Skip to main content
11 min read

Forbidden chirping

“Humor is the foremost weapon of the weak,” said Turkish author Aziz Nesin. In this short play, the artist and poet Yeşim Ağaoğlu uses humor to show what is unrolling in her native country. Ağaoğlu belongs to the new generation of leading artists and poets in Turkey who see an increased sidestepping of the freedom of speech and are calling out to do something about it.

Credits TEXT: Yeşim Ağaoğlu Translation from Turkish: Yeşim Ağaoğlu January 08 2013

The Mother (midaround 60-sixties)
The Son (mid30 years old-thirties)
The Crow (mid70 years old-seventies)
The Minister
The anchorman

Mother: So let’s see if you like my omelet?
Crow: Croak, croak.
Mother: So you like it.
Crow: It’s a bit salty but it’s ok, better than being hungry.
Son: Good morning, Mom.
Mother: Morning? What morning? It’s almost evening!
Son: So you are feeding this crow again? I don’t understand what you see in this ugly bird.
Crow: You’re the one’s who’s ugly! Moreover, you are a useless “intellectual”.
Mother: Mind your own business; it’s a special crow.
Son: Special? It is an ordinary, common, croaky, black crow. It only cares about getting something to eat; it’s piggy, clumsy and rude.
Mother: That’s what a crow should be like. A real crow. What did you think, that it should be a frail thing like you?
Son: So have you at least made some omelet for me?
Crow: No, she didn’t. Well, she did, but I ate it up!
Mother: There is tea, hot tea. I didn’t know when you would get up so I gave the omelet to the crow. Don’t be jealous, I’ll make some for you right now.

Son: Thanks, Mom, you’re so kind.

The mother mumbles to herself, quietly so her son won’t hear her.

Mother: He’s so hopeless; thirty years old and still hasn’t accomplished anything. No job, no girlfriend! Just like his father; he was always a slacker, too. I had to propose to him myself and he said yes more or less reluctantly. It’s in the genes! Writing poems and playing the guitar, that’s what he can do. And a few friends, dressed like girls just like him.
Son: What’s the matter, Mom, what are you mumbling about?
Mother: Nothing, I’ve written a new script and I am reading it out loud to myself.
Son: A script! But you don’t write!
Mother: That’s what you think! I write things in my head that make your poems pale in comparison.
While she’s making the son’s breakfast, he turns on the TV. After zapping for a while, he chooses a music channel. (Turkish alternative music or soft rock).
Crow: This kid gets on my nerves so much I lose feathers! Again with this noise, this idiotic music! Isn’t there a real channel?
So many things I’ve seen in my days! At least now I’m not hungry. I’ve experienced times when I was close to starvation. But I always thanked God.
My eyes have seen so many prime ministers, so many presidents, so many military coups—I stopped counting long ago. I’ve witnessed many an unsolved murder as well. But I figured it wasn’t my business, let sleeping dogs lie, so I kept my mouth shut. Once my wings were burned by a Molotov cocktail that almost killed me. These are good days now, in the past it was hard to even find millet. Now, look, I even get eggs. I almost feel like shouting, “Long live the sultan!” Oh, my, I almost got moved to tears again.
The son is still watching television, while eating his breakfast. The mother waters her flowers and talks to them gently, wiping the leaves and pots, etc.
Son: Look at her! She either talks to the flowers or the stupid crow. Compared to them, I’m nothing in this house! I’m totally alone, like a lonely ship.
Mother: Did you say something?
Son: What? No, even I was mumbling the words of my new poems.
Crow: What an artistic family! Maybe I should try my hand at writing something, too?
Mother: Poems, always poems! Write scripts for television series instead, you’d make some money!
The son has finished his breakfast and lights a cigarette.
Son: What’s happening? The broadcast has been interrupted!
He checks several other channels, but most of them have breaking news at the bottom of screen and a man (Minister) is talking.
Minister: Yes, I don’t want any of our citizens to be unaware of this and unintentionally break the law. It has been decided that, within the borders of our country and for an indefinite period of time, all forms of art and artistic expression are to be forbidden. This applies until further notice. I repeat, all art has been forbidden in our country!
Son: Mom, listen to this, listen! It must be a joke, is it even possible?
Mother: What is it?
Son: Something terrible! The minister calmly and peacefully says that all forms of making and consuming art are forbidden from now on!
The mother continues to sweep the floor.
Son: I’m going to go crazy! Oh my God, I can’t stay in a country like this, I’m getting out of here!
Mother: That’s perfect, now even art is forbidden. What will you do? Where will you go? As if someone is waiting for you somewhere!
Son: Is this some kind of a nightmare? Pinch me, Mom! Where else in the world would such a thing be possible, “Art is totally forbidden”? It’s unbelievable!
Mother: So stop writing poems, that’s all! Maybe you could even find a job.
Son: If I write poems, that’s my business. Now they’re going to stick their nose in.
The son’s mobile phone rings; the caller is a close friend.
Son: Yes, I heard, I saw. So it’s true! It’s not a dream? We have to do something right away! Let’s post on Tweeter or Facebook.
Son: What! Are they blocked, too? They didn’t say anything about that on TV.
Anchorman: Thank you, Mr. Minister, but could you please explain the prohibition in more detail? What areas of art will be the focus of the ban?
Minister: As I said, all kinds of art, including music, painting, theatre, films, literature, etc.
Anchorman: I see, but why do you consider this prohibition necessary? How did you come to such a decision?
Minister: Naturally it wasn’t an easy decision. But in the end, we made it, reluctantly, with a majority of votes, even if some of the opposition parties voted against it. After all, our prime minister has been complaining about this so-called art for a long time . Art is beautiful and esthetic, it’s pleasant to the eye and ear, it moves the human spirit. But in the name of so-called art, things are created that are ugly, coarse, dangerous and provocative, making people brood, promoting terrorism. This must be avoided at all cost. It is the responsibility of the government to protect its people from such harmful and dangerous things.
Anchorman: Yes, Mr. Minister, but why forbid all art? Couldn’t you just forbid certain parts of it? I mean, couldn’t you forbid the repulsive parts and allow the parts that are beautiful and meaningful and touching?
Minister: Do you think we are happy about this? Our government, our prime minister is very upset. But we have to be fair! It’s hard to control all of it. After all, so-called art has become what it is for the very reason that we didn’t keep it under control. So we have no choice, the innocent will have to suffer with the guilty. We took the risk, even though it was difficult.
Anchorman: But aren’t you worried about criticism from world opinion?
Minister: Why should we be? Let them put their own house in order! We can clearly see what a miserable state they’ve ended up in after the economic crisis. Who knows, maybe they’ll learn from our example and then we can join forces and fight the enemy, this so-called art, together
Anchorman: And what about TV series? Will they be also covered by this prohibition?
Minister: Yes, we have decided to stop them until further notice, too. Like I said, the innocent will have to suffer with the guilty.
Son: Congratulations, Mom!
The mother is busy cleaning, but she is clearly listening to the television as well.
Mother: Yes, I heard. Oh, well, nothing we can do. Switch to the weather, it looks like it might rain soon. Wait, let’s see what more they say
Anchorman: When will this decision come into force?
Minister: Beginning tomorrow. It will be announced across the country, even in little towns, through the media and local authorities alike. So that no one will make a mistake unintentionally.
Anchorman: Thank you, Mr. Minister, but you say that music and dance will be forbidden, too. What will happen with weddings? Won’t citizens be able to sing and dance?
Minister: Like I said, all these things will be forbidden until further notice. Not even shepherds will be allowed to play their pipes. Why? Because we don’t want to tempt or encourage troublemakers, of course! As for weddings, why do they have to dance or play music? Let them talk to each other instead. After awhile, we’ll see. Depending on the circumstances I’m sure some things will be allowed again. It’s too early to ponder on these things now. We’ll test the waters. Let the troublemakers feel ashamed first, the so-called artists who forced us to take these measures! Another suspicious thing is that they use a secret language that not even we, let alone the people, can understand! Words like “video art,” “installation,” “contemporary art,” “curator,” “biennial.” What do you want to say by these words, are you a terrorist? Take paintings, all of them have secret codes, and there’s no difference between abstract and concrete. What was wrong with the old paintings? You looked, you saw, and you understood what you were seeing. Not to speak of sculptures! You say, “What do you have against them? I’m an artist, I’m free, I do and make whatever I want to.” There you see, what you’ve done! Are you happy now? Now, because of you, our people have been deprived of art. We are suffering! I feel bad about poetry. I personally like poems very much.
Mother: You see, the minister likes poem too; you have something in common.
Son: Stop it, Mom! I’m going crazy, and here you come and make fun of me, too!
Minister: And even dramas! What happened to the old theatres? Nowadays all they do is yell at each other! All that’s missing is for them to make love on stage. And movies, that’s the most dangerous thing of all! You can’t give such an effective weapon to those terrorists! They just want to agitate. They confuse innocent people and put rebellious ideas in their heads. And all kinds of strange words are written and then they call it songs. Well, not any more! By the way, you will see that with the exception of a handful of troublemakers and a few so-called intellectuals who sympathize with them, everybody will be pleased with these measures. Nobody will protest. I don’t think our citizens will miss anything.
The son prepares to leave, seething with anger.
Son: I’m leaving!
Mother: How far are you going?
Son: Far away and hopefully never coming back! But no, maybe my friends and I will mobilize some kind of action, a demonstration.
Mother: You’re just the people to mobilize action! Well, be careful so you don’t end up in prison. Remember I’m not coming to help get you out.
The son says he’ll take it easy and goes outside.
Crow: Like I said, my eyes have seen a lot and my ears have heard all kinds of things. I’ve lived in this country for many years, it’s my motherland. But one thing is certain, even I have never experienced such a catastrophe so far! In fact, this useless kid is right for once. These people will soon forbid even my call, saying it’s just a lot of chirping. It makes me scared, croak croak!

Like what you read?

Take action for freedom of expression and donate to PEN/Opp. Our work depends upon funding and donors. Every contribution, big or small, is valuable for us.

Donate on Patreon
More ways to get involved