November 6, 2017
Aslı Erdoğan has been freed by Turkey, which remains a terrible country for writers
by Grace Larkin
The government of Turkey has lifted a travel ban imposed on novelist, journalist, and human rights activist Aslı Erdoğan. We’ve covered Erdoğan (no relation Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) since 2016’s failed coup. The author was initially arrested in an August 2016 raid on Özgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish opposition daily where she wrote a column on topics that included state violence, torture, and human rights violations. (The paper has been shuttered since.)
Erdoğan has written eight books, some of them translated into multiple languages. Her novel The Stone Building and Other Places, is forthcoming from City Lights this month, in a translation by Sevinç Türkkan.
Erdoğan spent four months in prison, drawing global attention to the Turkish government’s extreme crackdown on speech in the wake of the coup. After her release last December, her passport was taken and a travel ban issued on terrorism charges. Even with the ban lifted, Erdoğan told PRI’s Fariba Nawa that charges against her still stand, despite what she calls a lack of evidence connecting her to any violence or terrorist activities.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. Over 160 independent newspapers, publishers, and media outlets have been shut down, and Turkish diplomats have even pressed for criminal action against those who oppose them in other countries. It’s not only speech that’s being suppressed — this summer, Turkish Amnesty International director and chair İdil Eser and Taner Kılıç were among activists jailed on baseless charges.
In a recent Reuters interview, Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk was asked whether Turkey is “becoming too Westernized.” He responded, “The lack of free speech is so grave that we definitely need to be more friendly with the West and Europe. I am not worried about too much Westernization, especially in these days when government is trying to push us away from Western values.”
President Erdoğan recently commented on the arrest of cultural activist Osman Kavala, saying “We will stand up against those who try to shoot this nation from inside.” Kavala, a well-known critic of the president, was detained last month at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport.
In better news, Spain’s Ministry of Justice has announced that that country will not extradite German-Turkish author Dogan Akhanli to face charges in his Turkey, after direct involvement by the German government.
Lastly, just a friendly reminder, folks: Reading dissident literature is the most enjoyable act of resistance. If I can make a few recommendations: Prison Poems by Mahvash Sabet, who just concluded a ten-year prison sentence in Iran; Women Who Blow on Knots by Turkey’s Ece Temelkuran; and certainly The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz, who has noted that “fiction gave [her] a very wide space to say” what she had to.
Grace Larkin is an intern at Melville House.