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.”

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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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