If you’re not Turkish yourself, you may be surprised to learn that Turkey has one of the biggest K-Pop fan communities in the world. According to data, Turkish fans rank 10th on the list of countries where people spend the most time consuming K-Pop content and 9th for the most money spent on K-Pop ($108 USD per person per year). However, fandom life may be under threat for fans in Turkey as the government reveals it’s putting K-Pop under investigation for potentially harming the country’s youth.
On August 10 this year, three girls (aged 11, 13, and 15 years old) made headlines in Turkey as the media reported that they attempted to run away to South Korea without parental permission or documentation. The young girls told their parents they were going to a picnic in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, on August 9, but they did not return home that night.
When the girls’ fraught parents contacted the police, it was discovered that the trio had packed up their clothes and left their mobile phones behind before leaving home, indicating that they did indeed run away. Thankfully, however, a special police team was able to find the girls safe and sound on a beach in Istanbul that night.
In an initial statement to Turkish media outlet NTV, the young girls shocked citizens by revealing that their love for K-Pop and K-Dramas led them to make the decision to flee to South Korea. Later, one of the girl’s fathers refuted the claim that they tried to leave the country, stating that although his daughter does like K-Pop, she told him, “We can’t go there [to Korea]. How would we?”
Despite this, the story spread across the country, with Turkish netizens referring to the incident as “Special Operation BTS.” Now, it appears that the scare has led the Ministry of Family and Social Services (a division of Turkey’s government) to put K-Pop as a whole under investigation.
According to Turkish newspaper Milliyet, the investigation is also based on accusations from officials who state that K-Pop poses a threat to Turkey’s youth. However, much of this concern seems to be rooted in anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints. In particular, the allegations state, “K-pop is making young people drift from traditional values and reject their family and leading them to a ‘gender-free’ lifestyle.”
Back in 2019, one commentator in Turkey claimed that BTS “are part of a global design to create a gender-free society” in a column headlined, “Homosexual armies coming.” Soon after, a child psychiatrist in the country was quoted as saying that BTS’s so-called androgyny may create gender identity “confusion” in young people.
Meanwhile, a digital communication expert claimed that K-Pop encourages young people to “decide on their sexuality after adolescence based on individual will.” At the time, a state-run news agency urged the Turkish government to take action against the “cultural invasion” of K-Pop, which they claim specifically targets young people from conservative backgrounds.
Now, the Ministry of Family and Social Services is conducting research into K-Pop in order to determine whether it constitutes harmful online content that could negatively impact young people. As part of this investigation, the government is monitoring social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube. Officials told the newspaper Hürriyet, “Korean pop bands evoke admiration globally by images and their different style music by using social media effectively.” According to Twitter data, Turkey had the 19th highest volume of K-Pop-related Tweets in the world last year.
Naturally, many people have responded to claims against K-Pop by denying that the genre is harmful to young people. Alptekin Keskin, a scholar researching anti-K-Pop sentiments, noted that the young girls who may have attempted to run away to Korea are an “exception” rather than a “trend.” Keskin went on to explain that the allegations against K-Pop come from “conservative groups who seek to stigmatize K-pop as a movement that promotes an LGBTI lifestyle, a gender-free society, one that drives young people to suicide and whatnot.”
Keskin also stated that K-Pop fans in the country are using their numbers and knowledge of social media to push back against the allegations through hashtags and online movements, noting, “In the interviews that I have carried out with the fans, they feel that the K-pop idols give an uplifting message, a message of respect.”
Meanwhile, Turkish K-Pop fans have long been standing up against anti-K-Pop sentiments in interviews with the media. Back in 2019, fans told Ahval News that they see Korean culture as one similar to their own Turkish culture. They also noted the benefits of being interested in K-Pop and K-Dramas, including developing a community together and the drive to learn a second language.
As the investigation continues, many Turkish K-Pop fans are concerned that they may soon be banned from listening to Korean songs or talking about their favorite groups and K-Dramas online. However, the government is yet to make a statement confirming that K-Pop is at risk of being banned outright.