Susamam: Turkey's social problems laid bare in popular hip-hop song

'I can't stay quiet' urges Turks to face injustices and has been viewed millions of times since its release last week

Rapper Saniser's new track Susanam addresses Turkey's often-ignored social issues and has taken the country by storm, attracting millions of YouTube views in days. Screen grab / YouTube
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A Turkish hip-hop track that lays bare the country’s social problems has attracted more than 15 million YouTube views since it went live last week, drawing support from the public and opposition figures.

Susamam, which translates to "I can't stay quiet", was released by a collective of artists in the early hours of Friday and within hours became the most discussed topic among Twitter users in Turkey, where criticism of social injustice often faces official disapproval.

The nearly 15-minute-long piece, which features 17 artists from Turkey’s underground music scene, broaches subjects such as environmental destruction, the inequality of law, access to education and violence against women.

Sarp Palaur, a rapper known as Saniser, began arranging the track two months ago, dividing it into verses that each deal with a particular social issue.

“I’ve seen how good it is to believe that music can change things,” Palaur said on Saturday. He said the song aimed to push people towards greater consideration and respect.

“Please don’t appropriate our song for any single political viewpoint and do not assume that we are opposed to any political viewpoint,” he said.

While the video does not directly attack the government, many see it as a critique of nearly two decades of rule by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“This song tells the truth about what’s happening in Turkey, which is not what we see on the television,” said Bulent, 23, a student in Ankara.

“We all know that violence against women and injustice are problems for Turkey but nobody is doing anything serious to stop it.”

The video was posted on the social media accounts of opposition-run municipalities.

“Courage is contagious,” tweeted Yilmaz Buyukersen, the Republican People’s Party mayor for Eskisehir in western Turkey, as he forwarded the footage to his followers.

Former actress Pamela Anderson, who now leads a foundation promoting human, environmental and animal rights, also tweeted a link to the video and called on American artists to “speak up without fear”.

In recent years, dissent in Turkey has increasingly found its outlet online as the government has cracked down on street protests and other avenues of opposition, said Lisel Hintz, an assistant professor in international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr Hintz is completing a book on the intersection of politics and pop culture in Turkey.

Data published by polling company Konda last year found 93 per cent of those aged 15 to 29 in Turkey regularly use social media for news and entertainment, up from 69 per cent 10 years earlier.

"Crucial to understanding the dynamics of dissent, particularly in repressive regimes, is the subversive role so-called entertainment media can play in symbolically eroding the power of the regime," Dr Hintz told The National.

Quoting the lyrics "Our weapon is our language" in Susamam, she said: "Music and other forms of pop culture can serve as a rallying cry around which the disillusioned mobilise."

The release coincided with the latest offering from Turkey’s most popular rapper Ezhel, who was briefly jailed last year over his lyrics.

His song Olay, meaning "incident" or "event", features highlights of Turkish politics over the past decade, including nationwide anti-government protests, terror attacks, a coup attempt and the conflict in Syria.

Turkish rapper Fuat takes on the topic of the destruction of nature in track Susanam, which has been viewed millions of times since it was released last week. Screen grab / YouTube
Turkish rapper Fuat takes on the topic of the destruction of nature in track Susanam, which has been viewed millions of times since it was released last week. Screen grab / YouTube

In Susamam, the verse widely quoted as the most poignant deals with women's rights and features Deniz Tekin, the only female artist in the video, as she lists a series of common abuses faced by Turkish women.

The verse ends with the names of some of the 220 women killed in Turkey so far this year flashing up on screen.

“Deniz Tekin made me cry,” writer and actor Yekta Kopan tweeted.

The popularity of the video, which is being accompanied by T-shirt sales to raise funds for village schools, provoked a reaction from government figures.

“Art should not be a tool of provocation and political manipulation,” AKP deputy chairman and Izmir MP Hamza Dag tweeted.

The former AKP mayor for Ankara, Melih Gokcek, claimed the song was the work of the group behind the 2016 failed coup.

By Sunday #Sustunuz, or “You were quiet”, was also trending on Twitter.

Many of the tweets referred to protests against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in south-east Turkey, where families have accused the group of kidnapping their children.