, together, and courageously, and to stand in solidarity with the people in the region,” reads a statement on the group’s Change.org page.

Upon reaching Diyarbakır on December 31, the members of “I Am Walking For Peace” held meetings with the co-mayors of the city, and with a group of demonstrators who joined together to demand an urgent end to the curfew in Sur, which went into effect on November 28. While marching towards the police barricade in the Dağkapı neighborhood, the group was attacked by police and 24 people were arrested.

The end of 2015 had been marred by the return of large-scale state violence in Turkey, particularly impacting the Kurdish-dominated regions of the southeast. The current state of instability is too loud to ignore as the violence of the neighboring Syrian war has had a strong impact on Turkey. In recent month, a number of Kurdish and human rights activists have been assassinated, the deadliest terror attacks in the history of modern Turkey took place on October 10, and the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish forces on November 24 has led to increased tensions with Russia. An on-going silent war against the Kurdish population of Turkey, exemplified by countless days of curfew in different regions, constant harassment against the pro-Kurdish pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and anti-terror operations have left hundreds of casualties. According to the official version of events by the Turkish government, all of those killed or impacted are militants in the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), while Kurds and human rights activists claim many of those killed have been civilians.

While the 24 peace activists are currently free, the incident is only the latest in a long line of perceived witch-hunts of activists that have become commonplace in Turkey since the 2013 events of Gezi Park (some of the spurious trials are ongoing), and recent developments are yet another troubling sign of Turkey’s descent into increased authoritarianism.

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