By Michael MacKenzie
A troubling episode in the lead-up to the Turkish referendum on the Presidential system has left a prominent Turkish actor’s art centre burnt in an arson attack, and intensified fears around incitement against opposition figures.
The art centre of Mujdat Gezer, 73, an award-winning Turkish cinema and theatre actor, was the subject of an arson attack early on the morning of Monday 20 February. According to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, which spoke to a security guard at the Mujdat Gezer Art Centre, the organization had received threatening telephone calls two nights before the attack. Security camera footage showed a “round-bearded” individual setting fire to the student entrance of the art centre, which did not suffer more than superficial damage in the attack.
The attack came around one week after the Islamist, pro-Erdogan newspaper Yeni Akit broadcast an extraordinary attack on Gezer’s character on presenter Ahmet Keser’s Akit TV show on 13 February. The controversy centred around Gezer and journalist Yilmaz Ozdil’s comments regarding Nihan Osmanoglu, a descendent of the Ottoman imperial dynasty and “Yes” campaigner. The comments, which were deemed “immoral” by Yeni Akit, spurred Keser to a vitriolic attack on Mujdat, who he described as “piss-breathed”, “filth”, and a “pimp”, also making allusions that the students were required to expose themselves at Gezer’s art centre, which he described as a “brothel”.While in the wake of the attack Gezer reaffirmed his commitment to the “No” campaign, the Yeni Akit newspaper showed no inclination to change its tone, tweeting that the arson was a “great shock for ‘Pimp’ Mujdat”, and publishing a number of articles doubling down on its criticism of the actor.
Yeni Akit is known for its conservative-Islamist agenda, its support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and for its troubling discourse, with the paper found in a 2013 study by the Hrant Dink foundation to be one of the worst purveyors of hate speech on the Turkish media scene. One of the well-known controversies around the Yeni Akit newspapers is in its support for the perpetrators of the 1993 Madimak massacre, in which Islamists attacked a conference held by intellectuals in the Madimak hotel in Sivas, Turkey, killing 35. A 2015 article in the newspaper bemoaned the fate of those convicted for the lethal attack, under the headline “Madimak means the oppression of Muslims”, while the paper’s 2014 article marking the anniversary of the attack sympathized with the mothers of the perpetrators, and their “21 years of tears”.