Türkiye'de Punk ve Yeraltı Kaynaklarının
Kesintili Tarihi 1978-1999

An Interrupted History of Punk and Underground
Resources in Turkey 1978-1999

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Being Punk in Turkey

Tolga Güldallı

According to the familiar and accepted encyclopedic definition of the term, Punk is an anti-establishment, subversive subculture that developed around a music movement in England in the second half of the 1970s to wreak havoc upon the values of mainstream society. Punk's musical roots can be traced back to some New York bands of the mid-1970's, while its attitude and style came from England. Over time, Punk's nihilist and subversive attitude matured, transforming into a do-it-yourself destructive-creative, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, anti-militarist, anti-authoritarian, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, deeply ecological, pro-animal rights "ideology."

In the second half of the 1970's, Punk was an expression of rage in Europe and the U.S., while in Turkey, rage found its outlet in the form of street clashes, strikes and revolutionary rehearsals. In Turkey, it wasn't yet the "time" for "listening to music." The "traditional" military coup d'état of 12 September 1980 was accompanied by torture, dungeons, executions, exile, prohibitions, censorship and anti-democratic legislation. The regime of 12 September did a fine job of "shutting up" and "putting a lid" on the opposition, especially the Left, leaving behind a legacy of systematic apoliticization and dehumanization, whereby it succeeded in assimilating all segments of society, including universities and artistic communities. It was the age of "Uncle Özal," "striking it rich," "video cassettes," and "arabesque."

A space did exist for youths who refused to accept the degenerate arabesque culture imposed upon them and who sought some breathing room within this assimilated, dehumanized society; that "space" was called Heavy Metal. It was thanks to the hangouts where cassette tape copies of albums were made, and the "unsubtitled" pages of a few Heavy Metal magazines from abroad, that a certain group of youths who felt themselves to be "different" came to know Heavy Metal. For most, though, this introduction to the magazine world of Heavy Metal would evolve into something more, leading them to discover Punk music and thus serving as a point of departure in terms of "style" too, as they ventured into the realm of Punk in its many facets.

In the beginning of the mid-1980's, those who identified themselves as metalheads or Punks became increasingly more prominent in daily life. The anti-establishment "shock" tactics employed by Punks in England around 1977, were manifested in Turkey too, in the late 1980's, in the form of long hair, piercing, and ripped jeans -expressions of being "a free individual." And that meant fights, day in and day out. However, other than such street woes, Punk failed to forge a cultural and/or political space for itself in the daily life of Turkey.

In Turkey, youth has never really had a say in anything, a fact of life in keeping with the general tradition and moral make-up of the country's society. Due to reasons both economic and social, "youth habits," such as belonging to a subculture, have been perceived as phases which are expected to last only up until a certain age (i.e., until you get a "real job," or until the end of school, the beginning of military service, marriage, etc.) and which young people are expected to "get over" once they've "grown up." Because relations with the Punk scene tended to be short-lived, it proved impossible to lay the foundations that would allow Punk culture and tradition to thrive; Punks therefore failed to create a subculture that would ensure a permanent, communal living sphere where they could express themselves and produce according to the DIY ethic.

There are numerous reasons why Punk failed to become political in Turkey. Foremost amongst these are undoubtedly the lasting, oppressive effects that the military coup d'état of 1980 had upon Turkish society, the conservative, insular nature of the post-coup Left as it sought to lick its wounds and carve out a new social space for itself, and Punks' lack of enthusiasm when it came to participating in political life in general.

As is the case in many other countries, in Turkish society and media, Punk is often equated with perversion, a particular hairstyle, neo-Nazism, or Western wannabe-ism. Because of the lack of Turkish sources* about Punk, leaving Turkish readers with no other choice but to just "look at the pictures," and the late, post-1990's emergence of fanzines as a means of communication and knowledge-sharing within Punk, the concept of Punk has remained rather "shallow" even within the Punk scene itself. For the majority of those who have called themselves Punk, Punk never went beyond emulation, and Punk was never anything more than a kind of music, an appearance they were later forced to abandon, or the "delinquency" so often associated with the term.

This unfortunate state of affairs was not only true of Punk in Turkey of the 1980's and 1990's; it continues to be a problem, a "dead end," if you will, common to all similar "youth subcultures" in this country. Though we cannot really speak of Punk as ever having been a widespread subculture in Turkey, we felt it necessary to document this era as it was lived here in an atmosphere of loneliness, impossibility, and desperation, in a depressive, conservative, "artificially colored" country, which has had its memory erased by coups d'états and lacks proper documentation of its history.

The book that you hold in your hands -the "first" book of its kind, a claim which, you are assured, serves as no source of pride- contains the musical and underground resources in which Punk in Turkey found concrete expression, from the 1980's up until the year 1999, which witnessed the release of Rashit's album Telaşa Mahal Yok, the first "official" Turkish Punk album. However, it should be noted that this book contains "certain" individuals and bands who were witnesses of that era, and that it should therefore not be considered "the authoritative and comprehensive account of Punk in Turkey".

Another movement frequently mentioned in this book, alongside Punk, is Hardcore. Hardcore is a style created in the early 1980's by Punks in the U.S. who did not "dress" like other Punks and who played music that was much faster than classical Punk music is, and which its followers dubbed Hardcore in order to distinguish themselves. Today, Hardcore, with its originality, discipline, and harsh expression, has become a core movement virtually synonymous with Punk itself. However, in order to avoid confusion over terms, in this book the word Punk has generally been used to signify both.

Not counting an occasional mention in magazine columns, the word "Punk" made its debut in Turkey in the year 1978, on the cover of a record by a band called Tünay Akdeniz ve Grup Çığrışım, who labeled their music Punk Rock. However, in this case, the expression was more of a "joke" intended to boost sales. The first band to actively play Punk in Turkey was Headbangers, which formed in 1987.

1991 was the year that witnessed the birth of the concept "fanzine" and the appearance of fanzines, the primary communication channels of Punk in Turkey. Punk music was disseminated via "demo cassettes" copied at homes, in keeping with the "do it yourself" ethic of Punk (whether naturally or "out of necessity"). In 1994, Radical Noise, Necrosis, and Turmoil broke ground in Turkish music when they became the first groups to have their records produced abroad (they had been produced in Turkey years before)…

No matter how much, in terms of its music and its "style", Punk may have been domesticated, transformed, and packaged into a profitable product by capitalism, the truth is that Punk will thrive as an attitude, with all of its different dynamics and as a dissident subculture, with its underground spirit of sharing and community, so long as life goes on.

* Punks in Turkey were unable to access resources about Punk in the Turkish language until very late. The first book about Punk subculture translated into Turkish, Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning Of Style, appeared in 1988. All other books on Punk were not published until after 2000. Of those, Tricia Henry's Break All Rules: Punk Rock and the Making of a Style, which explains the musical and artistic movement that created and influenced Punk as well as the economic and social conditions that were the context for Punk's emergence, and Craig O'Hara's The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise! about the philosophy of Punk, are recommended titles.