Turkish Diva Bulent Ersoy’s travails, highlights the contradictory and fascinating country that is modern Turkey.


Imagine that just after British troops had invaded Iraq, two of the juror’s on the hit UK TV show the X Factor had the following on air exchange,

Sharon Osborne –“Current wars are decided at tables and if I had been able to give birth, I would not send my son to fight in a war. These wars are not like ones in the past. It is all decided by people sitting at tables and deciding that some boys should die.”

Dannii Minogue — “I would be proud to be a soldier’s mother and if it were the boy’s destiny to die for his country, I would gladly pay that price.”

Sharon Osborne –”These are cliché words, but at the end of the day, boys go to the military and die and the tears follow. I don’t agree with you.”

I expect most readers would say such a thing could never happen in the UK as the plug would have been pulled; and in any case people like Sharon Osborne and Ms Minogue are picked to appear in these type of TV programs because they are a safe pair of hands, despite being portrayed as being near the edge in reality they are nothing of the sort.

Whilst such an exchange is unlikely ever to occur on live TV in the UK, it did happen in Turkey and one of the jurors involved is now before a Turkish court with a four year prison sentence hanging over her head.

It is worth looking at this matter in some detail as behind it lays much of what makes Turkey such a fascinating and contradictory country. By the 1980s, Bulent Ersoy, the lady who fills the Sharon Osborne role in the Turkish TV hit show Popstar Alaturka, was already one of Turkey most popular male singers and actors, his popularity could be compared with Cliff Richard in the UK, like Cliff, Ersoy also had his own TV show. Then in 1981 he had a full sex change operation, becoming Bulent Ersoy, female singer and actress.

This was shortly after the military coup led by General of Kenan Evren, in the crackdown that followed the General taking power, gay and transgender people where accused of “social deviance,” and Ersoy’s public performances were banned along with those of other openly gay, transsexual and transgendered people.

After failing to be legally recognized as a women Ersoy went to Germany to continue her career. Finally, in 1988, the Turkish civil code was revised and she returned to Turkey to claim her pink for female ID card. Ersoy soon returned to the Turkish stage to great acclaim, and her adoring fans seemed to love her all the more, she became more popular as a woman entertainer than she had been as a man. Her fans and the Turkish people as a whole even took to calling her affectionately “Abla,” elder sister in Turkish.

Semi retired by the turn of the century and regarded by many Turks as a great Diva, she became one of the judges on the hit TV show Popstar Alaturka, which is based on countless similar shows on European and US TV. It was during a live transmission of this show that she had the above quoted conversation with a fellow juror. That at the very same time the Turkish army was conducting a major operation against the PKK in northern Iraq pushed her comments further into the public spotlight.

That some 40,000 people have died since the conflict with the PKK began in 1984 was not mentioned by her critics and after the Istanbul state prosecutor launched an enquiry, she has been charged with “making the public detest military service,” a crime under the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and is due in court soon.

So there you have it, a macho male population, a defiant and brave woman who has triumphed over adversity, a much loved diva and artist, homophobic and transgenda prejudice, censorship, the secret state; and millions of Turk’s who simply love the woman as they believe she sings like an angel; and contradictions galore. As I said at the top of this piece, what a fascinating and contradictory country.

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Filed under E U, Organized Rage, sexual-equality, Turkey/politics/democracy/history/islam/current affairs

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