At least Turkey's tragic politics gives material to comics artists
Today, Firstsecond publishes Ozge Samanci's Dare to Disappoint, a graphic novel memoir of growing up in Turkey. Ms Samanci has favored us with an essay describing the tumultuous relationship between Turkey's authoritarian, thin-skinned president and her fellow cartoonists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP) won a majority in the parliamentary polls on November 1st, so his party will be in office for four more years. Turkey has been ruled by Erdogan's party since 2002, and newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian have called him dictator. Recently a Finnish journalist asked Erdogan if he is a dictator. Erdogan replied: "If I was a dictator, you would not be able to ask this question."
The dictator won his title with a series of tragedies and absurdities that have negatively impacted many residents of Turkey. Here are a few of them.
During the Gezi Park Protests in 2013, when millions of people protested the proposed destruction of the park, at least eleven people were killed, 134 were detained, and more than 8,000 were injured, many critically. Among the eleven people killed was Berkin Elvan, a 14 year old who was on his way to the store to buy bread. Elvan was shot with a tear gas canister by a cop. During Erdogan's address to public in Gaziantep, Erdogan declared the family to be terrorists and made his thousands of supporters boo the grieving mother. He also praised the police who killed protestors for their "legendary heroism."
In 2014, in a mining accident in Soma, 301 miners died due to a lack of effective security precautions. One of the advisors of the prime minister brutally kicked a protesting miner while he was being held by police officers. As if being kicked was not enough, the miner was then fired and fined.
A bomb exploded a month ago in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, killing 102 people who were supporting Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), a party that fights for Kurdish rights along with the rights of all minorities. Following the incident, research revealed that the government could have prevented this attack but did not want to stop it.
The list goes on.
Erdogan does not like criticism. He perceives it as an insult. He has sued journalists, children, adults, a beauty pageant, and even comics artists. In 2005, Erdogan was depicted as a cat in a comic by Musa Kart and Erdogan took offense and sued the cartoonist. The cartoonist was fined 5000YTL (approximately $3500). While this case was on its way to the Supreme Court, the weekly humor magazine Penguen opened up a bank account and raised money from its readers to be able to challenge Erdogan. Penguen magazine depicted Erdogan as eight different animals on its cover. Erdogan sued the magazine for 8 x 5000 YTL = 40000YTL ($28,000). Erdogan lost both cases, but continues to sue many comics artists in spite of the fact that he hasn't ever won a case.
Depending on the intensity of the political tension in Turkey, Erdogan becomes self-protective and greets the crowd as a blue sparkly hologram in Izmir or waves at them from 500 feet away. He waves to the crowd that looks like ants from the balcony of the extravagant palace that cost $615 million to build. His palace was erected in a forest that was clear-cut to make way for it, to the tune of 1.6 million square feet.
Millions of people raised their voice against Erdogan during the Gezi Park Protests. The spark of the protests was initiated from the government's attempt to cut trees at Gezi Park in Istanbul. Erdogan named the protestors as vandals and claimed, "We planted 2.8 billion trees in ten years." This means that Erdogan's government planted 5300 trees every minute for ten years. Is this really possible?
Erdogan also claims Muslims first discovered America before Columbus. He relies on the work of Youssef Mroueh, an uncredited academic. "Columbus admitted in his papers that on Monday, October 21, 1492 CE while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain." Most scholars interpret the word "mosque" as a metaphor for describing a remarkable part of the land since there are no traces of Islamic civilizations in America.
Erdogan has done at least one good thing. His horrific, absurd politics and personality, has given a lot of material to comics artists like me, and we will continue to have material for at least four more years. Unintentionally, through his actions and words, he has been one of the main sources of humor in Turkey.
Growing up on the Aegean Coast, Ozge loved the sea and imagined a life of adventure while her parents and society demanded predictability. Her dad expected Ozge, like her sister, to become an engineer. She tried to hear her own voice over his and the religious and militaristic tensions of Turkey and the conflicts between secularism and fundamentalism. Could she be a scuba diver like Jacques Cousteau? A stage actress? Would it be possible to please everyone including herself?
In her unpredictable and funny graphic memoir, Ozge recounts her story using inventive collages, weaving together images of the sea, politics, science, and friendship.
Ozge Samanci is an artist and an associate professor at Northwestern University's School of Communication.. She was born in Izmir, Turkey, and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. Her latest graphic novel, Dare to Disappoint, is a biography, telling her story of growing up in Turkey.
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