Brecht in Turkey 1955-1977: The Impact of the Bertold Brecht on Society and the Development of Revolutionary Theater in Turkey 9781463231798

A study of the role of the German playwright Brecht on Turkish society and thinking in the twentieth century.

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Brecht in Turkey 1955-1977: The Impact of the Bertold Brecht on Society and the Development of Revolutionary Theater in Turkey

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Brecht in Turkey 1955-1977

Analecta Isisiana: Ottoman and Turkish Studies

A co-publication with The Isis Press, Istanbul, the series consists of collections of thematic essays focused on specific themes of Ottoman and Turkish studies. These scholarly volumes address important issues throughout Turkish history, offering in a single volume the accumulated insights of a single author over a career of research on the subject.

Brecht in Turkey 1955-1977

The Impact of the Bertold Brecht on Society and the Development of Revolutionary Theater in Turkey

Albert Nekimken

The Isis Press, Istanbul

preSS 2010

Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA Copyright © 2010 by The Isis Press, Istanbul Originally published in 1998 All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of The Isis Press, Istanbul. 2010

ISBN 978-1-61719-910-3

Reprinted from the 1998 Istanbul edition.

Printed in the United States of America

Albert Nekimken. born in 1944, completed his undergraduate education at the California State University at Northridge. Immediately after graduation in 1966, he left f o r two years of serv ice as a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher of secondary school English in Tokat, Turkey. Subsequently, he continued his studies at the U n i v e r s i t y of I o w a a n d the L o s A n g e l e s and R i v e r s i d e facilities of the University of C a l i f o r n i a . During this period, he w a s a w a r d e d a Fulbright research fellowship. Supplemented by support f r o m the Turkish Ministry of Education and the American Research Institute in Turkey, he was able to spend the 1975-1976 a c a d e m i c year in Istanbul with his family conducting on-site research on Turkish theater that resulted ultimately in the present work. A short excerpt w a s published in Turkish in Tiyatro

76 journal in 1976. Soon after

receiving his Ph.D in comparative literature f r o m the University of California at Riverside, Dr. Nekimken relocated with his family to metropolitan Washington, D.C. where he began working in the field of investment research, publishing and consulting. Initially, he published analytic articles on oil & gas limited partnership investments along with d u e diligence consulting reports f o r an Annapolis, Maryland-based f irm, followed by securities analysis on American and Australian stocks f o r Baltimore and A m s t e r d a m - b a s e d firms. In 1993, he returned to Turkey after an absence of 17 years to accept a new position as Director of Research f o r an investment bank and securities broker/dealer. In addition, he wrote economic and political analysis f o r the investment banking division of another Istanbul -based commercial bank. During this period, he reestablished his connections with Turkish a c a d e m i c and theater, organizations. His book, Kocsis



the arts — to be published in winter

1998 by Paragon Press — e x a m i n e s the art world f r o m the point of view of independent artists-painters, actors, dancers, musicians, writers, w h o struggle to survive, despite the institutionalized forces that conspire to dominate and exploit t h e m . C u r r e n t l y , Dr. N e k i m k e n publishes a n a l y s e s of electronic b a n k i n g , digital money and other aspects of Information Technology as a Senior Analyst f o r an international planning research firm at its metropolitan W a s h i n g t o n office.


Acknowledgements Introduction


1. An Annotated Review of Turkish Brecht Productions


2. The Implications for Theater of Marxism and Islam in Turkey


3. The Context of Turkish Theatrical History


4. The Potential for Brecht's Epic Theater in Turkey


5. Brecht's Influence on Turkish Plays, Playwrights, and Theater Groups


6. Brecht and the Politicizing of Turkish Cinema


7. Critical Evaluation of Brecht in Turkey




Appendix Part I: Brecht as a Catalyst for the Debate Over an Authentic, Contemporary Turkish National Theatrical Style

237 237

Part II: Mustafa Kemal, Muhsin Ertugrul, and the Foundation of Turkish Theater


Bibliography of Brecht in Turkey (1955-1977)





I would like to thank the following individuals and institutions whose assistance made the completion of this dissertation possible. The Fulbright Commission and the American Research Institute in Turkey, as well as the Turkish Ministry of Education, provided financial assistance that made it possible for me to spend the academic year of 1975-76 in Turkey. Special appreciation goes to Professor A. Bodrogligeti, who gave me enthusiastic and unwavering support, and to Professor G. Gugelberger without whom I might have been attracted to other topics of study. Also, I would like to thank the late Professor Haldun Taner, then a member of the faculty of Istanbul University and the playwright whose stage successes prompted Professor Metin And's, and later my own, special interest in the connection of Bertolt Brecht with Turkish theater. He gave generously of his time in order to provide information available from no other source and shared insights that were assimilated into my thinking at every step. The members of the Theater Research Institute of Ankara University, Professors Melahat Özgü, Özdemir Nutku, Sevda §ener, Metin And, Nurhan Karadag, and Sevinç Sokollu were particularly helpful and made their resources entirely available to me, even when inconvenient. Professor Özdemir Nutku shared his personal bibliographic resources and gave generously of his time for many long discussions of various aspects of this study. His guidance affected the direction of my thinking and is present even when not directly acknowledged. Other institutions that gave important assistance were the Theater Section of the Turkish Radio and Television Authority (TRT), the National Theater in Ankara, the Istanbul Municipal Library, and the National Library in Istanbul as well as the Bosphorus University Library at Bebek. The librarians of the Istanbul Municipal Theater, Giilsiim §eref and Özen Çetin, provided valuable assistance in locating documents (and sometimes individuals); many other employees of the Municipal Theater offered halp at crucial stages of my research, such as Aysin Candan, Giingör Dilmen, Zihni Kiiçiimen, Deniz Uyguner, and Sermet Erkin, who provided me with documents unavailable elsewhere for any price. Arslan Kaynardag and Gani Yener of Elif Bookstore, as well as their neighbor, M. Ismail Açay, found for me books that I would not otherwise have been able to obtain. Members of private theater groups, such as the Ankara Sanat Tiyatrosu, the Devrimci Ankara Sanat Tiyatrosu, Dostlar Tiyatrosu, and Birlik Tiyatrosu were especially generous with their time for interviews. Professor Oya Basak at





Bogaziçi [Bosphorus] University and Professor Hamza Zlilfikar of Ankara University gave encouragement and assisted in making contacts. Osman Karaca of the ONK Copyright Agency provided the texts of many important and unpublished plays not otherwise available. Jack Richotte and his staff at the United States Information Service in Istanbul and Ankara solved some technical problems and gave help in making photocopies of documents. Dr. Werner Bartsch of the German Cultural Center in Ankara advised on several questions, providing information that proved quite useful. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the many occasions when Hüsnü Ersoy and his staff at the Fulbright Commission in Ankara solved some difficult problems in bureaucracy as well as domestic finance that could have otherwise jeopardized the completion of my research. Also, Heath Lowry and Peter Kuniholm, directors of the Istanbul and Ankara branches of the American Research Institute in Turkey, performed similar work. Their efficient management enabled me to use ARIT libraries for some effective, quiet reflection. Their supervisors. Professors Hans Giiterbock and Frank Taschau, went beyond the call of duty to make certain that no problem prevented the progress of research. The following persons merit special thank for their time and patience with interview questions that must have seemed obvious to them in the beginning, and to me only at the end: S. Giinay Akarsu Genco Erkal Beklan Algan Um it Denizer Oktay Arayici Haydar Cilasun Ali Taygun Engin Cezzar Zeki Göker

Özdemir Nutku Haldun Taner Sevda Sener Osman Bengier Güngör Dilmen Gündüz Kaliç Ahmet Buldanli Yilmaz Onay Arif Erkin

Mengii Ertel Erdem Alkan Zeynep Oral Rutkay Aziz Erkan Yticel Jak de Leon Vasif Öngören Ülkü Tamer

Mustafa Giirsoy at Poiitika newspaper assisted in making contacts with individuals who provided interviews and Tanju Cilizoglu of Tiyatro 76 magazine provided information that was frequently helpful in locating them. Gérard Woldtvedt typed the f inal draft with a dedication and attention to detail that was as appreciated as it was uncommon.


Berlin and Istanbul An effort to join the polemical debates that took place in Berlin and Moscow during the 1920s and 1930s to Turkey in the 1960s may appear at the outset to be hazardous to responsible scholarship. Yet, in both contexts questions concerning the function of theater, the appropriate audience for that theater—and the aesthetic basis for it—were considered matters of life and death. Samuel Johnson felt such misgivings about the unpleasant yoking together of dissimilar elements in metaphysical poetry, nevertheless, subsequent literary history dispelled them. In the same way, close examination of the evidence will compel literary historians to vindicate a remarkable comparison between Berlin in the 1930s and Istanbul in the 1960s. In each case, there was a painful struggle to destroy "culinary theater" (to use Brecht's term) in favor of a kind of theater able to serve the ends of Marxist revolution. In each time and place, there was a fundamental debate over the proper function of theater in society. Beginning as early as 1955 with the avant-garde efforts of persons such as Haldun Taner, Adalet Cimcoz, and Özdemir Nutku, Turkish interest in Brecht grew tremendously through the 1960s and 1970s. Translation and production of Brecht's plays in Turkey together with publication of his theoretical writings in translation led to the writing of Turkish adaptations, and finally to the emergence of an indigenous, Turkish Epic theatrical style. Yet, Brecht's influence was not merely literary. He had such a profound impact on the cultural, social, and political life of Turkey that a narrow examination of his influence merely on Turkish theater would be misleading. As a direct result of Brecht's impact in Turkey, the relationships between theater and society were subjected to fundamental re-examination. Although there were few direct allusions made in Turkey to the debate between Brecht and Lukäcs that took place in the 1930s, there was, nevertheless, a curious recapitulation of them in Istanbul. In general, Georg Lukäcs extrapolated from Marx and Engels a concept of "Marxist aesthetics" that was based on Engels' understanding of realism, expressed in the 'Harkness Letter," that Lukäcs termed "critical realism." The essence of such realism was the depiction of typicality, given the shorthand designation of "mirror" aesthetics. Brecht (and others) attacked this view as a misreading of Marx and





Engels who, they insisted, had understood the relationship between culture and its infrastructure to be dialectic, i.e., a continuity. For Brecht, this infrastructure was characterized by a dialectic, i.e. a continuously selftransforming series of reciprocal influences to which he gave the shorthand designation "dynamo" aesthetics. From Lukäcs' point of view, to depart from his own conception of realism was to descend into formalism, which meant to him the subordination of (real) content in favor of (mere) form. However, from Brecht's point of view to ban an innovation of form, as Lukäcs seemed to advocate, was to succumb to a petrified defense of the aesthetic status quo. For him, this was itself a prime example of sterile formalism. Brecht insists on making the teleology of literature the foremost criterion of its value. Where Lukäcs saw literature as a mirror reflecting its social context, Brecht saw it as a dynamo that transformed society: Unser RealismusfeegW// muss breit und politisch sein, souverän gegenüber den Konventionen. Realistisch heisst: den gesellschaftlichen Kausalkomplex aufdeckend, die herrschenden Gesichspunkte als die Gesichtspunkte der Herrschenden entlarvend, vom Standpunkt der Klasse aus schreibend, welche ßr die dringendsten Schwierigkeiten, in denen die menschliche Gesellschaft steckt, die breitesten Lösungen bereit hält, das Moment der Entwicklung betonend, konkret und das Abstrahieren ermöglichend) Knowledge of the position that Lukäcs had taken came to Turkey mainly as a side effect of interest in Brecht. Nevertheless, his mirror aesthetics already had advocates in the Turkish cultural and political structure because this aesthetics was entirely consistent with the Islamic preference for the status quo in every domain as a reflection of divine will. 2 The kind of realism that Brecht and Turkish Brechtians advocated implied social imperfection and disharmony. For that reason, it was construed as an attack on Islam. In the orthodox Islamic view, society does not change or progress; it merely reflects God's will and endeavors to implement it through the Koran.

^Bertolt Brecht, "Volkstümlichkeit und Realismus," in Schriften zur Literatur und Kunst 2, Vol. XX of Gesammelte Werke: Werkausgabe Edition (Frankfort: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967; rpt. 1968), p. 326. See also "The Popular and the Realistic," in Brecht on Theater, trans. John Willet (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), p. 109. The article was published originally in Sinn und Form, No. 4 (Postdam, 1958). 2 The Ottoman heritage from which this attitude derives was well described by Norman Itzkowitz in Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1972), p. 89: "In the simplest terms, this view held that in Ottoman society everyone had his place. It was the sultan's function to keep everyone in his place, and the sultan who did this was a just sultan who deserved to be obeyed. Seventeenth century Ottomans were well aware that the equilibrium so essential to Islamic society had been disturbed and that therein lay the root of Ottoman difficulties. If they could discover the sources of disequilibrium, remove them, and return the state to what it had been under Suleyman the Magnificent, equilibrium would be restored."



In the 1960s in Ankara, Stanislavski's methods were still entrenched in the Conservatory of the Turkish National Theater. Culinary theater was still purveyed by all but a few private, Marxist-oriented theatrical groups. Official government opposition to them was unremittingly hostile. The effort to find a new theater audience for plays that intended to heighten political consciousness in a Marxist orientation exacerbated the danger of financial collapse to commercial and subsidized theaters alike. This danger posed a more serious threat than the competition of newly arrived television and popular cinema. Brechtian theater in Turkey questioned the status quo and its adherents. The official, established theater depended on the successful manipulation of the existing social and political structure. Accordingly, it became highly critical of Brechtian calls for radical change. Yet, from another point of view, the terms of the analogy could have easily been reversed. When Carl Ebert and André Antoine were called to assist in the establishment of a modern, national Turkish theater, their efforts were considered "revolutionary" because they attempted to impose "realism," i.e., a representational, emotive acting style on a foundation of traditional Turkish theater that had been historically presentational in style. Many elements of Brecht's conception of Epic and dialectical theater were already present in that tradition. Furthermore, after 1924 Turkish society was already postrevolutionary! Many plays of the 1955-1965 period attempted to deal "realistically" (representationally) with aspects of social transformations caused by the Kemalist revolution, but "realism" was quickly institutionalized in both East and West to render it politically innocuous to vested interests. Hence, attacks on differing concepts of "realism" are almost always political. Although both Mustafa Kemal and Muhsin Ertugrul, the "father of modern Turkish theater," had ambivalent attitudes toward Marxism, they both believed that Turkish theater constituted an important vehicle for implementing, consolidating, and rationalizing the political and social transformations wrought by the Kemalist revolution that had established the modern Turkish Republic. Republican theater was seen clearly as a didactic tool, if not as a weapon. Kemalist revolutionaries gave great importance to consolidating a heterogeneous Turkish society and establishing a new sense of national identity. Kemalism had been a revolution against imperialism in its most obvious form and in favor of a nation yet to be formed. Consequently, Marxist conceptions of class hostility were anathema during the post-revolutionary period and remained so through the administration of the Justice Party under Prime Minister Demirel in the 1960s





and President Demirel in the 1990s. Fear that radical appeals to class could provoke ethnic unrest and worsen the Kurdish separatist movement, which could threaten the foundation of the Republic, resulted in such appeals being made illegal. Yet, after the introduction of Brechtian theories and a worsening of social and economic frictions for various nontheatrical reasons, the Brechtian and Marxist theatrical initiative could not be postponed indefinitely. In retrospect, there is overwhelming evidence that compels us to acknowledge Brecht's contribution toward putting Marxism and a Marxist ideology of theater on the Turkish national agenda.

Anomalies of the Turkish


Although the terms of the debate appear superficially to be the same in Berlin as in Istanbul, where bourgeois theater was able to establish itself during the years of the Republic, there is a more profound sense in which the terms are, in fact, reversed. As noted earlier, because bourgeois theater represents an artificial imposition on a theatrical heritage that was already presentational, Brecht's Marxist theories became a catalyst for the renovation of political and "Formal" elements inherent in the Turkish tradition that preceded Western theatrical realism, whether socialist or bourgeois. The vicissitudes of Brecht during his own lifetime and the fortune of his reputation and writings since his death, especially in the formerly socialist countries, reveal the extent to which the debate still lives. Brecht's own plays have been largely commercialized and, hence, rendered harmless. Even friends, such as Eric Bentley, do him ultimately a disservice when they write in introductions to Western editions of his work statements such as: "Epic theater, as I have ventured to put it, is really lyric theater. The epic form vindicated this dramaturgy and showed that, indeed, one can derive drama from poetic balladry." Bentley goes on the assert that "when others who are not poets, not poets of this kind, try to write Brechtian plays, they fail for at least two reasons. First, they cannot achieve the quality of Brechtian songs and, second, because they cannot derive the rest of the drama from the songs, (they| cannot write a drama that is poetic through and t h r o u g h . " 1 Although both he and Martin Esslin, who has emphasized psychological aspects of Brecht's writing, may help scholars achieve a more balanced academic appraisal of his œuvre, the immediate effect of such evaluations has been to discount the element of political commitment that Brecht himself believed to be of paramount importance. Whether other

^Bertolt Brecht, A Manual of Piety. A Bilingual Edition, English text Eric Bentley, Notes Hugo Schmidt (New York: Grove Press, 1966), xi. Die Hauspostille published originally in Berlin, 1927.



p l a y w r i g h t s e q u a l , o r d o e s n o t e q u a l B r e c h t in p o e t i c a b i l i t y s h o u l d m a t t e r l e s s than their ability to utilize c o n c e p t i o n s of Brechtian E p i c theater to further M a r x i s t theatrical a e s t h e t i c s f o r urgent p o l i t i c a l g o a l s . B e f o r e d e a l i n g w i t h s p e c i f i c a s p e c t s o f Brecht's i m p a c t o n the i d e o l o g i c a l d e b a t e in T u r k e y , it m a y b e u s e f u l t o c o m m e n t o n the p r o b l e m a t i c n a t u r e o f these contributions.

His own

plays and critical

and theoretical


c o n s t i t u t e in b o t h their o r i g i n a l f o r m and in later, e d i t e d T u r k i s h t r a n s l a t i o n s the principal s o u r c e s f o r a n u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f B r e c h t ' s v i e w s . T h e i m p o r t a n c e o f an e d i t o r s u c h a s J o h n W i l l e t in c l a r i f y i n g i d e a s that w e r e n o t s o a p p a r e n t d u r i n g the writer's l i f e t i m e m u s t not b e u n d e r e s t i m a t e d . F o r e x a m p l e , W i l l e t ' s E n g l i s h t r a n s l a t i o n , Brecht

on Theater,

a s s e m b l e s a n d t r a n s l a t e s i t e m s that w e r e e i t h e r

p u b l i s h e d l o n g a f t e r t h e y w e r e w r i t t e n , o r that m a y n e v e r h a v e b e e n p u b l i s h e d b e f o r e e v e n in t h e i r o r i g i n a l f o r m s . F o r t u n a t e l y , t h e s e w r i t i n g s a r e available,

insofar as


in c h r o n o l o g i c a l




now an

u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f t h e d e v e l o p m e n t o f B r e c h t ' s t h o u g h t that d i f f e r s n e c e s s a r i l y from

the u n d e r s t a n d i n g that c o n t e m p o r a r i e s c o u l d h a v e o f h i s v i e w s . 1


' w e should also note that the Willet translation became the primary source for Brecht for many Turkish Brechtians. At least one clear conclusion emerges from even a brief survey of the biographical environment of contemporary Turkish theater. The number of persons with either an adequate or superior knowledge of English, French, or German was so great that it would be fruitless to attempt to trace the passage of Brechtian texts through Turkish theatrical society with the intention of attempting to determine which individuals could read German directly, and which had to depend on translations that, it some cases, were markedly inadequate. The information available suggests that, in general, the level of success achieved by Turkish institutions in foreign language instruction was rather low, yet there are many persons active in Turkish theaters who were either exceptions to the rule, or who were educated in foreign-language institutions in Turkey, or abroad. Until about the time of the establishment of the Republic, interest in learning German was confined mainly to students of the military schools. After the establishment of the Republican secular educational system, English, French, and German were written into the curriculum as obligatory subjects. Also, it must not be forgotten that Turkey benefited significantly during the years of World War II by the many German academics who sought refuge from the Third Reich. (See Horst Widmann, Exil und Bildungshilfe, Die deutsch-sprachige akademische Emigration in die Türkei nach 1933 (Berne: Herbert LangAFrankfort: Peter Lang, 1973). In addition to the most famous examples, such as Leo Spitzer and Eric Auerbach, there were many others who took temporary teaching posts in Turkey during the war years and who, hence, stimulated German-language instruction. In the wartime academic year 1943-44, there were 49,769 secondary students studying French, 16,408 studying English, and only 7,387 studying German. During the academic year of 1973-74, the figures had increased to 234,344 for French, 825,806 for English, and 139,352 for German. (Yasar Önen, "Die Germanistik in der Türkei und ihre Probleme," Deutsch-Türkische Gesellschaft E. V. - Mitteilungen, 95 (December 1975, Bonn, Germany), p. 1.) Therefore, even though German still holds third place, there has been a significant increase in interest, especially in comparison with French. Professor Yasar Önen, of the Germanistic Department of Ankara University, estimates that the total number of students at all Turkish institutions who were studying German in that year, 1973-74, was probably about 200,000, including the universities and the private German secondary schools. (According to publication statistics, translations from German authors most marketable to the Turkish public during that decade ranked as follows: Erich Maria Remarque, Goethe, Kafka, Schiller, and Brecht.) As for academic university study of German language and literature, despite all the progress made over recent years, Professor Onen nevertheless concluded his survey of German in the Turkish educational system by saying: "Die Germanistik in der Türkei befindet sich also noch in ihrem Anfangsstadium." This stands as an especially unhappy conclusion because it is not even possible to take comfort from the statistics concerning the publication of translations. Many of the translations of German authors into Turkish were made from French translations rather than from the original texts.





extension, the uneven quality and uneven chronology of foreign translations, such as Turkish translations of Brecht's later plays appearing before translations of his earlier plays and his theoretical writings, tend to deform the ability of foreign readers to acquire an accurate understanding of Brecht. 1 Also, Brecht's writings have had a life of their own, apart from performances of his plays for people who may never have had an opportunity to see an actual performance, or who have only been able to see execrable performances. There exists in many countries, including Turkey, a Brecht "popular" with students and intellectuals. Intellectuals everywhere tend to embrace cultural fashions of the moment. Accordingly, there is a Brecht taught at universities by well-informed academics that differs from the Brecht that is studied seriously by commuted theatrical activists who must overcome the many obstacles posed by language and differences of cultural context. Finally, there is a popular conception of Brecht fostered by the press that is seldom based on either political or academic commitment. Journalistic interest in Brecht has often been generated by official efforts to suppress performances of his plays, so that "Brecht" becomes a household word, either synonymous with "Communist" and "enemy," or "Marxist" and "martyr," depending on one's point of view.

The Turkish Impact of Brecht An uninformed visitor arriving in Istanbul in September 1975 might have thought that there was some sort of Brecht Festival in progress. During that particular month there were three full productions of Brecht's plays in progress and probably many others by amateur groups that had received little publicity. The daily press included items concerning these productions, or items about Brecht, or translations of his writings, on an almost daily basis so that at least one reviewer was compelled to call the season of 1975-76 the Year of Brecht in Turkey. Allusions to Brecht in serious printed sources accumulated rapidly and even a cursory examination of them reveals an extensive Turkish interest in Brecht that the v isitor, uninformed about the context of Turkish

'Keeping in mind the collective nature of the theatrical enterprise, it is especially difficult to draw conclusions about the effect of Brecht's ideas as measured by the response of audiences to performances of his plays. The level of artistic ability and political consciousness of the players and the director has a direct bearing on the impression that the audience will derive of Brecht. Hence, a negative audience response may result from poor timing in the social, political context, and a successful, positive audience response may result merely from extraordinary acting, either dramatic or Epic, that obscured the functioning of Brechtian dialectic interplay between actors and audience. The uneven level of quality present in virtually all Turkish theatrical groups makes this a special problem.



theater, might mistakenly attribute to same particular, passing event. 1 Yet, there is ample evidence to support the view that Brecht had a profound and pervasive influence on Turkish society. Discussions of contemporary theater almost always included references to him and publications of his works in translations continued with accelerating momentum throughout the period 19651975. The organization of various theatrical groups and the relationship of those groups to their audiences altered as a result of an effort to develop a "Brechtian audience" in Turkey. If these trends could once be dismissed as the result of urban intellectual fashion alone, they may no longer, since the "fashion" was assimilated even on the level of amateur theater performed by secondary students (much to the discomfort of the authorities). But it was left to a cultural attaché in the Ministry of Education, who was answering criticism in the press against the decision to withdraw a program printed for a 1970s production at the National Theater, in which the playwright had included a citation from Brecht, to ask unrhetorically, "Isn't there anyone else but Brecht?" Evidence of interest in Brecht by Turks comes from many sources, beginning at least from 1955 on. Apart from the bibliography of Brecht translations, there are impressive numbers of articles about Brecht that appeared in Turkish periodicals, and there were many allusions to him and his writings, which testify to the evolving impact he had on Turkish society in general and theatrical circles, in particular. For example, an article appeared in the 5 February 1955 issue of Devlet Tiyatrosu (National Theater) titled, "The Effect of Distancing in the Theater." It was a translation of Brecht by Adalet Agaoglu, herself a prominent playwright who published additional translations over the next ten years. 2 There is no small irony in the fact that the first Brecht translation appeared in the program magazine of the state theater when, in 1975, another program that included a mere allusion to Brecht caused the entire issue to be recalled from distribution. Apparently, in 1955 Brecht was not perceived by anyone as a threat to the established order. By 1975, that assessment had changed drastically. Tahir Alangu published an article in Yeditepe (Seven Hills) in September 1956, "Who is Brecht?," which was followed in October by another

Brecht has even been incorporated into a recent dictionary. Ali Piiskulluoglu's Oz Tiirkye Sozlugu (Dictionary of Pure Turkish), (Ankara: Bilgi Yayonevi, 1971) includes an allusion to Brecht in the following citation by Rifat Ilgaz, used to illustrate the definition of the wod "tutumsal" (economical): "Brecht's theater sets out by taking up the struggles between the progressive tendencies and the position of a period about to slide into fascism from its economic and political crises."


Most of the items mentioned in this section are listed chronologically in the appendix devoted to a bibliography of Turkish items relating to Brecht, which is included at the end of this study. Duplicate footnotes have, hence, been omitted.





article on Brecht's theater in the same journal. In September of the same year, Adalet Cimcoz published some translations of Brecht's stories and Professor Özdemir Nutku published in the same month three newspaper articles about Brecht. Also, a notice concerning Brecht's death was published in translation from a French source in Varlik (Existence) magazine. In 1957, Adalet Agaoglu published an article, "Brecht and Modern Theater" and Kamurän Sipal, who later produced a series of Brecht translations, published an article, "Brecht's Understanding of the 'Good Person'," in Yedi Tepe (Seven Hills) magazine. In the same year, Adalet Cimcoz published the first full translation into Turkish of a Brecht play, "Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan." Teoman Aktürel translated poems published together in the same volume, and the introduction was by Professor Haldun Taner. During the next five years, interest in Brecht waned, but the liberalizing effects of the 1960 revolution were quickly felt, such that in 1962 Teoman Aktürel published the Kleine Organon in a 48-page translation and Ünal Üstün published separately a 23-page translation of "Die Ausnahme und die Regel." Kamurän Sipal published another small Brecht translation, "Neighborhood Theater," and Professor Nutku published an article, "Piscator and Brecht." Ergun Sav published an article titled "Brecht and 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle.'" The season of 1963-64 represented a turning point because it included a staging at the Istanbul Municipal Theater of the Cimcoz translation of "The Good Woman of Sezuan" that was rather eventful, in fact, the cause célèbre of the year. Also, three further plays were published in translation: "Der kaukasische Kreide' kreis" by Adalet Agaoglu, "Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar" by Teoman Aktürel and "Leben des Galilei" by Adalet Cimcoz. In the December 1963 program magazine for the newly formed Arena Tiyatrosu, an article appeared, "What Is Theater?" by Aptullah Ko§anoglu, in which he discussed the difficulty of answering the question, as well as giving the manifesto of his own theater. He wrote: But among them (German writers of the war years), only one, Bertolt Brecht, in place of acquiescing to being attacked, chose rather to go on the attack. One of the enemies to be attacked was the capitalist order. The way to bloody wars was between the employees and the employers and the incompatibility of their order. According to the Viennese theatrical director, H. Schwarz' "Brecht fought against this like Don Quixote against the windmills. He filled his cannon, and fired at the enemy living in his head. Destiny and existing theater played the same games with him that the church played in the Middle Ages. Today, the loaded cannon fires the other way. " But despite everything inflicted on the theater, he lives as



a dramatic treasure. Arena won't take the churches or the Prophet Jesus' plays into its repertory, but certainly it will give you examples from Brecht, Frisch and from Diirrenmatt1 One of the important members of this group was Asaf £igiltepe who later helped establish the Ankara Sanat Tiyatrosu (Ankara Art Theater) or AST, which, under the influence of a strong respect for Brecht, constituted one of the principal forces for change in modern Turkish theater. Because the 1963-64 season production of "The Good Woman of Sezuan" came under actual physical attack by organized demonstrations of antiCommunist Islamic organizations, the production won a great deal of publicity and ticket sales increased dramatically as people tried to learn what all the controversy was about. Consequently, there was a marked increase in the number of items published concerning Brecht in the following year. Tuncay £avdar published a translation of The Three Penny Opera in 1964 and a number of translations of Brecht's theoretical writings followed. Haldun Taner published an article, "Bertolt Brecht and Epic Theater" for the program magazine of the Istanbul Municipal Theater and several articles were published condemning the attacks on the Municipal Theater production. Other translations were published concerning Brecht, from Roland Barthes, Eric Bentley, and Martin Esslin. During the 1964-65 season, three Brecht plays were staged: "Man Is Man" in Ankara, "Senora Carral's Rifles" on the uskudar (Asian) side of Istanbul, and "The Three Penny Opera" in Istanbul. Metin And condemned such frenetic "Brechtianism" when he published his book. History of Turkish Theater in 100 Questions (1970), which included the following answer to the question, "What are the latest tendencies in our theater?" Today's intellectuals who reject the servile imitation of the Tanzimat period have entered into a new period of derivative work by means of translations of social activist works. Without knowledge of their own traditional theater they have learned of the same elements in Brecht and Piscator. Without knowing the social structure of their own country, they talk about the ruling classes and the bourgeoisie of Turkey. Without having examined sufficiently their own Wars of Liberation, they give examples of Western imperialism and wars of independence in other countries?

^Aptullah Koçanoglu, "Tiyatro Nedir?" (What is Theater?) Arena Tiyatrosu, program magazine (December 1963). Metin And, "Soru 98: Tiyatromuzda Son Egilimler Nelerdir?" in 100 Soruda Turk Tiyatrosu Tarihi (Istanbul: Gcreck Yayinevi, 1970), p. 337. Interest in Brecht has stimulated interest in Piscator as well. At least five translations of articles and interviews concerning Piscator appeared in the period 1964-1974. For example, see Dikmen Gurur's "Emekyi Tiyatro: Temel Prensipleri Gôrevleri" (Workers' Theater: Basic Principles and Duties), Tiyatro 74, No. 24, p. 44.





The April issue of Ti vatro 71 magazine continued a theme begun in earlier articles that questioned how applicable Brecht was to Turkish theater in view of the great disparity between the cultures as well as political and economic environments in which the two theaters existed. Significantly, in an article, "The People's Players and Revolutionary Turkish Theater," Epic theater was defended at length: "No one has asserted that in order to do epic theater it is necessary to recreate the conditions of Germany as he (Brecht) lived them. Let's not propose such thoughts." 1 From the point of view of the sociologists of literature, the half dozen Turkish Epic plays that have been selected for detailed consideration in this study may represent too narrow a sample of Turkish plays from which to assess accurately the literary influence of Brecht on contemporary Turkish theater as a whole. However, they were selected from among the many others that also show evidence of Brecht's influence. There are many plays that reflect, in various ways, important tendencies in the broad impact that Brecht had on Turkish society as a whole. Furthermore, each of the plays selected was in itself a cause célebre for differing reasons and they provide insights into the nature of Brecht's total impact on Turkish life. Perhaps less important to the sociologist of literature and more important to the literary historian or critic, these plays are among the most significant modern Turkish plays from the point of view of style, structure, and influence on other playwrights. Each of them has had a profound impact on the shape of Turkish political theater and each play exemplifies how Epic theater may be transformed in a putatively alien environment. Haldun Taner's 1964 play, "Ke§anh Ali Destam" (The Ballad of Ali of Keshan), changed the direction of Turkish theater and was immensely popular. Sermet pagan's 1965 play, "Ayak Bacak Fabrikasi" (The Foot and Leg Factory), was taken on a national tour under the sponsorship of the Teachers Union and attracted legal opposition. Vasif Óngoren's 1970 play, "Asiye Nasil Kurtulur?," (How May Asiye Be Saved?), captured the popular imagination and provoked a national debate on profound social issues. Vedat Tiirkali's 1975 play, "Bu Ólü Kalkacak" (This Dead Will Rise), was summarily banned by the authorities and served as a measure of the fear they had for Epic theater. Orhan Asena's 1974 play, "§ili'de Av" (Hunting in Chile), although dramatic rather than Epic, exemplified the extent to which a Turkish theater (Dostlar Tiyatrosu) could succeed in implementing a Brechtian conception of collective theatrical enterprise and personal commitment, on both artistic and political levels. (This play was also banned.)

^Ayberk £ o l o k and Umur Bugay, "HO Ele§tirisi ve Devrimci Tiirk Tiyatrosu," Tiyatro 71, No. 12 (April 1971), p. 22.



Those familiar with Turkish theater will certainly regret the omission of plays by Aziz Nesin, of Haldun Taner's other Epic plays, and of important plays by Ba§ar Sabuncu, Oktay Arayici, Macit Koper and Zeynep Oral. They were deleted from the final draft of this study solely in the interest of rhetorical clarity. Hopefully, future studies may remedy the temporary imbalance of their omission. Similarly, non-Epic Brechtian plays by Kerim Korean, Giingor Dilmen, and Ismet Kuntay were excluded, as were several significant plays of Genco Erkal in collaboration with Turhan Sel§uk and Aziz Nesin. Brevity demanded as well the omission of several entire areas of discussion relevant to a comprehensive understanding of Brecht in Turkey. For example, it was primarily through the influence of Brecht that there was a renaissance of creativity in the area of children's literature and children's theater in Turkey. Cabaret theater also saw a revival and, through Brecht, the political and artistic pressures on the National Theater in Ankara and the Istanbul Municipal Theater underwent fundamental transformations. Because of Brecht's advocates in Turkey, the Turkish institutions for the training of actors and directors, the National Conservatory and the conservatory of the Istanbul Municipal Theater came under pressure to change. Brecht's advocates even stimulated an important debate concerning the function of music in the theater, as well as the nature and function of music in Turkish culture as a whole. The initial effort represented by this study, at the least, puts these issues into perspective. Hopefully, it will spark interest in them in the West as well as the East that will result in valuable, future scholarship.


The Brecht Wave and Servile Imitation The growing volume of Brecht publications and Brecht productions during the twenty year period 1955-1975 reached a new, peak level of activity in 1975, reflecting the cumulative effect of interest in previous years as well as the rapid deterioration of political and social developments in Turkey. Translations of several of Brecht's plays were reissued, including a volume of writings by Brecht on experimental theater, a volume of Brecht's political writings against Hitler's fascism, and more than 22 articles by Brecht in translation. There were also articles about Brecht (including bibliographies) and Brecht's ideas on cinema, on Georg Lukacs, and on the painter Breughel. The critical judgment that 1975 was "the Year of Brecht in Turkey" could not easily be disputed. The Ankara Sanat Tiyatrosu (Ankara Art Theater) played "Die Mutter" (The Mother) for a second season, based largely on the notoriety gained from a legal battle with the authorities over whether the play constituted Communist propaganda and was, as such, subject to censorship. The Istanbul Municipal Theater produced "The Life of Galileo"; Birlik Sahnesi (Unity Stage) mounted a new production of "Fear and Misery of the Third Reich" and "The Good Woman of Sezuan"; meanwhile, the Halk Sahnesi Oyuncular (Players of the People's Stage) revived "Senora Carrar's Rifles" in Kocamustafapasa, a working class neighborhood of Istanbul. In addition, the Bakirkoy secondary school won first prize in an interscholastic theatrical competition with an amateur production of the same play. Mainly as a result of this situation, the Ministry of Education, which was in the hands of the right-wing coalition partners, began putting pressure on secondary school administrators to discourage participation in this annual competition and to exercise greater control over student selection of plays. At least 17 newspaper articles appeared during the year concerning Brecht or current productions of these plays, as well as several cartoons and numerous reviews. Despite the many positive aspect of this great interest in Brecht, there were frequent charges that the "Brecht Wave" represented merely another example of the long-standing Turkish predilection for imitating foreign





models. 1 This tendency extends back to the mid-19th Century and resulted frequently in exaggerated reactions, either uncritical acceptance or rejection by Turkish intellectuals of literary and other fashions imported from the West. Many Turkish critics lamented this phenomenon. They attempted to prevent recurring tendencies to substitute appearances for genuine, creative work based on a profound understanding of foreign languages and/or on a profound understanding of authentic Turkish culture. According to the critics, only in this way could the foreign element be assimilated successfully in order to produce a genuine synthesis. But the problem of niklitgilik, or servile imitation, represents only the tip of the iceberg that is the continuing problem of batilasma, or Westernization. Historical, religious, and psychological elements of this effort to emulate the West were reflected in the educational system, in government policies, and in broad fields of cultural endeavor. Mustafa Kemal set Turkey sharply on a course of Westernization, but how the form was to be transformed into the substance has never been fully resolved. Meanwhile, there has been a pervasive tendency to let the form masquerade as the substance, either from ignorance, self-deception, or both. If, for example, Turkish interest in Brecht could be seen as merely another example of superficial imitation of Western fashions, then it would merit consideration only as an example of the broader problem of imitation. However, evidence that Brecht was being served in more than a servile fashion comes from many sources. It includes the chronology of literary events in both Turkey and the West, from the quality and quantity of documentation showing an understanding of Brecht based on comprehension and conviction and, finally, from the extent of the opposition of a government that took Brecht very seriously. Could he have known, he would have doubtless been highly pleased. The most cogent evidence arguing that interest in Brecht went beyond servile imitation comes from the fact that Turks went beyond Brecht's own plays, that is, back to sources of inspiration in traditional Turkish theater. This 'This tendency was not, however, limited to Turkey. For example, although Max Spalter's article, "Five Examples of How to Write a Brechtian Play That Is Not Really Brechtian," does not include any Turkish examples, yet it may w ell have done so because many of the observations he makes concerning European Brechtians apply to Turks as well. He mentions the extent to which Max Frisch, Peter Weiss, Peter Hacks, and John Osborne, have been judged "Brechtian" and the magnitude their alleged "debt" to him; nevertheless, Spalter remains skeptical (Educational Theater Journal, 27, No. 2, May 1975, p. 220): "What they have not as yet done, however, is to add to the contemporary repertoire any plays whose complexity is on a par with Brecht's best work. Their plays have recognizable Brechtian motifs and structures, but they do not combine a concrete approach to character with the variety of tendentious and lyrical strategies that were so typical of Brecht. They have been influenced by what Walter Sokel has pointed out to be the cornerstone of Brecht's dramaturgy: the portrayal of character in such a way that what happens to a character in a Brecht play stands as an eloquent comment on the morality of that character's life style. Succinctly put, in Brecht's work, the character, himself, is the problem under study."



was the result of an increasingly successful effort to apply Brechtian concepts and establish a new direction in Turkish theater based on a repertory of Turkish (Brechtian) plays. These efforts vitalized discussions over a long period of time concerning whether there was, in fact, such a thing as a Turkish national theater, or a Turkish style of modern theater (apart f r o m the local color aspect, or the village setting of some plays). They questioned whether the mere fact of plays having been written in Turkish sufficed. Some intellectuals defended the imitation of foreign models, servile or not, as better than the dismantling of responsible critical standards. They rejected as well the servile support of Turkish plays simply because they were written in the Turkish language, even when they were clearly second or third-rate if compared to superior examples of world theater. Is this chauvinism, they asked, or hard realism? When we remember also that the number of creative and competent Turkish playwrights was (and remains) small, that play writing was seldom a lucrative profession, and that at times it has been politically dangerous, it is not difficult to understand why the debate couldn't be resolved. For Metin And, the greatest problem during the 150-year history of Turkish theater has been servile imitation that prevented it f r o m advancing. In his despair, he prophesized that Ankara Sanat Tiyatrosu (AST) would stage a Turkish play only after Jean Vilar selected one and they heard of it, and after they went to Paris to attend the rehearsals to see how it should be staged. If Muhsin Ertugrul, as a director, was open to some of these same charges, And points out that at least he had the humility to give the foreign sources credit. Professor And also dismissed their claim of being unable to find suitable Turkish plays by pointing out how many other private theaters were offering excellent Turkish plays. He dismissed their posturing to become a "people's theater" as debasements of Jean Vilar's conception of "people's theater" for the masses. According to And, none of AST's plays were suitable for such theatrical intentions and its audience has been, on the contrary, elitist: These well dressed gentlemen and ladies, either to appear progressive or to give gossips something to chew on, give much thought to their appearance, and, to clothe their anger and disgust with the West, they try to dress up their patches. These are the ones in leather jackets who spell out Camus and Sartre. In short, the exact opposite of "people's theater.

^Metin And, "Kamu Tiyatrosu Olmak Yolunda, Arena'dan Ankara Sanat Topluluguna," Oyun, No. 9 (April 1964), p. 21. Next, he attacks AST's claims in the area of social activism, revealing fully the extent of his, by comparison, reactionary and conservative conception of the theater: "That theater should not be entertaining runs contrary to history, and especially theater history. Social activism is a viewpoint that seeks happiness and justice for humanity, this is its battlefield. But theater itself represents an element of the good life. When enemy planes are raining bombs of death, people seek in a sheltering theater a taste of the happy life; it makes them forget for a while the unlucky whistles of the bombs. Theater is a place of illusion, of deception. Those who are ignorant of the history of the theater, or who are ignorant in general want to render theater a weapon in the war of social activism. In that effort, they denigrate theater; it finishes by devouring itself."





He faulted AST with having chosen the lazy path of imitation rather than the more difficult one of researching the social environment in order to establish an organic connection between audience and plays. Any generalization, whether Vilar's or Marx's, requires research into actualities before it can be applied. Also, while the activists professed to aim at destroying the star system, And asserted that this was far from accomplished, because actors such as Genco Erkal and actresses such as Ayla Algan remained "stars" in the public eye. He concluded his attack by expressing the hope that AST would dedicate itself to theater as such and to its Turkish context rather than to foreign influences. Metin And's remarks reflected his academic viewpoint and his bourgeois background, as he himself look no pains to hide. They expressed as well a conservative attitude toward theater that, over the years since their publication, has been almost completely swept aside both by the advocates of activist political theater and by the political events that nourished such theater. 1 AST weathered these and other attacks in order to stage additional Brecht plays and along with Brechtian Turkish plays. As one of the most successful private theaters dedicated to the social activist view of theater, AST has been a beacon for other groups. 2 Yet the polarization process begun in the early 1960s was only further exacerbated in the 1970s, such that the views advocated by Metin And in 1964 were reiterated later with even greater cogency. He applauded the new critical spirit that began in Turkey after the 1960 coup d'état, especially as it affected the theater, but the provocative questions that were asked, he insisted, should be asked as well of the activist, "revolutionary" theaters. For example, if an activist views theater as a tool and not as a place for either catharsis or "chewing the cud," how does he justify the provocative, inflammatory leftist plays that evoke strong emotional responses from their audiences? Isn't their need for release as great as the need of the audience at a comedy for laughter? If theater is to be didactic, why play before audiences already politicized and in complete agreement with the message from the outset? 3 He believes even more strongly

^Some talented playwrights who shared his views, such as Refik Erduran and A. Turan Oflazoglu, have been effectively driven from the stage. ^Hayati Asilyazici, "AST iistune." Oyun, No. 11 (June 1964), p. 12. In the same journal a few months later, Asilyazici thoughtfully answered And's criticisms of AST. His point of departure was to question, not And's accuracy, but his motives. He asked in whose favor, or in favor of what kind of theater, And fulminates. Rather than condemn AST for not having achieved more during its short existence, Asilyazici commends it for having achieved as much as it has, for producing some difficult plays successfully, and for staging Brecht, which no subsidized theater could no without the kind of political problems experienced by the Istanbul Municipal Theater. 3 And, 100 Soruda Turk Tiyatrosu Tarihi, pp. 338-39. And remained adamant concerning his belief that, as we move farther from aesthetic principles, "we lose the desired power to convince and provoke. The value of the work should measured not by the value of its exposition, but by its realization according to aesthetic rules."



than earlier that a theater, "a tiny theater whose salon holds 300 in the heart of Ankara, whose tickets are expensive for those of small incomes," cannot be a "people's theater" and should "abandon the pretention of being one."

The Brecht Wave Beyond


Interest in the application of Brechtian ideas was not limited to theater, as documented in an article that appeared in the issue of Yarina Dogru (Straight to Tomorrow) when Nezih Co§ published "Cinema Notes," in which he wrote: Materialist cinema, from the point of view of style, denies and must deny the conventions of bourgeois cinema. Heroic idealizations and identifications are characteristics that must be abandoned in their entirety. Materialist cinema tries to make use of Brecht's alienation system and Epic techniques. Interest in Brecht revitalized subsectors, such as children's theater. For example, in the February 1976 issue of Tiyatro 76, Mehmet Ulusoy reviewed a production of "Keloglan" (Keloglan), performed by A £ O K , Anadolu (,'ocuk Oyun Kolu (Anatolian Children's Play Branch) in which he praised them for their success in establishing a theatrical harmony without recourse to outmoded dramatic forms. Their success, he insisted, resulted not merely f r o m amateur enthusiasm, but from having analyzed the nature of theater. 2 During the same month, Politika published an important article titled. "The Drama of A M H P Father f r o m the Point of View of Brecht's Fascism," by Selim Ileri. The subject was the murder of the son of a man who was a loyal member of Alparslan Turkes's allegedly fascist National Action Party. The member's son had been killed in an ambush organized by the paramilitary commando youth groups of the anti-Leftists. T h e father published open letters in the media to Turkes imploring him to close down the c o m m a n d o units and bring the guilty to justice. T h e irony of the situation was not lost on the leftist media, and the Brechtian aspects of the irony are treated in Selim ileri's article in the form of a long analogy between Brecht's, "Senora Carrar's Rifles," his most popular play in Turkey, and the actual events of the day. The preface to the text reads:

^Nezih Coj, "Sinema Notlari," Yarina Dogru, No. 15 (January 1976), p. 73. ^Mehmet Ulusoy, "Keloglan i?in," Tiyatro 76, No. 33 (February 1976), p. 20. He was quite enthusiastic: "Those who do Brechtian theater ought to see this play first. This play arrives at a universal synthesis from Turkish culture."





Today's artist is obligated to express in straightforward language on whose side he is. Murders and events in the streets have left artists no possibility for escape into superficial personal behavior} The article opened wilh a description of the circumstances surrounding the writing of Brecht's plays, "Señora Carrar's Rifles," and summarized the action of the play. A clear link was made between the plight of Señora Carrar in the play and Nüsret Yildirim, whose son had been murdered; Ata's religious funeral was interrupted by clashes between the police and demonstrators. Selim Ileri made a direct analogy between the boy and the son of Theresa Carrar: "This is the working of fascism from the 1930s until today." He cited Brecht's statement: "For a long, long time culture has defended itself only with spiritual weapons, but it was always under attack from material weapons. Therefore, it is forced to look to material weapons in its defense." ileri continued: And the number of Señora Carraras is growing. This is one of the sharp points of departure between socialist realism and critical realism. Life itself must reflect within the framework of creative possibilities this endless process, which constitutes as well the content of literature conditioned by socialist realism} He concluded with the somber observation that, when Señora Carrar's actual situation is understood, the price of Juan's death does not seem so high anymore. Daily political developments nourished this broad analogy between Brecht's anti-fascism and contemporary Turkey. On April 6, 1976, Cumhuriyet newspaper published an article entitled, "The Fear and Misery of Fascism," by Hasan izzettin Dinamo that rev iewed contemporary, dramatized productions of Brecht's and Nazim Hikmet's poetry at Dostlar Tiyatrosu (Friends Theater) with another at Birlik Tiyatrosu titled. "Do You Know Your Assassins?" The thunderings of two great world poets against fascism is being greeted with enthusiastic interest. Through them we see once more how the vanguard powers of capitalism are trying to put Turkey once more under the yoke. Whether at Friends Theater, or Unity Stage Theater, at this point the battle is raging with courage and in concrete form against this ' S e l i m Ileri, "Brecht'in f a s i z m e baKis acisi ve bir MHP'li babanin drami," Politika ( 2 3 March 1976). The play has been particularly popular with amateur theatrical groups because it can be staged with relatively simple sets, and in a straightforwardly old-fashioned, representational style that presents f e w unusual demands on their limited resources. Turkish productions of the play, however, have not been mounted by major theaters, nor have the amateur productions e v o k e d the quantity and quality of response of other Brecht plays. For these reasons, detailed consideration of it has been omitted in favor of the others. Selim Ileri, "Brecht'in fasizme."



monster. Art and literature, especially poetry, are strategic weapons of society. Even in a Turkey that in recent days has fallen under the threat of fascism, a Turkey of dread, Bertolt Brecht's revolutionary, fighting poetic plays, have become the crown of our revolutionary stage. The Bertolt Brecht plays now on stage in Ankara are not playing for in vain in today's Turkey. In this struggle Bertolt Brecht supports us as an ally} T h e "fighting" was not merely rhetorical. Bloody struggles between Leftist and Rightist groups resulted in the closing down of most institutions of higher learning all over the country for the better part of the 1975-76 academic year, and "incidents" were reported down to the junior high school level. For example, on January 14, 1976 Politika published a running total: to date 16 students, 5 teachers, and 3 workers had been murdered in political clashes. The number of those injured was not recorded, but ran into the hundreds, at least. Perhaps the ugliest incident occurred on May 1,1977, during a heavily attended M a y Day demonstration at Taksim Square in Istanbul. T h e crowds were showered by automatic weapons fire, resulting in more than 35 deaths and hundreds of injuries. According to an Associated Press report published in the Los Angeles Times on November 27, 1977, 200 people had died in political violence to date during the year; 17 died in one month alone after the opening of the universities: "A blood bath of politically motivated shootings, bombings and killings have become part of the daily life and the public appears to be increasingly desensitized to the violence." In March 1977, Sanat Dergisi (Art Journal) published another interview with Vasif Ongoren on the occasion of the opening of his new play, "Zengin Mutfagi (Kitchen of the Rich), in which he was asked to explain how he had been influenced by Brecht, and whether he thought there was really a "Brecht Wave" in progress in Turkey. He replied: For me, Brecht is not a playwright. Only if I say that can I draw the outlines of the Brecht event. Brecht was the first man to use dialectic materialism, the concept of reality and the systematic exposition of reality in art. Since I have accepted Brecht more as a model than as a writer, there is no question of a "Brechtian application" of Brecht's system in my plays. To this day I have only staged one Brecht play, "Sezuan." And I admit that I still haven't succeeded with it. You talk about a "Brecht Wave," but / tell you that Brecht has still not played in Turkey. Just as Shakespeare's or Chekov 's plays require masterful actors, they are twice as necessary for Bertolt Brecht's plays. Putting Brecht into practice is difficult.2

^Hasan Izzettin Dinamo, "Fasizmin Korku ve Sefaleti," Cumkuriyet, 4 June 1976. ^Vasif Ongoren, interview in Sanat Dergisi, No. 224, 25 March 1977, p. 3.




Many of these difficulties are practical, others political, still others familiar to theaters everywhere. However, there are particular difficulties that arise from profoundly differing attitudes toward art in general in Turkey and in the West. Ongoren once remarked during an interview that the best preparation an actor needed to understand Brecht was to read Das ¡Capital", a converse analogy suggests the best preparation necessary to understand the disparity between the cultural contexts represented by Berlin and Istanbul: read the Koran.

Islamic Obstacles to the Acceptance of Brecht No discussion about the situation of theater in Turkey, or in any Islamic culture, would be fully intelligible without some understanding of the most fundamental Islamic attitudes toward art in general, and the pictorial arts in particular, of which theater is considered an example by analogy. It must be remembered that calligraphy became the most exalted art form in Islam because of the religious importance of the calligrapher in copying the Koran. The Koran itself serves as the basis for Muslim poetry, which was the most important verbal art. 1 Among all the great proselytizing religions of the world, Islam alone refused to make propagandistic use of pictorial arts, and its traditionally hostile attitude toward the pictorial arts, painting, sculpture, and later photography, had from the earliest period given Islam its characteristic identity. As will be discussed later, an exception was made by the clerics for the Karagoz puppet theater, but theater of any kind suffered from the prohibition against painting. If it was impermissible to portray the human form two-dimensionally, how much more reprehensible to do so in three dimensions. Nevertheless, there is only one specific mention of pictures in the Koran, and interpretation indicates that its purpose was to prohibit idolatry rather than painting as such. It has been from the authority of the Hadith, the Traditions of the Prophet, that the uncompromising condemnation of painting derives cogency. In them, Mohammed is said to have promised severe punishment to painters on the Day of Judgments because they seek to usurp the creative function of God; their efforts were seen as blasphemous presumption. Many scholars feel that the intolerant attitude toward pictorial art present in the traditions does not accurately reflect Mohammed's own attitude because there are recorded incidents where he himself does not seem to have objected to living with objects on which figures of men or animals were decorated. 2 It is uncertain when the compilation of the Traditions was begun, but they seem to have acquired authoritative form in the third century and, by the thirteenth century,

^Sir Thomas Arnold, Painting in Islam: A Study of the Place of Pictorial Art in Muslim (Oxford University Press, 1928; reprinted. New York: Dover Publications, 1965), p. 10. Arnold, Painting in Islam, p. 7.




the prohibitions against painting acquired the status of orthodoxy. Some allowance was made for pictorial decorations on carpets, or pillows, that were to be trampled underfoot, between that which casts a shadow and that which does not, but the practical effect was to encompass all pictorial art. T h e origin of this hostile attitude has been attributed to the Jewish converts to Islam, and particularly to the influence of the large Jewish population of Medina. The Jewish attitude, in turn, derives f r o m the historical opposition of Judaism to any form of idolatry and to anything that might provoke temptations toward it. The fact that there exists a magnificent body of Islamic painting has been explained by some historians as the effect of the theological differences between the Persian Shiites and the Arab and Turkish Sunni Muslims. However, this explanation is anachronistic and distorts the differences between the forms of Islam. More likely, extant painting may be explained by the tastes of individual Islamic rulers, their ability to either ignore (or influence) clerical opinion, or, as was often the case with the Ottoman sultans, their ability to indulge in this alleged "vice" privately. Were we to accept naive assumption that all members of a religious community adhered uniformly to the precepts of their religion, it would be difficult to explain the historical penchant of Muslims for wine, which was condemned even more strongly than painting. The exception made for the Karagdz theological opinion that:

shadow play was based on the

Since a hole had to be made in each figure in order that it might be suspended from a string, and since the hole went right through it in a manner that would have been quite impossible in the case of a living man, there was, therefore, clearly no irreverent or presumptuous attempt to rival the creative activity of God} Furthermore, the fact that the puppets are seen through a screen rather than in actual form was interpreted as laudatory because it suggested "the divine reality that lies behind the shadowy, unreal appearances of this mundane existence, and that God directs the affairs of men, just as the showman regulates the movements of his puppets."

'Arnold, Painting in Islam, pp. 13-14.





In a recent work devoted to the shadow theater in Turkey and in the rest of the world, Metin And suggests additional reasons why Arab and Islamic attitudes have prevented the development of theater. 1 For them, the concept of drama goes contrary to their worldview. As we have noted, the power to create resides in God alone and may not be mimicked by men without committing punishable blasphemy. Furthermore, a dramatic form such as tragedy, which portrays an individual who decides on a course of action independently and who fails, strikes Arabs as nonsense and the concept of deriving pleasure from watching the fall of a man of rank strikes them as perverse. For them, one determines one's actions in life according to the dictates of God, not one's individual will. If they have a preference for the "epic" in art, it is a narrowly defined epic, specifically a system of thought that delights in endless repetitions of a theme and gives little importance to plot advancement. The need of drama to establish tension, conflict, and rapid denouement does not appeal to them. Their epic taste is Homeric, for beginning the tale again from the very beginning and repeating it in all its details, and at great length. Here, there is no effort to build suspense through the knitting together of events. Whether in Islamic music, visual or narrative art, delight comes from exhausting a subject with endlessly pleasing details. It is, in fact, a taste that would have been well understood by medieval Europeans until the early Renaissance. The fact that representations of animals can be found everywhere incorporated into architectural designs may reflect merely the superstitious, popular need for talismans, themselves vestiges of preIslamic periods. There has never been any formal "Islamic aesthetics," nor has Muslim literature ever attempted "to work out any independent system of aesthetics." There has never been any appreciation of art for its own sake, but there exists nonetheless a formidable consensus of traditional beliefs that serve as an obstacle of the first magnitude to the acceptance of theater in any Islamic society. 2 Islamic culture views theater as basically entertainment and inherently antithetical to proper religious practices, as an improper activity for women. It takes the view that fatalism, or submission to God's will, is preferable to the belief that man can change his society, and that the established government is the one deserving of the citizen's loyalty. From the traditional point of view, Westernization must be limited so as not to jeopardize essential Islamic values. These include the inferiority of women and the fusion of religious and secular authority in a theocratic state, the belief that the Turkish language should preserve its Ottoman elements rather than be "purified," or "reformed." The traditional view holds also that critical thinking is less important than religious faith based on Koranic exegesis and that this faith implies opposition to any form of atheistic communism

'Metin And, Diinyada ve Bizde (to/ge Oyunu (Ankara: 84-85. See And's Diinyada, p. 37.

Bankasi Kultiir Yayinlari, 1977), pp.


Islam and the Politics of Art No accurate understanding of the relationship between contemporary Turkish drama and politics is possible without a prior understanding of the interconnections between art, politics, and religion as conceived in Islamic Turkish society. That no Leftist theater utilizes a Western political vocabulary leads to misconceptions, unless understood strictly in an Islamic and Turkish context. Considerations of religious influences on modern Western literature and politics would be less likely to command attention if secularism were either newly established, or were the influence of organized religion perceived to be eroding steadily. On the contrary, secularism survived into the 1970s in Turkey principally by the imposition of constitutional decree from above, rather than by the evolutionary will of the masses of Turkish society expressing itself at the ballot box. The advent of the Refah Party in the 1990s and the ability of its leader, Necmettin Erbakan, to become Prime Minister in a coalition government came to some as a sharp reminder to many that fundamentalist religious fervor had not, in fact, been inundated by any rising tide of Westernized secularism. The abuse of religious sentiment and institutions was one of the main causes of the military intervention on 25 May 1960 when the national constitution was re-written to strengthen the principles of secularism. This came in the face of continuing opposition by organized Rightist (i.e., Islamic fundamentalist) opposition that included representatives of movements whose goal was to overthrow the secular state and re-establish the sultanate and, with it, the hegemony of Islamic religious law, the Sharia. If so, Marxist-oriented theater faces the contradiction of attempting to address an Islamic mass whose religious views tend sharply to the Right, rather than the Left—using the terms in both a social and economic sense. Anti-theatrical sentiment in Turkey bases itself on religious authority to an extent unknown in Europe since Jeremy Collier's attacks in England in the early 18th Century. 1

Jeremy Collier published, in 1698, A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, in which he objected strenuously to the bawdy plays of the preceding Restoration period. He attacked the profanity of stage dialogue, the negative portrayals of clergymen on stage, and the incitement to immoral acts. "His work attracted more attention than any other single book or pamphlet." See Albert C. Baugh, A Literary History of England (New York: Appleton-CenturyCrofts, 1948), p. 771.





Similar to the European Middle Ages, when feudalism and institutionalized Christianity supported art that glorified the established social values, so Islam during the period of the Ottoman Empire favored the development of mosque architecture and design as ratification of its own supremacy. Art as a vehicle for social criticism was not permitted, and the concept of art as a vehicle for personal expression was undeveloped. Poetry approached this goal, but excessive and conventional stylization was never challenged by the equivalent of a Romantic Movement to expand the possibilities of expression. Also, the economic and social structure, the absence of theater, and the high rate of illiteracy inhibited the development of literature in general. Ottoman literature achieved a unique richness, but its forms and concerns reflect its narrow social and intellectual sphere. One primary reason for the backwardness of the Ottoman Empire was the absence of any equivalent to the Industrial Revolution that occurred in the West. Social stasis, primitive technology, a closed agricultural economy, an inequitable feudal political system, and a fatalist mentality characterized preindustrial, traditional Ottoman society. It reflected local cultural norms whereby social or financial advancement depended mainly on birth. Islam served to rationalize the preservation of the status quo by asserting it as divinely ordained.1 In fact, the entire conception of the function of politics and its relationship to religion as well as society differs in an Islamic context: "This recurring unwillingness to recognize the nature of Islam, or even the fact of Islam, as an independent, different, and autonomous religious phenomenon persists and recurs from medieval to modern times." 2 False analogies between the Bible and the Koran, between churches and mosques, between the ulema and priests greatly complicate matters. Even terminology reveals serious errors; for e x a m p l e , W e s t e r n e r s o f t e n use the term " M o h a m m e d a n " and "Mohammedanism," even though Muslims have never themselves used these terms because they suggest an analogy between the place of Christ in Christianity and Mohammed in Islam, which is erroneous, Westerners have been using "Turkey" to designate the Ottoman Empire, although the inhabitants of Anatolia did not use the term until after 1923: Modern Western man, being unable for the most part to assign a dominant and central place to religion in his own affairs, found himself unable to conceive that any other peoples in any other place could have done so, and was therefore impelled to devise other explanations of what

'Ahmed Yiicekok, Tiirkiye'de

Din vn Siyaset (Istanbul: Gerfek Yayinevi, 1971; rpt. 1976), p. 18.

^Bernard Lewis, "The Return of Islam," Commentary

(January 1976), p. 39.



seemed to him only superficially religious phenomena. We are prepared to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit than an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards.] The remedy consists in understanding "the universality of religion as a factor in the lives of the Muslim peoples, and its centrality." Each of the three major Middle Eastern religions differs significantly in its conception of the relation of religion to the state and its attitude toward politics. Essentially, we must remember that Judaism and Christianity arose before they became state religions and have been, at times, antagonistic to various states in which their people found themselves, whereas Islam, from the life of its founder, was conceived as a state and the identity of state and religion are inseparable: One consequence is that in Islam religion is not, as it is in Christendom, one sector or segment of life, regulating some matters while others are excluded; it is concerned with the whole of life—not a limited, but a total jurisdiction. Church and state, religious and political authority, are one and the samer Nationalism and secularism as ideological and political influences have arisen only recently and are still objects of controversy. The nation, which in the Middle East is a colonial creation, forms an inferior basis of identity and loyalty, and "nationalism" as a movement independent of religion, based on geographic and ethnic criteria, has never been completely assimilated. In hindsight it has been easy to evaluate the success of the Kemalist Revolution as a triumph of secularism, yet an examination of primary documents shows the initial nature of the Kemalist revolt in Anatolia to have been as much Islamic as Turkish. Secularism was established only after the consolidation of the new Republic, and not without opposition—at times bloody—that continues even to the present. The years since the Kemalist era have done little to alter basic attitudes and, even in the 1970s, in the secular Turkish Republic the word "Turk" was restricted to Muslims. Minorities referred to themselves as "Turkish subjects," but not as Turks, and intellectuals produced the solecism "Tiirkiyeli," translated roughly as "inhabitant of the state of Turkey." Even today, the identification of Turk with Muslim remains very strong. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller provoked a firestorm of criticism in the mid-1990s when she used the term because it suggested that Kurds were not, in fact, Turks and was interpreted as lending legitimacy to their separatist claims.

'Lewis, "The Return of Islam," p. 40. Ibid.






Worse, while the Kurds are also Muslims, many of them belong to the Alawite sect that the orthodox Sunni religious establishment views with great distrust.

On the International

Political Arena, an Exception Proves the Rule.

Although the call of Islamic unity had been utilized by Arab revolutionary movements over the years, it did not serve to rally Islamic support among Arab and other Islamic countries for Turkey over the Cyprus issue, much to Turkey's disappointment. This may reflect vestigial resentment of former subjects of their old imperial rulers, but it reflects as well their disapproval of Turkish policies of secularization and Westernization. Perhaps little known outside the region, both the Egyptian invasion of the Sinai in 1973 and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus utilized military code names taken from historic victories of Islam over its enemies. These curious and apparent anachronisms compel us to conclude that "Islam is still the most effective form of consensus in Muslim countries, the basic group identity among the masses." Islamic expression through modern political systems has been abused, suppressed, and ineptly mobilized, yet it remains an extremely important factor in the politics of all the Islamic countries.

Notes on the Structure of Tur kish Society A contemporary book by Muzaffer Sencer, Dinin Tiirk Toplumuna Etkileri, 1974 (The Effects of Religion on Turkish Society), presented an economic and social application of these ideas to a specifically Turkish context that emphasized the interrelationships between evolutionary changes in religion and economy. 1 In the introdui tion, Sencer considers two serious impediments to the comparative understanding of Turkish and Western contexts in religion and economics: Islam as an ideological rationale for many institutional aspects of the present Turkish Republic has its roots in a precapitalist economic reality that is rapidly disappearing. Furthermore, while Western capitalism developed as a result of suitable ideological (religious) and social philosophies, capitalism has been hastily imposed on an Islamic Turkish society that lacks corresponding ideological support. (The debate over whether Islam is fundamentally hostile to socialism, or compatible with it, has provided a cottage industry to a small group of academics.) Although changes in the economic structure of society should be reflected eventually in evolutionary changes in religious attitudes, this has not yet happened in any of the Islamic countries, including Turkey, where a ^Muzaffer Sencer, Dinin Tiirk Toplumuna

Etkileri (Istanbul: M a y Yayinlan, 1974), p. 15.



continuing contradiction exists between Islamic traditions and the present capitalist economic order. Sencer differentiates between bourgeois sociology and Marxist sociology in order to emphasize the difference between two alternative evaluations of the effects of Islam on Turkish society. He cites Max Weber as a prime example of the bourgeois sociological point of view. According to Weber, the development of capitalism depended on the Protestant Ethic, which was—overall—a rationalizing influence. The assumption is that every religion develops by creating a system of social and economic ethics. Sencer, following Weber, discusses the importance of "profession" and its connection to the religious concept of a "calling" by God to a particular life's work. This is taken to be a necessary ideological precondition for the development of capitalism. In Protestantism, a person's success, or failure, at his "calling" becomes an important measure of his spiritual growth, to the point where there could be an easy transition from a religious application to a secular application in a capitalist economic context. By this reasoning, Weber saw the Protestant Reformation as a religious expression of evolutionary changes in social and economic relationships. Sencer finds this theory inadequate when applied to Islam because the religion was founded by a "merchant" and, under the great Arab empires, it was a religion that did have an economic ethic. From this he concludes that religious expressions are not the expressions of prior developments in society and economic relations. Rather, they are brought into being by parallel development with those events and this serves as a justification for the applicability of the Marxist analytic point of view—historical materialism. 1 That is, the bourgeois sociological analysis posits ideological innovations as preceding their material expressions while the Marxist analysis reverses the order of developments, or at least finds them occurring in parallel stages. Marx saw capitalism depending on three prior historical developments: (1) wealth exists in the form of money; (2) a class of professional urban craftsmen exists and (3) labor has independence and is offered for wages. In short, this Marxist view sees capitalism as a direct response to the collapse of the feudal system, and the Protestant Reformation as a religious expression of the liberal ideology of the bourgeois class. During the Tanzimat reformist period (1839-1875), there was a continuing debate over the function of Islam in the efforts of the Ottoman Empire to Westernize. There were spokesmen for the view that Islam was a primary obstacle to Westernization and, hence, the regeneration of the Empire's fortunes, and there were also spokesmen for the view that it was precisely by implementing Islam in a more rigorous way that the Empire could restore its former glory. 2 In the theocratic government of the Ottoman Empire, every 'Sencer, Dinin Turk, pp. 19-22. ^Sencer, Dinin Turk, p. 219.


B R h C H T



aspect of public law rested on a religious principle and it was impossible for the advocates of religion to conceive of Islam as a "matter of individual conscience" apart from its institutional expressions in a theocratic state. Unsurprisingly, on the issues of Westernization and Turkish nationalism, the religious factions were uniformly in the opposition. They were, for example, convinced that Western-style theater was a "nest of immorality." They opposed playing cards, insurance, telephones, and, of course, the idea of women being seen in public uncovered. In view of such attitudes, it seems even more amazing from our present historical perspective that Mustafa Kemal was able to overturn the Islamic concept that political authority flows from God through the Sultan and his representatives. He succeeded in selling the Western concept that sovereignty resides in the citizenry and that political authority derives from parliamentary representatives. Particularly in the cast of Turkish Islam, political and religious stages of evolution have followed a different chronology. 1 Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, suited the level of agricultural economy that existed at its inception. Once conditioned by the social relations corresponding to that economic level, neither it nor Eastern societies elsewhere advanced to another evolutionary stage (which is itself a concept alien to Islam). Attempting to determine whether religion was a stultifying influence on social development, or whether a stultified society inhibited evolutionary changes in religious ideology, would be less fruitful than simply to recognize the fact that Islam has never experienced any equivalent of the European Reformation that transformed Christianity. Westerners tend to forget that Islamic societies didn't experience their Renaissance, Enlightenment, or Romantic Revolution, and that these societies only recently entered the Industrial Age with an essentially feudal social structure, lacking both the ideology and the social realities suitable to this new technology. This anachronistic imposition of Western technological innovations set in motion dual forces for change, Marxism and capitalism, simultaneously with resurgent Islam that advocates, in effect, a rejection of innovation and a return to a feudal past. Sencer stated the problem concisely when he wrote, "The socioeconomic revolution that made secularism possible in Western countries — the result of differing historical conditions — was absent in the Ottoman Empire, which lacked the possibility lor going beyond the framework of religion in order to establish secular institutions." 2 1 2

Sencer, Dinin Turk, p. 269. Ibid„ p. 272.



With this in mind, it is more apparent than ever that the Reformists of the 19th Century failed to achieve their goals because they expressed no genuine transformations in society at large; they represented the sentiments of restive and largely alienated elites. Sencer concluded that there would be no real possibility for the authentic establishment of secularism until the Turkish society and economy are transformed and divested of the material supports of Islam. For example, until economic requirements employ a large percentage of Turkish women in modern economic enterprises outside of the home where they work alongside men and without veils, traditional Islamic attitudes toward women will be under no pressure to change. Similarly, until economic development makes increased mobility possible (and necessary), and individuals are "rescued" by the anonymity of dislocation, they will remain under the traditional, social and religious pressure of the local clerics and their cronies. Islam has derived its traditional and present support from the class of rural villagers and small craftsmen, and the urban class of small merchants or producers. 1 The growing political and ideological offensive in recent years by the advocates of Islamic reaction should be understood as evidence of the destructive e f f e c t that social and economic changes, subsumed by the label "Westernization," is having on Islam. As the social classes that form its support are transformed from agricultural and pre-capitalist to capitalist, industrialized, and urban, Turkish Islam may produce a dramatic and positive reaction analogous to the Protestant Reformation that will deflect it from a collision course with Westernization. However, what has occurred so far has been a literally unholy alliance between opportunist politicians who represent capitalist interests eager to secure whatever advantages are possible for the bourgeois class and advocates of reactionary Islam. Therefore, from a reformist point of view, it was necessary that an administrative and consumerist bourgeois class be created as a guarantor of Kemalism and secularism. In the short run, that class undermined the greater possibility for social and economic justice for the masses as envisioned under socialism due to narrow vested interests. Therefore, Turkish Marxists, and Marxist-oriented political theater, struggled to foster class consciousness and class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and both the rural and the urban representatives of the working class. Kemalists who supported the strengthening of the bourgeois class looked to the western European democracies for their example, and the Marxists looked to Vietnam, Cuba, and Algeria for examples of revolutionary societies that allegedly "bypassed" the bourgeois stage of development leading toward social and economic justice. For these reasons, to call religious ideology a continuing,

^Sencer, Dinin Turk, p. 275.





long-term power, or to attempt to legislate it out of existence by attacking its formal expression would, in either case, be a historical e r r o r . 1

Theater and Political Aesthetu -s Despite a continuing cry on the part of a few for Turkish theater to become "experimental" and to search seriously for an elusive "synthesis" between the Turkish and the Western theatrical heritage, little has been accomplished. The National Theater and the Istanbul Municipal Theater have not been inclined to utilize (or jeopardize) their subsidies on experimental theater, and the scope for experimentation that economic pressure permitted private theaters was severely circumscribed. With some exceptions, such as Zeynep Oral's "Adsiz Oyun" (Play Without A Label), there has been a strong tendency in Turkey for Brecht's Epic system to become conventionalized at best, and debased at worst, by those who, contrary to Brecht's own advice, judge their theater according to form rather than function. Hence, it has been sufficient for a play to be Epic in style for it to be presumed "progressive" and realistic. This tendency led, among other things, to the establishment of certain requirements for Turkish revolutionary theater. To be accepted as "progressive," a play had to be Epic in form, i.e., use: • • • • • • • • • • •

the presentational, rather than dramatic style, with slides, slogans, music, and simple sets, and it had to be anti-American, anti-capitalist, opposed to the Go\ ernment in power and to cosmopolitanism, in favor of revolution, class struggle, strikes, the villager, the poor, Anatolia, and discomfort.

Only a few plays approached a genuinely dialectical treatment of these assumptions in distinction from the dialectical presentation of conventional "Epic" virtues and conventional enemies. Sermet (pagan's "Ayak Bacak Fabrikasi" (The Foot and Leg Factory) and Haldun Taner's "Ke§anh Ali Destani" (The Ballad of Ali of Keshan) are outstanding precisely because they avoid such facile conventions.

^Sencer, Ditiin Turk, pp. 277-79.



Yet, if we are to evaluate the drama of the Turkish revolutionary theater movement according to Brecht's most important criterion, the actual reality of the society that the plays hold up to critical analysis, then this tendency toward Epic becomes more the fault of mediocrity than theory or politics. Furthermore, conventionality can result in plays that seem the least "artistic" or "wellperformed" to be the ones most highly praised because they had, despite academic reservations, fulfilled their purpose of changing the consciousness of the audience. At this point, their manifestation of what may seem to the outside observer as mere conventionalized formalism represents, in reality, a consistent and "realist" response to actual social conditions that, especially in Eastern Anatolia, have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. If all art, even the ostensibly uncommitted, can be characterized as "political," in the sense of benefiting a particular class or vested interest, then there exist also in Turkey cultural attitudes that may be called "formalist." Based on their implicit defense of cosmopolitan bourgeois culture, the advocates of "Islamic formalism" reject the concept of a national, social destiny linked to the economic and political independence of the working class. In the context of Turkish theater and society, this attitude of "formalism" toward theater implies a whole series of interlocking beliefs, against which the Leftist theater uses Brecht's concept of theater as a battering ram. Can Brecht's Marxism outweigh the pull of Islamic "formalism" as the predominant influence in contemporary Turkish drama? It is clear that Brecht was the predominant influence during the 1970-1980 period, yet this high profile in itself was the reason f o r fearing its demise along with the Leftist theater that it nurtured. Activist Haydar Cilasun stated the dilemma concisely: "Whatever happens, Turkey's future is bright. Either the present trend toward f a s c i s m will lead to martial law, or the trend toward f a s c i s m will lose m o m e n t u m and steal the wind f r o m the sails of the Marxist opposition" (personal interview, February 24, 1976). In his opinion, in order for a Leftist government to be established without an intervening military oppression, as happened in Greece, repression must lead ultimately to elections and a repudiation of the kind of coalition government then in power in Turkey. This would pave the way for an election victory by Biilent Ecevit, or a similar social democrat, who would lead the country into some kind of Leftist social welfarism. In fact, the trend toward fear and censorship evident in the mid-1970s was followed a few years later by martial law and suppression of all Leftist theater, forcing the personnel of the revolutionary theater movement underground. In the period preceding the 1980 military coup, they nurtured the hope that the Turkish economy could be rationalized and its productivity increased drastically. If so, they nourished the slim hope that a new national administration would be able





to change the administrative personnel of the subsidized theater as well as expand the scope of national support for theater. Later, these steps would (hopefully) enable theater to develop along a nonadversarial, nonconfrontational path and away from a narrowly partisan political viewpoint.



There were many who. like Özdemir Nutku, used the benefit of hindsight to judge the period of Turkish theater from approximately 1957 to 1967 as its Golden Age. Yet, further perspective may well compel us to term it theater's Gilded Age, for the political and economic abuses of the period bore a great resemblance to those that existed in America during the period that historians call its Gilded Age. Brecht had a tremendous appeal to Turks because the very issues with which Brecht struggled during his own lifetime came alive forty years later in Turkey. In many respects the political theater movement of the mid-1970s reflected an essentially Romantic response to capitalist / bourgeois commercialism. Turkish Marxists admired realism, but tended often to fall into a Romanticized and ignorant conception of "the people," utterly forgetting the stultification of village life. In a prior period, Nurullah Ataç wrote of the brutalities of village life in a style reminiscent of La Bruyère, but within a short time the vision of the progressives had aligned itself with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's view of villager as "Noble Savage." Nevertheless, Turkish society has not yet progressed into Romantic nihilism, or despair. These are still incipient trends that have no echo in the present social temper. The Turkish public still believes either that politics can make a difference, or that politics will not change because the system will muddle along as usual. All of the issues raised may be subsumed by the term "epic," not only with Brechi's use of it in mind, but also with resonances from the Romantic use of "epic" by "revolutionary" writers such as Victor Hugo a century earlier. The fact that complex economic and political ideologies tended to become telescoped into anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism reinforces the analogy between Turkey of the 1960s and France of the 1860s. In both cases, there was a profound artistic revulsion against the growing capitalist, bourgeois order that made artists and intellectuals feel superfluous. Their reaction was, and has been, to condemn the society around them, compelling them to look backwards and forwards simultaneously in their search f o r a Utopian refuge. Yet, there is profound difference between European and Turkish society, with important ramifications for political theater: the Turkish bourgeoisie has never been the dominant class in Turkey, nor has it ever succeeded in



consolidating its position in society. It has not generated an apologetic ideology, or undergone a process of acculturation into the cosmopolitan heritage that had been previously the exclusive domain of the aristocracy. Rather, the Turkish bourgeoisie, on the one hand, abandoned its authentic roots in Anatolian life and, on the other, rushed to embrace European culture without a sufficient preparation for its effective assimilation. The result has been the creation of a class characterized primarily by aesthetic and intellectual vacuity.

Turkish Marxism: A Historical


In order to evaluate intelligibly the influence of Brecht on contemporary Turkish political theater and society, it is necessary to at least summarize the evolution of the term "Marxism" both as a term and as a phenomenon during the years of the Turkish Republic. As elsewhere, the terms "socialism," "communism," "Marxism," "revolutionary," and "Leftist" have been used interchangeably. Beginning in the early 1970s, "Brechtian" became a shorthand substitute for all these. As with study of Turkish theater as a whole, the availability of relevant documents and the inhibiting effect of political pressure has made the serious study of Marxism in Turkey quite difficult. Only recently has the quality and quantity of scholarship devoted to the subject improved, yet, unfortunately, there has been also a strong tendency for this scholarship to make unscholarly presuppositions. For example, a book on "socialist and communist activities in Turkey" published in 1967 by Dr. Fethi Tevetoglu cited a number of reasons why an objective history of Turkish communism has been left unwritten: "There has been a confusion of the terms 'communism" and 'socialism.' Turkish socialists have in fact been Marxists in disguise; communism has been illegal and repressed in Turkey. The necessary sources have been inadequate, or very difficult to obtain." Tevetoglu himself calls his own work "an amateur researcher's effort" and it would be difficult to disagree. His preface signaled the author's attitude toward the subject by the use of such terms as "destructive method," "the virus of Communism," and "defense and protection against the red plague," which was his description of communism. 1 If he warns against confusion between the terms "communism" and "socialism," he himself provides ample examples of this danger. Yet, because the confusion is inherent in the documents and events themselves, it may be impossible to make any clear distinction between the terms as they have been used to date in Turkey.

^Dr. Fethi Tevetoglu, Tiirkiye'de Sosyalist 1967), pp. 9 and 7.

ve Komiinist Faaliyetler

(Ankara: self-published,





Tevetoglu goes f u r t h e r and asserts that during the most repressive periods, when it was impossible to admit to being a communist, it was sufficient to admire the work of Nazim Hikmet as a cover for the unspoken identification. Of course, so long as such admiration was considered a political act, it was impossible to distinguish between those who admired his writing, but not his politics. (In fact, the distinction seems never to have been an important one.) The academic author himself goes to great lengths in this book to disqualify Hikmet from being considered a Turk at all, and if, when he returned f r o m Russia, some of his close associates were Jews, there is a suggestion that they too should not be considered genuine Turks. George Harris' book, The Origins of Communism in Turkey (1967), treats adequately the earlier period, just prior to and just after the establishment of the Republic, tracing Mustafa Kemal's ambivalent attitudes towards C o m m u n i s m and towards the Soviet Union. He cites remarks f r o m a speech that Kemal made before the Grand National Assembly on 14 August 1920, in which he said: Our point of view and our principles, as you all know, are not Bolshevik principles, and we never thought and attempted up to now to have our nation accept Bolshevik principles. Our point of view, i.e., populism, holds that force, power, sovereignty, and rule are given directly to the people and are in the hands of the people. Bolshevism represents the view of a class of people who are oppressed in a country. Our nation, indeed, is oppressed and tyrannized as a whole1 Yet, Harris points out that Turkish relations with the Soviet Union were based on rather similar revolutionary premises and that it was often difficult to say w h e r e Kemalism ended and Bolshevism b e g a n . 2 At times, political e x p e d i e n c y required that both T u r k s and R u s s i a n s support the Turkish Communists, and this same expediency required at other times that they be condemned by both their former benefactors. Ottoman society before the 20th Century had been heterogeneous and characterized by sharp divisions between the administrative-bureaucratic class, generally allied with the military and the clerical class, and the masses of peasants who constituted the great majority of the population. 3 Commerce was ' G e o r g e Harris, The Origins of Communism in Turkey (Stanford, Calif.: The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace-Stanford University, 1967), p. 3. 2

O n page 9, Harris adds: "In appearance, however, the A n k a r a government's policy toward communism was confusing in these early years. Indeed, it was often difficult for Turks outside the national leadership to draw the line where Kemalism stopped and communism began." 3 T h e remarks which follow are based initially on A h m e t K i g a l i ' s Forces politiques dans la Turquie moderne (Ankara: Ankara University, 1967). This study was the author's doctoral thesis presented at the University of Paris and, although in need of revision to account for subsequent events, serves nonetheless as a conv enient and dependable point of departure.



carried out by a small class of non-Muslim minorities that had only marginal opportunity to participate in the political process beyond efforts to secure particular advantages for their enterprises. The second half of the 19th Century saw the development of various attempts at reform and innovation within Ottoman society, referred to as Tanzimat. One aspect of this movement was the founding of an organization, called Hingak in 1887, for the dissemination of socialist ideas. Although its lack of connection with the working class doomed it to sterile intellectualism, it represented, nevertheless, a significant innovation because its a d v o c a c y of socialism included an intellectual step toward independence and aligned its members against the Sultan. Lenin instructed his ambassador to Turkey to support M u s t a f a Kemal because Kemal was an excellent organizer and an enlightened leader. Lenin understood that Kemal had the confidence of his people, even if he was not a socialist. For his part, Mustafa Kemal needed the support of a Great Power and, at that moment in history, Russian and Turkish interests converged against the English, the French, the Italians, and the Greeks. Kemal remained suspicious of the prospects f o r a successful application of communist principles in either Russia, or Turkey, and in 1920 proposed the establishment of a "house" Communist Party under the control of his own trusted friends. However, this domestic C o m m u n i s t Party did not deceive the Bolsheviks and it was not admitted to the Third International. In 1925, the National Assembly passed legislation that permitted the suppression of Communists and, during this same year, Nazim Hikmet was arrested. Subsequently, Communist activities moved underground and, since the 1930s, Turkish Communists have dedicated their efforts, not toward influencing the working classes by establishing underground cells of activists, but rather toward conditioning the youth and intellectuals with socialist ideals through literature and the press. The government also suppressed political activity on the extreme Right. For example, in May 1944, there was a brutal suppression of an "anti-Leftist" demonstration led by Alparslan Tiirkes who was, until his death in 1996, the head of a national party. During his lifetime, Mustafa Kemal was, a virtual dictator, but one who believed in the possibility of the eventual establishment of democracy in Turkey—to be preceded by a single party that would consolidate his reforms and prepare the way for a multiparty system. This party, the Republican People's Party [CHP], remained in p o w e r until 1950 when, consistent with Kemalism, a general election was called with the participation of opposition parties. The election culminated in political power passing to the D e m o c r a t Party under A d n a n Menderes. This was both a vindication of the democratic process and a repudiation of the party responsible for the foundation of the Republic, with serious ramifications for the future political development of the country.





Specifically, it led to demagoguery, to political and financial bankruptcy, and in May 1960, the Turkish Army intervened to overthrow the Democrat Party and reorganize the country's political structure. The consequences of this coup were profound and long lasting. There was a resurgence of confidence in the government because the Army identified and punished those who had abused institutions of government for personal gain. Also, the Army re-established freedoms of expression, a move that benefited the socialists greatly. They were then able to insist openly that ten years of capitalism had led primarily to a tremendous increase in the rate of inflation, to the desperation of the lower classes, and to corruption. Although socialism tended to be considered less frequently than communism as a pernicious social ill, socialists were still harassed by two controversial articles, 141 and 142, of the Turkish Constitution that had been borrowed from Fascist Italy They punished anyone who sought to suppress civil liberties through racist appeals, as well as those who propagandized for the domination of one social class, or for the drastic transformation of the existing e c o n o m i c and institutional structure. These articles were conceived as protections of Kemalist, republican reforms, but were interpreted in such a way as to suppress the mere assertion of the clash of class interests in Turkish society. In effect, these statutes leave intellectuals free to advocate Marxism—so long as they eschew the principal tenets of Marxism, or dissimulate. The Turkish Worker's Party (TIP) was established in 1962 under the leadership of Dr. Mehmet Ali Aybar and conceived as a vanguard for the establishment of a socialist ' Marxist base of political opposition. Although given much publicity by the press sympathetic to its cause, it failed to establish organic ties with the working class and was suppressed within a few years as a Communist front. The reasons for its failure to attract the working class may be summarized as follows. Workers, even those w h o lived in urban slums, considered their way of life superior to the rural misery they had left behind and they were happy to have employment, no matter how ill-paid, rather than be unemployed. Furthermore, because of the rapid, concentrated industrialization of Turkey, many of the benefits for which workers fought long and bloody battles abroad were granted to Turkish workers relatively early, and with relatively little struggle. In short, in view of the general level of the Turkish economy and the extent of rural poverty, workers felt exploited only to a minor degree. Legal limitations on the right to strike hindered propagandistic exploitation of those issues that did exist. Finally, the Turkish Confederation of Unions opposed the Turkish Worker's Party, preferring to withhold support from any particular party and attempt to influence all of them—somewhat on the American model. The peasant villagers who had the most to gain from the realization of the Worker's Party's promise to redistribute land voted for it least of all.



Perhaps the most significant cause for this overwhelming rejection of the socialist party by villagers was their identification of socialism with c o m m u n i s m , their fears of both, and their association of both with Russia, which they conceived to be their traditional enemy—apart f r o m any ideology. Furthermore, villagers lived frequently under the feudal domination of large landowners, called agalar, who instructed them on how to vote. Apart from the fear of displeasing the aga, they were reluctant to vote for a party that would surely be too weak to have real influence in Parliament, and especially weak in its ability to legislate reforms that could them. Clearly, the socialist party would have made more headway had it been able to establish contact with villagers directly, but the available means of communication did not permit that. The national radio and (after 1968) television remained in the control of the party in power which, of course, had no interest in assisting its opposition. In addition, the poorest villagers had limited access to radio and almost none to television. When they had access to newspapers, the majority of them could not read, and the individuals who could read were typically members of the clerical or landowning classes that were opposed to any form of socialism. Politics, then, continued to be an affair of the classes that stood the most to profit f r o m participation; the classes with the greatest moral and economic justification for participation, in fact, participated the least. In general, class-consciousness has been difficult to nurture in Turkey. Individuals continue to conceive of politics as a means of achieving personal gains, or as a means of ascending to the elite f r o m which all benefits are obtainable. In western democracies, political parties have had to respond to pressure groups and, in a pluralist regime, this m e c h a n i s m creates the possibility of social equilibrium. However, in less developed countries, such as Turkey, the classes that seek to profit f r o m manipulation of political power take direct control of the parliament, dispensing with the intermediate step of constituting themselves first as pressure groups. "As a result, democracy tends to function primarily for the benefit of minority in power and leads toward social disequilibrium" (Kislali, p. 10) In the 1960s, Turkish society was composed of a population of about forty million, of which more than half were illiterate and under the age of fifteen. A b o u t 8 0 % of this population lived in 40,000 villages, of which perhaps as much as two- thirds had a school and perhaps half were staffed with properly trained teachers. Many villages were still without electricity or water, and life continued on a pattern little changed in during past three centuries, remaining on the margins of the market economy. Therefore, the imposition of terms of social and economic analysis derived from Marxist sources, whether by academics or revolutionary theater, ran a risk of serious error. T o apply the simplest criterion of identifying who owns the means of production in order to divide Turkish society into two groups—the "exploited" and the "exploiters"—





led to oversimplification. Because the working class remained small and because it retained the villager's mentality, the exploiting class could be characterized as consisting of both the capitalists and the bureaucrats. A l s o , the class comprising small landowners, small merchants, and the semi-educated appeared as neither exploiting, nor exploited. From the outset, Kemalist r e f o r m i s m established state control over the largest industrial enterprises. Subsequently, that control was augmented, rather than reduced. Even the development of the bourgeoisie was bifurcated into the non-Muslim commercial interests and the Muslim landowners, each of which, although hostile to the spread of socialist ideas, was susceptible to differing political ideals. M u s t a f a Kemal perceived the principal obstacle to reform to be the clerical class. Accordingly, he made secularization and the extension of state control over all aspects of the religious institutions, Muslim and non-Musliim, one of his primary goals. A half century later, the religious class, composed of clerics and believers, remained, hostile to Kemalist innovations as well as to socialism and communism, which were perceived as the same phenomenon and equally enemies of Islam. Therefore, from the beginning of the Tanzimat period until the mid-20th Century, the progressive intellectuals who would lead the working class and the oppressed villagers into social and economic equality remained largely isolated from those classes. 1 These observations have led many to conclude that neither democracy nor harmonious political evolution is possible in Turkey , that democracy requires general prosperity as a precondition and can function only when a high level of education and civil rights permit responsive government. If so, skeptics must account for the success of democracy—however imperfect—in India, South Africa or Russia.

Marxism and Militant


This search for national solutions by applying the Marxist economic and social analytic framework was weakened by economic reality: by the 1960s, most of the Turkish means of production were already in the hands of the Government. Hence, a radical analysis led inevitably back to the political basis of the Turkish republic. Symptomatic of this was a rapid and dramatic increase in Government support f o r the state system of religious instruction. This exacerbated the continuing debate between Ihe advocates of secularism and those of theocracy. One theme in this debate was the call for national salvation through a return to ' Tanzimat (Reform) is a term commonly used by historians to designate the second half of the nineteenth century w h e n the O t t o m a n rulers, in a belated effort to re-establish their military power, actively pursued in the West particularly France, the technological and scientific basis for a renewal. This period ends before the establishment of the Kemalist Republic.



religion. Islam was portrayed as a morally desirable way of life. Without rejection of secularism (at least initially), it promised to restore Turkey to its former glory. In on the Right, these advocates hoped to avoid being labeled "reactionaries." At the same time, there was an increase in the publication of anti-communist literature that identified the nonreligious and the anti-religious alike as Communists. This tendency came to a climax with the arrest in 1971 of Said Nursi, a saint to his followers, who advocated that the secular Turkish Republic be supplanted altogether by a restoration of the old Ottoman sultanate. Meanwhile, if the Left drew ideological and other support from Turkey's then Communist neighbors, the Right drew support from such conservative Islamic regimes as Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The foundation of Necmettin Erbakan's Milli Nizam Partisi (National Order Party) in Ankara in 1970, and his later participation in the ruling coalition—culminating in the prime ministership under the Refah Party in the 1990s—were understood as further developments of a trend toward militant religion. Jacob Landau, in his Radical Politics in Modern Turkey, cautioned early against underestimating the influence of this "revolutionary religion" on the development or retardation of thought: While it may be premature to assess the full scope of Islam and of PanTurkism in the recent domestic politics of Turkey, it would seem that this is far greater than is generally thought, particularly when both are used, separately or jointly, to redefine Turkish nationalism.1 The relationship of resurgent religious activity to the revolutionary political theater movement, and to the development of Marxism in Turkey in general, seems to exhibit two contradictory tendencies. On the one hand, adherence to Islam is strong in underdeveloped rural areas, where the level of economic and educational opportunity is lowest. There, Islam is the "ideology of the ruling class" of landlords and clerics whose vested interests coincide, but it is also the ideology of the classes undergoing urbanization while under spiritual and material pressures: Those who are unable to adapt to new conditions, who cannot regain their destroyed environments, their old habits, or old relationships, are compelled to search for their personality in society alien to them. But this is not the fatalist bond with religion characteristic of the traditional

^Jacob Landau, Radical Politics in Modern Turkey (Leyden: Brill, 1974), p. 204.





society. The Radical Right is today the ideology of Turkey's most aware classes Unsurprisingly, the radical Rightist party of Alpaslan Tiirkes gained strength a m o n g Turkish workers abroad, particularly in G e r m a n y . One portion of these w o r k e r s gained political awareness of its position as an exploited industrial proletariat and b e c a m e susceptible to a M a r x i s t appeal. A n o t h e r portion of these w o r k e r s turned toward militant Islam. Despite occasional slogans ("Islamic Socialism"), or other intellectual attempts to reconcile Islam and the modern industrial state, Islam remained rooted in a static, pre-industrial social structure. 2 Hence, the flourishing of interest in Brecht and of Marxist thought after the 1960 revolution in T u r k e y must be understood in a context that includes attacks on the entire structure of Kemalist secularism in the Turkish Republic, as well as of the economic threat represented by capitalism and industrialism. T h e d e c a d e of t h e l 9 7 0 s was characterized by increasing a n t a g o n i s m between the Leftists and this resurgent, militant, and largely reactionary Islamic movement.- 5 As the resistance of the religious militants to change, and particularly to the idea of class conflict, remained strong, social reality itself i m p o s e d a g r o w i n g c o n s c i o u s n e s s in ihe m a s s e s of the disparity b e t w e e n the urban bourgeois way of life and the deprivation of the rural masses. Amelioration of the rural Turkish m a s s e s hinged on the realization of a t h r o u g h - g o i n g land reform that would break up feudal patterns and make villagers self-sufficient. ' A h m e t Yiicekôk, 100 Soruda Turkiye'da Din ve Siyaset (Istanbul: Gerçek Yayinevi, 1971; rpt. 1976), pp. 106, 115: "Religion, w h e n it d e f e n d s a static and hierarchic order, produces a traditional social framework, and. when it consolidates its status, becomes a weapon in the hands of the elite f r o m that traditional, static society and those at the top of the hierarchy. This is the way it is in the underdeveloped, static, and traditional regions of Turkey, and in this sense Islam is the ideology of Turkey's underdeveloped regions. But if the hierarchic, static, established order which religion defends is threatened with capitalist eruptions, and if the ruling powers are overthrown, in that case religion, as was the case in Turkey's underdeveloped regions, becomes the ideology of the oppressed class. Based on this, religion in Turkey can be seen to have more than one socio-economic source, in differing constituencies and as the flag of differing classes." ^Yiicekok (p. 149) also writes: "As a result it is possible to say that religion in Turkey is being c h a m p i o n e d by those w h o are, Irom a social point of view, sterile, alienated, and unable to assimilate development, w h o are the products of deficient backgrounds. But because of economic and social advantages, those w h o want to take society backwards, or to keep it tied to its present lace, acquire the label of reactionary." Robert Anciaux, "Religion et politique dans la T u r q u i e c o n t e m p o r a i n e ( 1 9 4 5 - 1 9 7 1 ) , " Correspondance d'Orient: Etudes. Nos. 17 & 18 (Bruxelles: Publications du Centre pour l'Etude des Problèmes du Monde Musulman Contemporain, 1970), p. 154. "En mars 1971, à la veille de l'intervention des militaires dans la vie politique, nous sommes fort loin de la république rigoureusement laïque, édifié par Kemal Ataturk. Dès 1945, la plupart des hommes de religion s'insurgent ouvertement contre les institutions laïques. A partir de 1950, les prédicateurs et les derviches, sortis de la clandestinité, reprennent, ouvertement, le contrôle des masses rurales et citadines qui, en fait, n'ont jamais cessé de les considérer c o m m e les véritables guides spirituels. Partout les structures laïques de l'Etat sont o u v e r t e m e n t c o n d a m n é e s ; l'enseignement laïque fait l'objet d'attaques virulentes et les instituteurs, accusés de propager l'écriture et la culture des infidèles, sont exposés aux exactions des villageois, encouragés par les hodja."



Yet, land reform (or any other Leftist social change) has long been understood to depend on the extent to which the urban proletariat and the rural masses change their political and social consciousness. This was the goal of the Marxist revolutionary theater movement and the basis of its affinity to Brecht's theory of theater. H o w e v e r , apart f r o m the seriousness with which the Government and the theater activists themselves took Brechtian theater in Turkey, there are cogent reasons to question the impact that either Marxism or Brechtian theater could ever have on Turkish society.

A Gestus For Turkish


A central element in Brecht's theatrical system was the element of gestus, the isolated social interaction that served as a touchstone for our understanding of the material interrelationships between social classes. For example, Brecht wrote that: Nicht jeder Gestus ist ein gesellschaftlicher Gestus. Die Abwehrhaltung gegen eine Fliege ist zunächst noch kein gesellschaftlicher Gestus, die Abwehrhaltung gegen einen Hund kann einer sein, wenn zum Beispiel durch ihn der Kampf, den ein schlechtgekleideter Mensch gegen Wachthunde zu führen hat, zum Ausdruck kommt... Gestus ist ßr die Gesellschaft relevanter Gestus, der auf die gesellschaftlichen Zustände Schlüsse zulässt Dealing with abstractions such as formalism, Westernization, Marxism, or generalizations like Dialectical Theater, presents difficulties because they are projections of social relationships between classes. Whether on the stage or as a rhetorical device, the idea of gestus suggests shortcuts to understanding. The examples that follow counterpoint the relationship between the revolutionary theater m o v e m e n t and its public in T u r k e y as a basis for evaluating the confrontation between that theater and the formalism characteristic of Muslim cultures. The playwright Necati Cumali invites consideration of a typical street scene in contemporary Istanbul. A pedestrian attempts to cross the street. Apprehension becomes fear as he looks for oncoming traffic; whether that pedestrian is a doctor, a well-dressed matron, a child, or a beggar, there is the same desperate dash to avoid instant death. Why, Cumali asks, are there no crosswalks in Istanbul [in the 1970s]? He insists that municipal administrators plan roads for the welfare of the residents, yet, when there are sidewalks they are covered with parked automobiles, and there are no crosswalks: ' Willet, ed., Brecht on Theater, p. 105. Original source: "über gestische Musik," Schriften Theater, 1967 edition, Vol. XV, Werkausgabe edition Suhrkamp, p. 482.






A head that values the human being and feels social responsibility cannot separate these two services. For such a head the transport of citizens from one part of the city to the other with security is part and parcel of his being able to cross from one side of the street to the other. The fact that newly opened roads in Istanbul, which cost millions, could neglect crosswalks that cost a few cents reveals the true mentality of both those who made the roads and those who administer the country.1 For Cumali, this gestus serves as an analogy for the relationship between Turkish literature and Western literature and supports the assertion with which he prefaced his remarks on crosswalks: We are a society that doesn't know the true value of the human being. In our society, the place of the human being, his importance, has been neither thought of nor understood. For this reason, our two hundred years of efforts to Westernize have failed. However much we may want to appear or to become Western, we will never become Western because we do not give the importance that the West gives to the individual human being. He is neither in our hearts, nor in our heads, the fundamental rock that he is for Western civilization. Cumali extrapolates on this theme by pointing out that traditional Turkish literature had no place for individuality, for personal feelings or t h o u g h t s . T h e roots of T u r k i s h f o r m a l i s m are to be f o u n d in this conventionalized artistic tradition. Writing in 1961, he could say with some justice that "because of this we don't yet have anything you could call theater." But it was precisely during those years since 1960 that the revolutionary theater movement and the impact of Brecht's plays and theoretical writings changed the direction of Turkish theater. It was no longer possible to make such a statement in 1977. What has this to do with either Marx or Brecht? Similarly to C u m a l . , many literary historians h a v e p r o p o s e d a fundamental incompatibility between Western theater and Islamic society. They insist that this has been one of the continuing obstacles to its development. Expressed in various ways, this incompatibility reflects a fundamental difference between Western and the Islamic attitudes toward the individual human being. W h e n Marxism and Brecht's Dialectical Theater are seen as extensions of Western H u m a n i s m , and when Islam is understood most fundamentally as a means for implementing the injunction to submit to God, then Istanbul 'Necati Cumali, Senin Igin Ey Demokrasi (Istanbul: Q'agda§ Yayinlari, 1976), pp. 75-80. See also Brecht's "Die Strassenszene, Gründmodell eines episches Theaters," Versuche, 10 (1950), or Willet's English translation in Brecht on Theater, p. 121.





crosswalks may well serve as an accurate emblem of the basic contradictions of Turkish revolutionary theater. The convergence of influences, including Brecht, affecting Turkish theater since 1960 have effectively reinforced the importance of the human being, but not in the form of bourgeois individualism. Both Marxism and Islam share the basic ideal that secular, spiritual and cultural matters ought to be harmonized, that governmental and social relationships ought to be determined by principles of enlightenment and justice. While they diverge based on their differing sources of authority, they share a concern for the conscious structuring of society for the ultimate benefit of the individual. The appeal of Marxism in Islamic countries such as Turkey stems partly from such particular similarities of attitude toward the individual. Both ideologies reject Western bourgeois individualism and, as has been pointed out, Turkey has yet to develop an authentic bourgeois culture; Turkish Marxists hope to obviate that stage of social development. There have been numerous attempts to rationalize Marxism and Islam, such as in the writings of Maxime Rodinson, 1 or in a later newspaper article by Ahmet Yildiz, who wrote: "In short, the basic characteristics of Leftism are in harmony with Islam. Reactionary politics are totally opposed to Islam. Every Leftist may not be Muslim, but every true Muslim is a Leftist." 2 Nevertheless, no amount of rationalization can succeeded in effacing the fundamental difference between Marxism and Islam in terms of how they evaluate the status quo. The impact of Brecht on Turkish theater and culture can be understood only in the context of this fundamental incompatibility between the two viewpoints. The tragedy consisted not so much in the bourgeoisification of the revolutionaries, although this was a continuing concern, but rather in the extent to which the Islamic heritage vitiated the effectiveness of the revolutionary movement, despite its best intentions, through attitudes inherent in Turkish culture. Additional examples of this odd phenomenon include: •

Turkish revolutionaries participating in an anti-American demonstration were unlikely to neglect offering tea to an American guest.

Brecht's plays were performed without an awareness of dialectic development because such thought is alien to the Islamic tradition.

' S e e his Islam and Capitalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973). Original edition: L'Islam et le capitalisme (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1966).


Ahmet Yildiz, "Sagcilik ve Milliyetçilik," Cumhuriyet

30 September 1975, p. 2.


B R f C H T



Villagers cheered enthusiastically a play that exposed the corruption of the established order, but refused to participate in establishing an agricultural cooperative, preferring to let the Government "provide" for them.

Trivial as such examples may seem, they represented serious dangers to the successful development of the revolutionary, Marxist theater for which Brecht was been a catalyst. Perhaps the dangers were sensed early. For example, when asked to assess the prospects for the new theatrical season beginning in fall 1977, Vasif Ongoren cautioned that: The standard of progressive, revolutionary theater in Turkey is quickly falling. There is no more concept of materialist theater in Turkey. The first sign of this is tfh' non-relationship between the audience and the theater. Let me add right away that the error is not with the audience, but with those who profess to do Leftist theater. While attempting to fulfill this important function of theater in our country today, they have been incapacitated. The reasons must be sought from top to bottom in the theater. There has been irreversible erosion, a loss, in the outflow of human resources in Turkey. This has been the result of a natural selection every five or ten years, and those theatrical artists who could have held their own are leaving Turkish theater one by one. Many of them have become advertising men. This is a loss that cannot be replaced. Not only for today, but for the next generation as well, that is the way it is for Turkish cultural values. How painful that in a period when the importance of a living human being fades, no one even notices.1 Earlier in this discussion, we noted the inhibiting effect of Islamic prohibitions against the pictorial representation of the human form, as well as against the appearance of women on the stage, and how these prohibitions

'Zeynep Oral-Nilgun Tarkan, "Ycni Mevsim Asilirken Tiyatrolarimiz: Ekonomik Sorunlara 'Salonsuz Kalma' Tehlikesi Eklendi." Sanat Sergisi, No. 247, 17 October 1977, p. 7. Genco Erkal remarked that political pressure had put them in a position of being unable to perform outside of the three large cities, Izmir, Istanbul, and Ankara. Yildiz Kenter predicted that she could have made more money if she had built a garage or a boutique rather than a theater, and their debts may finally force her into converting her theater into a discotheque, or a shopping center: "Whatever the case, we have become professional beggars." (One of her forthcoming plays during the new season will be Woody Allen's Play II Again Sam.) Nejat Uygur said simply. "Our only goal is to make the audience laugh. No, I'm not going to do politics. Saying, 'Let them to politics,' millions are given to politicians. Why should I be a tool for them?" Three new productions of Brecht plays were projected for the new season, but it is difficult to see them as signs of hope in themselves. As if to give material expression to this trend, in the same article appears a note that the new season opens with the former theater of the Birlik Sahnesi having been converted into a warehouse, the former theater of the Turk Yazarlar Tiyatrosu (Turkish Writer's Theater) became a haberdashery, the former theater of the Dostlar Tiyatrosu was converted into a shopping center.



hindered the development of Turkish theater on the Western model. Beyond that, to understand accurately the nature of the clash between Brechtian theater and "Islamic formalism," we must understanding clearly how Islamic culture differs from Western culture: It is essential to realize that Muslim civilization is a cultural entity that does not share our primary aspirations. It is not vitally interested in analytical self-understanding, and it is even less interested in the structural study of other cultures, either as an end in itself, or as a means toward clearer understanding of its own character and history. Islam is the community that has come into being to transfer into actual living the imperative that is the eternal word of God. G. E. von Griinebaum followed this observation with others more directly applicable to literature: Does Islam actually have any need for literature, or for any particular genre? It is easy to see that the absence of a dialectical tension between the plans of the Lord and the condition of man deprives the Muslim community of a strong motivation for the development of drama} In a sense, insofar as such ideas were applicable to feudal Europe as well, there was a tendency to dismiss the notion of a fundamental incompatibility of Islam and drama as exaggerated. Yet, the incompatibility remains when we remember that, in many respects, Turkey was only in the m i d - 2 0 t h Century emerging f r o m such a "feudal" stage of culture and, without having passed through a stage of bourgeois culture, it was passing into an advanced capitalist economic culture. If materialism in the Marxist sense was as yet undeveloped, commercialism was in full bloom. The critical question was whether a Marxist theater could succeed in galvanizing discontent over economic and political friction between classes for revolutionary purposes. Although possible, the pull of "Islamic formalism" weighed much heavier than Leftists or professors wanted to admit. Reinforcing Necati Cumali, Niyazi Aki returned to the role of the individual in the Turkish Islamic mentality and in relation to the process of Westernization in the theater: Although in the East the human being is accepted as the most noble creature on earth, it is the human being to which the least value is given. This diminished view of man is the result of a philosophy of life as well

' G. E. von Griinebaum, Modem Islam: The Search for Cultural identity (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), pp. 40, 65.





as a social order; those who accept this world as vain, who reject materialism, don't value themselves and live in this world by rejecting its existence and longing for eternity. From the point of view of the social order, the individual has no value. For this reason, in the East, the social order has been understood as a system of commandments descending from above. Protests against a social order of centuries' duration, and brandishing the law as a power against a capricious rule, while an understanding of law and justice do not exist, come into being only through Western experience and knowledge) In view of this, it is little surprise that the great majority of the leaders of the revolutionary theater movement, of Brecht's Turkish advocates, should have benefited from a Western education, or acquired a knowledge of a European language. It is also little surprise that, despite the drastic social and economic inequality that characterized the Turkish social structure, the response to Marxist theater has not been greater. Leftist cartoonists and commentators mercilessly attacked Prime Minister Demirel and his coalition government for their apparent unresponsiveness to the plight of the Turkish proletariat, but their critics characterized them as dangerously foolish. Their differing points of view reflect the discrepancies between worldviews subsumed by the terms Islamic formalism and Marxism. In c o n c l u s i o n , while both M a r x i s m a n d Islam have similarly comprehensive and Utopian worldviews, there are critically important differences between them. Where the f o r m e r is a philosophy of d y n a m i s m , the latter rationalizes stasis. Both abhor the bourgeois, capitalist society set in motion by industrialization in Turkey, and both promise the common man their versions of salvation. Yet, there is little doubt but that the structure of Turkish society renders it essentially unreceptive to the Marxist appeal to class-consciousness and class-conflict, however urgent and obvious and appropriate such concepts may seem to outsiders who study Turkey. If Turkish artistic and literary traditions are not totally devoid of an element of social protest, they have been incomparably weaker than their counterparts in the West and do not provide a platform for the revolutionary Marxist theater f o u n d elsewhere. Because M a r x i s m cannot be perceived in Turkey apart f r o m , or as an aspect of, Westernization in general, il has been understood only dimly and always as an alien intrusion.

^Niyazi A k i , XIX. Yiizyil Turk Tiyatrosunda Devrin (Erzurum: Atatiirk University Press. 1974), p. 144.


ve insani





In addition, Turkish Islam has not provided the fecund developmental soil that Christianity gave Marxism in the West. Rather, Islam remains inimical to Marxism, while religion in the West has generally accommodated it. In fact, militant religion in Turkey has mounted a counter-offensive without parallel in the West. This poses a serious threat to the authentic growth of Marxist thought in Turkey, as well as to the effort to establish Brechtian and Marxist theater.


When Brecht's theoretical writings and plays began to be translated in the early 1960s, a veritable "Brecht Wave" gathered momentum. Most of the initial Brechtian imitations were inferior and obviously derivative because they reflected an insufficient understanding of both Brecht and traditional Turkish theater. Those who were the strongest advocates of Brecht in Turkey, such as Vasif Ongoren, insisted that it was wrong to measure the value of Brecht's system according to the successes or failures of Turkish theaters to exemplify it. In his view, deficiencies of local productions should be attributed to insufficient skill on the part of the Turkish theater rather than to Brecht himself. 1 However, he did complain of efforts by Turks to appropriate "Epic" elements as their own discoveries, thereby contributing to a degradation of the Brechtian system. For this reason, he insisted that the term always be linked with Brecht's name, despite the ubiquitous tendency to use it in the lower-case. This historical penchant for servile imitation to which Ongoren alluded had the effect as well of inhibiting a positive evaluation by Turkish theater activists of their own traditional theater forms. In the early years of the Republic, the Aristotelian dramatic theater that Brecht was in the process of attacking elsewhere was in Turkey being only newly established. If the fact that Turkish traditional theater lacked a dramatic, representational component, served as a deterrent to its development in the earlier period, Brecht's influence in the post-1960 period stimulated a drastic re-evaluation and a new appreciation of pre-20th Century traditions.



"Traditional Turkish Theater" merits special attention in the context of the two decades from 1955-1975 because interest in it developed rapidly and parallel with interest in Brecht, beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to the present. Although some scholarship preceded that date, a number of

U n d , 50 Yilin Turk Tiyatrosu, p. 454.





important Turkish scholarly sources appeared during in the 1970s that permitted a much better understanding of traditional sources of Turkish theater than was previously possible. Furthermore, a number of misconceptions and assumptions were challenged. It was primarily as a result of interest in the theoretical writings of Brecht and the example of his Epic Theater that many Turks came to re-evaluate their own heritage. There were frequent claims that, as a result of the attempt to implement Brechtian theater, various elements of traditional Turkish theater were synthetically grafted onto Western theatrical forms in order to establish a genuine Turkish national theatrical style. Yet the extent to which such efforts may be judged to have succeeded or failed depends not only on a through knowledge of Brecht's writings, but also on a through knowledge of historical sources for Turkish theater. When primitive Turkish tribes migrated to the Anatolian plateau from Central Asia more than 500 years ago, they had no theater of their own. 1 Although their precise origin remains unclear even today, there is little doubt that their movement westward was from a lower to a higher level of civilization. In Anatolia they adopted Islam and benefited from the rich Islamic Arab and Persian culture around them. Also, to a lesser extent, they benefited from proximity to the Byzantine Empire. However, despite the great cultural enrichment that Turks gained from their Muslim co-religionists, they shared with their neighbors an almost complete lack of dramatic tradition. Nevertheless, the Turks were shamanists before reaching Anatolia and they brought with them ancient pre-Islamic ceremonies and practices that had dramatic characteristics. Like the peoples that they found already living in Anatolia, who were the remnants and inheritors of ancient Phrygian, Lydian, Hittite, and other ancient civ ilizations, the Turks brought with them seasonal ceremonies and rituals intended to influence the powers of nature to grant them abundance. Turkish and foreign researchers have found surviving in contemporary Anatolia some living remnants of these most ancient practices. Yet, apart from imaginative speculations, little concrete evidence of cultural or theatrical contact between the Turks and the Byzantines has been found. 2 Islamicized Turks probably developed their antipathy toward drama simultaneously with the Christian Byzantines, and for similar theological reasons. As suggested earlier, the principal reasons for this Islamic hostility (or at best disinterest) toward drama results from the Islamic rejection of the idea of conflict between man and man, or man and fate, which constitute the basis of

^And, 100 Soruda Türk Tiyatrosu Tarihi, p. 6. ^Metin And, A History of Theater and Popular Entertainment in Turkey (Ankara: Forum Yayinlan, 1963-64), pp. 10, 12-13. Hereafter abbreviated as Theater and Entertainment.



drama, since in Islam the highest good is submission to God's will. 1 T h i s unwillingness to see human relations in terms of tension explains the appeal of epic and other repetitive artistic forms. Lastly, and most persuasive as a deterrent to the development of theater, was the Islamic ban on the portrayal of the human form, which is thought to have been inherited from the Jews. An exception was made to this religious prohibition for the shadow theater Karagdz and, in fact, Sufi teachers made use of it for didactic purposes. The orta oyunu, or stageless, textless, improvisational theater performed by human actors, was suppressed periodically, whereas karagdz achieved widespread popularity and a kind of immunity from official condemnation. Even this, however, ended in the 19th Century when karagdz plays became more daring in their political satires. Until that point, they had been considered harmless entertainments and acceptable substitutes for the dolls that were often denied children from the same religious prohibitions operative against representations of the human form. The most recent element of the amalgam called "traditional Turkish theater" is Westernization. Although the 19th Century marks the traditional advent of the Western theatrical influence, leading to a lively Ottoman theater based on Western forms and operated largely by Armenians and Greeks in Istanbul, there were in fact much earlier Western contacts. For example, there are records of Italians performing classical opera in Istanbul with Turkish audiences and participants as early as 1524. 2 Also, the French brought examples of French theater to Istanbul during the 17th Century, primarily for the benefit of the resident foreign colony. However, there is little doubt that these performances were seen as well by high-ranking Turks, if not by the common people. There is evidence that the Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal during the 15th Century brought the Commedia dell'arte to the Ottoman Empire and constituted a continuing cultural link between it and the Western countries. The Westernized theater that developed in Istanbul during the later half of the 19th Century was largely based on French models. Although some historians and critics claim that this imitative, derivative theater hindered the development of Turkish theater, none of the other disparate elements of the traditional and historical Turkish theater could have served as an adequate basis for modern, national theater in Republican Turkey. Primarily through the catalytic process of Brecht's writings, new efforts were made to synthesize these older forms with imported Western dramatic forms. How this could be done

^And, Theater and Entertainment, p. 11. ^Metin And, Geleneksel Turk Tiyatrosu (Ankara: Bilgi Yayinevi, 1969), p. 17.




becomes clear after examining the essential elements of each of the historical Turkish theatrical forms. The principal traditional forms are karagdz (the shadow theater), orta oyunu (stageless improvisation), meddah, or storytelling in a dramatic form, and Tuluat, or free improvisation. (There is also a long tradition of puppet theater apart from the shadow theater, but it need not be treated here.) The fact that the puppet theater, the karagdz, theater, and the orta oyunu share very similar types of protagonists has led to much speculation concerning whether karagdz preceded or followed the advent of the orta oyunu. The chronology cannot be resolved definitively and it is likely that the two strands of theater developed parallel to each other. In the puppet plays, the principal protagonists are called Ibis, a comical servant, and the Ihtiyar, his old master. In the karagdz they become Karagdz, the literal-minded, down-to-earth young man, and Hacivat, the pretentious old bumbler. In the orta oyunu they become Kavuklu and Pi§ekar with roughly the same characters.

Structural Characteristics The karagdz plays follow well-defined patterns and many of their texts have been recorded. In each play there are three parts: (1) a miikaddeme (prologue or introduction); (2) a miihavcre (dialogue); (3) a fasil (main plot). 1 A patterned screen called "gostermelik" that establishes a kind of setting, introduces them. This vanishes at the sound ol a whistle and Hacivat appears singing a song, or reciting a poem. He is pretentious and boring. Karagoz appears and argues with him and they battle each other. The dialogue that followed was often topical, but the essential basis for it was always the contrast between Hacivat's "formal, superficial knowledge (preciosity), and Karagoz's common sense and/or occasional lack of understanding, sometimes derived from an assumed ignorance for the purpose of irony." (And, A History of Theater, p. 35) The fact that many of the terms of the orta oyunu derive from Spanish and Italian sources reinforces the belief that it represents a translated Turkish form of Commedia dell 'arte. "Orta" may be derived from "arte"; "tiyatro" derives from "teatro"; the term "provo" (rehearsal) is still in use and the Turkish term "palanka" comes from the Italian "palanca," as does "palya?o" from "pagliacco." The stage area of the orta oyunu was an open space around which the audience sat. Scenery and props were minimal; they were usually small tents set up nearby for costume changing and for other preparations. Pigekar comes on ^And, Theater and Entertainment,

p. 35.



stage first and talks directly to the audience and introduces the play. Meanwhile, Kavuklu enters the stage and begins an argument with him. Their battle of wit is called a tekerleme. "in which Kavuklu tells an impossible story without logic to it, and tries to make the audience believe it. It is eventually discovered however, that Kavuklu is merely relating a dream." Formerly, a full orta oyunu company comprised twenty to thirty men, including musicians and dancers, but as this tradition disintegrated, it was transformed into the Tuluat theater. However, before considering this transition, there are some important characteristics of the orta oyunu that merit further consideration. T h e most important point to note is that this theater was completely non-representational, or non-illusionary: The actor does not lose his identity as an actor and show his awareness of this to the audience. The audience does not regard him as pretending to be a real person, but as an actor. The stage is not conceived as being discontinued and separated from the audience; there is no line between them, and no removed fourth wall. The actor keeps reminding the audience continuously that it is sitting in the theater and, in this way, makes the audience part of the show} This provides the basis for much of the humor of the plays. As Pi§ekar strived to preserve the dramatic illusion created, for example, by journeying from place to place in a circle around the play area, Kavuklu broke the illusion by commenting on the unreality of the convention. Pisekar m a d e elaborate gestures to indicate imaginary doors and windows, but Kavuklu ignored all dramatic pretenses and insisted on what his eyes actually saw. The orta oyunu was, hence, a theater of comedy based on disguise, contrast, and incongruity, exaggeration, slapstick, wit, and various verbal imitations. All of the characters who appear in either the karagdz or orta oyunu plays were types that reappeared f r o m play to play. Plots, although complex and rich in detail, were "openform", that is, each part constituted an independent unit so that they could be manipulated according to the exigencies of any particular audience or situation. A s examples of the kind of "situations" to which these elastic f o r m s adapted themselves, Metin And drew attention to certain karagdz plays in which an important politician was ridiculed for his homosexuality, another for his corruption. Furthermore, karagdz sometimes appeared equipped with a large phallus. Such liberties resulted in efforts to suppress these traditional forms, or at least to render them acceptably harmless.

^And, Theater and Entertainment, pp. 40,41.


B R I-; C H T



The most outstanding characteristic of both karagdz and orta oyunu was their verbal creativity: The persistent disparity between normal language and its usage by the characters, the reduction ad absurdum, the sudden shift in the sense of the speakers' words, the unexpected nature of replies, nonsensical answers, garrulity, bombast, boastfulness, repetition, learned twiddle, twaddle, vulgar or obscene allusions and malapropisms are the chief verbal comic devices in karagdz and orta oyunu) (For this reason, when Eugene Ionesco's plays finally reached Turkey, they could not strike Turkish audiences as terribly original.) The Tuluat theater, which developed toward the end of the 19th Century, used the same techniques as the orta oyunu but eschewed the use of stereotyped characters, preferring to take c haracters from everyday life. These plays filled out their forms with local events, allusions, current events, and gossip. At first, the orta oyunu simply moved indoors in order to take advantage of more elaborate set possibilities and in order to give the new, Westernized theaters competition, but soon these plays developed their own styles of textless improvisations with songs. Sometimes they, or the orta oyunu companies, would parody plays being performed elsewhere in the city, such as occurred in 17th Century France and England. From a sociological point of view, traditional, pre-Republican, Turkish theater can be divided into several strata according to the social classes that it served. In addition to the forms already discussed, the karagdz, orta oyunu, and Tuluat theaters, there was a palace theater, and rural, village theater. The Ottoman ruling class began to take an interest in the developing Western style theater of Istanbul during tin latter half of the 19th Century. Members of the ruling class patronized some favorite performers and commissioned performances. Unlike the ease in other countries, the Ottoman palace theater did not develop its own style. 2 Although village plays have been objects of study for a number of years, it has been difficult to document them because villagers are reluctant to discuss thtm and they are performed only on particular occasions. From what is already known, however, it is apparent that much of the theatrical form which stid exists in the villages, especially those far from urban centers, bears the mark of the most primitive, pre-Islamic agricultural festivals, just as similar pre-Christian vestiges may be found in Europe. Some of village performances use dance, music, and pantomime; some are reenactments of magical (shamanistic) rituals, others treat aspects of daily life:

1 And, Theater and Entertainment, And, 100 Soruda Turk Tiyatrosu

p. 44. Tarihi, pp. 13, 17.



laments for the dead with mock resurrections, imitations of animals, or preparations for war. Also popular are theatrical enactments of kidnappings of young girls. Sometimes these are combined with dance and imitations and music. Unfortunately, scholarship has been applied to these village theatrical phenomena just at the historical moment when they are at the point of vanishing. Rapid social and economic transformation threatens to make such performances only memories in all but the most remote villages. The other important rural theatrical form was the meddah, or itinerant dramatic storyteller. The repertoire of techniques of the meddah was very rich, including imitations, accents, ventriloquism, and facial gesturing. Using only a handkerchief and a few of the simplest props, the meddah were extremely popular and moving. Also, meddah was the only narrative theatrical art form that was not merely comic. Meddah performances oftentimes treated religious subjects, legends, epics, sexual feelings, fears, courage, and other strong emotions. As these meddah narratives were not generally recorded, information about them is available largely from the travel accounts of foreigners who witnessed performances in Turkey.

Brecht and Turkish "Open Form" Metin And examined the structural relationships of traditional Turkish theater, Brecht's Epic theater, and the traditional Western theater represented by the "well-made French play," which came to Istanbul in the late 19th Century, in an article titled, "Open Form in the Theater and its Importance from the Point of View of Turkish Theater," published in 1970. The article opens with a strong statement concerning the importance of this concept of "open form" for the definition of a national quality in Turkish art: In the search for the "national," not only in theater, but in all the other arts and branches of literature, there is a need to research the structural and stylistic characteristics shared by Ottoman art and literature. One of the important structural characteristics is "open form."} He applied Wolfflin's conceptions of "techtonic" to "closed" form and of "atechtonic" to "open" form. These ideas have been much discussed within the context of European art history, and, more recently, in application to the problem of defining the Baroque. And's innovation was to apply the terms to Metin And, "Tiyatroda 'A?ik Bisim've Turk Tiyatrosu Bakimindan Onemi," Tiyatro Ara$tirmalari Dergi, Vol. 1 (Ankara: Ankara University, 1970), p. 19. And concluded by writing: "If we summarize, the "closed play" is completely self-contained and everywhere, in every part the whole is encapsulated. It is closed into itself. In contrast, the 'open play' surpasses itself, seeks a limitless appearance." (p. 26)





Ottoman art and to Turkish traditional theater. In effect, he implies that Turkish orta oyunu, and other Ottoman art as well, may be accurately considered as Baroque. Therefore, the problem of the Westernization of Turkish art gained a new dimension; not only must it be evaluated in a context of cultural and social transformation, but also in a context of an anachronistic clash between heterogeneous conceptions of art. Such a view leads to the conclusion that the alien quality of the Western, French theater brought to Istanbul during the late 19th Century was an untimely graft. In contrast, the Brechtian conception of theater that appeared later took root because it was structurally and conceptually congruous with traditional Turkish theater, even if politically problematic. The ramifications of these concepts extend to the language, the staging, the sociological matrix of the play, in fact, to every aspect of the theatrical enterprise. Metin And suggesting that Brecht's Epic theater arose for reasons similar to those that produced 17th Century Baroque art elsewhere. But he clarified that not all epic theater was either Brechtian or Marxist. After reviewing various manifestations of this Baroque / Epic, non-Aristotelian theater in the West, he concluded by writing: Therefore, as Turkish writers aspire to a national theater, the "open form" may be a system for them. We find "open form" in Ottoman architecture, painting, poetry, and music. If these remain outside of the subject at hand, we can at least say with certainty that our traditional theatrical forms ofkaragdz and orta oyunu are examples of "open form"} Whether under the name of "open form" or "Epic theater," for And the concept holds the key to understanding the essential stylistic and structural characteristics of traditional Turkish theater. H e hoped that a p r o f o u n d understanding of the fact v\ould aid Turkish writers in constituting a genuine, modern Turkish theatrical style.



Critic Sevda Sener emphasized the strong tendency a m o n g Turkish dramatists to view the human being as a tool f o r the exemplification of a particular theory or theme. It is as if the T u r k i s h aesthetics of h u m a n psychology were established with the types utilized in the traditional karagdz shadow puppets, and became frozen. Certainly, gossip and social intimidation exist, yet they seem less based on Freudian, analytic speculations about the motivations of other individuals, or on applying psychological labels and 'And, "Tiyatroda 'A