The 10th of December was World Human Rights Day. The same night, Istanbul was once again shaken by a terrorist attack. Only two days had passed when, on the 12th of December, a solidarity event for Turkish writer Aslı Erdoğan took place at the Maison de la Poésie in Paris. A black and white photograph had been projected on the wall. 8 people were sitting on the stage, 4 of them French, 4 of them Turkish. 4 women, 4 men. Among them was Aslı Erdoğan’s mother Mine Aydostlu, the publishing house director of Actes Sud, Françoise Nyssen, and the writer’s editor Timour Muhidine, the publishing house director of Galaade, Emmanuelle Collas, and her agent Pierre Astier, the writer and translator Yiğit Bener and the comedian Selin Altıparmak. The journalist Christian Tortel was moderating throughout the evening.
At 20 p.m. there is no seat left in the room. And against all our expectations, the majority of the audience is not Turkish but French. Outside, it is cold and raining. But all these people showed up nevertheless, to prove their solidarity with a Turkish writer who has been in prison for the last four months.
We hear Aslı Erdoğan’s voice in different variations this evening. A letter she wrote at the beginning of December explicitly for this event is read out loud tonight. It says: “More than 150 journalists are in prison in my country. I am one of them. Actually I am only a writer. What I do is writing, nothing else. In my texts I try to combine literature with journalism. We owe the idea of freedom, equality and brotherhood to France. Putting these universal ideas from theory into practice is a must. Democracy is going through a big crisis in Turkey. We don’t have the right to ignore what is going on, especially not we writers, journalists, academics, because we owe our very existence to the freedom of expression itself.”
Maybe Aslı Erdoğan’s voice touched our hearts most during the moments her mother spoke. She told us about her daughter’s health problems and the difficult conditions she had to suffer from in prison. However, she also stressed that all signs of solidarity shown all over the world are reported to her daughter. “As you know”, Mine Aydostlu continues, “Aslı is only writing. I don’t see how her pen could do any harm to anyone. I wish all writers and journalists who are in prison that they will be free in no time. In Turkey, the freedom of expression needs to be freed as well. Where there is no freedom of expression, there can be no democracy. I think brighter days are waiting for us in the near future”.
Writer and translator Yiğit Bener points out why Aslı Erdoğan despite all accusations could never have been a terrorist: “To understand that Aslı is not a terrorist one only needs to read her books. She has been the voice of all those who are suffering on this planet. Death, torture, every form of destruction has always drawn her attention. The fact that Kurdish cities have been wiped out and so many people have lost their lives has marked her writing. How could someone like her be a terrorist? To be a terrorist, you need to be ready to kill in order to follow your political goals. Aslı does exactly the contrary.”
The two female directors of the French publishing houses Actes Sud and Galaade told the audience why they believed in Aslı Erdoğan as a writer. It is her altruistic way of defending everybody who is weak, be it a transsexual, Kurd or any other suffering human being. These two women, together with their editors, translators and the whole team of their respective publishing houses make this idealist writer heard. They stress that a publishing house is a place of freedom: “In our country, we have democratic rights and we wish to use them in order to help all those whose voices are censored. We have the chance to be editors who can publish writers like Aslı Erdoğan. Aslı is not alone. We are all with her.” Timour Muhidine adds that in Turkey there is another form of solidarity: “Since August, all bookshops have Aslı Erdoğan’s books on their shelves and they are bought by avid readers. This is also a sign of solidarity.”
In two weeks’ time, Aslı Erdoğan’s book Artık Sessizlik Bile Senin Değil will be published in France. Sophie Bourel and Selin Altıparmak read some paragraphs from it in French and Turkish. We were taken back to the 15th of July, the night of the Coup d’Etat that left behind an atmosphere of angst. Not only texts of Aslı Erdoğan, but also of other Turkish writers like Murathan Mungan or Murat Özyaşar in the French translation drew a realistic picture of today’s Turkey in the course of this solidarity event. Broken sentences mirror many broken hearts and crushed hopes. Nevertheless these writers don’t give up. The struggle for human rights continues with words.
Timour Muhidine points towards the black and white photograph of Aslı Erdoğan: “I still can’t believe that this face is locked up in a prison cell” he says. Yiğit Bener adds that one should not read Aslı Erdoğan just because she is in prison, but because she is an extraordinary writer.
Aslı Erdoğan will be in court on the 29th of December. We all hope that at the end of her trial, Mine Aydostlu will be allowed to take her daughter into her arms and back home. On an international level, we should try to do anything humanly possible to make this happen.
Paris, 13/12/2016 © Mine Krause