— The Erimtan Angle —

The renowned author Paul Auster, who is also a personal favourite of mine, has now become involved in a verbal spat with Turkey’s ever-popular PM, Tayyip Erdoğan . . . One of Auster’s book was recently released in Turkish and thus he was supposed to come here in order to boost sales – Kış Günlüğü, a translation of his autobiographical Winter Journal. But, the author decided not to do a book tour in Turkey, which led to the current war of words between a Prime Minister and a writer. The outset of the current spat is Auster’s statement in the Turkish English-language daily Hürriyet Daily News: “I refuse to come to Turkey because of imprisoned journalists and writers. How many are jailed now? Over 100?”.[1]  As I noted quite some time ago, journalist and writers have been sent to prison in Turkey for quite some time ow.[2]  In fact, just the other day another writer got lucky again: ‘Aziz Tekin, a correspondent for the Kurdish-language newspaper Azadiya Welat, had the misfortune of becoming a news item himself over the weekend when he became the 105th journalist in Turkey to be put behind bars’.[3]  According to David Rosenberg, Tekin’s arrest “places Turkey – a country usually hailed as an exemplar of democracy and Islam – ahead of such repressive regimes as Iran and China with the largest number jailed journalists in the world according to the Platform of Solidarity with Imprisoned Journalists”.[4]

 

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now come out in a fighting mood: the “American writer Paul Auster recently gave an interview to a Turkish daily. He said he refuses to travel to Turkey since he finds Turkey anti-democratic. He said he would not travel to Turkey because of jailed journalists. He said he also refuses to go to China. As if we need you! What difference would it make if you came or not? Would Turkey lose prestige?”, mindful of his own one minute of fame in Davos some years ago, he continued. “This writer paid his most recent visit to Israel in 2010, as if Israel is a democratic, secular country where human rights are limitless. What an ignorant man you are. Israel is a religious state. Isn’t Israel shelling Gaza?”.[5]  The opposition CHP, on the other hand, has taken Auster’s side, and the party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has made salient statements to that effect. As a result, Erdoğan took hold of this opportunity to criticize the erstwhile establishment party of the Republic of Turkey: “There are actually hundreds of . . . documents [that prove the CHP’s pro-censorship stance]. All bear the signature of İsmet İnönü [a former CHP leader] as president. All 16 of these documents bear the signatures of CHP officials. They banned the Elifba [Arabic alphabet] book. This is the CHP mentality . . . They banned all signs in Arabic. They closed down many newspapers, namely the Cumhuriyet daily, and stopped their publications. They banned the books of [authors] Aziz Nesin, Rifat Ilgaz and Sabahattin Ali with whom they [the CHP] shared the same views”.[6]  The Indian writer and blogger Chandrahas Choudhury reflects on the CHP’s record regarding the suppression of freedom of speech and imprisoning writers thus: in “1938 [Nazım] Hikmet [1902-63], who like a great many poets of his time (Pablo Neruda, for example) was a committed Marxist, was sentenced to 28 years in prison on charges of sedition for a long poem about a fifteenth-century rebellion against Ottoman rule. Hikmet’s case . . . received wide international attention. [The] figure of Hikmet [eve] looms in [Orhan] Pamuk’s . . . remarks (in an essay in the New Yorker) about his country’s historic persecution of writers, and his joke that it is only with his trial that he has become “a real Turkish writer”. In 1949 an international committee, including on its rolls Picasso and Sartre, was formed to campaign for Hikmet’s release, and in 1950, the year he was released by Turkey’s first democratically elected government, he received the World Peace Prize. Hikmet continued to be harassed even by the new regime, and eventually had to seek refuge in Poland”.[7]  As a committed Muslim and conservative, Erdoğan seems to have forgotten about this celebrated case of a persecuted writer of global acclaim.

 After Release From Prison

 Awake.

Where are you?

At home.

Still unaccustomed-

awake or sleeping-

to being in your own home.

This is just one more of the stupefactions

of spending thirteen years in a prison.

Who’s lying at your side?

Not loneliness, but your wife,

in the peaceful sleep of an angel.

Pregnancy looks good on a woman.

What time is it?

Eight.

That means you’re safe until evening.

Because it’s the practice of police

Never to raid homes in broad daylight.[8]

Returning to the present day and Paul Auster, the decidedly pro-government Today’s Zaman explains that ‘Erdoğan said his government has become a target of unfair criticism because a number of journalists have been jailed in connection with ongoing investigations in Turkey. He said these individuals, who happen to be journalists, have not jailed due to journalistic activities but rather due to charges that include participation in a terrorist activities, killing policemen and the illegal possession of firearms’.[9]  Turkey’s opposition has now taken up Auster’s cause and Kılıçdaroğlu has opened his arms to welcome the New York writer and has even stated that the American’s presence in Turkey would help the cause of Turkey’s imprisoned writers.[10]  Auster, in turn, added that “there are nearly one hundred writers imprisoned in Turkey [(a)ccording to the latest numbers gathered by PEN], not to speak of independent International publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu, whose case is being closely watched by PEN Centers around the world . . . [and turning to Tayyip’s remarks on Israel,] [a]ll countries are flawed and beset by myriad problems, Mr. Prime Minister, including my United States, including your Turkey”.[11]

On its website, PEN declares the following: ‘PEN International is deeply concerned that as [2011] closes, 30 writers are held in Turkish prisons, more than 70 others are on trial, and that there were 25 new arrests in recent days. This, alongside increasing surveillance, is having a chilling effect on writers and raises concerns for the coming year. PEN calls for a halt to the arrests, and the release of writers and journalists who are detained for the legitimate practice of their right to free expression, a right to which Turkey is committed under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. PEN has on its records 30 cases of writers in prison in Turkey, and over 70 more on trial. On 20 December, a further 20 to 25 journalists were arrested. The most widely used legislation in these cases is the Anti Terror Law (ATL), a law that is applied so broadly that crimes of membership or support of “illegal organisations” encompass a wide spread of commentary, ranging from writings on Kurdish issues to allegations of inappropriate links between the police and religious figures. Over the past year, Turkish writers, publishers and journalists have told PEN that surveillance has risen markedly, and this, accompanied by the escalating arrests, has increased anxiety and is having a chilling effect on free expression. Among the detainees is the well-known publisher Ragıp Zarakolu who has campaigned for free expression for decades. He was arrested on 28 October [2011] and is facing trial under the ATL for “membership of an illegal organisation”, reportedly for a speech he made to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and articles he has written. Taken to prison the same day on similar charges is the respected academic and writer Büşra Ersanlı. She is an expert on constitutional law and had been working with the BDP’s Constitutional Commission at the time of her arrest. Zarakolu’s son, Deniz, also an academic and translator, was arrested two weeks earlier for similar reasons . . . Zarakolu and Ersanlı were arrested under what is known as the Democratic Society Congress (Koma Civaken Kurdistan – KCK) operation that has been under way since 2009 and which has led to several hundred, some say over 1,000, arrests and trials. The KCK is seen as the civil/political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Among the organisations being linked to the KCK is the BDP despite the fact that 30 of its representatives took their seats in the Turkish parliament on 1 October [2011]. Among the early KCK operation arrests was Muharrem Erbey, a lawyer and writer arrested in December 2009 who is still detained, one example of the extremely lengthy pre-trial detentions. On 20 December [2011], there were further arrests under the KCK operation that included around 20 to 25 journalists who were taken from their homes in various cities including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Diyabakır. All are journalists working for various pro-Kurdish newspapers and agencies. It is not clear how many remain detained today, 22 December [2011]. Other high profile writers in prison include Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık arrested on 6 March 2011 for being members of ‘Ergenekon’. Since June 2007 there have been a series of arrests of leading figures in the military, politics and police, as well as writers, academics and journalists. Now numbering over 200, they are accused of membership of a neo-nationalist organisation known as Ergenekon. Its aim is said to be to overthrow the government and it is linked to several assassinations. Şener and Şık are detained for their research into and writings about Ergenekon. Şener’s book, Fetullah Gülen and the Gülen Community in Ergenekon Documents is one of the sources of the charges. The Gülen movement is an Islamic organisation that promotes inter-faith dialogue. It is thought that Şener’s arrest is linked to his research into suggestions that the movement holds undue influence in the Ergenekon investigation. Ahmet Şık has also written on Ergenekon and he too is said to have looked into the alleged affiliation of police to Gülen. That two writers investigating Ergenekon should find themselves on trial for being members of the group they are researching is absurd, a view shared by 125 Turkish writers who, in November 2011, publicly announced their support for Ahmet Şik by publishing in print his book that was seized from his computer files and banned. The writers had all played a role in editing the book, and are listed as co-editors and proof-readers, willingly making themselves liable for prosecution . . . Writers are also among those arrested as Ergenekon suspects. One is Mustafa Balbay, a well-known contributor to the Cumhuriyet newspaper, an outspoken opponent of the government and secularist. He has been detained since July 2008 and remains in pre-trial detention three years later. Evidence against him is said to be notes he took during meetings with various figures who themselves were arrested under Ergenekon, and that Balbay was aware of plans to stage a coup, charges he denies. Zarakolu, Şık, Şener, Erbey and Balbay are all members of PEN Turkey. Among the 70 and more other cases of writers before the courts being tried under numerous and diverse legislations, are the obscenity trial against the publishers and translator of the Turkish edition of William Burrough’s Soft Machine. Also under way is that against the owners of another publishing house accused of defaming religion for producing a 2010 calendar featuring quotes from secular writers including George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein and James Joyce’.[12]

 


[1] David Rosenberg, “Turkey’s Jails Filling Up With Journalists” The Medialine (01 February 2012). http://themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=34317

[2] “Conspiracy Theories alla Turca: Ergenekon, Balyoz, Fethullah Gülen and The Movement” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (11 March 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/conspiracy-theories-alla-turca-ergenekon-balyoz-fethullah-gulen-and-the-movement/

[3] David Rosenberg, “Turkey’s Jails Filling Up With Journalists”.

[4] David Rosenberg, “Turkey’s Jails Filling Up With Journalists”.

[5] “Erdoğan dismisses Paul Auster’s Turkey boycott” Today’s Zaman (01 February 2012). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-270179-erdogan-dismisses-paul-austers-turkey-boycott.html

[6] “Erdoğan dismisses Paul Auster’s Turkey boycott”.

[7] Chandrahas Choudhury, “Nazim Hikmet in prison” The Middle Stage (20 December 2005). http://middlestage.blogspot.com/2005/12/nazim-hikmet-in-prison.html

[8] “#356 Nazim Hikmet” Poem Hunter. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/after-release-from-prison/

[9] “Erdoğan dismisses Paul Auster’s Turkey boycott”.

[10] “Kılıçdaroğlu, Auster’i Türkiye’ye davet etti” Zaman (04 February 2012). http://www.zaman.com.tr/haber.do?haberno=1239937&title=kilicdaroglu-austeri-turkiyeye-davet-etti.

[11] “Paul Auster to Erdogan: Unlike Turkey, Israel still has free speech” Haaretz (02 February 2012). http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/paul-auster-to-erdogan-unlike-turkey-israel-still-has-free-speech-1.410566

[12] “News: TURKEY: Year Closes with 30 Writers in Prison, Over 70 on Trial and 25 new arrests” PEN International (22 December 2011). http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/turkey-year-closes-with-30-writers-in-prison-over-70-on-trial-and-25-new-arrests/

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