The Bastard of Istanbul
Region: Middle East
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Print Journalism Literature
Artist: Elif Shafak (b. 1971) and other writers and journalists in Turkey
Confronting Bodies: Turkish government and "Unity of Jurists" right wing lawyers
Date of Action: June 2006
Description of Artwork: Shafak’s novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, tells the story of a family in Istanbul and an Armenian family living in San Francisco. The controversy arose because one of the novel’s characters refers to the World War I deaths of Armenians as genocide.
The Incident: Shafak, her publisher, Semi Sokmen and her translator were charged with “Insulting Turkishness” because of the content of Shafak’s novel. However, on June 7, 2006, the Beyoglu Public Prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charges because Shafak’s novel is fictional. However, a member of the right wing legal group, “Unity of Jurists” disagreed with the dismissal and filed a complaint. Because of the complaint, the 7th High Criminal Court decided to reinstate the charges and to go on with the trial.
Other Turkish writers face similar charges of “insulting Turkishness.” This charge comes from Article 301/1 of the Turkish Penal Code stating “A person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic of Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years.” At least fifteen journalists, editors and publishers will go or have gone to trial based on this section of the Turkish Penal Code. One writer, Orhan Pamuk, was charged with “insulting Turkishness” after he stated in an interview that” thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it.” Others include Fatih Tas the publisher of a Noam Chomsky book, five journalists who criticized a 2005 conference on the Armenian genocide and Abdullah Yilmaz the editor in chief of the publisher of the Turkish edition of Mara Meimaridi’s novel, "The Witches of Smyrna."
Results of Incident: These actions are negatively affecting Turkey’s application to join the European Union. The "Unity of Jurists," supporters of the “insulting Turkishness” proceedings, do not want Turkey to join the European Union and thus continue encouraging the proceedings to disturb the application process.
The trials for those charged with “insulting Turkishness” are often hostile and dangerous environments. At Orhan Pamuk’s trial, supporters of the Prosecution threatened and spit on the defendants outside the courthouse. The defendants needed to be escorted out of the courthouse by the police because of the crowd’s violent behavior. A witness to the situation described it as “attempted lynching.”
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code increases the probability that writers and journalists will face prosecution and that those convicted will face imprisonment. The current situation for writers and journalists is worse than it was in the 1990s when many writers faced imprisonment because of their work. Turkey reforemd its Penal Code after receiving criticism from Europe in conjunction with their application to the European Union.
Source: Pen American Center, www.pen.org