The Day of the Imprisoned Writer, P-Resident Erdoğan, and the Importance of Secularism: November’s Literary News

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Turkey’s literary headlines for the month of November.

The Day of the Imprisoned Writer in Turkey. From left to right: Hakkı Zariç (Writers' Union of Turkey), Halil Ibrahim Özcan (PEN Turkey Center), Metin Celal (Publishers' Association of Turkey). Photo provided by the author.

The Day of the Imprisoned Writer

Every November 15, on the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN International focuses on the global situation of imprisoned poets, journalists, translators and publishers. This year, PEN International gave special attention on the cases of Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan, Nelson Aguilera in Paraguay, Mahvash Sabet in Iran, Dieudonné Enoh Meyomesse in Kameroon and Gao Yu in China.

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a
column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
  3. Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
  4. Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
  5. Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. Tarık Günersel is a poet, playwright, aphorist, librettist and short story writer. He is the president of PEN Turkey and an ex-member of the PEN International Board. He studied English Literature at Istanbul University. A self-exile after the military coup in 1980, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia with his wife Füsun and their daughter Barış, teaching English. A dramaturg at Istanbul City Theater since 1991, he has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March. His translations into Turkish include works by Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Arthur Miller. His works include The Nightmare of a Labyrinth (mosaic of poems and stories), and How’s your slavery goin’? His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. He has recently initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.

The PEN Turkey Centre, Publishers Association of Turkey and the Writers’ Syndicate of Turkey held a press conference to commemorate the occasion. At the conference, Metin Celal, the President of the Publishers Association of Turkey, noted that recent legal regulations put more pressure on Internet users in terms of freedom of expression.

Halil Ibrahim Özcan, Vice President of PEN Turkey Center, drew attention to the fact that the press did not sufficiently cover relatively short-term prison sentences. Author Erol Özkoray is the most recent victim: his book on the Gezi Park protests led to him receiving a sentencing of one year of prison. Because he appealed the verdict, the author will remain free, unless he is found guilty in the next five years.

Hakkı Zariç, Board Member of Writers’ Syndicate of Turkey, recalled the poet Nef’i, killed in during the time of the Ottoman empire, Marxist poet Nâzim Hikmet, imprisoned for twelve years during 1940s and 50s, and the socialist Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was killed nearly a decade ago.

The three organizations made a joint declaration calling for the total repeal of the Anti-Terror Law and all other anti-democratic laws and regulations. The declaration states: “We invite the AKP government to abide by the norms of the International Declaration of Human Rights and the European Union.”

P-Resident Erdoğan and a Mosque in Cuba!

With the illegal construction of a scandalously expensive palace, the former Prime Minster, now President Erdoğan has lost all the international credibility he enjoyed for the decade he promised democratization in Turkey. I’ll call him P-Resident – meaning Palace Resident – rather than President.

P-Resident Erdoğan recently repeated a claim that Muslims had possibly discovered America before Columbus arrived. He was then criticized by Prof. İlber Ortaylı, a leading Turkish historian: “It’s merely a fantasy,’ Ortaylı said.

“We wish to build a mosque in Cuba,” Erdoğan added. Friends of Cuba, a socialist association in Turkey, protested the P-Resident.

What we are witnessing is a campaign of misinformation in Turkey, which new schoolbooks will harmfully echo.

The Sunni AK Party keeps trying to remold the regime in an oppressive religious vain, which opposes secularism and critical thought, scientific facts such as evolution, the fine arts, and literature.

“The Gülen” Documentary

The Islamic leader Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, used to be on good terms with Erdoğan’s AK Party. The two Islamic factions recently clashed when the government accused Gülen of organizing a coup against the state. They demanded that the US extradite Gülen to Turkey in order to stand trial, an action the US has not yet taken.

Film director Serkan Koç, who made The Beginning (Başlangıç), a wonderful documentary on the Gezi Park protests, has made a new documentary focusing on the past thirty years of the Gülen movement. The Gülen examines the leader’s relationship with the CIA, as well as his collaboration with Erdoğan’s circle.

Ömer Çelik, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, has prevented the public from seeing the documentary.

“Apparently,” Koç said, “there is a significant bridge between the Minister and Gülen.”

Kurdish MP Aysel Tuğluk’s Wisdom

The Kurdish politician and activist Aysel Tuğluk recently declared that the governing AK Party is no longer a trustworthy partner for facilitating peace between Turkey and Kurdistan. Erdoğan’s strategy of denying Kurds the access to reinforcements, weapons, and ammunition they need to combat ISIS alarms her. “The secularists must assume responsibility and join forces,” she said in her October 29 article. I think this is a wise approach.

Secularism is Vital

When secularism is in danger, democracy is in danger. Contrary to Karen Armstrong’s harsh attack against Atatürk in her new book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, millions of people in Turkey owe a lot to Atatürk, whose secularism has proven vital.

Day of the Imprisoned Professor

The Middle East Technical University ODTÜ Professor Rennan Pekünlü will be in prison for more than two years because he refused to allow female students with covered heads to attend classes. He began serving his sentence on November 27. Pekünlü is currently on trial for two other cases on the same charges, and could face up to 12 years imprisonment if found guilty. Fundamentalists rejoice and secular press and university students protest the verdict.

About the Author

Poet, playwright, actor, and director Tarık Günersel worked at Istanbul City Theater as a dramaturg. His works include Breaths of Infinity (a mosaic of poems) and My 300th Birthday Speech (short stories). His Becoming consists of his aphorisms and various ideas from world wisdom. His plays include Billennium, Nero and Agrippina, Sociology of Shit, Threat and Virtually Yours. He has written four libretti for the composer Selman Ada: Ali Baba & 40, Blue Dot, Forbidden Love, and Another Planet. His translations into Turkish include works by Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Savyon Liebrecht. His presentation of World Poetry Day to PEN International in 1997 led to its adoption by UNESCO. As the former president of PEN Turkey Center he was elected to PEN International Board in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the collaboration of several intellectuals from around the planet.

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