Turkey has one of the richest histories of satire and cartooning, but it is also one of the most oppressed and governmentally regulated countries in recent history when it comes to freedom of speech and expression. But cartoonists continue to battle government censors.
Since taking office in 2014, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not only been highly criticized by journalists and cartoonists, becoming the central figure in many satirical cartoons, but he has also been quick to use the legal system to prosecute, intimidate, and censor Turkish media — a tactic being implemented more and more around the world to stifle free speech.
From the charging of policitcal cartoonist Musa Kart last year for his “insulting” cartoon which depicted Erdoğan’s involvement in a graft scandal — a charge that was later acquitted — to the recent fining of two cartoonists, Bahadır Baruter and Ozer Aydogan, for their controversial cartoon printed on the cover of Penguen magazine, which Erdoğan read as questioning his sexuality to attempts by the government to regulate Twitter and the web-based information to which citizens have access, Turkish press consistently battles with governmental retaliation when it comes to speaking out about the state of their country.
In light of the subjective regulations and actions taken against them, Turkish cartoonists are speaking out and using the medium of satire to get their points across. “The crackdown on dissent has inspired a new generation of satirists online,” writes Al Jazeera America contributor, David Lepeska. “Turkey’s Onion equivalent, Zaytung, which launched in 2009, has grown more popular in recent years. It now caters to more than 450,000 fans on Facebook.”
Furthermore, “The Isengard Chamber of Commerce page, where ‘Lord of the Rings’ characters talk Turkish politics, has more than 50,000 likes. Last month, a lawyer’s guild, the Libertarian Democrat Lawyers, depicted the harshness of Turkey’s new security law in a series of cartoons.”
We can see this rise in press as well with the number of English-speaking media outlets that are covering the cartoonists’ stories. With President Erdoğan attempting to making Turkey a more prominent player in the larger global political landscape, all eyes are on the country and the censorial actions being taken almost weekly against the country’s press.
This being said, though, in a time when the physical ramifications of expressing oneself freely are tangible, Turkish cartoonists continue to stand behind their craft and their fundamental right to free expression to shed light on the governmental corruption plaguing their country.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!