Aslı Erdoğan • Not for the first time, subjected to violent attacks

Asli Erdogan

Writer Aslı Erdoğan is being torn to pieces by the media following a biased translation of an interview she gave to an Italian newspaper that was then re-translated by the Belgian paper Le Soir. Here, she answers Zülküf Kurt, in Yeni Özgür Politika of accusations such as: “She is sellign oug Turkey,” with “Turkey has no takers”

Turkey has no takers

“I am not a Kurd. I learned of the Kurds’ sufferings very late. In the nineties, I was not in Turkey and that increases my responsibillity. It is because I am not Kurdish, and because I am not Armenian that I feel an even greater responsibility relative to what was done to them. It is a human responsibility.”

Türkçe | Français | English

When the Turkish State’s assaults against Northern and Eastern Syria began, pre-existing nationalist reflexes increased. So much nationalism was poured on that, from military salutes in sports stadiums to artists queueing in order to support the attacks, people from every social environment began to side with the war effort.

In order to insure that no dissenting voices would be heard inside the country, orders were given by the army, the police and the judiciary. To such an extent that the Prosecutor’s office in Istanbul signed a declaration that will go down in history as a document of shame: “Any person or group of persons criticizing on social networks the ‘Source of Peace’ operation launched by the Turkish armed forces and thus disrupting social peace, calm, domestic security and unity in Turkey, be it through writings or images, is subject to the application of the law and provisions in the Turkish Penal Code concerning the anti-terrorist law and the entire existing legal dispositions therewith.”

While the prosecutor’s office was insuring that no discordant voices would be heard, warning operations had already begun. Saying “No to war” was immediately labelled as “support for terrorism” and this process is still ongoing. Amidst all these oppressions, words supposedly spoken by writer Aslı Erdoğan, whose trial carried the risk of prison in perpetuity, broke out in the news.

What didn’t we hear, after the press reported that Aslı Erdoğan was quoted as saying “We Turks are conditioned to hate the Kurds as soon as we start school”. An entire range of accusations and targeted denunciations sprang up. They ranged from leftist newspapers declaring this was “bullshit”, to those declaring “she’s chasin after celebrity by slandering her country”, to those who say “she’s defaming”, to those who claim “racism doesn’t exist in our country”, all the way to headlines announcing “Aslı Erdoğan, lover of terrorism”, “The West requests, Aslı provides”.

Despite the fact no such expression as “We Turks are conditioned to hate the Kurds as soon as we start school” appeared in the interview Aslı Erdoğan gave to the Italian paper La Repubblica, the Belgian paper Le Soir who translated the interview into French wrote she had said this and that she had described the totality of political forces in Parliament (with the exception of the HDP a democratic opposition party), including the republican left, as “terrorists”.

Even though Aslı Erdoğan declared she had not provided such an interview to Le Soir and had not used such expressions, the topic took up a large share of the news. With any word critical of the war prohibited with utmost severity, how could this woman writer dare pronounce such words?

As for the peoples, Kurdish, Armenian, Circassian and others interpreted the topic differently. Everyone started relating the prohibitions they had lived in school as children, how they hid their identity, and to what they were subjected. A kind of #metoo movement suddenly exploded in the midst of war.

Did you say “We Turks are conditioned to hate the Kurds as soon as we start school” ?

I did not pronounce such a sentence. I dislike conspiracy theories, but there is a strange situation going on here. The original interview was published by La Repubblica in Italian. The original was recorded over the phone, in English. This made explaining several notions difficult. Talking to a journalist for an interview over the phone about chauvinism in Turkey is not easy. The interview was first translated into Italian, then, eight days later, the Belgian newspaper Le Soir published it with major changes to certain sentences. I could not recognize “my sentences”. Then Sputnik published it. In my entire 30 years as a writer, no Russian media has ever done a reportage on me. Following the publication in Sputnik, on the same day, media close to the government started circulating two sentences that are not mine, quoting Sputnik and Le Soir as their sources. As I was hospitalized at the time, it took me two days to become aware of this. Perhaps they thought it would be difficult to find the original in Italian. But luckily we still have journalists in Turkey. And before I had been informed, BBC Turkey had found the original and had translated it into Turkish. But that did not stop the attacks. To tell the truth, this is not the first time I am torn to pieces this way.

Did the newspapers apologize?

T24 offered apologies even before I heard about it. Le Soir published corrections and apologies and this was relayed on several sites. I don’t think Yani Şafak and Akit will offer apologies. In my opinion, they did not do this with a mind to apologizing. Le Soir published both apologies and a correct translation of the interview, half an hour after my request. In Turkey, I’m allowed to sue the newspapers who misrepresented my words and did not apologize. As there is no longer a legal system in Turkey, I can’t expect much from such a trial.

You are purported to have used sentences in which you described parliamentarians as “terrorists”.

Frankly, that was the sentence that shocked me. No person with a sound mind would describe parliamentarians as “terrorists”. In fact, anyone reading that sentence was entitled to entertain doubts and suspect an error in translation. For the past three, four years, our government is busy declaring as a “terrorist” anyone who does not think as it does. They have even said “There are 6 million terrorists” [Note: the HDP’s 6 millions voters]. I was also labelled a terrorist! Obviously I would not use their jargon and I would not describe anyone as a “terrorist”. I’m very surprised that seeing such a sentence anyone could have considered this as authentic. They were ready to seize upon it. “Something much happen and we must destroy this woman”. And now, as if they were disappointed, “have we wasted all that hatred in vain?” They are left to face their own angers, violences and obscenities.

When one looks at what was written about you, one finds sentences such as “This is as much bullshit as what Trump says when he talks of Kurds and Turks being natural enemies”, or others, especially by those who considered themselves left-leaning socialists “Aslı Erdoğan talks that way in order to court the Kurds”, “She’s chasing after celebrity by slandering her country”, and more… How did you receive all this?

If such a nationalistic veiwpoint is rooted in left-leaning socialists in Turkey, it’s a shame for socialism…We used to share notions such as universalism, siding with the oppressed! I had no way of knowing to what extent the Revolution in Rojava was discussed, taken seriously, supported. Everything I learned about Rojava, I heard in conferences taking place in Poland, for example. I gain nothing from critizing Turkey, as they seem to think. As for the allegation that I would have profited from the Kurds, you tell me. To this day, I am on trial for my life because of my writings, have I earned one penny from this? Personally, I attempt to defend human rights and this has caused me more problems than I could have imagined. I was incarcerated, I lost my health. I am under trial for my life, I live in exile, my books are chased out of libraries, how can anyone dare claim I profit from this? A bit of respect, a bit of conscience, if you please.

If truth be told, the publishing world is much more conservative and supportive of the satu quo than one would imagine. Defending human rights, the opposition, criticizing the system cuts the journey short for many authors, especially for women…It has always stood in my way. Even when I recieved the Simone de Beauvoir prize and the Vaclav Havel, there was no substantial news about it in mainstream media. Why can they not accept the fact that I am sincerely and conscienciously against persecutinon? Why must they absolutely think I do this from opportunism? For which opportunity or for which power are they themselves in opposition? They consider themselves convinced and idealistic. How can they be so sure that I am not as idealistic as they are? In passing, I may tell myself “humans see others in their own image”.

Thousands of people, from Noam Chomsky to Robert de Niro have strongly criticized Turkey’s assault against Syria. The West has no need for my criticism. In any event, it was an ordinary interview no one would have seen or read had it not been for these absurd reactions and this destructive campaign. “You sold out Turkey” is a comment that always shows up. In fact, Turkey has no takers. Really, there are no takers left for Turkey. My answer to those who imagine that I’m highly covetous of the Nobel, such as Ahmet Hakan [Note: journalist, recently named Editor in chief at the Turkish newpaper Hürriyet]? I think they have never read my books. I see myself as someone who writes minor literature. The City in Crimson Cloak was translated in French in 2013 and the magazine Lire selected me as one of the fifty writers who would leave their mark on posterity. I was surprised to be included in the list. Then the rest followed. After I was incarcerated, my books were translated into over 10 languages, I was compared to authors such as Kafka, Artaud, and I received a number of national and international prizes. The Stone Building came close to being made into a film by an important director. I would be looking to gain from all this! Writers such as myself are not awarded the Nobel, nor do we seek to win the Nobel. When I was 25 years old, I worked for the Cern, in the field of Higgs physics. My team leader won the Nobel. I saw the facade and the backdrop to the Nobel. And the first lesson I learned from the physicists was “don’t take prizes too seriously”. I’ve received over 20 prizes such as the Simone de Beauvoir, Vaclav Havel, Erich Maria Remarque, Sait Faik, and I’ve been rated as good for posterity. A long time ago, I learned not to take prizes or condemnations too seriously. There are more important things to do in life.

Moreover, it might be a good thing if I mention that I am seriously ill. I would not have the strength to attend the next Nobel prize reception. For health reasons, I could not attend the Vaclav Havel ceremony. A person who has never met me but who takes a look at my writing can see I walk another road entirely. I had said it before, I am not Kurdish. I learned of the Kurds sufferings relatively late. In the nineties, I was not in Turkey and that only increases my responsilibity. It is because I am not Kurdish, I am not Armenian that I feel an even greater responsibility relative to what has been done to Kurds, to Armenians. It is a human responsibility. There are millions of people like me in the world. Human beings still exist who are saddened by the massacre of nature, the assassination of humans, inequalities and persecutions. We exist. Yes, I criticize Turkey in a serious way and I express my convictions. I have followed the same line ever since I started writing in Radikal in 1998. Have I been following a secret strategy to win the Nobel, since 1998? I was fired from the media, my literature was ignored, most of the prizes I’ve received were not mentioned in Turkey, and in the end, I was jailed. I was subjected to more than one bashing and still I would be singing “I will die, I will die for a Nobel”?! To my knowledge, the music for the song I will die, I will die for my Turkey belongs to a Kurdish musical group, Koma Qamislo.

Has the fact Ahmet Hakan has targeted you following Tahir Elçi’s assassination worried you? Have you or your family received threats?

I am seriously ill. Once you reach a certain point in illness, you are no longer in a condition to fear death threats. My mother is not afraid either. She is 75 years old and a strong partisan of the CHP. This woman, who has not so much as crushed an ant in her entire life, receives messages such as “give us that whore’s address so we can settle her account”. I don’t expect apologies, I don’t want any. I wish all the best to those who have risen to their new responsibilites in these times. But if it isn’t too much to ask from them, they could offer apologies to my mother.

After [the publication of ] the words attributed to you, there were comments such as “there is no racism in the educational system, there is no discrimination”. What do you think of these comments?

The sentence attributed to me is not quite exact. Talking in an interview on such complicated topics is difficult, in order to give their exact meaning to concepts such as “nationalism, chauvinism, discrimination”. I cannot say that “hatred for the Kurds is taught in our educational system” because when I was in school, the word “Kurd” didn’t even exist. The Kurds did not exist. This may be even more serious than hatred. Of course no one told us to hate the Kurds, but no one talked to us about the Kurds or the Armenians either. In my own family, there was a Kurd. This relative was called Rıza the Kurd. I thought “the Kurd” was a nickname and I thought it referred to men who walked around with their shirt unbuttoned in the middle of winter. When I was a child, I was unaware of the existence of a people called “Kurds” even though there was a Kurd in our family. Among my school friends, there were certainly Kurds and Armenians but none of them said so. This is precisely where the problem started. Because it speaks of a discrimination that is buried even deeper, a denial, a negation. Another topic I would have liked to bring up with La Repubblica but couldn’t, due to time constraints, was “Our Oath”. [The obligation] has been lifted recently. In school we had to recite “Our Oath” every morning. We started the day, standing at attention, and howling “I am Turkish, honest and hard-working. (…) May my existence be devoted to Turkish existence.” One can hardly maintain that such an educational system is not chauvinistic. Country, flag, Turkicity, militarism… A system in which children are raised to be the soldiers of this one or that one. While reciting the oath, one fifth of those who were forced to howl “I am Turkish” were Kurdish children. These children are forced to receive an education in Turkish and not in the language they have heard their mother speak, the language in which they discovered the world. You take such a child, you tell him first of all “You will speak Turkish” then you force him to yell every morning “I am Turkish, honest and hard-working.” Quite obviously we did not hate the Kurds because they did not exist in any way for us. Everything changed when they began to say “we exist”. And those who claim they do not hate the Kurds have sent me thousands of messages of hatred in the past few days. If you hate even me, how could you not hate the Kurds?

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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