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Since it is crucial that Aslı Erdoğan’s words not be deformed or interpreted through risky translations which cost her additional controversies in Turkey recently, with her approval, Kedistan is providing you with the French translation of an interview conducted by Eylem Kahraman for Yeni Özgür Politika.
In this way, we are happy to prolong a support Kedistan never abandoned.
“My awards go to women who resist”
“I’m over fifty, and I’m only understanding now that the hatred against women on our lands has oriented my destiny also.
Where should I begin?”
Aslı Erdoğan is honored with literary awards in numerous countries and, at the same time, is sujected to vile attacks in her homeland. Every time, the author responds to these attacks with literary works that go beyond her person and, recently, The Stone Building was published in a Kurdish version by Aryen publications in a translation done by imprisoned poet Erd. Agron under the title “Avahiya Kevirî û Ên Din”.
Aslı Erdoğan expresses herself to Yeni Özgür Politika on the difficulties of being a woman in the world of literature, on her book translated into Kurdish, and on a certain period of her life of which she never spoke before.
Recently, out of solidarity, the Parlement des écrivaines francophones (Parliament of French-speaking writers) named you as a honorary member. What were your feelings on receiving this news? Outside prizes you have received, and concerning what you have been through recently, do you think the literary milieu has offered you sufficient support?
I learned of the vital importance of women’s solidarity in prison. For those involved in a struggle for their existence, solidarity cannot be interpreted as an abstract notion. We, women writers, lead an existential struggle across the world.
Of course, I am grateful for the prizes, but I have also learned to keep a distance away from punishments. They are the instruments the system uses to render us docile. In my own country, my books were so thoroughly mistreated that I search for a bit of consolation in these prizes. In dedicating all my awards to women who resist, to women imprisoned, I take on a difficult role as a representative.
In my country, I had so few expectations from the literary milieu that, if truth be told, I am embarrassed to receive all these prizes. But the support from abroad, particularly from France and from Sweden was of unbelievable dimensions. In France, an Aslı Erdoğan evening was organized in bookstores, my texts were staged in Avignon… The fact that this interest flows out of my personal life into my books is astounding.
Even today, the writer’s craft is under male domination. In speaking of a writer, one never uses the definition “man writer” but when a woman writes, the accent is put on her gender. What is the reason for this, in your opinion?
In a world that speaks the language of men, an author will always be a man, no matter what… The unescapable rule of domination is to render mute, to transform into a silent object. A sub-category “woman writer” was created, judgments are definitive. “Women are poetical mais cannot be poets, their world is narrow, sentimental, ornamented like embroideries, they do not tend toward abstraction, philosophy”, etc… The fact a woman says “I”, that she want to exist in her own story awakens every god of wrath. Especially in our geography…
Whereas men are offered untramelled freedom in their writing, women are held back in an absolute fashion, by social and family responsibilities put forth as restraints. When we look at the history of literature, we see that the literary world behaves just as cruelly. For example, works by brilliant “women” writers are considered as “biographical” and despised, or ignored by considering them as a lucky draw. What is the situation currently? Have you experienced these types of problems and impediments?
I think the discrimination between women and men is the most deeply rooted o all. It is the most permanent of the discriminations. It goes back at least five-ten thousand years… Throughout the centuries, the woman was a slave exploited in a systematic way, she did not have access to reading and writing, her life did not appear in the records. She existed insomuch as she entered men’s imaginary world and notions. The myths, tales, oral literature that were women’s creations have mostly disappeared. Apart Sapho and a few rare names from the Renaissance, the fact that women have stepped out of anonymity and signed below their writing has only occurred, at most, for two centuries… In the first quarter of the 20th century, women were not accepted in universities. The fact a woman from the 19th century could possess the knowledge and the experience to write a masterpiece such as War and Peace was rendered impossible. The important themes relative to humanity were a male monopoly. The sentence for which I experience the most pride in my life was written by Ruth Klüger for The City in Crimson Cloak: “What the author never lost is her capability to depict a dangerous fall, a complete ruin which so far in literature only men could live till the end.”
Today also, we are appraised on a scale that is absolutely inequitable, ignored, despised. Look at the lives of women such as Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector, Jean Rhys, Tezer Özlü whose value was not recognized in their day… If my name was not Aslı, but Ali, or even better Albert, my books would be considered differently. But I take responsibility for my name as well as for my fate.
Aslı Erdoğan, as a world-renowned writer and militant for human rights, you have received literary prizes in numerous countries, yet, in your country, not only have you not been esteemed but have been vilified at every opportunity. As if that were not enough, you were sentenced to perpetuity, exiled. Of course, all this opened wounds in you. Can you speak to us about this?
I’m over fifty, and I’m only understanding now that the hatred against women on our lands has oriented my destiny also. Where should I begin?
Over time, contempt, ignorance transform into exclusion and humilation and, finally reach the stage of lynching and annihilation. Psychological and economic violence, violence in practice under legal wrapping, lynching campaigns…I was first declared an immoral, lying, neurotic women, then schizophrenic, terrorist, traitor to my homeland. I have been on trial for four years, my books have been considered as non-existent for thirty years. The City in Crimson Cloak has been translated into fifteen languages. In international literature, there are hundreds of articles on this book. With it, in France, I was elected among the fifty writers who will live on in posterity, I was compared to Kafka and to Artaud. When a male writer is compared to Kafka, even the deafest of the deaf hear it. How many articles have you read in Turkey about The City in Crimson Cloak?
Especially after my columns in Radikal and my firing, doors were slammed shut in my face, I was surrounded by a deadly silence. One book about me, announced with howls, filled with disparaging comments on me as a woman, made the headlines, I was thrown out to the masses for a collective rape. I remember how, except for women writers, our intelligentsia has become the guardian of masculinity. In those days, I was invited to a literary initiative in Izmir. I was told there were no more rooms in the hotels. I could take shelter in Basmane1. As I did not know Basmane, I had to overlook this insult, and I spent a memorable night. At this same period, I was listed in Norway in the MARG series, made up of twenty authors such as W.G. Sebald, H. Cixous. We have an intelligentsia that does not read its contemporary peers, who blocks on one sentence and grabs a pen, who loves power too much. And besides, what can this woman have written?
I have always walked alone, on my own path. I never entered a community, a clique. I kept my distances from power relationships which I find feudal. I had nothing to lean against, I was not under a man’s patronage. It was easy for them to devour me, but, I think I weighed on their stomach.
“The Istanbul Convention is a blockage stuck in their gullet”
You follow the news in Turkey very closely. What do you think of the current situation? What do you think of the State’s attitude concerning the Istanbul Convention, of the attacks and oppressions targeting women’s organizations and militants?
We are in a period when State violence knows no limits. Persecution and tyranny practiced under legal cover spreads from strata to strata in society and the number of victims increases. The Istanbul Convention is a blockage stuck in their gullet for the mentality that declares that woman and man cannot be equal… They gnash their teeth at women, women, women who resist in an organized fashion… If truth be told, behind these macho words lies a deep fear of women. Turkey is the country who imprisons the most women on political grounds. I find the reaction from KADEM significant2. Woman must not be “a wolf to woman”, but her future.
The period you spent in prison was a turning point for you in your life. Recently, you announced you were thinking of making it into a book. Have you done so?
I am fighting against a pitiless disease, in the past year, I was only able to focus on staying alive. I am in exile, far from my writing table, my library, it is as if my arms had been lopped off… The worst part is being torn away from my tongue, which is my only country…Writing about the prison is my debt both to Aslı the author but also toward Aslı the prisoner whom I left behind bars and who still awaits silently inside the walls…And most of all, my debt toward all the prisoners… Do I have the strength for it? Do I still have the strength to enter The Stone Building once more, for an eternal time, I don’t know.
Recently, The Stone Building was published by Aryen in a Kurdish version. How did the idea for a Kurdish translation come about?
For years, I had wished for this. Different translators attempted on different books, but this did not come to fruition. A storm crashed down on everyone, political oppression, economic crisis, pandemic… I had ceased hoping. The Stone Building became acquainted with prison, its translator has been imprisonned for a long time…
Your translator Erd. Agron is also an imprisoned poet. How did you meet? Is this the first of your books translated in Kurdish?
It is the first. Erd. Agron and I have never met, and as long as conditions don’t change, we cannot meet face to face, unfortunately. But he is one of those who knows my language best. While I, unfortunately, have not been able to read his poems yet. This meeting came about thanks to our publisher.
You have donated the revenues on this book to the publishing house for the publication of works in Kurdish…
The prohibitions against Kurdish, the ongoing oppressions, render us all responsible for this language. Existing through their tongue, in their own story, is a right for the Kurds, just as it is for everyone else…
I think there exists a very powerful underground literature in Turkey, a prison literature. In 2007, in type F prisons, we could hold literature workshops. Whereas now, they tear even their books out of prisoner’s hands. During the time when I was incarcerated, books in prisoner’s possesion were limited to ten, it is now down to five. Libraries that cell block prisoners protected like the apple of their eye are confiscated. If those inside still go on writing, despite these conditions, we on the outside must do all we can so the books reach their readers.
I take this opportunity to send greetings to those in prison, my cell block friends. Nibel Genç was a block friend. I read her interview in your publication, it warmed my heart. I’m impatient to read her book. My feelings tell me that it is an extraordinary book.
The Stone Building is a very different book, by its expression and its technique. For our readers, can you say a bit more about this work which is the result of very pointed approach?
The Stone Building treats the topics of confinement and destructuring, a metaphore for traumas from which we cannot escape. But, in truth, it is also a metaphore for memory, the ego3, and, at some point, of history… A memory that fills with flood water, mud, a story that is not allowed to exist in any of its characters, including its narrator, its author. An ego that explodes constantly under the traumas: that dies, and that remains alive, that betrays itself, and that is betrayed…A terrifying burst of laughter, a cry in the desert… An angel fallen among humans and a madness bearing the same scar as he does…
In this book, I used a narrative technique I had never used before. The I‑narrator is like an empty shell through which the voices stream…The characters in the book, which is to say the voices, are like members of a chorus who, although they sing the same melody, do not hear one another. I composed this book with sotries without beginnings or endings, cyclical, and even in shreds woven like a canvas, with principles of harmony and counterpoints, as in chamber music…I kept clear of classical narrative techniques, of characters who, as the web is created, their limits become defined, thicken. This is a torture for the reader, I think. The fact that themes with heavy emotional weight such as treason, madness, break-ups be treated in a poetical language…I draw the reader into an emotional vortex, into a void in fact, and deny him or her a liberation a tragedy might offer, and even a catharsis. I remind them that, in the stone building, they will pay a price for every thing seen and dreamt.
“Wounds are silent but terrifying”
Aslı Erdoğan, in what state of mind did you write these texts, so grave and literary, how did you manage to face up to so much suffering?
There is a real loss in my life also and I think the readers also feel that loss. There are some truths I never talked about, I never could talk about…
In Istanbul, in the years 92–93, I lived with African migrants. This was not due to a political stance or from curiosity. I simply fell in love. I joined them, I learned to speak Bambara. I then encountered a violence I could not imagine before that day. The violence and the racism exerted on those at the bottom, those who have no papers. Thirty years later, I understand now that in that year of 1993, I lived the greatest love of my life, which I lost. You could see this book as a lament sung too late for a person, lost 22 years earlier. In writing this book, I found, not that person, but his absence and I’m astonished that the wounds can still be so deep and silent. I would like to end with an except from the book: “Wounds are often silent, but when they speak their voice is terrifying”…
Photographie : Carole Parodi