ISTANBUL (AP) — The Turkish government on Thursday withdrew its support for the country’s oldest film festival after organizers reversed a decision to exclude a politically sensitive documentary.
The Culture and Tourism Ministry said it was backing out of the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival following the reinstatement of “Kanun Hukmu,” or “The Decree.”
The film focuses on a teacher and doctor dismissed from their jobs under the state of emergency imposed in Turkey following an attempted coup in July 2016.
“It is extremely sad that in such an important festival, the power of art is used to be used to make propaganda for the FETO terrorist organization through the perception of victimhood,” the ministry said in a statement.
FETO is the acronym applied to the Gulenist movement, held by Ankara to be responsible for the failed coup and led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies any involvement.
More than 130,000 alleged Gulenists were fired from their jobs through emergency decrees following the attempted coup. Critics have alleged the government launched a general crackdown against anyone viewed as its opponents.
The ministry added that it would “not be part of the effort to discredit the epic struggle of our beloved nation on July 15 and to use art as an element of provocation.”
The festival has been run since 1963 in the Mediterranean city of Antalya and is a highlight of the Turkish cultural calendar.
It was thrown into turmoil when organizers said they would remove “The Decree” from the program. That led to other filmmakers withdrawing their entries and jury members resigning over claims of censorship.
Festival director Ahmet Boyacioglu said the documentary had initially been removed from the national documentary film category because of ongoing legal proceedings against one of the people featured.
But the film’s director, Nejla Demirci, said that was an “excuse” and “outright censorship.” She received support from across the arts world in Turkey, with the Free Art Assembly calling the film’s exclusion “an assault on artistic expression and creativity and a move to normalize censorship across artistic fields.”
In reversing the decision, Boyacioglu said it had been discovered that “the trial process regarding the person in the documentary … is not continuing, so it has been decided that the film will be included in the competition selection.”
Welcoming the change of heart, Demirci posted on social media that “our cinema, our people, Antalya, Antalya Film Festival workers joined hands and won our fight for democracy.”