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Asli Erdogan: Endless Persecution

Asli Erdogan is one of Turkey's most important writers. Her present international renown is due no doubt to her talent, but also to the persecution she has suffered over the last three and a half years. In August 2016, a few weeks after the attempted coup d’état, Asli Erdogan was arrested and jailed for her collaboration with the daily newspaper, Özgür Günden, which is noted for supporting Kurdish claims. After four months of detention, she was freed, but placed under judicial supervision. In September 2017, her passport having been returned to her, she left her country and was given asylum in Germany, where she has lived ever since. Nevertheless, the Turkish government and judicial system haven’t left her in peace, and her trial, from one hearing to another, is still ongoing.

On January 13th of this year, Asli Erdogan learned that the next hearing was moved up to February 14th. What’s the reason for this acceleration? The change in prosecutor charged with the pretrial investigation of her case — is this the cause? This time, the prison sentence demanded is from two to nine years, the charge: publication of four articles considered as propaganda texts. One of those articles was published in the collection, Le Silence même n’est plus à toi, Actes Sud 2017 (“Even silence is no longer yours”) and is entitled “Journal du fascisme : aujourd’hui” (Journal of Fascism: Today). The other three texts haven’t as yet been translated into French.

At present, Asli Erdogan is very weak from health problems and the repeated attacks directed against her by the Turkish government. A media and Twitter campaign was launched against her last October. In all probability, a short time ago in Geneva, a “claque” in the audience was paid to hiss at a performance inspired by her book, Le Mandarin miraculeux.

As for the change of prosecutor in her trial investigation, this constitutes a major concern for her — a reversal of the situation which would confirm persecution of her. Pretending to forget her, Turkish justice regularly returns to attack her, thereby proving its obsession to pursue Turkish intellectuals (journalists, writers, and human rights militants) having shown evidence of solidarity with the Kurds.

On January 28th, Asli Erdogan circulated the following letter. She asks us to support her — it’s our duty!

You can also read the famous “incriminatory” text, “Journal du fascisme : aujourd’hui.

Letter dated January 28, 2020

“Dear friends, dear colleagues,

As you may remember, I was arrested on August 16, 2016, at the same time as the two editors-in-chiefs, on the pretext that I was a member of the symbolic advisory committee of Özgür Gündem, a completely legal pro-Kurd newspaper. Although we numbered six on the consulting committee, only Necmiye Alpay, a linguist and literary critic, was arrested two weeks later. The charges against me were “violation of State unity” (which carries a strict sentence of life imprisonment) and “propaganda and affiliation with a terrorist organization” (with up to 15 years of incarceration). At the end of four and a half months, I was liberated, but the matter still continues.

It had been allowed to drag on for three years, with the prosecutor continually rescheduling the trial. Last month, a new prosecutor made a sudden decision. He requested that the editors-in-chief, as well as Eren Keskin, President of the Association of Human Rights and former editor-in-chief, be sentenced for having been members of the PKK (up to 15 years of imprisonment). He also asked that I be given a prison term of two to nine years for the four articles I wrote, saying that it was a matter of propaganda.

What is the most absurd is that these articles were published in 2016 and at that time they provoked neither a trial nor even an investigation. In fact none of my articles ever brought on a trial. One of them is an interior monologue, a text in prose entitled, “Journal du fascisme : aujourd’hui” (Journal of Fascism : Today). There is hardly anything of a political nature in this texte, it is entirely abstract and makes no reference to a place or epoch. It is a literary description of the interior destruction of an individual under an authoritarian regime, just as the heavy weight that is involved in being a witness. In fact, this article was included in Le silence même n’est plus à toi, published by several notable publishing houses, including Actes Sud, Penguin Knaus, Gyldendal, and Ramus. The book has been rewarded with numerous literary prizes.

Now the editors of more than a dozen publishing houses, as well as several members of literary juries, are indirectly held responsible for terrorist propaganda. The prosecutor maintains that I made remarks about some “assassinated civilians,” while no “civilian” has ever been assassinated, and so I was trying to represent some assassinated members of the PKK as “civilians,” in consequence of which I am spreading propaganda, etc. I am certain that these editors don’t even now for what organization they are supposed to be spreading propaganda!

But the attack against my literary work doesn’t stop there. One of the articles which figures in my file is entitled, “The cruellest month: April” in reference to T.S. Eliot. It describes the death of a stray dog in the city entirely in ruins. Strangely, none of the articles where I describe how some civilians were actually massacred appears in the file.

The trial will be held very soon, without enough time to organize any true solidarity or strong reaction: February 14th, Saint Valentine’s Day.

I urgently appeal to you to protest against this grave attack on freedom of opinion, expression and even more… Turkey has launched a total war against human rights, literature and still worse, against CONSCIENCE, by its insistence in pursuing me.


Asli Erdogan

Text translated to English by Sally Gordon-Mark, from the Turkish-to-French translation of Cécile Oumhani, member of the French PEN CLUB and the Parlement des Écrivaines Francophones

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