Turkey expands crackdown on folk music band famous for protest songs

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Protesters are seen holding a sign that reads, "Grup Yorum cannot be silenced." PHOTO: DHA

Ankara’s crackdown on Grup Yorum, a folk collective with rotating band members, is continuing to expand even after two of its members died as a result of hunger strikes protesting the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) treatment of the band.

Known for its leftist stance and songs about human rights violations and freedoms in Turkey, Grup Yorum has been banned from performing since 2016, with some of its members having been jailed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AKP accuse Grup Yorum members of having links to the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The latest police raid on the İdil Cultural Center, where Grup Yorum members have been conducting their activities, resulted in the detention of 93 people out of 120 for whom warrants had been issued, including the band’s lawyers and background singers in addition to its soloists and musicians, as part of an expanded crackdown in October.

The center had also been raided a day earlier, when band members Barış Yüksel, Eren Erdem and Özgürcan Elbiz were detained along with background singers İdil Kayıkçı, Cenk Turan, Emrah Uludağ, Metin Kaleli and Yaşar Coşkun Karadağ.

Three other Group Yorum members, Dilan Ekin, Emel Yeşilırmak and Tuğçe Tayyar, are currently serving prison sentences on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Two other members of the folk band, singer Helin Bölek and bass guitarist İbrahim Gökçek, died earlier this year after a hunger strike in protest of the government’s crackdown on the band.

The 28-year-old Bölek died in April, on the 288th day of her hunger strike, while Gökçek died in May after fasting for 323 days.

Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food but consume liquids and vitamins to prolong their protests.

Bölek and Gökçek started their hunger strike while in prison in 2019 to press the AKP government to lift the ban and free detained band members. They continued the protest after their release in November, demanding that Grup Yorum be allowed to resume concerts, other jailed band members be released and lawsuits against the group be dropped.

Despite the death of Bölek and Gökçek, the Turkish government still has not lifted the ban on the band’s performances.

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