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1. Introduction

Films by Yılmaz Güney provide the history of cinema in Turkey with a cinematic comprehension that is thoroughly competent at reflecting the economic, social, and political problems of the country. A remarkable part of Güney’s films subjects the social problems of Anatolian peoples to an in-depth analysis approach which is equipped with class consciousness. By virtue of Güney’s class-based theoretical perspective, his films widely differ from the Social Realist cinema tradition in Turkey, which developed around 1960-65 and had an explicit humanistic emphasis on solidarity (Daldal, 2013). Thereby, in most of the artistic works by Güney, including those which mainly concentrate on individual stories of particular protagonists, it is possible to trace explicit hints of a societal examination, which sheds light on the socio-economic dynamics of Turkey.

Within this parallel, Endişe (Güney & Gören, 1974), Ağıt (1971, Güney) and Hudutların Kanunu (Akad, 1967) introduce a critical analysis of the economic and political modernization process of the Republic of Turkey. In a sense, it is quite hard to propose that the dominant theme of these films’ plots concentrate on the nation and national identity building process in Turkey. On the other hand, as a result of an attentively operated visual analysis practice, it becomes possible to state that these films include various scenes and sequences related to the construction process in question. As a Kurdish and Marxist film director, Güney is quite familiar with the feudal socio-economic relations prevailing in almost all Anatolian villages and cities, which he observes through his lens. Therefore, his lens is able to reflect upon the nation and national identity building process of Turkey by considering the objective conditions in the social structure of the country. The three films analyzed in this article offer some visual representations about this process, which materialized within the particular period in which feudal socio-economic and political relations integrate with the newly-emerging capitalist mode of production. In this context, by performing the visual content analysis of the films, this article aims to reveal these representation practices that do not include a holistic approach per se.

2. Endişe: Construction of Citizenship Through the Means of Mass Communication

The dominant theme of Endişe’s plot revolves around the story of a blood feud between different families. On the other hand, the film contains distinct representations that describe the socio-economic conditions of Kurdish seasonal cotton workers employed in the Southern region of Turkey in the early 1970s. In the film, the footage showing workers moving into agricultural production areas in large trucks is arranged in parallel and contrasts with other images showing the gigantic factories of the Sabancı family. In a sense, this sequence mirrors economic dynamics of the Southern part of Turkey since it reflects the omnipresence of one specific capitalist actor in the region, namely, the Sabancı family. In one of the shots, even the entrance sign of the city of Adana is changed to “Ada(SA)”, the last two letters of which stand for the corporate logo of Sabancı.

In Endişe, the constant interaction of agricultural workers with mass media such as radio and newspapers shows the crucial function of mass media in the social construction process of modern citizenship. For example, in one of the sequences in the film, a non-diegetic sound rising from a radio is accompanied by the images of the workers resting in their tents during their lunch break. The radio announcer reads a quotation from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in an official voice tone. The quotation is about the clothing reform of the new republic, and it counsels citizens on choosing modern ways of dressing; it asserts, “our people are worthy of civilized clothing”. The announcer continues his speech by giving several examples from the traditional Ottoman dress code, and concomitantly he mentions some historical milestones of the new republic, such as The Turkish War of Independence. During the sequence, workers are portrayed as indifferent to what the announcer tells. While the radio announcer is continuing his speech, one worker suddenly asks another about the speculated base price for cotton. Afterward, the workers begin to discuss what the base price for cotton might be. This radio sequence presents a short section about the role of mass media in the social construction process of Turkish citizenship. Almost fifty years after the proclamation of the republic, radios continue to disseminate bourgeois-national propaganda, which makes a sharp contrast between the social life patterns prevailing in the empire and those of the republic to reinforce the socio-political rupture between the two regimes.

Along with the radio, workers routinely come together to follow what is published in newspapers. In a similar way with the radio, they continuously hope to see news about the base price for cotton in their interaction with newspapers. However, they never hear anything about it. As Anderson (2006) remarks, novel and newspaper are two essential technical forms that play a crucial role in the construction process of imaginary social communities. Referring to Benjamin’s formulation, Anderson (2006) reminds us that our modern conception of “homogenous and empty” time is “marked by temporal coincidence, and measured by clock and calendar” (p. 24). Accordingly, historically clocked newspapers contribute to the creation of a community in the imageries of their audience. This process is related to the unquestioned confidence that readers have that there exist many other people who consume the same commodity simultaneously (Anderson, 2006). In parallel, in Endişe, pages of newspapers provide the workers with the bureaucratic events and affairs of the nation-state, such as the meeting between the Turkish Foreign Minister and chair of US Foreign Policy. In this sense, the film treats the newspaper as a mass communication tool, the social function of which is to organize the daily public life and homogenize the public agenda. Besides, the film reveals the “imaginary” side of the national community, with its indications that remind of the existence of class contradictions that continue at the very heart of modern nation imagination. In this respect, Endişe also challenges the theme of national comradeship/common-fate which is horizontally thought in the imageries of citizens.

3. Ağıt: Hegemonic Mechanisms of Nation-State

The main narrative of Ağıt is based on a local power struggle in the Cappadocia region between a local band of bandits named Çobanoğlu and the Turkish Gendarmerie. Led by a chief bandit named Çobanoğlu, the bandit group poses a threat to the central government’s authority as it organizes armed and illegal economic activities. The Gendarmerie aims to strengthen the central authority of the state, by waging war against the group’s activities in the region. From this perspective, the film describes the rivalry existing between the law enforcement forces of the modern nation-state and the banditry and problematizes the centralization process of political power in the rural areas of Turkey. Yetkin (2003) states that the public may recognize bandits as liberators despite the official rhetoric of central governments that equates banditry with disobedience and theft. In folklore and other local narratives, especially in the genre of social banditry, bandits may be held in popular cultural imagery as providers of justice, who fulfill peasants’ longing for equality (Moran, 2016; Naci, 2008). Nonetheless, in Ağıt, the scenario follows an opposite direction. The peasants do not sympathize with the bandits; instead, they collaborate with the state against them. 

In the film, the armed forces continuously call on local people to cooperate with them against Çobanoğlu. The gendarmerie offers a reward to the villagers who helped them destroy the bandit group to encourage the villagers to cooperate. Acting in parallel, the villagers support the gendarme’s effort to neutralize the bandits. At the end of the film, a villager, thinking that he will be rewarded for this act, kills Çobanoğlu, leader of the bandits, and celebrates this murder very enthusiastically. In the viewpoint of dominant classes, Hobsbawm (1992) opines, modern states have to confront questions of how to constitute and preserve loyalty and cooperation among citizens. In Ağıt, the state attempts to reproduce the legitimacy of its central authority through specific mechanisms of power that assign the peasantry communal responsibilities and civic duties. Even the village doctor, who admires Çobanoğlu‘s reputation as the subject of the epics and treats him voluntarily when he was seriously injured, shares the information on the whereabouts of the bandits with the central authority due to her sense of responsibility against the laws of the modern nation-state. The village doctor tells Çobanoğlu that although she thinks that her primary duty as a doctor is to heal people, she must also obey the law. In a sense, it is possible to state that the concept of the “extended state” identified within the Gramscian approach is crystallized in this sequence of the film. As Liguori (2015) maintains, in the Gramscian concept of extended state, every citizen who adheres to state program is considered as a “functionary”, a “homogenous social element” of the state (pp. 12-22). In this regard, based on a period during which the peasants turn into modern Turkish citizens, Ağıt has the descriptive power of Turkey’s political modernization process. New citizens are responsible for specific duties assigned by the nation-state, and various hegemonic tools have been developed for these citizens to make them adhere to the assigned tasks in their social action. The modern nation-state ensures its legitimacy through the citizens’ internalization of these tasks; it is expected that citizens give a specific shape to their social actions and practices according to these tasks [2].

4. Hudutların Kanunu: Making Modern Citizens from Young Generations

Hudutların Kanunu presents the story of a conflict between local animal smugglers and the Turkish gendarmerie in a border town of Southern Turkey. Unlike in Ağıt, in Endişe, law enforcement forces are not directly involved in an armed struggle against the animal smugglers. Instead, they have a dialogue with them. The gendarmerie’s commander in the region, together with the town’s primary school teacher, constantly encourages smugglers to stop their illegal animal and goods smuggling activities. The teacher gives bits of advice to Hıdır, chief of the gang, to stop smuggling and tells him that smuggling does not promise a future for the children living in the region. According to the teacher, children should undergo a formal education in public schools. On the other hand, finding a decent place for children’s education poses a major problem in the film, as there is no school building in the town. The first reaction of the town-residents towards this situation is opposing to open a school in the town. They think that the lack of children in the economic field will put them in a difficult position in terms of subsistence activities, such as animal breeding, herd shepherding, etc. Therefore, they see the school teacher as an obstacle to the smuggling activity. Nevertheless, the teacher and the gendarmerie commander persuade Hıdır that the children should receive a proper education. Hıdır’s persuasion results in the town-residents taking a step back from their initial negative attitude.  The film reveals the construction process of political hegemony, through the sequences that depict state actors’ negotiations with local hierarchical social power groups such as smugglers.

The opening of the school takes place with a ceremony organized in the schoolyard. During the ceremony, the walls of the school building are covered with Turkish flags, and students stand in a marching position. In one of the following scenes, the students sing the anthem named “Dağ Başını Duman Almış”, which was presented as the official anthem for the 19 May the Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day, in 1938. Hobsbawm (1992) points out that traditional folk songs are open to being modified, ritualized, and institutionalized for modern national interests. Patriotic song repertories generated for schools are illustrative examples of such an institutionalization (Hobsbawm, 1992). In parallel to Hobsbawm’s argument, “Dağ Başını Duman Almış” was adapted from Swedish composer Felix Körling’s song named “Tre Trallande Jäntor”, which originally tells the story of three ‘hussy’ girls. During the First WW, S. Sırrı Tarcan relays the melody of “Jäntor” to Turkish teacher A. Ulvi Elöve and Elöve writes new lyrics for the melody. Since 1938, in the Turkish context, “Dağ Başını Duman Almış” is recognized as a patriotic song and still sung in the primary educational institutions of Turkey, especially on national holidays. In this context, through the sequences showing school scenes, Hudutların Kanunu effectively reflects the role that formal education and its symbolic rituals have in raising youth as modern patriotic citizens. In the film, state actors try to end the illegal economic activities of the townspeople, while trying to give children a national consciousness. In this way, the nation-state develops the means of establishing its own economic and political central authority, which is challenged in the rural areas of Anatolia. As a result of the director’s critical point of view, Hudutların Kanunu ends with a conflict between Hıdır and the gendarmerie, who initially had a moderate dialogue. While the state ends smuggling activities, it fails to create new livelihoods and employment alternatives for townspeople. Therefore, at the end of the film, the town residents are compelled to continue smuggling. They inevitably engage in illegal economic activities that challenge the central authority of the state.

5. Conclusion

Endişe comprises several sequences that emphasize the crucial role the mass media have in achieving an imaginary time-space unity among the modern nation-state’s citizens. In the film Ağıt, it is possible to observe how the modern nation-state constructs its central authority on citizens through specific social duties assigned for them. In the film, the nation-state establishes its central authority by citizens’ internalization of a set of national responsibilities. These responsibilities are considered the pre-requisites for being a good and righteous citizen. This specific establishment of power undermines the legitimacy of local hierarchical power groups that constitute an antagonistic force against the state. Hudutların Kanunu offers the audience another narrative of struggle in which the central authority of the nation-state is tried to be established against local hierarchical power groups. The film includes some sequences that describe how modern education and educational rituals institutionally operate to produce a new generation, which grows up in line with the prevailing norms and values of the nation-state. Within the thematic scope of this article, the common point of these three films is an outlook that is able to critically reflecting upon the economic and political modernization process of Turkey. This critical outlook has the ability to unearth forms of social action and the hegemonic mechanisms that were in action for the construction of nation and national identity, within the early modernization process of Turkey.

Regarding the establishment and reproduction of nationalist ideology, specific cultural and symbolic social practices have an important – and equally controversial – role. In most countries, the national flags, and “patriotic” songs in the national repertoire are used simultaneously as propaganda tools by the ruling and opposition blocs existing within the same political order. Considering that nationalist ideology is one of the dominant components that conceals the objective socio-economic contradictions observed at the center of today’s societies, the ironic stance of this social phenomenon leaves its place to a populist banality. A critical point of view that aspires to get rid of such vulgarity should strive to grasp the essence of the concepts of nation and national identity constructed through certain social practices and hegemonic mechanisms. Only such an effort can help people achieve a critical level of consciousness, by neutralizing the nature of any intellectual bigotry that conceals social contradictions. Undoubtedly, Güney’s cinema has a lot to offer us in this context. Through cinema’s unique means of representation, his camera reflects the construction process of modern Turkish citizenship, avoids portraying the various ethnic affiliations of Anatolian peoples as enemies to each other, and emphasizes the existence of a common political class base for these ethnic affiliations. Understanding and comprehending is a real liberation activity, and Güney desires liberation for his audience.


[1] Although “Hudutların Kanunu” is a film directed by Akad, I chose to include this film within the scope of Güney cinema. As the scriptwriter, Güney is the most important person who contributed to the realization of the film besides Akad.

[2] Topluk’s (2017) article presents a comprehensive study that offers remarkable notes on the cooperation of state actors and peasantry in the fight against banditry in Turkish literature.


Akad, Ö. L. (Director). (1967). Hudutların Kanunu [Motion Picture].

Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined Communities. London: Verso.

Daldal, A. (2013, October). The Impact of Neo-Realism in Turkish Intellectual Cinema: The Cases of Yılmaz Güney and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 2(9), pp. 181-187.

Güney, Y. (Director). (1971). Ağıt [Motion Picture].

Güney, Y., & Gören, Ş. (Directors). (1974). Endişe [Motion Picture].

Hobsbawm, E. (1992). Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914. In E. Hobsbawm, & T. Ranger (Eds.), The Invention of Tradition (pp. 263-307). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Liguori, G. (2015). Gramsci’s Pathways. Leiden and Boston: 2015.

Moran, B. (2016). Türk Romanına Eleştirel Bir Bakış 2. İstanbul: İletişim.

Naci, F. (2008). Yaşar Kemal Romancılığı. İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları.

Topluk, G. (2017). Analysis of Banditry Writing with The Examples from Kemal Tahir and Yaşar Kemal. Journal of Social Sciences of Muş Alparslan University, 5(1), 59-78.

Yetkin, S. (2003). Ege’de Eşkiyalar. İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları.