The struggle of the members of the leftist music band Grup Yorum to be able to sing their songs freely

In the dark years of the fascist junta, following the military coup of September 12 1980 in Turkey, a group of students formed the Grup Yorum in late 1985. This is a period when political parties in the country are disbanded, progressive books and songs are banned and their authors and performers are subjected to persecution, dozens of death sentences have been executed against the best sons and daughters of our people, hundreds have been killed without trial and judgment, and thousands of others disappear without a trace. In these circumstances, the Grup Yorum, with its songs, tears apart the black cloud of despair that hovering over the country and raises the voice of resistance, the voice of hope.

In addition to Turkish, the band also performs songs in the languages of other peoples in the country – Kurdish, Arabic, etc., as well as famous revolutionary songs from around the world. Grup Yorum’s music is a combination of traditional folk motifs and different contemporary styles.

That is why Grup Yorum is immediately subjected to repressions and lawsuits. For participating in protests, for performing songs in Kurdish language, etc. Their concerts are repeatedly banned. For the first time in 1989 their concert was banned in Mersin, southern Turkey. However, they do not admit the ban and in front of the hall where the concert was supposed to take place on the street, perform their songs, and then they are arrested. The group continues to work in prison and does not stop fighting for a minute.

In 1993, a special State Security Court re-issued an arrest warrant for the group. Hundreds of homes were searched, but members of the group were not found. They do not give up, they continue to create and sing.

1996 Hunger strike begins in prisons in Turkey, 12 political prisoners died in this hunger strike. One of these 12 people is Ayce Idil Erkmen – the first woman in the world to die in a hunger strike. In early 1990s Ayce Idil worked at the cultural center and the magazine, which are part of the activities of Grup Yorum. She has repeatedly stated: “he did not live in one who is unable to die for his homeland.” Her name today bears the cultural center of the group in Istanbul.

Since its creation, despite the brutal persecution and arrests, Yorum has not missed a single protest or rally organised by workers, peasants, university and high school students across the country. The group travels around the country singing for the people, drawing strength and creative spirit from the people.

The long and difficult road that continues to this day, on which Grup Yorum continues to walk, is becoming an important part of the struggle for a just and free life for the whole people. To the claim that art should not be ideologized, the group members respond: “Art is a reflection of the life, thoughts and feelings of the people. We live in a class society and have chosen the side of the people … Our songs are songs of struggle. And not just songs, but also a call for struggle … We aim to give hope to our people because we know that a nation that has lost hope is easily suppressed … Our songs contain the pain , the joy, the aspirations, the love and the path to the freedom of our people. We aim to contribute to preserving and spreading the values of our people through our songs … ”

In the 34 years since its founding, Grup Yorum has released 23 albums in addition to hundreds of concerts in Turkey and dozens in Europe. The first one was released in 1987 and the last one in 2017. The band has already sold over 3 million copies of their albums. During those years, more than 400 cases were filed against members of Grup Yorum in Turkey. Members were persecuted, its songs were condemned, there were days, months and years when all members of the group were in prison. But the creators and performers of Grup Yorum never stop.

The band members are active in the training and upbringing of progressive musicians across the country. As a result, the group has over 600 new singers in 11 cities in Turkey ready to replace the arrested and persecuted members of Grup Yorum. Today, 6 members of the group are in prisons in Turkey, and 6 other members of the group have been added by the interior ministry in most wanted persons list.

Some of the biggest concerts of the group are: in 2010, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a ticket concert was organized, attended by 55 thousand people. Then, since 2011, even bigger free outdoor concerts, entitled “Independent Turkey”, began to take place. These concerts are attended by: in 2011 – 150 thousand; in 2012 – 350 thousand; in 2013 – 550 thousand; in 2014, there were nearly one million people in Istanbul and over 700,000 singing with Grup Yorum in Izmir. These are concerts and political rallies. The Erdogan government is panicked by the growing influence of their music. The band’s concerts are again banned. In April 2015, the concert was banned hours before the start, people could not reach the square, but thousands were singing the songs of Grup Yorum at the places they were. In 2016, the concert scheduled for April was again banned, but this time the band was pre-drafted. It is scattered throughout the neighborhoods of Istanbul, members of group climb the rooftops of lower buildings and sing from there. In 2018, the band hosted the 8th concert Independent Turkey on April 29, broadcast live online. Despite threats and persecution, over 165,000 people watched the concert.

Grup Yorum define themselves as part of the struggle for socialism. Their weapons are their songs, and they are much scarier for the rulers than any other weapon because they understand that Grup Yorum is the voice of the people and the people cannot be silenced.

In the last 3 years, the repression of the fascist oligarchy in Turkey against the Grup Yorum has intensified since the country declared a state of emergency in the summer of 2016. Since then, the group’s cultural center in Istanbul has been raided 10 times by police. During every raid musical instruments, equipment, in the cultural center were broken, books were torn apart, and members of the band were detained by police for days, and were subjected to various tortures. During this period, many of them were in prison for various periods of time. The highest point of the repression was the inclusion of part of the group members in the list of the most wanted persons of the Turkish Interior Ministry. This happened in February 2018, with heads of 6 members of the Yorum group being awarded cash prizes of 300,000 Turkish liras( around 45 561,63 Euro).

The repression continued in the months and years to come. For this reason, the group members decided to launch an indefinite hunger strike. On May 16, 2019, they announced the start of their protest at a press conference, just a day before their cultural center was attacked again by police.

In June 5 of the members of the Grup Yorum in prison in Turkey went on a hunger strike. Two of them, Bahar Kurt and Helin Bolek, were released after a hearing on the case against them on November 20, 2019. Currently, Bahar and Helin are continuing their hunger strikes. The two young women have serious health problems as a result of the prolonged famine, but they nevertheless state that they are determined to continue the protest until the authorities accept the demands of the Grup Yorum. The demands are as following:

-We demand that our members be released and the cases be dropped.

-The Ayce İdil Erkmen Cultural Center [in Okmeydanı, İstanbul] was raided for eight times. We demand that police raids be ended.

-Our members have been put on the wanted ‘terrorist lists’ of the Ministry of Interior, we demand the removal of the list.

-Let the ban on concerts be removed and squares be open to Grup Yorum. We want a Grup Yorum concert.

Members of the group at the Silivri Prison near Istanbul – Barish Yuksel and Ali Araci have ended their hunger strike, due to their health conditions, meanwhile, on January 3rd 2020, Ibrahim Gokcek, who has been on Hunger Strike since June 2019, announced that he is turning his protest, in to a Hunger Strike till Death, and stop to take water, sugar and vitamins.

The authorities have not yet taken any steps to fulfill the group’s demands. Instead, the government continued its repression, with 3 more members of the Grup Yorum being imprisoned in early December 2019. Just a few days ago state backed hackers, hack Yorum`s twitter account and spread the lie that Ibrahim Gokcek enden his hunger strike, they also spread rumors and swears against Grup Yorum. This shows the real face of fascism in Turkey, once again to everyone.

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