Turkey’s Erdogan makes peace with errant pianist

Turkey’s Erdogan makes peace with errant pianist


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2019

The authoritarian Turkish president attended a Friday concert in Ankara by the international pianist Fazil Say, whom he had previously caused to be put on trial for blasphemy.

Say, 49, an out-Tweeting atheist, was acquitted.

Erdogan called the pianist last summer with condolences after his mother’s death and has now restored him to the heart of Turkey’s cultural activity.

Mr and Mrs Erdogan at Friday’s concert



  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    It’s unfortunate for Fazil Say to have been born during the reign of an autocratic oaf.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Well yes, but it is too easy to dismiss people like Erdogan as oafs, They are usually as oafish as politically necessary.

  • Caravaggio says:

    Say should remain wary of Erdogan’s reapproachment. Say is a gifted pianist/musician, far more gifted, on many levels, than the authoritarian seeking to use him for his nefarious agendas. Ever heard of the Venezuelan political establishment and one Gustavo Dudamel? Unlike the opportunist Dude, Say speaks and writes freely and I hope he remains so. There is a refrain that goes something like: keep your enemies close and your friends distant.

  • buxtehude says:

    Agree with Cara here.

    Say is in a truly impossible situation here, for himself and others, and it’s impossible to guess which future course might prove right.

    I only hope that he can continue to create a zone of physical safety for himself and others without either piping down or burnishing the dictatorship.

    A valuable musician.

  • TERRY BAER says:


  • Philippe says:

    Is that Senator Lindsey Graham next to Erdogan? It sure isn’t John Bolton. 😉

  • Petros Linardos says:

    What is Senator Lindsey Graham doing there? (Graham, now one of Trump’s biggest enablers, used to be one of his biggest bashers.)

  • Sanatci says:

    As usual, the full story is rather more complex, and not well understood outside Turkey…

    For some months, Fazil Say has been announcing that he is talking with various government officials, finally making a public invitation to Erdogan to attend this Ankara concert. After the concert Erdogan went up on the stage to congratulate Fazil, who thanked him in return. They continued their talk backstage.

    As every watcher of political events in Turkey knows, Erdogan does not “do” peace or forgiveness. He keeps his alliances for just as long as it suits him: Kurds, Armenians, Alevis, EU, Gülen movement… It is hard to imagine that he will cultivate Fazil for anything other than his own ends.

    The AKP government is no friend of western classical music, and its artistic and educational policies are slowly working towards its demise in the Republic. The long list of persons who have been summarily removed from their jobs in the last purges includes, as well as journalists, teachers and academics, a number of musicians. Fazil has been very critical in the past of artists who he has seen as having anything to do with the government. So his apparent rapprochment with Erdogan seems very strange to many in the Turkish musical community.

    At the same time, Fazil’s own political and artistic statements seem designed to generate maximum publicity for himself. Whether this latest overture is diplomacy or hypocrisy, time will tell.

    (For an interesting point of view, see today’s article by Zafer Arapkirli in “Cumhuriyet” (in Turkish).)