- Nov 22, 2003
- Reaction score
Imagine what would happen if Chavez called their President 'satan'? :shocked:
Novelist to go on trial for insulting Turkey
Nick Birch in Istanbul
Wednesday September 20, 2006
Elif Shafak faces trial for 'belittling Turkishness'.
A prize-winning novelist goes on trial tomorrow accused of belittling Turkishness in the latest and strangest of a string of cases spotlighting the country's stuttering reform process.
Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul has been at the top of Turkish bestseller lists since its publication in March, winning critical praise for its portrait of the friendship between two girls, an Armenian-American and a Turk.
But its treatment of the mass murder of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 has attracted the attention of Kemal Kerincsiz, the nationalist lawyer behind last December's trial of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's best-known author.
In Shafak's case, he has surpassed himself, hauling her to court for comments made by characters in her novel. Sitting in his cramped Istanbul office, Mr Kerincsiz does not take long to find one of the offending passages.
"I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives at the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915," he reads, quoting Dikran Stamboulian, a minor Armenian character. "There's plenty more where this came from," he says.
The prospect of being tried for the figments of her imagination strikes Shafak as grotesque. She has, though, no doubts about the seriousness of her situation. She could face three years in jail.
"My accusers will do everything they can to keep this case going," she says. "It's going to be long and tedious."
Shafak gave birth to her first child on Saturday and is undecided whether to attend the hearing. "I gave birth by caesarean and the doctors don't even want me to go outside," she says. "But I don't see this trial as against me personally. The writer in me says 'go', the mother 'don't'."
Few have forgotten the scenes during Pamuk's trial, when nationalists smashed the novelist's car windscreen and attacked foreign observers. They believe a similar welcome is planned for Shafak. For weeks, a website belonging to Mr Kerincsiz's nationalist group has called for protests over this "newly chosen princess of capitulationist intellectuals".
"I oppose all violence," Mr Kerincsiz says, "but if you call somebody's grandfather a butcher, there is no telling what reactions will be."
Newspaper editor Ismet Berkan, another victim of the lawyer's attentions, said violence could ensue. "Let's hope the police are prepared."
Shafak's supporters called today on the Istanbul prosecutor to start an investigation into Mr Kerincsiz for incitation to violence.
If the language of mutual recrimination is so violent, it is in part because the trial is symbolic of a deep rift over Turkey's soul.
For nationalists such as Mr Kerincsiz, the clash of civilisations is real, and Turkey, a Muslim country, belongs with the east. What the European Union is trying to do, he claims, is "strip away our Muslim and Turkish identity". Those such as Shafak who support a more open Turkey, he adds, are "world citizens, half-Turks".
Meant as a reference to Shafak's European childhood and long-term residence in the United States, Mr Kerincsiz's insult is apposite.
"My ideal is cosmopolitanism, refusing to belong to either side in this polarised world," Shafak says. "Too many people see the world in black and white, us and them. That's wrong. Ambiguity, synthesis: these are the things that compose Turkish society, and that is not something to be ashamed of."
It remains to be seen which side will win the Turkish version of this worldwide debate.
Mr Kerincsiz's claim to represent the voice of the people is not being taken seriously - even the country's ultra-nationalist political party has been put off by the violent antics of his supporters. But nationalism is on the increase in Turkey, bolstered in part by the sense that Brussels is playing with the country over accession.
Formerly at the forefront of the reforms that gained Turkey EU candidate membership last year, the government, too, is infected by the new scepticism.
Pressured by Brussels and Turkish liberals to get rid of the penal code article Shafak is being tried under, government spokesman and justice minister Cemil Cicek responded contemptuously. "Are we going to change laws just because Europe wants us to? Changing laws isn't like changing your tie."
For Umut Ozkirimli, an expert on Turkish nationalism, these are worrying words.
"Turkey's been changing rapidly over the past five years, but it hasn't yet reached the point of no return," he says. "These are critical times."