The Parallel State: Truth, Lies and Political Fiction in Contemporary Turkey

Talk Tuesday 22 January, 2019 7:00 pm

This is a panel debate. Or perhaps it’s a neatly rehearsed press conference, delivered by a mouthpiece of the government. Or, maybe it’s a game show. Or a wrestling match. Or maybe it’s none of these things. After all, what has the truth got to do with it?

In 2012, award-winning photographer Guy Martin moved to Istanbul. At the time, Turkey was regarded as a nation of wealth and power, with a stable democracy with secular leadership. However, this began to change with the rise of Islamic State, Presidential elections, the Kurds becoming a credible political force, the refugee crisis, and the failed coup d’etat by a section of the Turkish armed forces in 2016. In this volatile environment, fake news, before it was known as such, thrived, fuelled by change and instability. Since the abortive putsch, independent media workers have been sacked in their thousands, and scores imprisoned; Turkey is now the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Against this backdrop, Martin was drawn to explore Turkish soap operas, some of the most watched television shows in the world. The soap operas that had previously exported a simultaneously nostalgic and socially progressive vision of Turkey across the Arab world, refocused their storylines to emphasise the Turkish military and political power plots by deep state operatives, collusion by foreign powers, and terrorist attacks. Martin was introduced to a soap opera Director and given free rein to shoot on set, recording the action both during, before and after the cameras were rolling.

What began as a documentary project quickly spiralled into a deeper journey along the fault lines of truth, and the power of narratives to control reality. It is this dizzying blur of fact, urban myth, intense political fear and fiction pervading Turkish society – and Martin’s work – that we come together to discuss. Joining us will be storytellers of all stripes, from prizewinning authors to frontline journalists and translators.


Maureen Freely was born in the United States, raised in Turkey, and educated at Harvard. A professor at the University of Warwick, she is currently the chair of English PEN. Her seventh novel, Sailing through Byzantium, was chosen as one of the best novels of 2014 by The Sunday Times. She has translated or co-translated a number of Turkish memoirs and classics, as well as five books by the Turkish novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. She is also the translator of two memoirs about Turkey’s Islamicized Armenians, and the biography of the Turkish-Armenian journalist and political activist Hrant Dink.


Guy Martin is a British documentary photographer. He graduated with a B.A(HONS) in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales, Newport and shortly afterwards, won the Guardian and Observer Hodge Award. He went on to pursue a long-term project in Southern Russia and the Caucasus, before documenting the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. His work regularly appears in the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, D Magazine, FADER, Huck Magazine, Le Monde M Magazine, Time Magazine, Bloomberg Business Week Magazine, WIRED, Harpers and National Geographic.

The Parallel State was supported by grants from the Magnum Emergency Fund and the Saint-Brieuc Photoreporter Festival and was the winner of the inaugural Viewbook Transformations Grant, and the Project Launch Award at CENTER, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The project was first exhibited in the Rencontres d’Arles 2017 as part of the New Discovery Award. Martin is a member of Panos Pictures, and his print sales and special commissions are represented by NineteenSixtyEight. An exhibition of ‘The Parallel State’ will be on display at Benrubi Gallery, New York, in February 2019.

Pelin Turgut is a London-based writer, storyteller and international facilitator. Co-creator of the popular alternative film festival -!f Istanbul-, several unique storytelling courses at institutions across Europe and a teacher of the art of storytelling, her first novel Secrets of a Vanishing Country was published in Turkey last year. The book is currently being translated into English.