U2 Bridges Istanbul, Turkey on World Stage

U2’s Turkish debut marks a lot of firsts: the band’s first show in Turkey, their first meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister, the first rock concert ever in the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, and the first time I ever heard the crowd react with boos to something Bono said!

Some background–On Sept 12 the citizens of Turkey will vote on a constitutional referendum which changes the constitution set up after Turkey’s military coup thirty years ago on the date of this new vote. I have spoken to dozens of Turks on the street, at the concert and afterward, who are opposed to the referendum, or at least to two major points, the changes in the judicial procedures. I haven’t met anyone who is for it. One man told me:

It’s sugar coating, a poison pill.

Some media is reporting that this referendum is seen as an important step to joining the European Union, though my random companions have said joining the EU is not necessarily that important for Turkey, which is becoming a growing power in the Near and Middle East; though as many told me with that comes the peril of shari ‘ah, since a union with Arab states could disrupt Turkey’s secular balance.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Which brings us back around to U2 in Istanbul, which this year is the European Capital of Culture. After opening the show with an improvised call to prayer and strong versions of “Beautiful Day” and “New Year’s Day,” last night Bono told the crowd of 50,000 (or 70,000 depending on the reporting) that the band was glad to finally play in Turkey which is such an important country in terms of location and culture. Much cheering and applause. Then:

Yesterday we walked the bridge across the Bosporus with [State Minister and EU chief negotiator] Egemen Ba???

And the the subtle yet audible booing began. The crowd, like everyone I have spoken to here, is not fond of Ba??? who is part of the ruling party and pushing for the referendum. Bono adjusted and turned his charm up to 11.

Okay okay! I won’t mention politicians, but can’t I be a tourist and walk across the bridge?

Bono and Zülfü

The crowd relented and let him speak. Bono went on to say that what is happening in Turkey is important for the country, for Europe and for the world. He won back the crowd, and then gave the audience a beautiful gift. After asking the audience to never forget missing journalist Fehmi Tosun, U2 was joined onstage by Turkish singer Zülfü Livaneli for the song “Mothers of the Disappeared,” then Zülfü–who is like the Leonard Cohen/early Bob Dylan of Turkey–and Bono sang Zülfü’s song, “My Hero,” in Turkish with the crowd joining in. There were tears in the eyes of some people standing by me. It was truly moving and uplifting.

Bono thanks crowd, with subtitles

For those into celebrity spotting, Spike Lee was there, and we chatted for a bit about what I had traveled to see, Sunday Bloody Sunday with videos from last year’s protest during the Iranian Revolution. Bono shouted out that this was

Radio Iran, Radio Palestine, Radio Israel, Radio Washington DC

The cheering crowd knew the words to the song. The images could become a reality elsewhere in the world, as religious fundamentalism of every stripe seeks to suppress freedom of thought and action out of fear and greed.

Aftershow refreshments: Döner kebabs

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