The Turkish composer Tolga Yayalar, who lives in Istanbul, tells DW how he experienced the attempted military coup on Friday night. He fears for freedom of art and the press.
DW: How are you? How did you spend the night of the attempted coup?
Tolga Yayalar: I almost didn’t sleep, and my family didn’t either. We could hear the roar of combat jets, explosions and gunshots all night. No one knew who was leading the army, and it could have totally spun out of control, so we were really afraid.
Were you expecting this to happen?
No, not at all. This was a total surprise. Back in 2013, after the events around Gezi Park on Taksim Square, everyone was expecting the military to intervene – but not now.
At first I thought – and many still think this – that the whole thing was staged by Erdogan. But after finding out that so many had died, I stopped believing this.
Erdogan controls the media, as we know. The military tried to occupy TV stations, but that didn’t work. Erdogan was able to mobilize his supporters to take to the streets. Who knows what would have happened otherwise.
Who do you think will gain from this attempted coup?
A military coup is never a good thing. I fear this one will have direct consequences; it will lead to a witch hunt. Erdogan’s grip will become even tighter, allowing him to arrest and imprison all unwanted opponents. He is someone who is always striving for more power.
He is increasingly polarizing the country, and that’s not a good thing. On Friday night, we could always hear prayers from the mosques and his followers massively took the streets. The religious base is becoming stronger, and that’s frightening.
Do you believe this could lead to a civil war?
I long thought this couldn’t happen. Civil war like in Syria – it just felt so far away from us, I thought. But in reality it’s not that far from us and if Erdogan keeps polarizing the population, then I don’t know where it will all end. A civil war is now imaginable – though I hope it will not happen.
Are you expecting stronger censorship in the country?
Erdogan is controlling most of the media anyway. I recently read an article about it, and I found it really shocking. No one trusts the newspapers anymore. Yesterday, Twitter and Instagram were partly blocked. So, yes, we’re expecting censorship to increase.
You have created an orchestral composition in reaction to the brutal repression of the government on young protesters in Gezi Park three years ago. Would you still do something like that today?
Yes, absolutely. I still believe in freedom of art. I still hope that it is not totally undermined. Of course, I would compose such a piece of music again.
Would you also tackle the Armenian issue in your work?
Yes, of course. This should be discussed much more here, but it is still a delicate issue.
Do you sometimes think about leaving Turkey?
Yes, it’s always an option we’re considering – my students too. I mean, I love this country; the people are full of energy, it’s brilliant. Until 2009, things were going uphill, and voters basically gave Erdogan carte blanche for his policies. There was a long phase of stability with the Kurds. But Erdogan didn’t want to profit from peace; he is looking for conflict.
For now, I do not see a real future for me here, and even less for our children. They are six and eight years old. We’ve always tried to avoid troubling them with politics – but they were aware of everything that happened on Friday night of course.
After all the recent attacks in Istanbul, life has changed quite a bit anyway. We do not go to public places with the family, to places where many people meet – not even the shopping mall.
I was eight years old during the military putsch that happened in 1980. They spent three years in power, it was horrible. I would not want to experience that again and our children shouldn’t either.
Tolga Yayalar is a Turkish composer. He lives and works in Istanbul and was a guest at the Beethovenfest in Bonn in 2014, where he presented his piece “Tableaux Vivants d’une Résistance,” inspired by the Gezi protests.