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Can rock music rid Konya of its conservative image?

Tuesday 6 November 2007, by Izgi Güngör

We saw that Mevlana’s philosophy of tolerance is indeed valid for Konya people, who embraced a rock music festival. Organizers say thet refreshed the city’s conservative image

Central Anatolia city Konya is full of contradictions: Although many consider it to be conservative, it ranks top in the country in terms of alcohol consumption. It should come as no surprise, then, that Konya hosted a three-day rock festival despite the popularly held belief that nothing happens in the city apart from sema performances, the ritual spinning dance by Mevlevi’s, the followers of 13th century Turkish philosopher-poet Mevlana Jelaladdin Rumi.

Konya, home to Mevlana and his philosophy of tolerance, has recently been in the spotlight due to UNESCO’s declaration of 2007 as the ’’Year of Mevlana.’’ Such a rock event is the first of its kind throughout the city’s history. While the event surprised those who think Konya’s conservative image is incompatible with the rock scene, the innovative, dynamic and flexible spirit of rock music brought unprecedented movement and soul to Konya, which seemed to be comfortable with its traditional character that manifests itself mostly through the majority of conservative votes in the elections for years, as well as the high number of women wearing headscarves.

Big names of Turkish rock took to the stage including Hayko Cepkin, Pentagram, Aydilge, Bulutsuzluk Özlemi and Asena as well as foreign rock bands. An estimated 7,000 people watched the show.

‘Taboo was broken’

The event’s success was evident as it brought together people holding different views about art, said the organizers. They added that there is a lot that should be explored in the city. Perhaps the theme ’’Rock in Konya’’ indicates a contradiction, but perhaps it also reveals two different faces of the city.

“A taboo was broken in Konya,” said the organizers. “This event showed that such activities could be held here. We saw that Mevlana’s philosophy of tolerance is indeed valid for Konya people, who embraced such marginal music as rock. We in a way refreshed the image of Konya.”

At first, artists, organizers, the audience and the local administration of Konya were hesitant about organizing a rock festival in Konya. Some artists hesitated to come to the event, but others found the idea interesting. The Ankara-based Dizayn Organization realized that the event did not seek any sponsor and support from the local administration fearing they could not persuade them to give support.

The audience could not believe that a rock concert will take place in their hometown. At the end, however, the event turned out to be a good experience and discovery about Konya for everyone.

“It is actually ironic and tragic that the audience expressed their gratitude after the event. Audiences here usually think that nothing happens in an Anatolian province especially in a city like Konya,” said Hicri Bozdağ, organization adviser. He said that most events are scheduled in big cities and organizers as well as sponsors hesitate to venture in Anatolian cities thinking that they will not attract enough audience to make a profit.

Prejudice plays its part

Bozdağ said organizers are also prejudiced against Konya due to its conservative image, which play a dissuasive role in attracting further sponsors and organizers to the city. “The concert, however, was pretty successful and motivating for the locals. They enjoyed the feeling that something is being done for them. This event will perhaps lead to more events.”

Afitap Kırkpulat, the woman behind this venture, however, took a risk despite all the discouraging situations she encountered and ventured to organize a rock concert without any sponsor in Konya, a city with a dense population of university students and youth.

“We took a risk for art and the people living here. They deserve such events. We did a long-term investment in Konya through such an event,” Kırkpulat said. “At the beginning, we lived a painful process. It was even difficult to accustom people here to the idea of a rock concert in Konya. But at the end we saw and showed that the prejudices and our anxieties were baseless and Konya people were open to the [musical] diversity.”

She said the event also had important outcomes and messages for everybody including audiences, organizers, artists and the local administration. Apart from the event’s contribution to the local economy, tourism and promotion of the city, the event also removed all the hesitations from people’s mind over the city’s negative image. “I believe that the local administrations here and sponsors will themselves offer support for the upcoming events in the future seeing the atmosphere and the involvement. Artists will be more eager. This event will also probably direct many young people to music rather than possible negative habits,” she said.

Organizers maintain that Konya is not what it seems. Most importantly, the event revealed that a hidden rock audience potential exists in Konya. There is a thirst and expectation for further innovative art events but there are no such brave initiatives.
“All the prejudices should be eliminated. There should be always rock days in Konya,” Kırkpulat said.

While organizers plan to hold the second rock event next year in Konya as well as in other Anatolian cities including southeastern Gaziantep, the artists involved in the event believe that the artists themselves should break the taboo by creating new choices and setting an example to others in eliminating prejudices.
“Otherwise the gap deepens. People unfortunately value things from distant. Konya may have a negative image or even a negative side. But, if they have a prejudice against us and we have against them, the only solution is then to try to understand each other and offer them alternatives. This could be via music or other ways. Artists should be pioneer in removing stereotypes,” said Aydilge Sarp, an important name in Turkish rock who participated in the festival.

Noting that the human-oriented philosophy of rock music thematically fits Konya, city of Mevlana and tolerance, she said: “Here there are also people who want to listen to rock music and express themselves through it. I am more interested in this side of the story than the prejudices.”

Sociologists and audiences read Konya differently

Sociologists draw attention to the fact that people tend to have prejudices against cities where majority of the votes are in favor of conservative parties in the elections. For Zafer Yenal of Konya, a sociologist at Boğaziçi University, it is even more surprising to see people who cannot associate Konya with rock. “There is a prejudice against people who define their cultural identity over the Islamic religion. Konya is subject to such a prejudice with similar reasons. People evaluate things over political identities,” he said and added that Konya was already acquainted with such events.

“I remember when I was young, some members of Anatolian rock such as Barış Manço and Cem Karaca used to perform in Konya. So, it isn’t the first time that Konya hosted such an event. Konya is an important and economically dynamic city. It is a city of universities and it isn’t strange for the young population here to be consumers of rock music. I even find it more strange why people can’t think Konya and rock can go together”
The reactions of the audience revealed the best message to all.

“Turkish folk music concerts are more common here. We were surprised when we heard that a rock concert will take place here. We hope that such events will continue in Konya,” said a group of high school students while a university student from İzmir said: “It is a good way of promoting the city to the outsiders who come from other provinces.” Another said Konya wasn’t what it seemed from distance. “I am from Tokat and Konya is like Istanbul for me. Art-related activities are more frequent here,” he said.

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Source : Saturday, October 27, 2007 TDN

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