June 5, 2013

Turkish publishing houses unite in Gezi Park to distribute books


Taksim Gezi Park now has a public library, thanks to protesters and the support of a number of publishing houses. (Hurriyet Daily News)

To an outsider, the current unrest in Turkey, which began as a protest against the decimation of Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s last public green spaces, seems to have many echoes of America’s own Occupy movement.

The act of reclaiming public space as a means of protest is shared, as is the use of such space for a free, donated public library, open to everyone.

Occupy’s own The People’s Library, made up of donated novels, text books and more, was a key feature of Liberty Plaza in New York, but was destroyed by the police in late 2011.

According to the Turkish English language newspaper, Hurriyet Daily News, a local publisher, Sel Publishing House, is calling on other publishers to donate books to a library being created in Gezi Park. Thus far, more than 15 houses have contributed.

“One of the major acts of resistance for protesters occupying Taksim Gezi Park has been to pick up a good book and read it – preferably in front of a police officer…Sel Publishing House on June 4 called on other publishing houses to step up the organization of the book aid by creating a makeshift library in the park, asking all publishers to send books and support the movement with some good literature.”

More pictures of the new library appear here.

Sel Publishing House was in the news last year when they were charged with obscenity in a Turkish court for publishing the work of William Burroughs and Chuck Palahniuk.  The case was seen as emblematic of the growing conservatism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, and their surpression of the media. The results of the case are not expected until 2015, leaving the publisher and the works’ translators in limbo. Sara Whyatt of Pen wrote at the time,

“Although the Sel Publishing House which had published Burroughs, has had around seven similar obscenity cases brought against them in recent years—among them books by European authors including Apollinaire—all the cases had ended with acquittal. The law, as it stood then, exempted books seen as “literature” from obscenity charges…But no, instead the judge told the court that new laws had been passed under a legislative reform package…he was required to postpone the case for three years. Apparently the reforms demand that any media offenses that are currently in process should be postponed so that they can be reconsidered under the new laws, which will undergo further reforms in the coming three years.”

After the destruction of Occupy’s own donated library, New York City settled for more than $200,000, having being accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Hopefully Gezi Park’s new public library will not suffer the same fate. As Sel Publishing said to the Hurriyet Daily News,”Books are one of the essentials of the resistance.”


Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.