Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry announced on Thursday that it has withdrawn its support for a film festival after the organizing committee reversed its decision to remove a documentary depicting the plight of victims of a post-coup purge in Turkey.
The documentary, directed by Nejla Demirci, had been set to participate in the festival before the organizing committee decided to cut it on Friday.
Following widespread condemnation and protests from activists, film professionals, directors and jury members, the festival committee reversed its decision to remove the documentary.
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government initiated a massive purge of state institutions following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Over 130,000 civil servants lost their jobs due to suspected ties to “terrorist organizations.” The dismissed individuals also faced barriers to employment in the private sector and restrictions on obtaining passports.
The documentary, titled “Kanun Hükmü” (With the Force of Law), focuses on the challenges faced by Yasemin, a doctor, and Engin, a teacher, who lost their civil service jobs under post-coup emergency decrees, known as KHKs, issued by the AKP government.
The film’s removal ignited a storm of criticism.
In an unprecedented move, 20 jury members resigned in protest. Members of the Adana Altın Koza Film Festival jury also showed solidarity by expressing their support for the film and its director.
Well-known actors, directors and writers also voiced disapproval.
Finally, yesterday, the producers and directors of 27 films announced their withdrawal from the festival.
After a strong backlash, the festival’s director, Dr. Ahmet Boyacıoğlu, who justified the removal by saying that a person in the film was part of an ongoing legal process, issued a statement today saying that the documentary was reinstated in the lineup after it was documented that the judicial process had ended earlier.
Following Boyacıoğlu’s announcement Turkey’s culture ministry released a statement saying it could not be part of an effort that “uses art to propagate FETÖ propaganda.”
FETÖ is a derogatory term used in Turkey to describe Gülen movement, a faith-based group that was the main target of the post-coup purge, as a “terrorist group.”
Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunç also said in a statement later on Thursday that “propoganda of a terrorist organization” cannot be allowed at the film festival.
Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, describing it as a terrorist organization.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
The Altın Portakal Film Festival is organized by the Antalya Metropolitan Municipality, which is run by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Antalya Culture and Arts Foundation.
The documentary was already the subject of a ruling last year by the Constitutional Court, which found that the local authorities’ ban on filming violated freedom of expression and awarded Demirci 13,500 Turkish lira in compensation.