The Turkish Uprising and the Penguin

How the Penguin became a Metaphor for Resistance in Turkey

In the evening of Friday, the 31th May, the whole world witnessed the first dramatic riots in Turkey; the so-called Gas Festival. CNN International broadcasted live the violent clashes in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Mersin and several other cities in Turkey, which resulted in large numbers of injuries among the protestors due to polices’ excessive use of teargas and water cannons. At the same time, CNN Turk was showing a documentation about penguins in Alaska.

Its not only the questionable broadcasting time of this documentation, but also the creature itself that seem kind of ironical in this context. The penguin, a very sweet, but kind of clumsy little bird, that always keeps trying to fly, but will unfortunately never accomplish. Thus, the penguin has become a popular symbol and a symbolic inspiration for several thwarting artworks and witty illustrations.

The Turks have always been good at illustrating and humorously demonstrating their pleasure and displeasure with all kinds of social and political phenomena. During the Gezi Park movement, the Turkish humor has even become the strongest weapon of the protest, serving as the main mechanism to spread the peaceful messages. Next to other allegories like the Lady in red or the standing man, the Penguin has consequently become the symbol for all undemocratic censorship measurements under the AKP.

However, the debate about Erdoğan’s questionable public media control and circumcision is not new, it has been running for a very long time in Turkey. It’s not too long ago that the world-renowned pianist and composer Fazil Say was arrested for alleged blasphmey as according to Turkish authorities he had insulted the Islam. On Twitter he had made fun of a muezzin’s call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds with the words “Why such haste? Do you have a mistress or a glass of Raki waiting?”. He moreover recited a verse from an 11th-century poem by Omar Khayyám in which the Persian poet questions pious hypocrisy: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern then? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?” No matter, if one agrees with Say or not, his arrest was clearly a violation of the principle of freedom of expression.-


Penguin Performance by Kardeş Türküler with Sound of Pots and Pans at Gezi Park

A Bird that Never Flys?

Whoever wants to publicly draw attention to Erdoğan’s authoritarian governance, should consider detention first. Who questions the system can be held accountable for sedition, “call for protests” or what else absurd reasons come into your mind. Due to the systematically institutionalized power of the AKP- government dissenting voices have become rather quiet in recent years. As a matter of fact, according to the “Welt” there were 60 journalists in detention in the beginning of 2013. While Turkey, at least according to the law, prevails freedom of expression; authorities had sent a list of 138 forbidden words to the Ministry of Transport and Communications in 2011. These words were then banned on the Internet, including terms like ‘gay’, the Turkish name for ‘nude’ and consequently, the Turkish expression ‘yasak’, meaning ban.

The list goes on…

penguen_6715And again, during the social upheavals in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities in Turkey, hundreds have been arrested, although most of them were just peacefully protesting according to law. It remains to be seen, whether the Turkish Penguin will ever be able to fly. It seems that the creative Capulcus are on a good way, instead of trying to blast off drastically like a wingless bird, they keep staying on the ground, quietly searching for the right equipment to build the penguin a flight apparatus.

All images and photos by capuling potographers

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