Elif Shafak: novelist calls writers to speak up on crackdown in Turkey

Author speaks out as the regime’s prosecutors ask to examine her novels

A leading Turkish novelist Elif Shafak on Saturday urged the international community to show support for the country’s authors, journalists and academics, and warned that all traces of democracy were being crushed there.

“Turkey today is the world’s leading jailer of journalists,” she told the Hay Festival. “It’s also very tough for academics. Thousands of people have lost their jobs just for signing a peace petition.”

The author’s call comes in the wake of a wave of persecutions and public abuse of writers. Shafak is the most high-profile voice to speak out over the crackdown, which last week saw the writer Abdullah Şevki detained, along with his publisher Alaattin Topçu, over a scene in one of his novels, published in 2013, in which a paedophile describes the sexual abuse of a child.

The Turkish Bar Association, which filed one of many legal complaints against Şevki and Topçu this week, has publicly demanded that the pair be charged with child abuse and inciting criminal acts.

On Friday, Shafak herself revealed that a Turkish prosecutor had asked to examine her novels, particularly The Gaze, from 1999, and 2016’s Three Daughters of Eve. She said she had received thousands of abusive messages last week about passages in several of her novels. Other targeted authors include Ayşe Kulin, who has been subject to widespread abuse online for scenes in a 2008 novel.

Shafak was tried and acquitted for “insulting Turkishness” in 2006 when one of the characters in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul referred to the massacre of Armenians in the first world war as genocide.

After speaking at the festival, Shafak told the Observer that Turkey was continuing to struggle with an endemic domestic violence problem and Europe’s highest rate of child marriages.

“The number of cases of domestic violence increased by 1,400%. In the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report, Turkey ranks 130 of 149 countries. Only around 15% of child and adult sexual abuse cases are reported. The number of child brides is alarming,” she said. “We need to talk about our problems rather than pretending they do not exist. The art of storytelling should dare to talk about difficult subjects.

“In all my novels I have tried to give voice to the voiceless. I have written about outcasts, minorities, the displaced and exiled … I wanted to make their stories heard. So I really find it tragic that instead of changing the laws, building shelters for abused women and children, improving the conditions for the victims, they are attacking fiction writers. That is very sad.”

With the release of her latest novel, 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World, which follows the final moments of a murdered sex worker, Shafak said she was dealing with “thousands of bots and trolls”.

“In their tweets they tag in the ministry of justice or the prosecutors, saying, ‘she wrote an offensive novel, why don’t you put her on trial?’ There is a lot of that going on,” she said.

Turkey was “going backwards at a bewildering speed, all traces of democracy have been crushed”, she added.

“Turkey’s leading professors, whom we should all be proud of, such as Zübeyde Füsun Üstel and Ayşe Gül Altınay, have been sentenced to prison. Osman Kavala, an amazing philanthropist and human rights defender, is in prison.

“Others have had their passports confiscated or their jobs terminated. There are many people in Turkey who have been mistreated and it is important for us to show solidarity with them across all borders.”


Sian Cain

The GuardianTramp

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