The Parallel state

Guy Martin

2012 - 2016


The ‘Parallel’ State is a documentary series that takes place in Turkey from 2012 to the winter of 2016. Each year passed with a mixture of beauty, chaos and extreme violence. Turkey is a complex story to tell, all too often reduced to simple narratives and visual cliché. I have devoted the last four years to building a multi-layered body of work that chronicles the massive and often violent events unfolding on the ground. Since those halcyon days of summer 2013 and the infamous ‘Gezi park protests’ Turkey has ceased peace talks with Kurdish militants that re-ignited a de-facto civil war, overseen the largest influx of Syrian refugees, it accidently shot down a Russian jet, had four elections, three prime ministers, two Presidents, one failed coup attempt and an unprecedented purge of intellectuals, doctors, military personal and law makers. It ignited the torch paper with its own sleeper cells of ISIS suicide bombers who unleashed carnage at Ataturk airport and the nation's capital Ankara and has now finally been dragged into the proxy war games of Syria trying to push Syrian Kurds back over the Euphrates.

Running parallel to all of this, I have documented the fictional world of Turkish TV and soap opera sets that mirror Turkey’s recent history. Adding this additional layer has enabled me to delve deeper into the story and reveal the powerful relationship between a TV, a computer screen and people’s actions on the street. I have been a witness to tragic events, but left wondering whether anything has in fact not been carefully stage-managed. Physical and virtual worlds overlay, conflict, betray and manipulate each other.

On July 16th the day after a failed coup, as I stood alongside a tank in the heart of Istanbul and watched my twitter feed replay C.C.T.V footage of helicopter gunships strafe and bomb civilians in the nation’s capital, the analogy between Hollywood fiction and reality were all too apparent.

‘The Parallel State’ is a term first coined in the early 1950’s when NATO implemented various cells into Turkey to act as ‘provocateurs’ to destabilise and undermine any communist threat that Turkey might face in the post-war years. It was encouraged and recognised by successive military and political leaders in Turkey as a way to always have a ‘useful enemy’. However in recent years, as Tayyip Erdogan swept to power at the turn of the century he was increasingly convinced that powerful and dark forces were being unleashed against him, primarily by a secret network of fanatical supporters led by an exiled cleric and former ally, Fatullah Gulen, now based in the Poconos, Pensylvania. The judiciary, the police, the army the media, embassy’s and ‘foreign powers’ were always to blame for all of Erdogan’s and Turkey’s ills. What was once a uniquely Turkish phrase, perhaps only known to a handful of policy wonks is now a sublime and intimate reference to the internal and regional geopolitical entanglement that Turkey finds itself in. It’s a byword for unchecked power, populist rhetoric, coup attempts, a burgeoning police and surveillance state hunting useful enemies that have disappeared into the shadows.

I hope this body of work now transcends Turkey and can act as a timely, dark and paranoid vision for what happens when men in power implement divisive narratives, dividing the population with fearful stories and creating a vacuum of a truth-based reality.

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  • Not too long ago Istanbul used to be known as the ‘city of dreams’ It was referred to many as the New York of the east, A place where millions of people from the east and central Asia, Africa and Europe could move to, integrate into and aspire to make their dreams come true. Now, Istanbul finds itself turning into a city of nightmares. Wave after wave of suicide bombers has targeted the capital, from two powerful internal terror groups. The Islamic State and The PKK. Airports, bus terminals, iconic mosques, boulevards and football stadiums have all been targeted. Coup plotting generals unleashed tanks, helicopter gunships, F-16’;s and executed civilians on its iconic bridge and neighbourhoods during one epic spasm of violence during the night of July 15th, 2016.

  • A man reaches to grab a famous ‘singing’ bird from its cage in a leftist tea café in the resistive neighbourhood of Gaziosmanpasa, Istanbul. During the Gezi park protests, a 12-year-old boy was shot in the head by a tear gas canister fired by riot police. He remained in a coma for close to a year and eventually died in the autumn of 2014. His young face is now stencilled to almost every street corner in this neighbourhood, a powerful legacy that backs up this districts anti-government sentiment – he is commonly referred to as ‘the songbird that lost his wings’. 2015

  • A tear gas canister is fired in the direction of hundreds of protesters near the Gezi park area of central Istanbul.

  • The head of MIT (Turkish secret intelligence) played by an actor on the set of ‘reaksyon’ a popular Turkish TV drama that oozes with government spin and conspiracy theories. From just one series, the acclaimed “Reaksiyon”, Turkish viewers can learn that a “parallel state” is guilty using the judiciary to carry out a vendetta against top spies and government ministers; that the U.S. is using wiretapped recordings to manipulate Turkish politics; and that Mossad is training ISIS terrorists in Turkey and sending them on to Syria

  • A door that has been forced open in the historic central Diyarbakir district of Sur. From the warren of ancient narrow alley ways, various factions of the PKK came down ‘from the mountains’ and entrenched themselves into this urban setting to deliberately target state security forces and engage in urban warfare following the collapse of peace talks after the contested 2015 election. State security brutally found retribution, flattening whole neighborhoods that supported the PKK backed fighters and hunting for anyone who might have a connection to the terrorist. Sur, 2016

  • A kidnapped woman walks to her execution on the set of ‘as time goes by’ a hugely popular drama on the KanalD network. The KanalD network is part of the Dogan Media group. A group repeattedly targeted by Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party as being part of a 'parallel state'

  • The ambient light of a TV screen fills illuminates at Istanbul apartment. The street that this apartment is on is used as often as film set locations to mark other European cities. Most notably, many scenes in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were filmed on this street.

  • The day after a twin bombing during a HDP political rally in the south eastern city of Diyarbakir men congregate in the political headquarters of the political party that was targeted. Hundreds were injured in the bombing and four people were killed. It’s widely considered that this bombing in June 2015 was the start of a cynical campaign to destabilise the HDP party, to cast doubts in voters minds as to the credibility of the Kurdish focused party and bring an end to peace negotiations between the Turkish government and Kurdish separatists. From the series The Parallel State

  • A man grabs a woman between takes on the set of a KanalD soap opera, Istanbul, 2015

  • Men pray at a Mosque on the outskirts of Istanbul. The worshippers are from the Shia sect, which make up only 5% of the population. The mosque, like many others in 2014 were attacked by arsonists claiming the mosques to be heretical and part of a ‘deep state’

  • South of Gazientep, Turkey. Near the Syrian border, a group of young Syrians who have fled the civil war and who initially made videos to parody the government of Bashar Al-Assad, now use their YouTube channel to poke fun and parody ISIS. In this scene the actors are creating a scene in which the leader of Islamic State, 'Al-Baghdad'i orders his henchmen to "kill twitter". The scene was filmed long before actual terrorists linked with ISIS began targeting cities within Turkey.

  • The Kayisher neighbourhood of Istanbul. A notorious and dangerous neighbourhood known for sheltering jihadists on their way to Syria. It's also the district in Istanbul that sheltered the 2017 new years eve nightclub shooter. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

  • A batch of ice marks the spot where 10 hours previous a 12-year-old girl was shot and killed by a sniper's rifle after she made the fatal error of collecting bread from the bakery after a curfew began, in the Sur district of Diyarbakir. An attempt perhaps to preserve the blood evidence. 2015

  • An actress falls back into her armchair after filming a heated domestic argument with her on-screen husband on the set of ‘as time goes by’. Istanbul.

  • A protester finds a moment to try and recover in an abandoned café on a side street after being hit with tear gas during violent anti-government protests during the summer of 2013.

  • An empty bed from a home that had recently been abandoned due to a curfew and heavy fighting in the area in the Sur district of Diyarbakir. It is thought that the family were PKK sympathisers due to a hundreds of spent bullet cartridges in the home's courtyard and rooftop. October 2015.

  • MIT (secret intelligence services) agents walk through a crowd the day after the October 2015 Ankara suicide bombings. The bombings claimed 103 lives and injured hundreds more. The incident occurred 21 days before the scheduled 1 November general election re-run. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), condemned the attack and called it an attempt to cause division within Turkey. Politcal leaders heavily criticised the government for the security failure, whereas Kurdish focussed HDP party directly blamed the AKP government for the bombings

  • A man in the back of a police van after being arrested in the Kurdish neighbourhood of Tarlabashi during anti-government protests in the summer of 2013. The man, sitting amongst up to 25 other men were believed to be using the protests caused by the Gezi park outrage to use it as an excuse to deliberately engage police and security forces in more violence involving Molotov cocktails and live rounds of ammunition.

  • A CCTV camera in the gardens of a wealthy Istanbul residents home who frequently leases out his property to TV and movie producers. The house sits on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus.

  • A woman smokes a cigarette in her hotel room in the Black Sea resort town of Rize. The city is the birthplace of President Tayyip Erdogan's father and is a major source of conservative support for the town's most famous family.