Interview with film director and critic Engin Ayça
Nathalie Galesne - 13/04/2007
Actually, it seems as though there’s a European within every Turk intellectual, don’t you think?
«Most of my generation was educated according to European standards. I myself, studied a year in France, then from 1964 to 1968 I attended film courses in Rome at the Centro sperimentale di studi cinematografici. This old practice of the Turkish Republic of educating its elite abroad lasted for a long time. Today, the Unites States have replaced Europe, they represent the Western world now and they can modify it to their liking. Many American universities and schools have moved in since 1960.»
How do you explain this past state of submission to Europe?
The goal of the young Turkish Republic in 1923 was to create a new nation according to the ideas and values of the contemporary western world which Europe embodied. Turkey therefore decided to reach the level of the western civilisation. Westernisation meant introducing polyphonic music, Italian theatre, sciences and technologies and later on, western films. This process had already started under the Ottoman empire. The revolution turned it into a mandatory step.
La Tour de Galata
What about Turkish culture?
It was erased little by little, as we imported everything from Europe: law, philosophy, sociology, medicine... What’s more, it’s the West that wrote about our culture. These new acquisitions from Europe had to be assimilated by our country. Unfortunately, this synthesis never occurred, I would rather consider it a camouflage. We had to return to our culture in order to change it. We had to stop being strangers to ourselves. That is why many of my generation went back to their roots and decided to inject new life into it. This return to the origins wasn’t simple as it was falsified by ideologies. During the 60’s for example, leftist intellectuals lost interest in the Asian culture as the fascists had built an entire mythology borrowed from the Turkish-Asiatic heritage.
Why did you choose to study in Europe then?
I studied filmmaking in Italy, simply because there were no film schools in my country. We had to learn abroad and add this knowledge to our country by building our own experience, but as I said, this didn’t work.
I know the West but the West doesn’t know me. It has always dominated the culture of the countries it occupied. Take France for instance. We occupied Algeria during three centuries and no one spoke Turkish, the French occupied Algeria for less than a century and imposed their language, their culture and social organisation... We ourselves were alienated for a long time by French culture.
La Corne d'or
Do you still feel for European culture despite this new alienation?
I believe that Europe but more in general the West is witnessing a sort of artistic impasse. As a matter of fact, many great European intellectuals turned to oriental culture. Eisenstein and Brecht turned to Japan. Musicians like Menuhin pushed their research up to India. Even at the level of western mentalities, we witness a loss of values which paradoxically leads you to realise that the more «civilised» you become the more you lose your soul. «What you call civilisation, is only a monster with a tooth left», wrote Mehmet Akif, the Ottoman poet whose words were reclaimed in the Turkish national hymn.
Wouldn’t Turkey’s entry into Europe allow to overcome the restrictions you speak of?
Perhaps...I’m not against Turkey’s entry in the European Union, on the condition that it is carried out in a real democratic, equal and respectful manner. To do this, Europe should give up its imperialist instincts. I also have the feeling that the proposed conditions aren’t fair on Turkey. In fact, if they follow the same logic of the customs union (1) this will be more helpful to Europe than to Turkey.
In addition, the European Union is going towards a “financial union” at the expense of its people, but above all Europe wants us to stay in the waiting room, or else how you explain the fact that Bulgaria and Romania acceded so easily to the European community and not Turkey? I believe that entering Europe with 70 million people would give us some strength in the European Parliament. We are all aware of the Europe’s past fear of Turkey, which we can find even in French and Italian expressions, not to speak of the now prevailing phobia of Islam. In fact the whole world wants to control us: the US and Europe because we are strategically important.