Yesterday columnist Yılmaz Özdil, friend of the recently imprisoned cartoonist Musa Kart, wrote an appreciation and placed Kart’s struggle within the context of the long and difficult history of cartoonists and satirists in Turkey. With his permission we present a translation; the original version can be read at Sözcü.com
The first Turkish humor magazine to be published in these lands was Diyojen. It was published by Teodor Kasap. It was banned on the orders of the palace, closed in 1873. Teodor did not give up. When Diyojen were closed he began again with Çıngıraklı and when that was closed, again with Hayal. These cowards, they shut down Teodor! They arrested him and threw him in jail.
Our first cartoonist, Teodor had drawn Karagöz and Hacivat in his caricature, and it was this that ultimately caused him to go to prison. He drew Karagöz’s in leg shackles. “What is this?”, Karagöz asks. “Freedom under the law” replies Hacivat. For this crime the sentence was three years.
The Young Turks then took up the banner of humor. They published magazines like Dolap, Beberuhi, Pinti, Tokmak. But not here, they worked from Geneva or London, forced into exile. They weren’t even allowed to step into the country. During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II the creation of a cartoon was a great crime. The editor in the first issue of Tokmak explained this painful situation as follows: ”It is in vain to expect humour from our magazine, but instead hüngür hüngür gülmek best expresses it; we laugh rather than cry our eyes out.”
The humor of the Republican era began with the Markopaşa magazine, under Aziz Nesin, Sabahattin Ali, Rıfat Ilgaz and Mim Uykusuz. Again a criminal case was filed and the magazine was closed. For this reason, they continued publishing as and when they could under a banner heading “the times when the authors are not in prison”. Their distribution to vendors was banned so copies were handing out on the streets but even under those circumstances a truly unbelievable circulation of seventy thousand copies was achieved. A series of new titles were adopted for essentially the same magazine: Markopaşa, Merhumpaşa, Malumpaşa. Eventually Sabahattin Ali was assassinated. A fire bomb nearly killed Aziz Nesin. Rıfat Ilgaz was arrested but escaped. Mim Uykusuz was arrested on numerous occasions and his work banned, meaning his caricatures generally were signed with aliases.
During the rise of the Demokrat Parti it was decreed that satirical cartoons “damaged the multi-party democratic order”. Lawsuits were pursued for this ridiculous reason and cartoonists were imprisoned for “damaging democracy”. Concerning humor magazines, the decision was often made to confiscate before release, rendering cartoon material contraband! Turhan Selçuk was the most tried during this time. His well-known Abdülcanbaz character was born when the Demokrat Parti collapsed and Turkish society’s nightmares truly began.
Kenan Evren would go on to shut down the Association of Cartoonists and demolish the Museum of Humor.
The world-renowned Gırgır magazine was the next target. In 2006 a molotov cocktail was thrown at the statue of Oguz Aral’s famous character Avanak Avni. It was repaired but in 2007 its fixtures were damaged and in the same year set on fire. It was again repaired and again attacked in 2008, smashed with a sledgehammer. It was erected in front of Kadıköy Cartoon House, ripped up and stolen from its pedestal. This is the reward for fame.
And then the great leader of the 21st century, President Erdoğan. He sued over being drawn as a cartoon kitten by Musa Kart. He sued over being drawn as a giraffe, elephant, monkey, camel, frog, snake, cow and duck on the cover of Penguen magazine too. And he filed a lawsuit against the caricature as a blood-sucking tick on the cover of LeMan. But Kart, who drew his last cartoon on Christmas Day 2017, became a singular obsession. Musa Kart escaped prosecution in normal times but the attempted coup of 2016 and subsequent state of emergency helped the president enormously.
Nine months of detention, then out, but not over. The government regrouped, sleeping on it for a year. And as of yesterday the iron bars were put in place again. But on the contrary…
Take a look at this caricature of Kart’s drawn in the early 2000s. When Fetullah Gulen leaked to the Turkish Armed Forces the authorities were obsequious but Musa was unconvinced. Time and again his cartoons were a warning. If we collect all his anti-FETO caricatures we’d have a book. Yet now, shamelessly, he is put in prison for the second time and all as a fetish to please an obsessive.
They’re stealing another year from your life, my friend.
Nothing changes in Turkey.
We laugh our eyes out.