Pandemic threatens livelihood of Turkish musicians, driving many to suicide

many musicians rely on wedding bookings to make money, but dancing and music at weddings has been banned. (AFP/file)
  • Around 100 musicians have ended their own lives since the start of pandemic measures

ANKARA: Around 100 musicians in Turkey have committed suicide since the country introduced preventive measures against the COVID-19 pandemic in March, according to statistics released by the Turkish Musicians and Performers Union (Muzik-Sen) early this month.

There are roughly 1 million registered musicians in Turkey, many of whom work without insurance and so have been unable to claim state benefits since events, including weddings, were cancelled or restricted to curb the spread of the virus.

Outside of the country’s large entertainment venues — which have been shut down in the pandemic — many musicians rely on wedding bookings to make money, but dancing and music at weddings has been banned, with ceremonies limited to one hour, as the summer wedding season was seen as responsible for an uptick in COVID-19 case numbers.

Representatives of the entertainment industry have urged the government to introduce comprehensive aid packages for the sector in order to prevent a wave of social unrest and further suicides.

“State authorities haven’t protected musicians under these harsh conditions,” Muzik-Sen’s Hasan Aldemir told Arab News. “But when cultural and artistic works are under threat in a country, society cannot make any progress and will inevitably turn towards degeneration.”

According to Aldemir, the government must take “urgent steps” to offer social security to musicians who have already turned to the informal economy.

“These insecure conditions are already killing musicians even when they are alive,” he said.

Veteran musician Niyazi Buluet, one of 20,000 Roma residents in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province, said more than 2,000 musicians in the region have been seriously affected by the measures introduced to curb the pandemic.

“We need state support, especially these days,” he said, adding that many young musicians are “taking drugs to endure this economic hardship” while others are begging on the street, or have turned to prostitution in order to make some money. As poverty worsens in the country, the unemployment rate among those aged 15-24 has climbed to 26.1 percent.

“People are extremely hungry and they don’t have any other option, because all they know is performing music to bring bread to their houses,” he told Arab News.

Like many of his fellow musicians, Deniz Arslan, who plays the traditional Turkish baglama, has had to sell his instrument and equipment in order to get some cash, and has had to search for work outside of music since the pandemic began.

“My three brothers, who are also musicians, couldn’t pay their rent because they (have not been able to find) work in other places,” Arslan, who lives in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, told Arab News. “Aren’t we also children of this country?”


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