Lots of Turkish newspapers rejoice at the fact that the Eiffel Tower was for five days, from 6 to 11 October, wearing the Turkish flag’s red and white colours. This was a wink at the “Saison de la Turquie”, which is currently taking place in France and will last for nine months. Whereas Turkish newspapers consider it a success, the French media hardly deal with it.
For a few weeks now, posters of Aya Sofia and Bosporus are flooding the Parisian Metro; and not only in Paris but also in such cities as Lille, Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux. For nine months the “Turkish saison” celebrates Turkey’s culture through examples of contemporary art, architecture, photography, theater, dance, music and cinema at an estimated four hundred exhibitions.
This event has been expected for a long time by lots of Turkish newspapers. On 10 September, the Turkish Daily News celebrated the successful start of The Saison by using lots of superlatives. But in France, the big newspapers, such as Le Monde, Le Figaro and Libération, chose to be either discreet or polemic. In an editorial by Ara Toranian, rather a militant spokesman for the Armenian diaspora in France, (Le Monde, 06/09/2009) he used the argument that no reference was made to the “Armenian genocide.” “Is Cultures France, the organizer, amnesic?” he was asking.
Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, the director of Cultures France, the organizer of the event replied to Toranian describing his article “a little excessive and let’s say it, also intellectually dishonest.” The director mentions in his article that a series of discussions are taking place since September where taboos in the Turkish media are being discussed, including the Armenian question. He also points out that Ahmet Insel, one of the signatories of the letter asking for apology from the Armenians also took part in these events. Regarding, Toranian’s claim that no reference was being made to Armenians contribution, D’Arvor wrote that Turkish photographer Ara Guler, who always makes a point of being an Armenian, exhibited his work under the title “Cartier Bresson of Istanbul” and received a medal from City of Paris.
It seems that the hot issue according to the French media is introducing the Armenian issue in connection with the Turkish Season. In doing this, they forget to give information about the events themselves.
However, Rue89.com, the up and coming online newspaper, has published an article about “Their four revelations”. Mercan Dede, the drummer Burhan Ocal, Kudsi Erguner and Baba Zula are described as “the must take part concerts during this season”. But this article, written on 8 July was the only testimony of interest given by Rue89. The coverage by Rue89 has been particularly low considering its usual interest for cultural events.
The situation is a bit different on the first days of October, Le Monde and Paris Match are publishing pages dedicated to the Saison. But once again, among the description of the events, the political aspect seems to be inevitable. They are dealing with it because Abdullah Gül was opening the Grand Palais’s exhibition. Le Monde, on 7 October, was describing the rather reluctant effort made by French President Sarkozy to welcome his Turkish colleague. The opening was attended by a restricted number of people and lasted for only half an hour. Sarkozy insisted that only French language to be used for the occasion.
“The Turkish Season is a bad gift leftover to Sarkozy from Chrirac”
The efforts to introduce a political angle to the Turkish Season could be the result of the French President Sarkozy’s stance against Turkey’s possible membership in the European Union. Actually, the event was planned under the mandate of the previous head-of-state Jacques Chirac. That is why, supporters of Sarkozy see the Turkish Season as bad gift leftover from the previous president. That is also why the project of “the year of Turkey”, created by Chirac moved to a simple season with his successor. Is it is seen as an advertisement campaign for the entrance of Turkey to EU? That could be the reason of the media’s lack of interest.
Nevertheless, according to the first figures of participation the French public is willing to discover Turkey. “A total of 15,000 people danced to Turkish rhythms during the opening show by Anadolu Ateşi [Fire of Anatolia] and Mercan Dede on 4 July at Trocadéro Square,” according to Görgün Taner, the general director of the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Art (İKSV), interviewed by Ahsen Utku for Todays Zaman on the 20 of September. This figure is confirmed by the season’s official website (www.saisondela turquie.fr) and the videos of the event, showing an enthusiastic crowd. Far from political aspects, Turkish culture is still filling lots of French people with joy.
“To love those who love us”
Finally, one of the most positive articles about the Turkish Season was written by the famous French journalist, photographer and writer Michel Guerrin and published in Le Monde on October 7 under the title “To love those who love us.”
In his article Guerrin says that the Turkish Season is evolving under a “strange atmosphere,” because the Kurdish and Armenian issues were also invited to the”feast” and French President openly declared his opposition to Turkey becoming a EU member. However, he points out that Turkish intellectuals and artists know and admire the French culture whereas the French know very little about Turkey. He concludes that the event has created an exceptional chance for the French to approach, understand and listen to important “creators” from Turkey.