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-When did you first come across the AKM?

Being, since my young age, an amator of all arts, I entered the AKM building since its
first days, the opening, after a very long project and construction period since the first
idea in 1946. That was in 969. Therefore even the long background of the
fabulous Sydney opera is, in comparison, a very short story!... Being an architect myself,
graduated already in 1964 from our Academy of Fine Arts (the present day Mimar
(Architect) Sinan University), I liked it very much; both its gracious, yet definite lines
and the way it respected the surroundings, the Taksim Square ve Taksim Park (as its
better known today, the Gezi (promenade) Park). But after a few opera and ballet shows,
it burned with a very unfortunate fire the next year. This has been the beginning of a long
and sad story which brings in mind a kind of curse upon the building!...
Do you remember the fire?
I certainly do. Weve all been in tears. And it all happened during a presentation of Arthur
Millers The Crucible!....The only consolation was that nobody was hurt!...
-The rebuilding process? Did you know anyone involved with the rebuilding process?
The reconstruction took years, but it was given to the hands of the same architect, Hayati
Tabanlioglu. But in reality, the second building was a group work, with the participation
of prestigious names such as Aydin Boysan, the wellknown architect and writer; the
German engineers Will Ehle and Johannes Dinnebier, the local ceramic artists Sadi and
Belma Diren. The new faade was particularly modern in its pure and noble lines. Not
everybody liked it, but personally I did and found it even better than the original one.
Aydin Boysan, roughly two generations older than I, was not only a good architect, but
also a charming person and a hard drinker, especially of the raki, the national
alcoholic drink of the Turks, based on anis, such as the greek Ozu!...Something which I
personally cant stand!...So during our eventual meetings with Boysan and assorted
people in the famous Passage where popular taverns are located, I took refuge in vodka
or wine!...Aydn Bey is almost 95 now, alive and well, drinking his raki and cursing
people who let AKM die as it is!...And I also knew the architects son Murat Tabanlioglu
who took over his fathers job and makes live brilliantly the family name.
-Did you see any shows at the AKM? Can you remember what they were and when they
took place?
Most certainly. AKM after its reopening in 1977 has been the heart of stanbuls cultural
life. It had a big hall for 1300 persons, a medium one for 800 and a small one for 300. So
you could do here any kind of activities and a few ones at the same time. For many years,
the State Theatre and the State Opera and Ballet located inAnkara, the capital, came
to Istanbul as a yearly spring tournee and presented us wonderful shows. Weve seen
there Verdi or Wagner operas as well as My Fair Lady or Don Quichote kind of musicals.

Shows such as The Swan Lake, The Magic Flute, Carmen or Amadeus are still in our
memories. We have seen there personalites as unique as Shirley McLaine, the fabulous
Tom Jones or the wonderful blind jazz singer Diane Schuur on stage.
Or the biggest orchestras or ballets of the world: from The New York Philarmony to the
Boshoi Ballet. A very personal souvenir for me is that I was chosen, in the late 70s, as
the host on stage for the special night dedicated to our great writer Yasar Kemal. He was
already known worldwide and was given an award by the Turkish Writers Union, with
some foreign celebrities of the world literature. I was so excited!...Kemal passed away
in 2015.
What do you think about the space architecturally?
As I told already, both with the way it suited to the background and its interior
possibilities, the building is unique. It even had a smaller room for roughly 100 persons
which we used as an art cinema in the first days of the Istanbul Film Festival, starting
from 1982. Until the festival got bigger and jumped to bigger places The large lobbies
and corridors were also used for all kinds of exhibitions.
-What do you think about the present political situation surrounding the AKM?
I simply think that its a terrible situation, not only politically but also concerning arts and
culture. Politically both inside and outside the country things are not going well. Turkey,
inside, is a country which is getting more and more divided, unable the solve the Kurdish
problem, to start with, in peace and causing the death of dozens of people daily, both
Turkish or Kurdish. Upon the foreign politics, it is not any better. In a region such as the
middle-east, one of the worst areas of the planet where so many contradictory passions,
politics and purposes are in a deadly war, our politicians look unable to handle the
situation and assure peace around us. We lack the necessary maturity, wisdom and
capacity to play the role of a big and strong country. We are one, but we can not prove it
and take the things in hand.
Culturally, it is the same. I personally gave a fight to preserve, among other things, that
beautiful old cinema, Emek, that we had in the heart of the city, over 100 years old and
one of the most beautiful theatres in the world!...But we could not save it. Under the
name of renovation it was demolished and replaced by a so-called New Emek. It will
open soon, but I wont go and so will do many people, I know it. This is a new generation
of rulers and investors, they only speak the language of money and there is nothing they
wont do for a few dollars more, as would say the dear Sergio Leone!...
This is a generation or rather a social class which never lived the life we lived, tasted of
our pleasures, had contact with culture and had any kind of artistic experiences. For me
and for people who think like me, all these are the essence of life. Istanbul is one of the
oldest and most beautiful cities of the world. It needs to be handled carefully, treated
like an old lady, taken care of with maximum attention and preserved as a world
monument. Instead, it has been chosen by the present governors as a large land to invest,
to build, to so-called renovate. The only concern they have is to turn every building,

every empty space, every acre of the land into something which will bring more money.
Briefly, the wildest and irresponsible days of capitalism!...
Emek was no exception. So is AKM. We have to fight against this. And we are doing so.
Any help from our foreign friends is and will be welcome!...
About the AKMI was a member of the Turkish Radio and Television
Polyphonic Youth Choir. Part of that meant that we had live radio
recordings and we often recorded things in the historic radio building
the first radio building in the whole country. So, it was, for me a very
unforgettable experience. 500 people auditioned and they only took
19, because only 100 people were allowed to be in the choir. There
were folders with music at the door and you had to go inside and show
your ID and then sight-sing! Part of that experience was that they
would take us to historical places and we would perform live at national
celebrations for TV and radio.
Im talking about 1994 to 1997I was in the choir for 3 years. We
performed often in the AKM. It was built as a concert hall. If you were
an opera singer and you performed there, every single person in the
Hall could hear you voice perfectly. The acoustics were just great. And,
of course, Ataturk was the founder of the Turkish Republic, so it has a
lot of meaning to Turks.
And it is such a central location. Its on the European side andif you
wanted to meet with someone, youd say Where in Taksim Square?
Well, in front of the AKM. Its a very well known place, everyone will
know. But because of the state of politics right nowa conservative
party came into powertheir background; they hate anything that is
related to Ataturk. So that is why they abandoned the building. And
they said they were going to build a new Opera House and a mosque.
Why? There are a lot of mosques in that area. Why would they feel like
they need to build another mosque? The name is Ataturk Cultural
Center and it represents somethingit represents the modern. Ataturk
was one of the first in Europe to give women the vote. So Ataturk
brought a lot of things. And a lot of people actually think he was just
trying to be like Europe. No, no, no, he wasnt trying to copycat
anything. He just basically brought out the essence of what it means to
be a Turk. And he represents the culture, the kindness, the elegance,
the professionalismbeing trustworthy. He is for all that, and that is
why this concert hall is very important. Now its part of the ongoing
political game, unfortunately.

The only people who dont like Ataturk are trying to and failing to
make profits off of him. If youre talking about American historylike
Washington. Nobody is going to say, No, he was a bad man. You have
to respect the people who are the founders of the nation. And Ataturk
said that we have to have peace in the world. He was a peaceful man.
So, he didnt say Were going to take over the whole world. He was
not like that. The only people who are against Ataturk are those who
dont like that he wanted to separate religion and the state. Now, they
are trying to combine the two. And the people who are doing this are
making major money off of this.
Basically, people dont have a lot of education and they get scared. If
you dont believe me youre going to go to hell. Or God is going to
punish you because you werent following the religious rules. It is so
easy to do that. And people right nowthis is whats happening. They
are changing the laws about the schooling systemits really messy.
Ataturk worked for the people. He didnt become rich, he donated a lot
of stuff. He adopted a daughter. He paid for her education and she was
the first female pilot. He opened up a lot of things for women and for
everything, basically. He also helped people learn to read. The Arabic
alphabet that people were using before was really hard.
Because of the position of the country, Turkey is the gate between
Asia and Europe. So we have a lot of music in the culture. And Turkish
classical music is very complicated. Instrumentation is super rich
there are lots of different time signatures and scales, all the way back
to the Ottoman Empire. Some of the pieces are so longsome single
pieces are as long as an American opera. The scales are more
complicatedwe have more microtones. There are more notes on the
scale. We have three or four notes extra. Certain makams are all
vibrations and dissonances, and change by the time of the day. You
have to play this makam in the morning. You have to play this makam
in the afternoon.
The TRT Polyphonic Choir is completely Western in its music. Its like
When the Saints Go Marching In or jazz things. Or even traditional folk
songs with Western arrangements. And a lot of times we would
perform a cappella. Or if it was a national celebration wed perform
with piano or a jazz orchestra. Even if you would take a breath, the
microphones were so sensitive that you would know. Our choral
director would know out of the 100 people who was flat.
Everyone was very supportive. The TRT was prestigiousI initially
wanted to do the choir that was focused on classical and art music, but

you had to be 25 years old. So I was a lot younger than I needed to be.
Your voice had to reach a certain maturity. Once you get in, the money
was really good and it had a nice cafeteria. And we had a hairdresser
that was very, very cheap.
They had rehearsals from noon to four every weekend day. I was living
on the Asian side. It would take me two hours to get there. So my
whole weekend was devoted to that. But they also took me really,
really cool places. We got to perform with jazz singers. We performed
with very important conductors. We performed in very important
historical sites. We were on TV live. It was goodand then every time
we were on TV they would pay us. Youre 18 and they are paying you,
which is so cool! Youre young and youre getting all of this experience
and youre getting paid.
The project started with the curator, of course. He chose three
different spaces, which, in a way, symbolized modernity in Turkey. AKM
was the symbol of modernism as a cultural center. It was the main
opera house, right in the middle of the main square in Istanbul. So
theres a lot of symbolic meanings related to that. He decided to
choose three different sound artists. Each one would do a sound
installation for one specific space. I knew people at the IKSV, so they
gave him my name. My space was the opera house. Thats how it all
So I was thinking about what I could do with this site-specific sound
installation. I wanted to do a long, 60-minute piece so that people can
listen to the whole piece or, like a regular sound installation, come and
go and listen to a few minutes here and there. I wanted to focus on
memories of people related to the center itself. I chose 10 different
people and asked them 10 different questions. What was the very first
memory you have of the space? to what do you think will happen to
the space, to what do you think about the future of Turkey in
general? Then I wanted to find the sound of the space itself. So I went
to the building and took a lot of sound recordings in and around the
buildings itself. Then I had a chance to work with the archive of the
AKM. They had maybe 100 recordingsnot great recordings, but
archival qualityso I also got hold of that. Then I processed the three
parts and composed the piece based on those ideas.
I found rehearsalsnot interviews or anything like thatbut there
were some very interesting musical moments. The interviews
everyone had their own perspectives. One person said they were there

every Saturday morning, because every Saturday morning until the

closure there were classical music classes. So in a way it was like a
routine for some people, that they would be there every Saturday
morning. And then since its located right in the middle of the city, its
always been a meeting place. I did an interview with a technical
director friend of mine who has been working at the IKSV. He told me
all of those stories about the opera house. It has been one of the most
important opera houses for new works, as well as theater and dance
The first time I went to the AKM was in high school, around 11 or 12
years old. There was a music class where we went to one of the
rehearsals of a concert. We even had to write a short essay, so that
was the visit I remember the most.
Sound-wise and architecturally the space is really unique. Both the
concert space has great acoustics and so does the cafeteria, yeaits
all sonically really interesting.
During the time of the Biennial everyone was talking about how the
AKM was going to be demolished. None of them thought that this
moment would ever come. So, in that sense it is really sad. All of these
were changes, especially after 2010. If you follow the news about our
pro-Islamic government, you know that things were not great until
2010 but then they got much, much worse.
Dear Mr. Kurlander,
I do not have any particular publication about Taksim and AKM. However going to
school around there I have a nostalgic and keen interest on the subject. In 2007 I also did
a series of sculptures based on an old monument that was placed in front of the AKM in
1960 or 1961. As a school boy I remember both the opening and burning of the AKM and
I went to the first ballet performance there. I believe it was called Cesmebasi. At my later
years I exhibited my works in several exhibitions in the so-called art gallery of the AKM.
During those exhibitions I had the opportunity to see the building again, this time with a
mature artists eyes. As an opinionated artist I found the building horrible and I think in
some panels or conferences I participated I made several public statements about that.
These statements of course created a stir among the kemalist/modernist architects. I
specifically remember a more recent Facebook discussion about the subjects with a group
of architects. (That must have been when there was talk that AKP was to tear down the
building) At the time I was accused of being on the side of the government.
Mr. Kurlander, it is not really important but I am an atheist artist and by no means an
AKP sympathizer. However I believe that building is a disgrace. An ugly building
similar to various cultural buildings that can be seen in many Eastern European cities
left over from the communist era.

I think it is a disgrace to Istanbul, for it creates an unattractive black wall in Taksim

blocking the view of the sea. The good view of Bosporus was only available in its
parking lot and in its dance practice rooms. I am sure you have looked into the history
of the area and found out that it used to be a cemetery. The area was changed and opened
to other construction in the 1930s. Just imagine that building not being there (or
perhaps being rebuilt underground) and public having access to that area with an amazing
view. When I exhibited there, and observed the building I noticed it was designed with
theater fetishism. The art gallery was located on the top sixth floor with only a small
(four people) elevator access. The foyer area of the building (where you could only enter
with a ticket, so not open to public) was gigantic and one of the most impressive areas of
the building. Now think about it Mr Kurlander, a huge space in the middle of Taksim and
the only time to be spent there is the 15 minutes before the plays or during the
intermissions. For instance it could easily be designed to make that area the art gallery,
so that public in Taksim would have access and could interact with the building. It seems
the theater/ opera and dance people wanted a private palace in the middle of Taksim and
briefed the architects towards that aim. I am not even mentioning the huge spaces
devoted to practice rooms, offices, etc. And I will also not mention the late performances
I witnessed there such as Songs from West Side Story sang by Istanbul Opera singers.
(Real high art)
I have many more criticism about the building but I will stop. Basically in1930s during
the one party regime the cultural policy was that art and culture was to be respected and
supported. The quality of the arts was really not much questioned. Artists, including not
very good ones enjoyed this non-critical respect. After all the rulers were ex-soldiers and
they went to the Presidential Symphony concerts and listened respectfully, not really
critically. Cumhuriyet newspaper published articles on arts (all of them, concerts, plays,
exhibits) always praising the activities, never criticizing. So everybody felt cultured. It
was of course easy, too. After all respect is free requires very little knowledge. Being
critical requires knowledge and work.
This approach created a culture of unconditional and uncritical attitude towards arts. I
believe it unfortunately still reigns in many circles and as a result many artists and
architects still almost demand this unconditional respect. I think this building and the
support to preserve this building is partially a product of this culture. Remember AKM as
it stands now was (re) designed in 1956 by Tabanlioglu only one year before Utzons
design of the Sydney Opera House. I leave the design comparison between the two
buildings to you.
As for the sculpture I made. It was derived from a particular sculpture that was erected in
front of the AKM after the 1960 coup dtat by the military that resulted with the
execution of the elected officials. It was an approximately 7 meter high metal bayonet
wrapped with green leaves, erected on a pile of rocks. In 2007 when the military again
attempted a coup dtat (the so called E-coup dtat) I began to research this sculpture
that I remembered as a child. I discovered that the leaders of another military coup
ironically removed it in 1980s. So this horrendous object actually stood there in front of
the so admired palace of culture for twenty years without anybody cultured objecting
to it. During those twenty years there have been massive Mayday parades,
demonstrations in Taksim and nobody touched this military phallic symbol. I will attach

some old photographs I found of this sculpture, including one where the demonstration
was obviously rather violent, yet even then nobody bothered to push and roll that bayonet
My original project was to re-erect the same sculpture but make it motorized so that it
bends down and stands erect slowly. Naturally it was a fantastic idea not to be realized at
the time. However I made drawings and some animated gifs and smaller versions hoping
to exhibit in an art gallery. It was found too anti military by a gallery that I was to have an
exhibit and the exhibit was cancelled. Later I made two small versions of that bayonet. In
one of them the blade of the bayonet was made of a heating element that turned red-hot.
The other one the blade was pink neon and it was erected on top of a pile of feminine
objects all painted in military green.
I am attaching some old photos of that statue in front of the AKM as well as my own
versions. I hope this information will be of help.
Erdag Aksel