Alternative Lies

by    /  February 7, 2017  / No comments

The PEN International delegation near the Silivri Prison outside Istanbul. Image provided by the author.

As the definition of truth itself is being questioned, the Erdoğan-led AK Party government threatens a free press and the secular regime.

Alternative Lies

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is probably happy to have a mirror image in Trump. Erdoğan attacks the still relatively secular and democratic regime in Turkey with his relatively new idea of a monopolistic presidential regime. He does so without any of the relatively healthy institutions that the U.S. possesses. Trump’s attack against the media accompanies that of Erdoğan, encouraging further suppression of the freedom of expression in Turkey.

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Tarık Günersel is a poet and playwright.
  3. 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.
  4. He worked at Istanbul Metropolitan Theater during 1991-2014 as a dramaturg. He proposed World Poetry Day in 1997 which was accepted by PEN International and declared by UNESCO as the 21st of March.
  5. 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’?
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. His Oluşmak (To Become), a “life guide for myself,” includes ideas from world wisdom of the past four millennia. Ex-president of PEN Turkey, he was on PEN International Board during 2010-12.
  8. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the support of several intellectuals from various parts of the planet.
  9. He has written the libretti of Selman Ada’s operas. He has recently cooperated with the Israeli composer Daniel Galay: “Dancing Anna Frank” was first performed in Tel Aviv in December 2016. He has acted on stage and screen and directed some of his plays.

“Alternative facts?” Meaning “alternative lies?” If one lie doesn’t work, an alternative lie is always possible. After Trump’s Inauguration, Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 saw a 9,500 percent increase in sales. And it will remain among the most important novels even if humanity can survive and evolve into a global democracy.

Yet judging by this post-inauguration attitude towards the press, the U.S. might join the list of other countries where the press is not free.

PEN International solidarity

A large group of PEN International members visited Turkey towards the end of January, led by PEN International President Jennifer Clement, the former International President John Ralston Saul, International Secretary Kätlin Kaldmaa and International Vice Presidents Eugene Schoulgin and Vida Ognjenovic. In light of the worsening situation in Turkey, the Kurdish-Turkish novelist and academic Burhan Sönmez was recently invited to act as an advisory member of the PEN International Board.

The Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdağ, refrained from a personal appointment, but the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Nabi Avcı welcomed them. In addition to some advisors of Presidentt Erdoğan, the delegation also met the CHP (“Republican People’s Party”) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and some HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) members in Ankara as well as some ambassadors and some of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights. In Istanbul, the delegation visited five opposition newspapers and PEN Turkey Centre. Kurdish PEN Centre was also represented.

The last large PEN International Delegation visit took place in 2012, when I was on the PEN International Board. At that time, President Abdullah Gül’s sincerely positive approach brought us a touch of hope and optimism. But, you know the rest of the story.

More than 140 journalists and academics are kept in the Silivri prison—distant from Istanbul. Among them are professor Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet Altan, a novelist and former editor of the newspaper daily Taraf. Both brothers were optimistic about the prospects of Turkey under Erdoğan’s leadership, but they also criticized the government’s despotic steps, which endangered the possibility of democratization and peace. Hence, both brothers, who are among my imprisoned friends, have been behind bars for allegedly having “subliminally supported the coming coup d’état’ on a TV program!”

However, when the PEN International delegation tried to visit the Silivri Prison they were stopped by the security forces. Vice-President of PEN Turkey, Halil Ibrahim Özcan, was accompanying the visitors.

Still, PEN International President Jennifer Clement read her message of solidarity in favor of the freedom of expression, signed by various authors from around the world.

#HAYIR

—means #NO in Turkish. And that is the vote of the pro-parliament and pro-democracy citizens in Turkey. #HAYIR is a campaign against the destructive constitutional change on the agenda.

Did the pro-Gülenist coup d’état attempt on July 15 fail? In a way, yes.

But if the goal was to get rid of the secularist parliamentary democracy, then perhaps not. For an alternative agent is in action: President Erdoğan will take Turkey to a referendum in April, which will be a decisive turning point for probably decades to come. Either #NO and the parliamentary democracy will win, or a form of fascism will prevail leading to catastrophic chain reactions.

Erdoğan refuses to make peace with the past 200 years of the parliamentary democratic gains that were accompanied by secularism. He openly wants his version of a religion to be the dominant mental milieu, destroying whatever is good: Evolution is a no-no in the school books now. The legacy of Atatürk’s secularist leadership, under which modern Turkey was established, has been greatly over-shadowed. The re-Ottomanization project is a dangerous game.

Are Erdoğan’s presidency and the AK Party government constitutional? No.

Erdoğan refuses to act as a neutral, symbolic head of state. Instead of deferring to the so-called ‘Prime Minister’ Binali Yıldırım—who is willing to be the very last Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey—the AK Party government considers Erdoğan to be their leader. If the referendum produces a “yes” vote, there will no longer be a Prime Minister. Some Americans might think that the change would not be a big deal. But the Turkish government system is based on a separation of powers. And if the referendum results in “yes,” then that separation between the offices of the Prime Minister and the President will cease to exist in Turkey.

Instead of facing criminal charges, Erdoğan and his circle have largely re-shaped the judiciary in their—meaning Erdoğan’s—own image.

Yet history never ends. There is always a next round.

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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