CANAN SAGAR tells Steve Sweeney why culture is so important to the political struggle in Turkey
IT SEEMS pretty typical of Canan Sagar’s artistic and political commitment that when I catch up with her, she’s performing at a fundraiser in London for the Evrensel newspaper.
Like the Morning Star, the Turkish daily is avowedly socialist, with a similar focus on issues impacting on the working-class and labour movements.
Based in London, Sagar is a singer-songwriter who came to Britain in the 1980s after her parents left Turkey to bring their two children up in a safer country following the military coup.
“As the years have passed, it’s become more evident that nowhere in the world is safe unless a united and equal planet is built for all the people and all living creatures,” she tells me.
That sense of social justice is reflected in her music, in which Anatolian motifs, combined with slow rock, unite eastern and western influences.
Turkish music has a rich tradition of protest and Sagar’s latest recordings reflect the troubling political situation in the country and her songs tackle events in Turkey and internationally.
Her second album Tas Atma Cocuk (Don’t Throw Stones, Child) relates to children imprisoned for launching stones at police or soldiers in the largely Kurdish areas of south-east Turkey.
The song has an ironic edge that puts the lyrics in question.
“Some people regard it as a telling-off to the child, others regard it as protesting against the system,” she explains.
But she is clear which side she is on. “My words protect the child and are against the system, a child’s place is not in prison.”
Oyuncaklarim (My Toys), another song she has written, is about the bombing that occurred in Suruc, a Turkish city close to the Syrian border.
It’s about a group from the SGDF ( Federa - tion of Socialist Youth Association) who were collecting toys and other equipment to build a park in Kobane, the city in Rojava, Syria, which had been under siege from Isis.
They were staying at a cultural centre and the bomb attack took place while they were trying to cross the border.
Thirty-three people were killed and the album includes more songs dedicated to other such massacres that have occurred in recent years.
For Sagar, International Women’s Day is very important. “Women have always played a major role in music, social movements and politics,” she stresses.
“Living in a male-dominated society is a major reason for women to put in an extra effort to take part in struggles and art.
“Women struggle with social, family and employment issues. In recent years, the number of women taking part in uprisings, protests and fighting against the system has increased.
“This only underlines the important role of women all across the world, seen in those who took part in the conflicts in Kurdistan. They fought at the front of the struggle.
“The male-dominated world must come to an end and an equal society built on equal rights be established all over again.”
The political situation in Turkey, where there’s an increasing clampdown on democracy and freedom of expression since the failed coup of July last year, means that the country is going through “extremely dark times,” Sagar says.
“Politics are ruining a great country that has held different cultures and religions to its heart for centuries. The people have been divided and chaos reigns everywhere.”
And, as the forthcoming referendum, which could see the most drastic constitutional changes since the foundation of the republic in 1923 looms closer, Sagar is crystal clear on where progressives should stand.
“My answer to the dictatorship regime and presidency is: ‘No!’
“I am not supporting a regime that is building up the division of the people and increasing hatred.”