Home Communication Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens
Filmmakers or Diplomatic Ambassadors?
It is widely known that migrant-sending peripheral countries hugely benefit from the economic contribution of their populations abroad.4 Yet Turkey's relation with its diasporic subjects has moved beyond dependence on remittances only. Diasporas across the world have gained ever more significance in international affairs (Davies 2007: 62). Today what matters more is the powerful role they play in terms of the representation of the sending country. "The conditions of the Turks in Germany take on added significance given the relationship of Turkey to the European Union (EU) ... which sensitizes the border between Turkey and the EU, between the Germans and the Turks" (Halle 2008: 142). In this context, Turks in the diaspora, particularly those in one of the most important and powerful countries in the union, become strong political actors. In so far as "Turkey is seen through the prism of experience of Turkish diaspora" in Europe (Giddens et al. 2004: 29), the recent achievements of Turkish German filmmakers, who are simultaneously
Turkish and German, have come into prominence. This is not only because their hyphenated identities provide the means for newspapers to speculate about their national belonging, but also due to the increased recognition they receive in an international context. They are constructed as representatives of the entire Turkish nation in the Turkish press, and are expected to epitomize the concept of Turkishness.
Furthermore, integration into the EU has always had a symbolic meaning for Turkish people as it is regarded as the culmination of
Figure 12.1 Attitude toward EU Accession in the Turkish Press (above) and Nationalist Tone in the Turkish Press (below)
Ataturk's vision to reach the level of contemporary civilizations.5 The so- called "social engineering project" (Keyder 1997) led by Ataturk in the early years of the Turkish Republic can actually be formulated as "global modernity = European civilization = Westernization" (Kahraman and Keyman 1998: 72), underlining the foundational role the Westernization principle played in the process.6 Consequently, any incident regarding the relations between Turkey and the EU has occupied a significant place in the political agenda of the Turkish state, and more generally, in the Turkish public sphere; hence the importance and resulting high coverage of this issue in the Turkish press.
With regards to the press coverage of Turkish German filmmakers in general, there were hardly any news items about them until the mid- 2000s. This changed in 2004 with Fatih Akin's award-winning film Gegen die Wand (Head-On, 2004), which can be seen as a turning point for the international recognition of Turkish German cinema.7 As a result, Akin has indisputably attracted the most extensive attention from the Turkish press. As Erdogan puts it, "in fact, any mention of Turkish German cinema is more likely to conjure up his name than that of other talented Turkish German auteurs" (2009: 27). However, in the majority of cases, this is not merely due to his directorial merits or the artistic quality of his films, but rather to a combination of diverse factors; namely, his amusing personality, rhetorical skills, and the political messages he embeds in his public speeches and interviews. This, at the same time, indicates that in Turkey, Turkish German filmmakers still do not have enough importance to generate news, and for that reason, they are mostly represented in relation to wider thematic frameworks such as Turkish-EU relations and identity politics.
Upon receiving the Golden Bear for Head-On, Akin became the focus of national interest in Turkey for a variety of reasons that had little to do with the film's aesthetic merits. What Hurriyet, as a mainstream nationalist paper, was really interested in was Akin's attitude toward Turkey's position within the EU. "If I made a film about Turkey's accession to the EU, it would have a happy ending. There are millions of Turks already living in the EU in general and in Germany in particular. They are part of the society. In practice, Turkey is already in the EU thanks to the existence of these people. Why should we not make Turkey an official member of the EU then?" (Hurriyet 2004).8 By articulating sentiments widespread among the Turkish population, Akin expresses Turkey's demands for a fair and inclusive negotiation process.9 However, Akin on his own is not responsible for reiterating the subject. It is the persistent questioning and encouraging of journalists that ensures that Akin takes up his presumed role as cultural representative and political ambassador of his country of origin. Hereby a deprived, unwanted, but proud self (Turkey/Turkish) is constructed through and against a privileged and judging Other (Europe/ European).
When it comes to the liberal mainstream papers, the subtlety in the nationalist tone is immediately noticeable. As in other Turkish newspapers, the news items in Radikal are mainly politicized; references to Turkey's accession to the EU still set the tone of the news items even where films and filmmakers are concerned. However, the majority of the news stories and articles in Radikal contain film analysis, bringing the issue of aesthetics into the discussion. In accordance with the stress on the artistic merits of the filmmakers, these journalists generally refrain from resorting to any essentialist definition of national identity. Instead, they underscore the possibility of multiple belongings and hybridity and address the filmmakers carefully as Turkish Germans.
The journalistic portraits of Turkish German filmmakers in leftwing Turkish newspapers differ remarkably from those in mainstream nationalist papers in terms of language and attitude. Cumhuriyet, as the nationalist Kemalist representative of the Turkish press, uses the success story of the film Head-On to highlight invidious EU policies in connection with Turkey's accession to the EU. The fact that the opera version of the film received a European Tolerance Award in 2009 suggests that not only in Turkey, but also abroad, Turkish German filmmakers are seen as messengers of their country of origin. The fact that the foreign newspapers, too, represent these filmmakers as cultural ambassadors corresponds to the stance of the Turkish press. One particular article about this award emphasizes the comments of Dieter Kopp, the president of the European Cultural Assembly, on Turkish-EU relations (Cumhuriyet 2009). Kopp states that the opera contributed remarkably to Turkish German relations, and it is incomprehensible that Turkey, in spite of its enormous potential, is excluded from the EU. Conveying the message by quoting a European representative's declaration that Turkey deserves to become a member of the EU unmistakably presents an unbiased account of the issue. This at the same time befits the paper's tacit Eurosceptic ideological stance.10
When considering news coverage in an explicitly Kurdish newspaper such as Evrensel, one should bear in mind the enduring Kurdish-Turkish conflict, and the fact that the EU represents the agency that monitors human rights violations. Since Kurdish people in Turkey claim to be subject to discrimination and official oppressive policies, they envisage Turkey's accession to the EU as a progressive move.11 So does Evrensel. These factors influence the paper's approach toward Turkish German filmmakers, interwoven with the process of Turkey's inclusion in the EU. Correspondingly Aydin Yildirim and Suzan Isik (2007) evaluate Akin's film Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven, 2007) with reference to Turkey's relationship to the EU through a focus on the film's character developments. They argue that Ayten, Lotte, and her mother Susanne, represent different levels of agency and alternative points of view in regard to Turkish-EU relations. Rather than speculating about Akin's hyphenated identity, they focus solely on the film's structure and narrative based on the fact that the film deals explicitly with Turkish-EU relations.
In brief, every newspaper in Turkey seems to attribute significance to Turkey's accession to the EU and to consider the issue as a newsworthy subject matter. The only exceptions to this are papers such as Zaman, on the one hand, and Yeni §afak and Yeni Qag, on the other, which can be considered Islamist and extreme rightwing respectively. Their predictable lack of coverage is probably due to their traditionalist and conservative perception of the EU, which, in its current structure, is seen as a Christian Union.12 Overall, the newspapers exploit Turkish German filmmakers and their success either in order to support their pro-EU perspective or to underline their skepticism of the union based on its presumed insincerity and mistreatment of Turkey.
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