Women Turkish writers stand proud in Frankfurt

“Of course Turkish women are stronger than men,” says Perihan Magden with a laugh. Like her, many Turkish women writers provoke the wrath of officials with uncompromising works.

Women Turkish writers stand proud in Frankfurt
Elif Shafak's image attacked outside court Photo:DPA

“I’m the national bitch anyway in Turkey. I think they just want me to shut up,” she told AFP at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

But silence obviously does not sit well with the small woman in her late forties, who was dressed simply in black and had tied her hair up in a quick knot.

Asked about freedom of expression, persecution of Armenians and the situation of the Kurdish minority, she launches into animated discourse.

She quickly forgets to speak about her book Two Girls which describes the tumultuous love affairs of two Turkish adolescents and has been translated into German.

In Turkey, Magden is as well known for her novels as for her commentary in leftist media.

In late 2005, she took up the defence of an imprisoned conscientious objector and was taken to court by the army as a result.

Booed by the public during her trial, she was nonetheless acquitted, though several legal procedures are still ongoing.

Magden says she now suffers chronic harassment.

The former communist militant, “I would even say I was Soviet,” would like to send her daughter to study in the United States “because in Turkey it can be very claustrophobic.”

While Magden has been attacked for her views on military service, novelist Elif Shafak drew unwanted attention for comments made by figures in her books on what Armenians charge is genocide by the Ottoman Empire, a highly disputed subject in Turkey.

Armenia has campaigned for the recognition of the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide.

Turkey rejects the genocide label and argues that although between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians died when they took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops, at least as many Turks also died in what the establishment describes as civil strife.

Shafak was prosecuted under Turkish law that prohibits “defamation“” of the state, but was cleared of the charges.

The academic who was born in France now wants to move onto other topics.

“I am too often assimilated,” with the issue, she said in an interview last week with the magazine Stern.

Shafak remains a staunch feminist. “We don’t say enough about the history of women. History is always written by men. Religion was written by men,” she said.

Another Turkish writer, Fethiye Cetin also takes aim at taboos, raising a fuss in the process.

In her novel My Grandmother’s Book, a best seller in Turkey according to the publisher, the human rights activist searches for Armenian and Christian roots that had long been hidden from her by her own family.

Cetin, also a lawyer who represents the family of Hrant Kink, a journalist of Armenian origin killed last year, tells the story of how her grandmother escaped the early 20th century slaughter.

Invited to the stand sponsored by Germany’s Green party, she insisted, “You cannot bury the past. It always rises back to the surface.”