“We are immensely saddened to learn of Helin Bölek’s passing. We strongly condemn the actions of the Turkish government that led to her death. Bölek was on a death fast because the Turkish authorities refused to guarantee this artistic group several of the most basic liberties necessary to a free and democratic society . . . ” Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) of PEN America
The world mourns the death of Turkish singer Helin Bölek. Ms. Bölek died Friday after a nearly 300-day hunger strike. She was a member of the music collective Grup Yorum, which has faced ongoing persecution by the Turkish government for years. Bölek had been on a hunger strike to protest her imprisonment and that of eight other band members during 2019.
Ms. Bölek, originally the daughter of a family from Diyarbakır, worked in art during her youth. She took part in the group as a soloist. During a police operation in İdil Culture Center in Istanbul in November 2016, she was first detained with the seven members of the group on charges of “resisting the police, insulting and being a member of a terrorist organization” and then arrested. In addition to Ms. Bölek, Bahar Kurt, Barış Yüksel, İbrahim Gökçek (who is currently in day 291 of his hunger strike), and Ali Aracı announced that they started an “indefinite and irreversible” hunger strike on May 17, 2019, to end their pressures, concert bans, raids on cultural centers. On March 11, 2020, on the day of the conflict, İbrahim Gökçek on the 268th day of the death fast and Helin Bölek on the 265th day were taken out to the Umraniye Training and Research Hospital after the police raid that morning in their home in Küçük Armutlu, Istanbul. In a statement made by their lawyer Didem Ünsal, the two Grup Yorum members stated that they were taken to the hospital by ambulance and that they were admitted to the emergency room, where they declared that they did not accept the intervention and treatment.
Grup Yorum is a band from Turkey known for their political songwriting. Grup Yorum (Yorum means interpretation or comment in Turkish) has released twenty-three albums and one film since 1985. Some of the group’s concerts and albumswere banned over the years, and some of the group members were allegedly arrested or tortured.Yorum remains popular and their albums continue to sell well in Turkey and internationally. Yorum has also given concerts in Germany, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, United Kingdom, Greece and Syria. The group publishes an art, culture, literature, and music magazine entitled Tavir, and several group members manage a cultural center in the Okmeydanı neighborhood of Istanbul called İdil Kültür Merkezi.
Although Ms. Bölek was released on November 20, she continued her hunger strike with the intent to pursue it until her own death, alongside Grup Yorum member İbrahim Gökçek. Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) of PEN America, said the following:
“We are immensely saddened to learn of Helin Bölek’s passing. We strongly condemn the actions of the Turkish government that led to her death. Bölek was on a death fast because the Turkish authorities refused to guarantee this artistic group several of the most basic liberties necessary to a free and democratic society: that Grup Yorum be allowed to make music in peace, that their cultural center not be raided again and again, that their concerts not be banned, and that their members not be imprisoned for merely making music. Artists take risks, but they should not have to risk their lives. Turkish authorities’ hostile attitude toward freedom of expression and their continued crackdown on artists, writers, thinkers, and activists, especially those working on Kurdish issues, must cease immediately, and Grup Yorum members still in prison must be unconditionally released. Bölek’s death makes the truth painfully clear: The very lives of artists are on the line.”
This post is complied courtesy of Wikipedia, PEN America, YouTube, and various news reports.
PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you would like to learn more about Grup Yorum, please read ARC’s profile of the band. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.
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