For several reasons Kedistan insisted on translating this interview with Aslı Erdoğan which went partially unnoticed in the media, and totally ignored in the French language ones.
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First of all, when we joined into the campaign for Aslı Erdoğan, we did so going far beyond it being a campaign against attacks on freedom of expression. When we translated Aslı’s texts and invited people to read them or to share them in public readings, it was precisely because her political, and non-politician, approach called for an awakening through the art of writing at which she excels, of what she describes in the interview as the transgression of thresholds beyond which everything becomes possible. What she then described in letters as “what will inevitably shake Europe“ and “the existential crisis of Europe“.
We had just witnessed the massacres in Cizre. Zehra Doğan then gave us her interpretation of Nusaybin destroyed… Without knowing one another, the two women used their art in order to communicate the unsayable to the whole world. One Kurdish, the other who describes herself as possibly a White Turk…Does this not signal the first necessity of translating such an article?
Another imperative rests on these two women’s approach who, in speaking of Turkey, of its destructions and deaths in Bakur in 2015/16, of its ongoing purges and imprisonments, lead to a transnational and humanist reflection on the ravages of nationalisme, and how the traces of these crimes serve to obliterate perspectives for the future. A reflection that serves as the very reason for Kedistan‘s existence.
In Zehra Doğan’s works on exhibition as well as in the books and articles now written by Aslı Erdoğan, we are certainly given to see and to read the dark side of the world. One, in her fully accepted solitude, the other by calling on collective struggle, both appealing to the need for a wake-up call. And both are women…
Following the publication of the book “Dah haus aus Stein” by Penguin in Germany, Zülküf Kurt introduces the interview he conducted with Aslı Erdoğan in Frankfurt by insisting on the writer’s transnational notoriety following the campaign launched on her behalf.
“Aslı Erdoğan. First Turkish language literary woman, placed on trial and threatened with life imprisonment; the author was arrested for having been one of the rotating members of Özgür Gündem’s Board of Directors, and incarcerated for 136 days. An author whose books have been translated into 19 languages and her texts into 30…To mention only “Le silence même n’est plus à toi” has been published in 12 languages, from French to Rumanian. And in French, Catherine Deneuve lent her voice to its recorded version.
In this reportage published in Turkish on Yeni Özgür Politika, Aslı talks of the current situation in Turkey, of Turkey, Sur, the historical neighborhood of Diyarbakır and of her writing…
– You were arrested and incarcerated for 136 days. Were you stunned by the demand for a life sentence?
Who was not stunned? I have never been an active figure in politics. I have never belonged to any Party whatsoever. I don’t even participate in associative activities. I have lived alone, I write alone, I fought alone. Of course, there were solidarities, common struggles with others but anyone who has read 3 articles by Aslı Erdoğan easily understands that this woman cannot have any links with any organization whatsoever. (The word) organization is used in Turkey as if it described something illegal, yet to organize means to do things together. Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of personality. I believe solitude is a process of reclusion. “Organizational” writing is not a type of work that can last for a long time. The only politics I ever did was in my articles.
I started my chronicles inn 1998. In the conditions prevailing in Turkey, no inquiries had been opened concerning my articles. I will say this is a small miracle. I really have a pen that avoids political jargon of the slogan type. No prosecutor was able to find anything he could tie to any existing article in the penal code. This is why, despite never having been brought to judgment, finding myself before the courts with a possible incompressible life sentence under article 302, describes the stituation in Turkey rather than my personal situation. This was the first time that a newspaper (Özgür Gündem) was accused in Turkey under article 302, which is to say as “attempting to the State’s integrity”. Moreover, the rotating memberships in the Board of Directors carried no legal responsibility for the newspaper’s content.
When I was arrested, I was an author, translated in more than 10 languages, I had already received 6 prizes (the number is now doubled). Among those prizes are literary ones such as Sait Faik. My first prize was in 1990. I’ve now completed my 29th year in literature. You know nothing about this woman and yet you accuse her of something like being a leader of the PKK!!… even the crows would laugh at this. In the police report, following all their surveillance, they wrote “Asli Erdogan is suspected of being a member of the PKK because there are suspicions she supported the Academics for Peace.” There’s no need to suspect my support for the academics, I supported them openly. I made speeches representing authors for peace. The file is so empty that even the police was dismayed. There is nothing in common with or bearing any relationship with the PKK, nothing…
What did they find after all this digging? “Ah, she is one of the advisors for Özgür Gündem. Good, we’ve found something! In that case Aslı Erdoğan directs Özgür Gündem. Therefore Aslı Erdoğan is a leader of the PKK. She is even one of its founding members.” And they opened the trial on that basis.The advisors had no influence on the newspaper, neither at the practical nor at the legal levels. When the PKK was founded, I was ten years old. I am not Kurdish…all right, that has no importance but I do not speak Kurdish. I mean, if I was a leader, I would at least have learned the Kurdish language in all this time, no? … especially if I was the founder. Would I have led the organization via translators? It was a tragi-comedic trial. When we stood in front of the judge I said “the PKK will open a trial demanding indemnities for having tarnished their reputation”.
Necmiye Alpay, myself, Bilge Contepe, three women of a certain age wearing tailored suits, we present our defence. It is comical. We were the organization’s leaders? For the love of God, we are the only ones left to do this? We’re speaking about the oldest guerilla organization in the world. Necmiye Alpay, myself and Bilge Contepe are its leaders…What can you say to that? Especially since I’ve had trouble leading my own self for many years already…By natural inclination, I have never been part of any organizational structure with a chain of command, I would be incapable of it. Everyone would walk over me and get ahead. Giving orders, power, disgusts me. I can’t even manage to use a computer because I hate giving orders. How to answer such a thesis saying that I led such a big organization…was this a compliment or what? I don’t know. In brief, this arrest was beyond understanding, and I think it was a first in its kind. Unfortunately, it did not end there.
– Incompressible perpetuity, the emblem of our times
I believe incomporessible perpetuity is the emblem of our times, just as concentration camps were the emblem of the Nazis – and concentration camps were not a Nazi invention. To my knowledge, in the past year, 758 people linked to the attempted coup (on July 15 2016) were sentenced to incompressible perpetuity. The figures keep changing. Among those persons are 17 civilians. If you add to those the ones who were sentenced in PKK-KCK trials, the figure will be around 1 500. The 758 only represent those sentenced regarding July 15. I don’t have the exact figures. But thousands of persons have been sentenced to this penalty, and according to my estimates, scores of people are still awaiting judgment.
Last week, Osman Kavala and the staff of Anadolu Kültür joined these people. They are now requesting incompressible perpetuity for anyone they consider “guilty”. They open the trials and the worst part is that despite the fact they do not have the slightest amount of proof, they condemn. It is like in the days of Stalin. We were the first, with Necmiye Alpay and immediately after, there was Ahmet Altan.
– Was your arrest a message saying “do not show solidarity with the Kurds?” What was your reading of it?
Like everyone else, I search for a rational explanation and lose my mind on the way. I’ve much studied the Nazi period. I can consider myself a specialist on concentration camps. Perhaps fascism began with the loss of rationality. There is no rational explanation why 6 million human beings were sent to the gas chambers. And I think that in Turkey, at this stage, rational explanations are insufficient. Because the person you are facing is not acting in a rational manner. Solidarity with the Kurds is the first thing that comes to mind. Yes, they conduct politics that way. Before marching against the Kurds, with the “destruction plan”, they will break the outside circles first. But is Aslı Erdoğan the first person to arrest? What force would I represent in the solidarity with the Kurds? There are perhaps a thousand people to arrest before me. Or again, is Ahmet Altan the first name in the struggle against Fetullah Gülen? Is he the standard bearer for the movement? He is no such thing. Osmal Kavala is accused of wantint to overturn the constitutional order…of course, these are symbolic names but they are not the key figures. Even if this struggle was a reasonable one, for me, all this would still be grievous errors.
If I were leading a “plan of destruction” against the Kurds, I would not have begun with Aslı Erdoğan. Consequently, the trials against the Gülen movement are more rational, for example. They introduced their informers everywhere, in every structure, including left-leaning newspapers. They observed. They prepared proof, whether false or not, they constituted a network. They find ways to integrate people in this network, notably on internet, leaving them no way out. Spy programs were found even on my computer. This means tens of thousands of people were under surveillance. Whereas now they arrest hapharzardly, blindly. In other words, fascism is preciely that. Arbirtrariness… Aslı Erdoğan doesn’t know her limits. We are angry against Ahmet Altan. We were never so hot about Osman Kavala!
If these names have one thing in common, one can point to their questions concerning the Kurdish question, the Armenian question or certains tabus for White Turks. Of course, there is an attitude of the type “who evokes the Kurdish question, we destroy.” The message is aimed mostly at White Turks. I don’t consider myself a White Turk, but in the eyes of many, that is what I am. “Stay out of the circuit. We’ll take care of them. Who do you think you are, traitors to your Homeland!”
Jail sentences of 7 years, even 10 years are requested even for those who only participated in “solidarity watches”. I even heard some of my readers ask, “Aslı, we love you very much, but what are you doing at Özgür Gündem?” This is what isn’t digested, what is perceived as a crime. No one read what I wrote in Özgür Gündem. The sole fact that I wrote there seriously disturbed a number of people in various circles. And perhaps what happened to me was a punishment for that.
– There 4 articles on Cizre, Sur, Nusaybin that constituted the charges at your trial. “This is your father“, “The journal of fascism: today“, “Readings of the story of a Madman“, “The most cruel of months“…
“The journal of fascism” is a literary text. Only its title is provocative and political. The rest is a monolog. It can occur anwhere in the world and it is timeless. Of course, what is being described is Sur, Cizre, a burning town, an outside world destroyed. (In her file appears the following: “the author describes here the [military] operation in Nusaybin”. In fact, the text was published in May and the operation in Nusaybin occurred in June!) There is nothing in that article. An interior monolog. This text is about the inner destruction of a person, provoked by fascism or by a regime applying heavy violence. Of course, I lived this destruction by observing Cizre and Sur. But “This is your father”, is completely about Cizre and Sur. I only wrote these two articles where I treated these topics directly.
– These texts must have disturbed them. What knowledge do they want to hide?
Yes, I believe some were disturbed by these articles. Perhaps because they were translated into other languages before my imprisonment. For these two texts, I used a technique I had used previously for Soma. It consists in a technique of “transcription” used by the Austrian poet Heimrad Bäcker. In the first 18 years of his ife, he was a member of the “Hitlerian Youths” but he changed after seeing Mauthausen. And from that moment on, he devoted the rest of his life to a single task: finding a language in which to talk about the concentration camps, the genocide, the Holocaust. When he died, I think he owned the largest of all personal archives on the Holocaust. He donated it to the Austrian State. I read his book “Transcription”, some five years ago, I think. The first time I read it, it did not speak to me. It struck me on the second reading. And he says that the greatest sufferings cannot be expressed in a literary idiom. For that, you must build another language, another literature. I can recite for you one of his poems that must struck me.
And right away, they were thrown in the above-quoted hole
and right away, they were thrown in the quoted hole
another hole was opened up.
I attempted this technique, years ago, for an article on torture, but didn’t succeed. Because I had added many things from myself. Then, in writing the articles on Soma, I erased myself completly, and tried again. I received very powerful responses from readers. Later, I tried again for the article on Cizre. It looks easy, but it isn’t. The problem resides in finding the right words among thousands of sentences, the few words that will carry the victim’s voice.
Forensic reports, police affidavits, have an extremely dry, hypnotic language, hard to read, boring. But you can use this language in such a way that hypnotized readers understand you are talking about real people. Not a single word in the text belongs to me. Everything was taken from newspaper articles, reportage, forensic reports. Clearly, it consists of a text collage. But behind this collage there is a serious literary effort. Writing such a text requires months. I will choose a maximum of one hundred sentences, but I wish to narrate a massacre…
Of course they conduct a policy of occultation on Cizre and Sur. Under such circumstances, they perceive my writing on Cizre and Sur as a provocation. Because they are strongly guilty. Or must we say they display a typically macho attitude, or feudal, how must I express myself without using a discriminatory word? It is an attitude such that when you say “you are guilty“, they do not answer “yes, I ask you to forgiveme.” And this country has always been like that. Regarding the Armenian question, not a single one of them has said “did it really happen, let’s have a look.” “What! Traitor to the Homland! Judas! The Armenians did such and such!” etc…That mentality has never changed.
Many things were written and said about the fact Cizre was a turning point. How do you interpret Cizre?
It was a time when I fell into deep despair thinking that things would never been the same as before in Turkey. I’m always careful when I use the term “fascism”. By putting it in brackets, I show that I I’m using it in a literary sense. I can no longer find another word. A very great crime against humanity was committed in Cizre.b Human beings were burned alived in the cellars.
Roboski is also very important in the History of recent years. But Cizre is something else. As if it was not enough that the town collapsed on its residents, people who could have been arrested alive were not. They were burned in cellars in which they were trapped. People carrying white flags were gunned down. And civilians, children, women, no distinctions were made. This went beyond war, this is a policy of massacre.
Once certain moral thresholds are transgressed in a country, everything becomes possible. In Turkey, moral thresholds were overstepped, one after the other. For example, we were a society that showed respect for funerals. You saw what happened to Aysel Tugluk’s mother. Irrespect for the dead, the burning of live civilians, dispatching into death in the heaviest fashion, leaving the corpses in the streets… All this shows that certain moral thresholds have ben trespassed.
– Is a turning back possible?
It’s very difficult. They have no desire to turn back or to submit to an accounting. Perhaps in 20, 30 years… The traces on people are not like traces of powder, you can’t get rid of them in the wash. The residents of Cizre, of Sur, the Kurds, even the soldiers bear the traces, and so do we. What I wished to question in “The journal of fascism” was precisely this trace left on the witnesses, rather than describing a dilemna between victim and assassin. To tell the truth, I wanted to make it into a book, but I didn’t have the opportunity, I was jailed. What psychological destruction are we subjected to, we who are the witnesses of all that. What do we lose? I wanted to search precisely for that. But I didn’t have the possibility to do so.
– When we looks at what has happened since 2015, where is Turkey going, in your opinion? Do you think there is any hope?
There is an obligation to give hopeful responses to this type of question, but if truth be told, I am not known as a very optimistic person. Perhaps I am fearful. Because hope is a question of courage. I’ve had too many disappointments in my life. But a human is a being who manages to hope. The more conditions worsen, the more our talent for hope develops. But if we look at the situation objectively, iendependantly of my feelings, I don’t see any positive signs. The scales show we’re on a bad track.
Society is totaly silenced. According to my estimates, in two years, one hundred and fifty thousand persons were arrested. They are building new jails and increasing the capacity to five hundred thousand. They will then imprison those who are presently being sent to trial on bail. In all the European countries taken globally, 168 journalists are in jail and 162 of them are in Turkey. These are serious figures. And the true figures are probably higher. I can draw the following comparison: when the Second World War began, forty thousand people were in concentration camps.
Turkey is living through a particularly hard period. And that is hidden by the game of democracy, the parliament and elections. As long as this parody is maintained, I don’t see a way out. Elections, local elections would be the solution? Some [countries] organize Olympic Games, we organize elections! Writers, political figures, defendors of rights, lawyers, journalists are either inside or “outside”. One third of the HDP in whom I had placed much hope is in jail. How long can they hold on? How will they be able to recuperate after all those blows? The hunger strike initiated [November 8 2018] 124 days ago by Leyla Güven, all alone [in jail] has been taken up since by hundreds of persons in jail. Among them, my cellmate friends also.
But my only hope is the fact that this silence will be broken before there are more deaths and that society will shake itself, come out of the freezer in which it is locked, and wake up.