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The persecuted Turkish artists who made Cardiff their home

By Nelli Bird
BBC Radio Wales News

image copyrightGlesni Price-Jones
image captionMemet, Meltem and Pinar left Turkey and moved to Cardiff after being accused of being terrorists over the subject of their play

"I can see the confusion on your face, you may be thinking there is something wrong with the translation but no, that's what really happened."

Sitting in an industrial unit in Newport, Memet Ali Alabora is telling the story of how he ended up in Wales.

Alongside him are the writer Meltem Arikan and the actress Pinar Ogun - three Turkish artists who now call Cardiff their home.

In the summer of 2013, Turkey was in turmoil. An estimated 3.5 million people were on the streets.

What began as a small protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, one of Istanbul's rare central green spaces, mushroomed into huge demonstrations across Turkey.

Memet, Meltem and Pinar were there and what started as an environmental protest would end up changing their lives forever.

"I still get affected by talking about it," Pinar recalled.

"When I think about it, it makes me feel sick."

image copyrightReuters
image captionPolice fired tear gas to break up demonstrations in Ankara
image copyrightReuters
image captionProtesters carried an injured man in central Ankara during the demonstrations

A number of people were killed in the unrest and thousands more were injured during that summer.

Soon Memet, Meltem and Pinar were thrown into the heart of the turmoil.

Some pro-government media accused them of inciting the protests through a play they had put on some six months prior to when the demonstrations began.

"Mi Minor was the first of its kind in terms of combining social media and a theatre play," Memet said.

"It has a unique style where the audience can stand alongside the actors and shout and protest."

The play's story is one of repression and rebellion, and some media played clips of the performance alongside images of the protests.

"We were accused of making the rehearsal of the Gezi Park protestors with our play," Memet said.

"Then we were accused of being a terrorist organisation that wanted to overthrow the government.

"It got to the point where it became such a violent and threatening point that we felt it would be better to leave the country."

image copyrightGlesni Price-Jones
image captionThe group are putting on their first play in Wales, starting in Newport on Tuesday, before touring across the country
image copyrightGlesni Price-Jones
image captionThe gritty production, which is performed as a gig, tells the stories of real people, through song and dark humour

Meltem, who wrote the play, giggled, her head in her hands - she explained she feels there is not much else she can do.

"I wrote an absurd play but then our lives became more absurd. I choose laughing," she said.

While time may have helped to ease the pain, the group find it hard to think about their lives back in Turkey, where they still have many friends.

The group left Turkey three-and- a-half years ago and came to Wales, where despite their story the biggest question they face is why they moved to Cardiff.

"It's as if the story is so normal but the abnormal thing is why we chose Cardiff or Wales," explained Meltem, who arrived here in 2004 and said she felt she belonged here.

image copyrightGlesni Price-Jones
image captionMemet, Meltem and Pinar said Cardiff has welcomed them as their new home

Memet explained: "The story starts in 2004 when Meltem first arrived in Wales. And the first thing she ever felt was, I belong here and I have to live here. And from that day on she tried to convince us."

Pinar says the group are very happy in their new home city of Cardiff: "I remember just walking one day during Christmas in 2013. I was crying because of the pain and that feeling of loss. And the city was just smiling back at me and saying, this is going to be fine. So the energy and the beauty of the city, I think it cuddled us and that's how we managed to heal ourselves to be honest."

The group are now putting on their first production in Wales, called Enough is Enough.

It focuses on themes of sexual violence and how society deals with them and gives the audience the chance to "shout out" their concerns and figure out how to take action.

"What we always want to do is to challenge and agitate the audience," Memet said.

The focus again has the potential to be controversial and it starts its tour across Wales on Tuesday.

Related Topics

  • Sexual violence
  • Turkey
  • Cardiff

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