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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…

Aslı Erdoğan kurde

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

Note: This English translation by Renée Lucie Bourges follows the French translation by Naz Öke done with Aslı Erdoğan’s approval, and will be reviewed by Kedistan for accuracy.
*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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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.