Forbidden words

Visual Sunday


On April 28, the Turkish Telecommunication Directorate sent web-hosting companies across the country a blacklist of 138 words that were to be banned from the URLs of Turkish websites. Among the words with a deemed obviously sexual meaning were the likes of ‘liseli’ (high-school girl) and ‘baldız’ (sister-in-law); even ‘mom’. As stated in a famous webcomic, Internet Rule 34 is: “If it exists, there is a porn of it.” Accordingly, the whole dictionary ought to be banned I guess…

Then, the Turkish government was planning to implement a mandatory internet filtering system for ordinary users on August 22. Both the blacklist and the filtering were measures undertaken in the name of protecting families against online pornography and other threats to morale and decency. Angry protesters took to the streets and the European Union expressed its concern, which forced the Turkish government to renounce, for a while at least, implementing Chinese-style internet censorship on its national network. Meanwhile, some graffiti artists started stenciling words from the blacklist on the walls of Istanbul’s city centre.

Among the words with a deemed obviously sexual meaning were the likes of ‘liseli’ (high-school girl) and ‘baldız’ (sister-in-law); even ‘mom’.

After attending a workshop by Istanbul’s Photography and Cinema Amateurs Club (IFSAK), I started shooting graffiti and wall textures. These forbidden words, about to be outlawed from the address bars of our web browsers, imposed themselves to me and became something of an obsession. Unfortunately, what started as clever anti-governmental irony by teenage copycat street artists has turned into some sort of woman-bashing.

But this urban meme seems now on the decline. A prude or a witty hand has transformed ‘anal’ into ‘sanal’ (virtual), a poster has covered the word ‘kızlık’ (virginity) on Cukurcuma street, and most likely, others have been painted out too.

What I will remember from all this is that, at some point in contemporary Turkish history, there was someone who went down on the streets with spray and stencils to write words like ‘high-school girl’, ‘sister-in-law’ and ‘mom’ as a means of expressing political dissent.



‘Tecavüz’: Rape


‘Çiftleş’: Mating


‘Haydar’: a man’s name that has become synonymous of the word penis


‘Cuk’: Dick


‘Kalça’: Hips


‘Baldız’: Sister-in-law


‘Liseli’: High-school student (implied: a female one)


‘Pezevenk’: pimp


‘Taciz’: Harassment

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