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Turkish Magazine Aktüel, 
January 2000

The new substituted military service a little for his benefit; now in Malatya he will sing “Yaylalar”

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The new substituted military service a little for his benefit; now in Malatya he will sing “Yaylalar”

With his successes in Europe, he was seen as a voluntary ambassador of culture. With his reluctance to enter the army, as a “traitor to his country”. It is uncertain what would have happened had not the substituted military service law come into force, but it is certain that he shook one of Turkey’s standing foundations. Here, a person who knows what he wants, forcing the boundaries with his talent and intelligence, the 28 day military service of paying soldier Private Tarkan’s 28 years...

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“I won’t do my military service in the mountains, I’ll sing in the army camp” he was quoted as saying. However, he branded the claim that he had told the German newspaper Die Welt “It’s because I don’t wish to fire upon my fellow citizens that I refuse to go into the army” as false.
   Had not his dear departed father Ali Tevetoðlu believed that he would be unable to control his six children upon foreign soil and made the decision to permanently return to Turkey, it is possible that Tarkan would still be living with the resentment of his name, taken from a historic comic hero who traveled with his pet wolf making things difficult for the Byzantines. Interested in music from an early age, his talent made him conspicuous in school corridors. With his voice and physique, wherever he happened to be in the world and with a helping hand from lady luck, he may have found fame; “the Turk who gained success away from home” may have made our hearts swell with pride. However, it is certain that living 
in Germany would not have won him the body language that has turned him into an idol. They would have found his dances strange, opening his knees and splaying his legs out sideways; he would not have reached that mass of infatuated girls ready to faint over his “I’ll consume you” message, while shaking his head and biting his bottom lip with desire.
   It is possible that a more stable life was awaiting Tarkan. His mature voice and good looks may have achieved him a career on a more moderate wave, one that would have made his bank account swell as his temple hairs grayed. But, the young girls aside, managing to “enslave everyone
*”since his first album, by giving his shirts to the wind, renewing the face of charisma with his “kiss kiss” and his Casanova looks and opening sail to new horizons, would have been difficult.

   He succeeded. Capturing George Michael’s manner with “Þýkýdým”, he decorated his American dreams. Finally with “Þýmarýk”, he didn’t stop at breaking records in Turkey, he made Europe accept him. The growing of those “enslaved” by him was the natural result of a glittering career fitted into his 27 years.

* referring to the song “kýl oldum” (brother, I've become her slave)
The boy who would be man
Tarkan Tevetoðlu, being the fifth child of a family of six, came into the world on the 17th October 1972 in Alzey, near Frankfurt, Germany. His adventure began while he was still in his mother’s womb. His mother, Neþe Haným, while pregnant to him, suffered a car accident and lay comatose for a month. As was the procedure, the doctors advised for an abortion. However, after Ali Bey had in a dream seen his son “born healthy and furthermore with a star shining over his head,” he was not likely to agree. The Tevetoðlu couple were to leave the hospital, after signing a document accepting all economic responsibility of the child in the event it was born physically or mentally challenged.
According to his mother, when Tarkan was born he was screaming so beautifully that even the mid-wife could not help but express: “I bet one day he’s going to become a singer.” Every baby that kicks in the womb is often described as a potential footballer, yet it was apparent to friend and foe alike that his voice was stunning. By mutual consent a decision was made for Tarkan to be given music lessons. However, the training was not to be of the “Fame” variety, as Tarkan himself would imagine. Spurred on by the dream of a large house with gardens, 

his father made the permanent return to Turkey and along with middle school, Tarkan began lessons on note, solfége and singing.  
   The sudden change in his life might have been enough for Tarkan to retire indoors, but it wasn’t enough for him to retire within himself. Quite the opposite, at home he had commenced singing out loud with ardor, the newly learnt Turkish Classical Music pieces, possibly as a way to disperse his  melancholia. Most of the neighbors would put up with this. They treated Tarkan with understanding. Who knows, may be they were feeling the pleasure of being witnesses to a new star being
born? But not everybody was of the same opinion. In those years, a student of ÝTÜ (Istanbul Technical University), a neighbor's son Ersan Yýlmaz, was one such person who could not concentrate because of Tarkan...
    “Tarkan resided in the neighboring house to my family’s house. Whenever I would come to Karamürsel, I would find it difficult to study because Tarkan would be continuously listening and singing to Turkish Classical pieces. He would especially listen to Bülent Ersoy and Zeki Müren. By singing along may be he was trying to capture their style. But this way or that, there was always the sound of Turkish Classical Music in our house. I was finding it very difficult to study under such conditions. Besides that, I enjoy listening to rock music.”

    Tarkan not only stamped out his personality at home, but he also made his presence felt at school. With the school principal’s permission, he became the star of many a school event and charity night. And not only of the night, he became a star during lesson time, too. Esra Soydan describes him as a colorful character: “He attracted a lot of attention at school; amongst his admirers, there were also fanatics that would wait for him outside the school. He was an ardent follower of fashion. He was always dressed suitably and stylishly. During physical exercises at school, it would be possible to see him in a tracksuit that would become fashionable later on. He had a very enterprising personality. I’m not a bit surprised that he has achieved all he has.”   At this stage he had already begun to earn a little from music. At the Çýnarcýk tea gardens he had secured a following out of bored wealthy housewives. He began to procure pocket money from this venture. His real ambition, however, was to read Graphic Arts* at the Mimar Sinan University. Upon this aim, he came to Ýstanbul. With two other friends he rented a house in Beþiktaþ and began to live in the metropolis. He failed to pass the exams, but had fallen captive to Ýstanbul’s lure. Though to be able to acquire some money, he would still journey to Çýnarcýk in the Summer and, as he would later confess, be forced to sing those Turkish Classical Music songs that he couldn’t even stand to listen to.

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Tarkan, a member of a family of 6, due to his father Ali coming to Turkey with dreams of a house with gardens, found himself within a life surrounded by Turkish Classical Music. His friends were all certain that he would go places.

Tarkan Team
Finding himself at a crossroads, Tarkan finally realized that he had to make a decision. Deprived of his brothers’ and sisters’ words and music and their praise, he knew that he was without outside aid for him to achieve any success with his singing. He decided to go to Germany to study, to one of his four siblings that lived there. While preparing for the journey, his closest friend from Karamürsel, Alpay Aydýn, changed his mind. In Unkapaný, at ÝMÇ – the heart of the music industry – he introduced him to Mehmet Söðütoðlu, one of Ýstanbul Plak’s partners.
   Söðütoðlu at the beginning of the ‘90’s was still a young man. He had nothing much to lose. In short, in that lively era where pop had recently exploded back on to the music scene and where young girls were searching for their own idols, even with a unsuccessful album a profit could be made from it’s sale, which in those days only cost 70-80 million lira to produce.
    Hit songs were not purchased for Tarkan. It was more of a do-it-yourself affair, with Tarkan finding or composing the music and Alpay writing the songwords. In 8 months, they managed to prepare 15 songs together. Alpay, Mehmet and Tarkan had an amusing time sitting down and penning Turkish words on to a few foreign songs.

   However, when it hit the music scene in December 1992, and his album “Yine Sensiz” and especially his song “Kýl Oldum Abi” became a hit, reaching sales of around 700,000 copies, things were taken more seriously. Tarkan’s German dream died in an instant. Slowly, his fans began to accumulate around him. He was going to explain his bewilderment at such developments thus: “First they would call the music company. Then they would call my house in Beþiktaþ. One time one girl came to the front door of my house, wrote “Tarkan I love you” on it and left.”

   He had found fame true enough, but it still could not be said that he had made any money. Four months after the album had been released, to tap into the crazy fan potential, they began to throw forward certain ideas, one being the “Tarkan Fan Club.” In those days, becoming friends after guesting on her radio show, Romina from Best FM, Alpay, who had become known as his manager, Mehmet Söðütoðlu and Tarkan, began to “brain storm” over possible directions and ideas, upon the growing Tarkan myth. There was also a name for this close knit group: Tarkan Team.
   “Upon the stage, he is one of the very few who has the capability to do the show in the most right and aesthetic way. It may sound like flattery, but this is what I truly think. If you look at the music industry at this moment and compare Tarkan with anyone else, the difference speaks for itself. His sparkle and shine are all out in the open.”
However, the sparkle that Romina spoke of was going to be the cause of unwanted burdens for Tarkan. Those of the male population that would frequent his concerts had either 
followed their girlfriends or had come out of a “who is this 'sorry man' whom they say is more handsome than me?” curiosity. Thus, the gossip surrounding Tarkan was quick to ignite. There were going to be those people, in trying to break the young girls’ desires, whom were to classify him as, in one of the more polite terms, “Turkey’s answer to Boy George.” Furthermore, because of his naturally mascara-lined eyes and his fainting looks, the comparisons they had seen fit to label him with had begun to take hold. May be if Tarkan had reputed the rumors in an indignant manner, things may have evolved differently. However, making anti-macho statements such as explaining that he wasn’t gay but sexual preferences were private matters, only served to fuel the gossips’ fire. It did not help matters when Alpay Aydýn, whom he had quarreled with, spoke to the paparazzi newspaper Hafta Sonu stating that he “had slept with Tarkan.” It was the icing on the cake. Ultimately, no one could save him from being national gossip fodder, not even when, at the risk of driving his fan base hysterical, he was constantly in the media spotlight with such lovers as Jülyet or Elif Daðdeviren.

   When one looks back on such events, one cannot help but admire Tarkan’s iron nerve. In May 1994, he recaptured success, after a slump in album sales caused by the rumors, with “A-acayipsin” – a Sezen Aksu supported album. He was to be grounded again, however, by his “I need to piss” statement *, made on live television* Tarkan's response in a live TV show when the interviewer asked him how he was doing.

   While his fan base was growing on the one side, a wave of hatred against him was rising on the other... Even if these events were not enough to drive a person to withdraw from the public eye, it would at least force them to take a step back. Not so Tarkan. Instead, he expanded his dreams and ambitions; the wounds he had incurred as a result of his words and actions, he decided he would heal, by growing up.
American dream
His new manager was Ahmet San. In 1995, together with San and Ahmet Ertegün, at the Atlantic Records main office in New York, they met to sign a contract. The press was informed that an English album was to be prepared and cut. Thus began Tarkan’s American dream.
“He was very open to new ideas, to new opnions. He would listen very carefully to everything. He wanted to understand everything. His most alluring attribute was the fact that he loved to take a risk in anything, that he was a wild thing.”

When the album “Yine Sensiz” and especially his song “Kýl Oldum Abi” sold copies of around 700,000, things were taken more seriously. Tarkan’s German dream died in an instant. Slowly, his fans began to accumulate around him

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In one report, he did not shy away from stating that “Ertegün and I cannot come to an agreement. I say Mediterranean motifs, he says “No”. Pretty soon I’m going to tell them that enough is enough.” However, Ertegün’s excuse to terminate the project was already prepared : Military Service.

   However, this undertaking was not seen as an enterprising move by Tarkan, but merely as a project to help him escape from Turkey. He found solace in changing his environment and giving himself to his work. In describing those days, Pakize Barýþta spoke thus: “I got to know Tarkan during the time the media were giving him a headache. Sezen Aksu came to our house with Tarkan one day and said, “They’ve upset the kid. He’s feeling kind of lonely right now. Let’s talk a bit, it’ll do him good.” After that day, Tarkan became a frequent visitor to our house. He became friendly with my friends and I. In this way he entered an environment consisting of writers, scientists and people in the advertising business. I believe it was a different atmosphere than he was used to. But Tarkan has the intelligence and gut instinct that allows him to quickly adapt to his surroundings. He was very open to new ideas, to new opinions. He would listen very carefully to everything. He wanted to understand everything. His most alluring attribute was the fact that he loved to take a risk in anything, that he was a wild thing. His grand ambitions and the projects he planned for himself may have seemed laughable at the time, but looking back I see now that they were nothing of that kind.”
   In spite of all his positive thoughts, Tarkan’s rise was not that easy.  Close to a year after the agreement at Atlantic, speaking to the press in Bodrum, Ahmet Ertegün randomly expressed the difficulties of making a foreigner acceptable to the USA market and of finding him a suitable song. A year after this gathering, upon expressing that “Ahmet San destroyed my American dream”, Tarkan broke all ties with his manager. The story was that he had signed the agreement that San had prepared without reading it, he had become a prisoner to it. Furthermore, Ahmet San’s reaction did not fall far from his first manager Alpay’s reaction. He explained that, with the help of some important friends, he had extended Tarkan’s leave for military service, and thus by insinuating that he was in effect a deserter, sowed the seeds of an argument that has reached through to today.    During this time, the experience of his American dream slowly beginning to slip through his fingers, it’s extension did not seem to bother Tarkan to a great degree. He had greatly furthered his English, by studying at Baruch College in New York for nigh on two years, and as a Turkish pop star living in America, he made thousands from such advertising contracts as Doritos Panço and Police eyeglasses. Even though “A-acayipsin’s” sales in Turkey had remained at 2,000,000, for the album to reach sales of 700, 000 in Europe was an event never before experienced by a Turkish pop star. This injected him with courage. In one report, he did not shy away from stating that “Ertegün and I cannot come to an agreement. I say Mediterranean motifs, he says “No”. Pretty soon I’m going to tell them that enough is enough.” However, Ertegün’s excuse to terminate the project was already prepared : Military Service.
Europe, hear our voice!
   His third album “Ölürüm Sana”, distributed in July 1997, sold three million copies in Turkey alone. Straight after its release, Tarkan, who could easily play to sell-out concerts in such cities as London, Paris and Berlin, was promising a future in the European market. One of the world’s biggest firms, Polgram, was quick to recognize this jewel. In addition, they had no problem with the language barrier. For the French, who had danced to Algerian/Tunisian singer Rai, did not care whether the song words were in Turkish or Chinese; they were enthused by dance and rhythm. According to Þevket Gözalan, Polgram’s European Deputy President, it was Alain Veille, the Head of Polgram’s French Branch Podis, who took up the cause. Without wasting any time Veille introduced “Ölürüm Sana”’s hit song “Þýmarýk” to the market, and he was soon to receive a result. In France “Þýmarik” reached third place, in Belgium it captured first place. In reply to this, the company opened the artist’s way by distributing a compilation album entitled “Tarkan”, which contained pieces from his “Ölürüm Sana” and “A-acayipsin” albums. Tarkan had now definitely broken away
from the Rai segment of the French market becoming known to the European continent, from Norway to Portugal, from the Czech Republic to Russia. Now on the verge of opening the doors to South America and North Africa, he is becoming our only international star. Henceforward he was being mentioned under such headlines as “Turkish Delight” and “The Bosphorous Beauty.” According to CNN, he was the “sexy Turk that sang to the world.” Swedish music critic Per Andersson expressed Tarkan as the man “that had torn into the culture and sovereignty of Anglo-Saxon music.”
   Was it really so? Undoubtedly we are a nation of skeptics; rumors began to spread in Turkey that his successes away from home were greatly exaggerated. However, Tarkan had the last say on the matter when at the 1999 World Music Awards he received an award for Best Selling Middle Eastern Artist. Due to the fact that we’ve not had the pleasure before, it would be useful to bear in mind, as an indication of the seriousness of the World Music Awards, that such others as Will Smith, Ricky Martin and Cher had reached for an award on the same stage as Tarkan.

Playing Tarkan is prohibited

   At first, Tarkan’s successes did not stir up much interest within the Turkish media. Even in respect to the World Music Awards, instead of reporting the reality of the event, it was turned into a “is Tarkan Middle-Eastern or Turkish” debate, becoming fodder for this dispute. This situation, along with views that “Ölürüm Sana’s” distribution should be halted, were all resulting echoes from “Tarkan’s Military Service” campaign. But clearly Tarkan was not going to tow the line with the press. Instead of using such patriotic language as “I’ll do anything for my country,” he made such comments as “I won’t do my military service in the mountains, I’ll sing in the army camp.” However, he branded the claim that he had told the German newspaper Die Welt “It’s because I don’t wish to fire upon my fellow citizens that I refuse to go into the army” as false.
   The debate had even reached the Denizli-Buldan minibuses. The drivers, in protest against the adamant Tarkan who had refused to frustrate his contracts and return to the motherland, had put up signs in their vehicles declaring that “Playing Tarkan is prohibited in this minibus.” The Military Defense Minister, at the time, Hikmet Sami Türk’s reassuring comments that Tarkan could continue to compose and make albums during his military service was not enough to convince Tarkan. To every television channel that made the call for him to return to Turkey to carry out his military service, he gave the negative reply: “I’ve signed big projects over here, we are talking about large penalties. I love my country but without completing these obligations I cannot come to Turkey.” Starting from the 21 May 1999, the edict for his Turkish citizenship to be revoked was presented to the Cabinet for approval.

   The crisis, after the 17th August earthquake, when the Government brought into force the substituted military service law with the aim of securing financial sources, came to an end. What would have happened, however, had this law not been passed?

   Uygar Ataþ, a person in a position of authority at Ýstanbul Plak expresses that “Tarkan was eventually going to return.

   “We were faced with a nightmare scenario. Upon his return he was going to be detained and court martialled. But Tarkan’s one wish was to return. He thought of nothing else. It was impossible to push away his career over there at the moment, but in a couple of years he would have definitely returned.

    Ataþ also explained that Tarkan, from the very beginning, was hopeful that he might be able to benefit from the substituted military service that was already in force for those who worked outside of Turkey.

   The year and a half long series of events finally came to a close with a happy ending. Tarkan is returning on the 14th January to give a concert at the Mydonose Showland for the benefit of the earthquake victims. On the 15th, if all goes well, he will hand himself his over to the Malatya Unit. Though at this point one feels it necessary to warn the fans that they should not try to enter the restricted military zones to attempt to see Tarkan. They will have to wait for the completion of his military service, after which he will go out of the country, and for him to return to Turkey to promote the release of his new Turkish album. His military service will end in 28 days, but it seems that Tarkan fans will be counting the days to the Summer months.

 Once again, a special thanks to Ali Yıldırım for the excellent translation.
Your contribution to this website has become invaluable, Ali!


© Marleen 1999-2004