Culture in Turkey

Is Erdogan purging Turkish state theatre?

At least 150 theatre professionals were recently fired without reason in Turkey, just days before they were expecting to receive permanent contracts. Creatives accuse the government of a politically motivated purge. By Pelin Unker

"We started the new year with great hope because we were expecting to be getting a contract soon," said a 30-year-old actor who was laid off from a Turkish state theatre without any warning. The artist, who wants to remain anonymous, played there six days a week and had leading roles in two different pieces.

He was among the theatre staff whose everyday life was suddenly shaken by an unexpected series of dismissals: "We're all very tense because nobody knows what they're charging us with. Those who weren't on the list are concerned because it could affect them at any moment."

An unfortunate turn of events

Actually, 2020 was supposed to be a good year for the staff of Turkey's state theatres. An official gazette published on 26 December even gave them the impression that their working conditions would improve. Entitled "Changes to the guidelines for the employment of contract agents," it stated measures that would allegedly enable more permanent positions in state theatres.

"Some of our artists and technical staff [at the state theatres] have been working without a clear status; now they will become our staff on a contractual basis," Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said at the time, even adding that "all worries about job security will be eliminated; work conditions are now guaranteed by the state."

Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Nuri Ersoy at the ITB in Berlin, 2019 (photo: DW)
Taking the opportunity to boot out troublesome creatives? "All worries about job security will be eliminated; work conditions are now guaranteed by the state," affirmed Minister of Culture and Tourism Nuri Ersoy

As a result, the directors of state theatres offered their freelancers to apply for a permanent position between 26 and 30 December. Many did so. Yet just a few days later, they were in for a nasty surprise: at least 150 freelance employees of state theatres, state operas or ballets were fired without notice, for unknown reasons.

An official letter with devastating effects

"The employment of the contract staff was not approved by the theatre director under the terms of employment" were the simple words in the official letter that was unexpectedly placed in their hands and sealed their dismissal. However, the theatre employees were left completely in the dark as to the exact reasons.

"A year ago, I was personally informed that I would gain access to full employment. After that, I fully focussed on that option and made my plans for the future," complains one actor, whose letter was handed to him immediately after a stage appearance.

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