The door testifies to the kind of visitors who tend to turn up here: it’s made from heavy steel. Yes, the police raid this house every so often. That’s because its residents are not just the stars of Taksim Square but also Turkey’s most prominent revolutionaries, period.
“Right now three of our members, including my wife, are in jail”, Cihan Keskek tells me as he shows me around the house here in the lower-class neighborhood of Ortaköy where he and his bandmates live in a commune. Yes, this is a Communist band. In fact, in their songs Grup Yorum propagate a Marxist revolution. “Protest isn’t enough”, says Keskek, who plays a traditional Turkish instrument similar to a guitar or banjo. “We need a revolution.”
Long before anybody thought of occupying Gezi Park, Grup Yorum protested against the “oppressive” Turkish government in its songs, often including writings by leaders like Che Guevara. In addition, the band and a core group of supporters – who also live and work here in this 20-member commune – produce a Communist magazine. On the ground floor they run a café, where guests can peruse radical literature and help themselves to mini-guitars, carved in wood by jailed band members.
But the musicians have paid dearly for their activism: since the band’s inception in 1985, members and supporters have been sent to jail over 400 times, according to their own calculations. Members report that during its regular visits to the commune, the police destroy the interior, particularly the group’s recording studio. Every time the group buys new equipment and builds a new door.
For a long time, Grup Yorum’s revolt was a lonely one. People were afraid to attend Grup Yorum’s concerts. Media didn’t dare to write about the band. But all of a sudden that has changed. Recently Grup Yorum played to some 55,000 fans in Istanbul. They play to rapturous audiences in Gezi. Reflects Kerkek: “Now people have passed their fear threshold.”
Outside the commune, two members document the revolution, speaking with local residents. They take me to a city park, the Sibel Yalcin Park (named after a female member killed by the police), which Group Yorum has taken from the city and now operates: no fear there either. The folk music group could celebrate its improbable PR victory over the government.