Müjdat Gezen wants an investigation to be started into the judge who earlier released the Müjdat Gezen Arts Centre arsonist, subsequently remanded in custody. Gezen, who stresses that the police called a week before the incident and offered to provide special protection, holds talk of a ‘vengeful and pious generation’ responsible for the incident.
At the door to the Müjdat Gezen Arts Centre (MSM), which fell victim to an arson attack in the early hours of 20 February, we are greeted by a banner reading, ‘Instead of the school, if you had lit the gas under the tea kettle, we would have chatted.’ The school’s students are dancing and invite us to join in, as well as to a chat over tea, like on the banner. Some are in the yard, some in the street and some are putting on miniature performances. There are posters everywhere. Another one reads, ‘They entered the school with their petrol-soaked feet.’ I pass the balloons, performances and posters and head for Müjdat Gezen’s room. Despite having confessed to his crime, the culprit was released by the judge he was brought before. He is clutching printouts of the photographs that the arsonist, who, having been initially released, was rearrested under an objection and finally remanded in custody by another judge, posted on social media. He starts to show them to me, one by one.
This is how our chat starts.
- You are showing me the photographs of the arsonist who attacked the MSM holding a rifle in his hand. First of all, how do these photographs make you feel?
The most important thing in this photograph is the way his son is looking at him. Do you see his son’s surprise? This man is the member of a religious brotherhood. The pose with a rifle, photographs he has circulated of him voting for the AKP and the photographs he came and took the day after the fire are all posted on his social media account. Has this upstanding fellow called a ‘judge’ not seen these? Is he not supposed to see them? The wife and son of the man who set this place on fire are the fans of at least two of this school’s graduates? Terrible, isn’t it?
Is arson allowed?
- And he says, ‘Had I wanted to, I would have burnt it down entirely.’
Which judge can I report the judge who released the arsonist to? I want an investigation to be urgently opened into this judge because he put our safety at risk.
- How can this mentality be overcome? When they first released him, were they saying, ‘Arson is allowed?’
If this is how the judge rules then, yes, arson is allowed. They let him go but the prosecutor lifts him again. Also, do you find it convincing? They burn a school because one of Abdülhamid II’s fifth-generation grandchildren was the butt of a joke I made. I do not find this at all convincing.
Do we need to dig deep? The religious brotherhoods’ and rulers’ mode of thinking that has been injected for fifteen years did this. After all, your president said, ‘How will we raise them vengeful and pious?’
- Is he not yours?
Of course he isn’t mine. I want to make a gift of this book I’m holding to him. Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. When I appear on the Arena programme, I’m going to ask - I will say, looking into the camera: ‘Are you human? Yes, you’re human? I have no doubt that you’re human. You’ve got two eyebrows and two eyes. But, a human is capable of picking up a phone, you know.’
- So, did the Minister of Culture call?
No, he didn’t call at all. I mean, are you to hide behind talk of a ‘Vengeful and pious generation’ and act like this? Is this how a country is to be run?
- How should it be run?
Not like this.
- Apart from the Akit newspaper, is there anybody you blame for this?
Burhan Kuzu. I pity that man, too.
He has become a professor, but hasn’t managed to become a man. He marks me out as a target in Sinop. He calls me ‘mud.’ If I am mud, Burhan Kuzu is a pit because if Burhan Kuzu, the pro-regime channels and Akit newspaper had not set us up as a target, that kid wouldn’t have boldly come here and set the place on fire.
- Why do you think he started that fire?
He says, ‘I lost my rag because he insulted Abdülhamid’s grandchild Esma Sultan’ and he sets fire to this place. Esma Sultan died 170 years ago. He says Esma Sultan instead of Nilhan Sultan. He hasn’t got a clue about anything. He didn’t watch the programme, did he? Yılmaz Özdil and I didn’t insult Nilhan Osmanoğlu on the programme. Even if we did, what’s it to you?
- Don’t you think the things Yılmaz Özdil and you said about Nilhan Osmanoğlu were sexist?
That’s the way everybody has taken it. Sexuality is on everyone’s mind. Let’s say that sexuality was involved. If I made that joke about Abdülhamid’s grandchild’s grandchild, it’s me who’s responsible for it.
- Are you sorry you made the joke?
No, not at all. I have rewatched it and there’s no such thing. What do I say? Yılmaz Özdil says, ‘She wants the island. Are you going to give it to her?’ and I say, ‘Not the island, but, anyway, we’ll talk about it later.’ The ‘We’ll talk about it later’ comment is a joke between me and Yılmaz and Uğur (Dündar). It’s a reference to tapping and recording phone calls. That’s why we keep on saying we’ll talk about it later. I most definitely did not say it with that in mind. Had I done so, I’d have said, ‘Yes, that’s what I had in mind and I stand by it.’ Feminist women and politician women were taken back by it. Let them do something useful for Cumhuriyet rather than getting into a flap about these things.
Three years ago, Nilhan Osmanoğlu asked for the title deeds to the island and ten separate places. Pay the billions of lira of debt that Mustafa Kemal paid, then come and take it all and be off with you. Atatürk established the Republic with the sweat of his brown and paid off all that debt. And, she said, ‘We are sick to death of this parliamentary system.’ The basic reason Yılmaz and I went on the offensive was this.
I don’t just blab, I express my thoughts. If it had had another meaning, they would have closed that channel that evening. They’ve got sexuality on their mind.
- If so, shouldn’t you be a bit more careful when speaking?
- When it comes to jokes that can be construed differently and twisted round.
I know what I said. Let them do what they want to after this. I am prepared and I stand by my words as a matter of principle. Do you know what I’m saying? As Yılmaz put it, backdoor religious brotherhoods’ brains have turned into spiders’ webs and they have not managed to grasp the truth. This is where their minds are at. There is no end to their sexual problems. They say about me, ‘He’s a paedophile – his wife is 22 years younger than him.’ One of the reporters on Akit newspaper, which says such things about me, did time for raping a 14-year-old girl. The former President’s wife was 14 years old. There are very serious problems relating to sexuality. This mindset was unable to fully live out its youth. As I have no such problem, I can talk with ease about these matters.
Protection one week beforehand
- You were going to take legal action. What’s the state of play?
We have started proceedings against Akit newspaper for the crime of terrorism. I am most certainly going to make known what goes on in their back rooms.
- Were you given protection?
My life is so interesting. You see, a phone call came from the police a week before this incident. When the report appeared in Akit newspaper. They asked if we wanted protection. I asked what the need was. They said that they ask periodically. I said, ‘What do you mean periodically? I applied for protection three years ago and it was refused. I don’t want protection now. A 24-year-old kid is going to protect a 74-year-old man and die jumping in front of somebody. If he dies, I’ll die along with him. I don’t want this. Let’s do something else.’ They said, ‘There are guards around the school and house. Let’s bring in more.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ But this happened with the number of guards increased.
There is an Atatürk statue at the front door. I am going to have an Atatürk statue made at the back door, too. It will guard our school. (laughs)
- How contradictory for them to give guards and, on the other hand, release the culprit.
It’s an appalling thing. It’s hard to believe. The prosecutor says, ‘Remand this man. He’s dangerous,’ and the judge releases him. The man comes out like a hero and says, ‘Had I wanted to, I’d have burnt down the entire building.’ The Chief Prosecution steps in and he’s arrested again.
‘The AKP has destroyed the nation’s chemistry’
- Don’t the opposition and the left need to develop a new discourse?
This country has never liked being enlightened. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Take a look at the television programmes. Take a look at the marriage programmes. Do you watch Survivor? Turkey’s profile lies in Survivor. You might think that women gossip. Men do the most gossiping. The AKP has destroyed the nation’s entire chemistry over fifteen years.
I was born in 1943. I have been a sound-minded, book-reading person since the end of the 50’s. Right back to İsmet Pasha’s presidency until now, I have recognised and been on terms with them all. Apart from this lot. The Turkish people have not been fond of the left.
- I wonder how fond the left has been of the people?
The left will both by definition encompass the people and will dislike the people.
‘I do not go out without reciting the basmala’
- Talking of a pious generation, what kind of relation have you had with religion?
My mother was a pious woman and performed prayer. This lot use religion systematically. Which of them has anything to do with piousness? Shall I give you photos of them in Ankara bars? I am not against headscarves. My mother wore one, too. I also have students who cover their heads. But, for example, I will not submit to trial by a judge wearing a headscarf. Because I’m doomed from the outset. The whole raison d’être of a judge is that they’re impartial. The headscarf, though, is a sign of partiality. Just imagine. The judge is in a headscarf and so is Melih Gökçek’s lawyer, and I’m on trial. What an objective court! (laughs) The judge can go home and perform prayer and that’s of no consequence to me. My mother was pious, too. Shall I tell you something else?
- Go ahead.
I do not go out without reciting the basmala. I do not come on stage without reciting the basmala. I have a belief in God. And that gives me a marvellous strength. But I am a Republican. I’m a devotee of Atatürk, and everyone knows what I have stood accused of and what I have done in ideological terms for so many years.
- Everyone sees themself as being right and others as wrong.
Ideas are free and everybody can stand up for whatever idea they like without limit. Now the Minister of Justice gets up and speaks of a two-party system. Is this democracy? What’s to become of the small parties? A mosaic is a thing of beauty. It’s about polyphony. Listen to a monotone solo song and then listen to a well-rehearsed chorus. Democracy is a form of music. But, it’s not right for that music to capitulate to a single sound.
- Does the concentrating of all powers in Erdoğan or one office scare you?
He’s scared of me. Why should I be scared? What scares him most is that they can’t find anything crooked about me. Because I’m transparent. I see to it that my VAT is paid up before I get on a plane and take a trip. My accountant says, ‘There’s another eleven days,’ but I say, ‘Pay.’ I’m transparent. What you see is what you get. There’s nothing waiting to be revealed about me.
‘We need love injections’
- Is this what you get for having an arts school in Turkey? Being targeted, arson?
A man even called from Saudi Arabia to have the burnt part of the school repaired. They have called from England, Germany and Japan to give support. I have turned it all down. The insurance is taking care of it. But, I didn’t expect this much. The reaction exceeds what I deserve.
You need to look at who the arsonist is, not what he says. If somebody called the prime-minister gets up and speaks, or doesn’t speak, what’s the difference? He’s prime-minister in name. Is there a prime-minister in Turkey? It’s that simple. What kind of a personality can a man have who signs up to have his own position as prime-minister abolished?
- People in the administration are posting tweets saying, ‘Citizens are getting pump rifles.’ Are people going to shower one another in bullets when they get angry? How is this to be prevented?
Trust me, I’m not going to shower anyone in bullets.
- What do you want nowadays? What’s missing?
I want the thing that has been snatched from Turkey’s hands over the past fifteen years to be given back: Love. If I conducted a poll in Turkey, everybody would say how important love is, but would be unable to define love. You are going to start loving by loving. As Sait Faik put it, ‘Everything starts with loving a person.’ You will learn to love animals and nature. There is even a separate place in my car for my cats and for my dogs. That evening, one of my cats got burnt. Now, if only he had got burnt. The cat ran away and is now suffering a panic attack and can’t go into its box. We must even think about animal’s spiritual conditions.
- What do we need most today as a society?
We need love. After April’s referendum I want everyone to get a love injection, like flu injections. I want this so much. By the way, the country will undergo massive change after the referendum.
This change will be a positive change, because governments don’t change in a country until the economy goes pear shaped, and our economy has gone pear shaped. We’ve imported straw – straw, for heaven’s sake!