Maureen Freely, Orhan Pamuk’s translator, considers Turkey’s prosecution of writer Elif Shafak, and takes a look at the law that criminalizes references to the mass killing of Armenians.
In February 2005, when Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous novelist, said in passing to a Swiss journalist that “a million Armenians had been killed in these lands, and I am the only one who talks about it,” he was branded a traitor and prosecuted for “denigrating Turkishness.” Shafak must have known that she was risking the same, as she has frequently challenged Turkey’s treatment of its minorities. In September, she spoke at a conference at Bilgi University in Istanbul — the first Turkish conference ever to challenge the official line on the Ottoman Armenians — and though she went on to state her own position clearly and unequivocally in several newspapers, the censors left her alone. But early last month, Shafak learned that she was to be prosecuted for, among other things, allowing a character of partly Armenian heritage in “The Bastard of Istanbul” to utter the forbidden G-word. Her trial is scheduled for Sept. 21.
In a panel discussion at UCLA last November, Shafak argued that her country is guilty not only of “an ethnic cleansing, but also a linguistic cleansing.”