With the crowd still ringing in my ears as we arrive home, I wanted to thank you for your open letter. It was measured and thoughtful. It would be foolish to come to your magical country and try and unravel its mysteries in just a few days... a few years, even.
Your politics are certainly complex, but the desire not to dwell too much on the past is the simplest and strongest melody line my ear picked up. The future feels very present here... you can see no end to great growth and opportunity for Turkey, if good decisions are made in a transparent manner.
Prime Minister Erdoğan couldn’t have been more hospitable to this band of minstrels and was very generous with his time. We spent an hour and a half in his company in a wide-ranging conversation, covering many topics from the serious to light stuff. We talked about his time as a prisoner of conscience for reciting a poem that was on the school curriculum. He seemed open to any line of inquiry – from our questions about human rights in Sudan and the floods in Pakistan to the treatment of conscientious objectors such as İnan Suver. He said he would look into it...
The PM’s daughter Sümeyye was very impressive in her knowledge of development issues and had just come back from delivering aid to the flood victims in Pakistan with her mother... by the way, we now have in our possession a gift from the wall of one of the PM’s offices – the proclamation of Turkey’s aid to Ireland during our great famine in the 1850s.
It is obvious to point out that we were honoring his invitation and not there to endorse any party [or] political point of view. We are not naive to the fact that a populist liberal rock band being so close with the sitting government before such an important referendum was risky for both sides, and could have been used by both sides, were we to comment. This was not the case.
Such local issues were not our business... however an artist will always raise their voice when other creative or critical voices are stymied. The strength of any government can be measured by its ability to accept criticism. A free press is the cornerstone of democracy. I’m pretty sure if I weren’t an over-rewarded, over-the-top singer in a rock band, I would be a journalist – and a critic. If there is, as you say there is, soon to be a likely 90 journalist prisoners of conscience in Turkish jails, I agree that would undo so much recent progress and return the country to the dark days of Fehmi Tosun, whose wife, Hanım, and family we were so honored to host at the show.
The thing about such discourse between artists and government is that it shouldn’t be extraordinary. It is the very definition of a whole society that artists, scientists, sports people, religious, secular, whomever – all make a contribution.
The band was honored to have Zülfü Livaneli and his brother Ferhat onstage Monday night. He took the crowd’s voices to a special place and generational divisions melted. We sang “Mothers of the Disappeared” for Fehmi, followed by Zülfü’s love song to the martyrs of democracy – “Yiğidim Aslanım Burada Yatıyor”... the entire stadium sang every word... I thought to myself... U2 has a long way to go to reach this level of connection... not bad for a first date though.
I’m getting too serious here. Our time in Istanbul was not all activism and conscience – we had some great silliness, from stopping traffic to walk the bridge (our sincere apologies for the tail back), to belly dancing and a few glasses of champagne Saturday night.
Again, thank you for such a considered open letter, and thanks to all the people we’ve met over the last days and nights. We came as students of this great city – we are leaving as fans.