Violence leads to Turkish fest cancellations


ANTALYA, Turkey -- Rising tensions on the Turkish-Iraqi border are sending shock waves throughout Turkey, including the country's usually austere film world, where organizers of the International Eurasia Film Festival in Antalya have canceled all parties associated with the event.

The decision was made following cross-border fighting Sunday between the Turkish military and rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, in which 50 people were killed. From their base in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK launch regular attacks on targets inside Turkey. Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

The Antalya festival wasn't the only event battening down the hatches. Events across the country, including a high-profile Beyonce concert in Istanbul scheduled for Wednesday, also were put off.

Festival organizers, however, failed to inform international guests of their decision, leading rumors to run rampant.

Reliable sources close to the festival said the Turkish government threatened to shut down the Antalya event and that festival brass implemented the party ban to appease them. Festival organizers deny this, saying they simply wanted to pay respect to those killed Sunday.

"There were two boys from nearby towns killed. Last night, we also canceled our affairs because it was not tasteful," said Deniz Temeltas, director of the Eurasian Film Market, the industry section of the Antalya Festival.

The party ban is emblematic of one of the main challenges facing Antalya as it tries to position itself as a serious market and international festival. While the event presents a smiling cosmopolitan face to its international guests, the realities of Turkish politics are never far away. The honorary president of the festival, Menderes Turel, also is the mayor of Antalya and a member of Turkey's ruling party the AKP.

Even market director Temeltas, while emphasizing that 90% of the festival's funding comes from the private sector, couldn't resist pointing out that the PKK is a "Marxist-Leninist organization" -- the government's official line.

So far, security at the festival hasn't changed in the wake of the border clashes. But that's largely because it was extremely high to begin with. All the venues, be they cinemas, hotels or shopping malls, are equipped with metal detectors, and the underside of cars entering festival grounds are routinely checked for bombs.

Tensions along the border show no signs of cooling off. The industry executives, film lovers and journalists here at Antalya just hope the real world of international conflict stays at a safe distance.