Just what is it about Turkey and Kevin Costner? He may be remembered in the United States for “Dances With Wolves” and several other hit films (as well as for “Waterworld” and “The Postman,” two of the most spectacular cinematic duds ever), but he’s certainly no longer the star he once was.
Not so in Turkey, where the Costner magic still seems to be at work. It all started two years ago when Costner and his “rock” band, Modern West (don’t tell me you’ve never heard of them!), came to play a benefit concert in Istanbul for a children’s aid group. During the visit, it was even suggested that perhaps Costner could play the role of Ataturk in a proposed biopic about the secularizing founder of the modern Turkish state. High praise, indeed!
Earlier this year, meanwhile, Turkish Airlines deemed Costner’s star bright enough to recruit him for a massive (and strangely ineffective) ad campaign promoting the airline’s new and improved first class service. Soon his face was plastered on billboards all over Turkey, telling Turks that now they, too, can “feel like a star.” (You can watch the English-language television commercial, where Costner works his charm on a lithe flight attendant, here.)
But now things are getting even more serious. According to reports in the local press, Costner is now getting involved in Turkish politics. In a Friday report in the English language Today’s Zaman, we are told “American actor and director Kevin Costner [has] joined the ranks of celebrities supporting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's democratic initiative aimed at addressing various problems, including the Kurdish issue.” According to the article, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had actually invited Costner to attend the party’s upcoming congress, but wasn’t able to make it. Still, according to a statement released by party deputy chairwoman Edibe Sozen (a former professor of “communications,” it should be noted), Costner “conveyed his support for the democratic initiative because it shows the value Turkey attaches to human rights.” (A brief about this in the semi-official Anatolian Agency news service makes it sound like the invite was only issued after Costner himself contacted the AKP to give his unprompted support for the government’s new initiative.)
The Turkish government has been busy laying the groundwork for the unveiling of its highly-anticipated “democratic initiative,” which is mostly aimed at dealing with the long-standing Kurdish problem. A big part of laying that groundwork has involved meeting with civil society groups and other political parties. But now it looks like the government is pulling out the big guns by unveiling “celebrity” endorsements for the initiative. Of course, the ultimate endorsement of the initiative would be the one given by the Turkish people (Kurds, in particular), but having Kevin Costner on board certainly doesn’t hurt.
(UPDATE -- Speaking of celebrity endorsements, the Turkish papers have been running front page headlines about U2's decision to add an Istanbul leg to their current world tour. According to Hurriyet, Egemen Bagis, the government minister who is handling Turkey's European Union membership process, even promised the band that if they come to the country, he will arrange for them to play a gig on one of the bridges crossing the Bosphorus, which would allow them to play at the spot where Europe and Asia "meet." The last ones to try this bi-continental stunt were a pair of top-ranked Chinese and Austrian ping pong players, who played a 30-minute match earlier this summer in the middle of one of the Bosphorus bridges. Motorists in the city of 18 million were not amused.)
(UPDATE II -- The Costner story keeps heating up. Now Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) is crying foul over Costner's purported support for the government's democratization initiative. According to news reports, CHP leader Deniz Baykal, speaking at a "grape festival" in Antalya, had this to say: “Who on earth are you? What is it that you know and speak? If they put a map in front of you, you wouldn't be able to locate Şırnak [a city in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast]. You mind your own business."
Baykal even suggested that the government is using Costner's "endorsement" in a deceptive manner. “The prime minister is hiding the truths from the public regarding the opening. He has a project on his mind and plans to make it accepted slowly in the face of possible reactions from the nation. Is it the prime minister’s job to deceive people?” he said.)
(photo -- Kevin Costner and Turkish president Abdullah Gul during a 2007 meeting in Ankara.)