Friday, May 27, 2011

Ibrahim Tatlises: Turkey's rags to riches singing star

Ibrahim Tatlises receiving an award in Ankara (7 March 2011)
Hours before he was shot, Ibrahim Tatlises made a defiant TV speech

A giant of Turkish popular culture is fighting for his life after being shot in the head in what appears to be a professionally executed assassination attempt.

Ibrahim Tatlises has an extraordinary story of rags to riches. It would not be wrong to describe him a symbol of the Turkish Dream who came from the underdeveloped East and found gold on Istanbul's streets.

Through his songs, sourced from rural themes and folk songs, he has earned a large following of devoted fans. However, for many of his fans, he is also the symbol of a macho male figure who has a command over his women and his enemies and whose word is the rule among his friends and businesses relations.

Tatlises has always been a larger than life figure.

His emotionally explosive personality drew as much attention as his high-pitched tenor voice, perhaps even more.

As a superstar of popular music, he has led an eventful life both on and off the stage. Hours before he was shot, he made a defiant speech on his own TV show, answering critics he did not name, and claiming that no-one had suffered mud-slinging as much as he had.

"I am the people's darling and you guys can't take it," he said. Displaying a big ego has always been his trademark.

Popular hero

Tatlises is not only a show business giant, but also a brand name, attracting an audience of millions at the height of his fame. Recently though, his business interests had gone beyond music, into areas such as catering, aviation and even construction sites in Northern Iraq.

Uneducated and from a poor background, his rise to fame and fortune has made him a typical popular hero. He once responded to jibes about his lack of education by asking: "Was there an Oxford University in our town which I refused to attend?" in his usual dismissive manner.

He is of Kurdish origin, but has rarely spoken on the Kurdish problem in Turkey.

He is more the type of man to get into a heated personal argument, and it was after such an exchange that his nephew killed a shopkeeper in the south-east in the early 1990s.

Although Tatlises was put on trial he was later acquitted of involvement. He has survived gun attacks before but again the motive was never known.

His ex-wife was shot in the leg some years ago and another woman - a close friend and stage partner - was also once shot in the leg.

Middle East celebrity

He has had connections in powerful circles, both in business and politics and ran for election as an independent candidate for parliament once, although unsuccessfully. It was widely expected that he would run again in the elections in June.

Ibrahim Tatlises performing in Arbil in Northern Iraq (November 2005)
He is of Kurdish origin but has rarely addressed the Kurdish problem in Turkey

He is a celebrity not only in Turkey but throughout the Middle East and his lifestyle has displayed all the excesses of celebrity culture. He has gained something of a reputation for his relations with women.

His down-to-earth manner has always endeared him to the public, in what is still a markedly patriarchal society where macho behaviour is largely tolerated, even condoned.

A hugely talented, charismatic and intelligent man, Tatlises has time and again shown signs of struggling to cope with the burden of a notoriety which he avidly sought. In recent years he has appeared directionless, suffering minor setbacks in his musical career, and seeing his hard living catching up with him.

All controversy to one side, he is still a much-loved figure. A shocked nation, throngs of fans and admirers are now genuinely praying for his recovery.


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