Turkey: Erdogan's brand of Islam ushers in cultural boom

Moderate Islamic premier promotes theatre, books, cinema

27 February, 18:53

(by Rodolfo Calo') (ANSAmed) - ANKARA, FEBRUARY 27 - Official figures for cultural activity released in Turkey this year show what is practically a summary of a thriving cultural scene under the Erdogan era.

The AKP, the moderate Islamic party of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been in power since 2002 and its religious orientation had provoked fears for the secular nature of Turkey and for Western-style expressions of national culture. These fears have so far proven to be unfounded in the light of the numerical growth of such sectors as theatre, book reading, cultural centres, antiques and cinema. The figures were released last week by the office for culture and information of the Turkish embassy in Rome.

An example from the world of opera is indicative. From 2002 up to last year, the number of operas and ballets performances grew from 584 to 862, with a corresponding increase in audience numbers (of nearly 233,000 to around 379,000). In the same period, the number of national opera and ballet festivals grew by a factor of 4.5 to 478. The number of concerts, recitals and other musical events organised by the Ministry for Culture and Tourism grew by just under 1,400 to nearly 2,000. Opera was an art form was much loved by Kemal Ataturk, the nation's founder who did so much to give Turkey a Western face during the 1920s and 1930s, despite the country's Islamic roots. This is the tradition that Erdogan is now revaluating through what is being mislabelled ''moderate Islam''.

Since 2003 Turkey has seen the opening of 35 new theatres, bringing the total number up to 58 in 2011(with another two due to open this year). Theatre capacity has more than doubled to 20,808 with attendances growing over the decade by 70% to 1.7 million. Public financing of private theatres has more than quadrupled with centres outside Istanbul and Ankara benefitting, ''in order to spread the arts across the whole of the national territory,'' as the note from the embassy says.

Turkey has also witnessed growth in literary activity over the decade. The increase in the numbers of books, catalogues, annual publications, e-books, teaching documentations, cassette, software and books in Braille has been of more than 160%. There have also been increases in the numbers of magazines, (from 634 to 710), books (+58%) and subscribers to the National Library (123%). In addition to this, the number of cultural centres built by the Ministry of Culture has doubled from 42 to 84, with another 19 planned to open during the year, bringing the total over the hundred mark.

Foreign tourists have no doubt contributed to bringing visitor numbers to museums and historic sites up by a factor of 3.8 to almost 28.5 million since 2002, with a 9.7-fold increase in takings. There has also been mushrooming of the number of private museums (from 93to 157). An increase to our knowledge of Turkey's past, as well as a boost to the country's future as a tourist destination, has come from a 25-fold increase in spending on archaeological excavations and investigations between 2002 and 2011. The number of Turkish-run sites has more than doubled to 123 and there are 43 archaeological excavations by foreign teams under way.

More in keeping with modern times, public financing of cinema has exploded from the 5.7 million dollars spent during 1990-2004 to the 108.4 million just over the past seven years. While nine Turkish films were distributed in Turkey during 2002, this number rose to 70 in 2011. Audience numbers have risen overall by 80%, with a 10-fold increase in the number of people going to see Turkish films. Box-office taking has increased for these two categories by 125% and 163% respectively. (ANSAmed)
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