06 07 13 - Tucson Region .....
|Jean Eckian - www.inhomage.com
Turks charge UA professor over her novel By Stephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Tucson, Arizona|Published: 07.13.2006 advertisement An assistant professor in the University of Arizona's department of Near Eastern studies is facing criminal charges in Turkey for"insulting Turkishness" in a novel she wrote.
The charges against Elif Shafak, filed under the Turkish Criminal Code, stem from her recently released book "The Bastard of Istanbul," in which a character refers to the killing of Armenians in World War I as genocide, according to The New Anatolian, an English-language newspaper in Turkey.
Shafak, a well-known and celebrated author in Turkey, wrote "The Bastard of Istanbul" while she was in Tucson. She's taught at UA for two years but is living in Turkey on a one-year leave.
"For any author to suffer through this is just terrible and she is pregnant right now, so I am very concerned about her well-being," said Anne H. Betteridge, director of the UA's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. "It seems there is just a serious program of intimidation under way by right-wing forces in Turkey."
Shafak's UA colleagues are looking at how they can support her defense, Betteridge said.
The New Anatolian says the challenged sentences in Shafak's book are:
"I am the grandchild of a family whose children were slaughtered by the Turkish butchers," and "I was brought up having to deny my roots and say that genocide did not exist."
The issue has been contentious in Turkey. Many people say up to 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey perished between 1915 and 1923 in what they call a "forgotten genocide."
Turkey has denied its former leaders tried to wipe out the Armenians.
Leaders say only that many died of starvation, disease and exposure on forced marches to Syria in retaliation against the Christian minority for reportedly collaborating with Russia during World War I.
Shafak, 35, is a Turkish citizen whose mother was a Turkish diplomat.
Shafak grew up in France and Spain and now is a celebrated author and somewhat of a media star in her country — the press there even wrote about her marriage.
Now, she faces up to three years in prison. Her colleagues say the prosecution is nerve-racking and expensive.
Andrew Wedel, an assistant professor of linguistics at the UA who has been to Turkey, hopes the charges will be dropped, citing the recent dismissal of charges against Orhan Pamuk, another famous Turkish novelist. In 2005, lawyers for two Turkish professional associations brought criminal charges against Pamuk after he made a statement about Armenian genocide and the massacre of Kurds in Anatolia.
Wedel noted that Shafak's prosecution also could be a blow to the country's bid for inclusion in the European Union, though he said that's precisely what nationalist forces in the country would like to
"Of course it is ridiculous. Half of Turkey is deeply embarrassed," Wedel said. "Elif is trying very hard to open up Turkey to be more modern in its ability to think about itself and move forward culturally and historically. It's sort of a cultural watershed moment in Turkey right now."
Wedel helped copy-edit "The Bastard of Istanbul," which he says is about a young Armenian girl living in the United States who discovers that her real father is Turkish and half her family lives in Istanbul.
The girl then runs away to visit them.
According to the Writers in Prison Committee at International PEN, a worldwide writers group, Shafak's publisher, Semi Sökmen, of the Metis Publishing House, and translator, Asli Bican, also face charges.
A news release from PEN says the public prosecutor in Istanbul dismissed initial proceedings against Shafak after hearing her and Sökmen's argument that the book was a work of literature and therefore not appropriate for prosecution. They added that the book aimed to promote the culture of peace.
But in early July, Istanbul's Seventh High Criminal Court overruled the decision not to proceed, following a complaint filed by a member of a group of right-wing lawyers known as the "Unity of Jurists," who have been active in the prosecutions of numerous writers and journalists in recent months. The trial date has not been set.
Shafak holds a master's degree in gender and women studies and earned a doctorate from the department of political science at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.
She first came to the United States in 2002 as a fellow of the Five Colleges Women's Studies Research Center. Before joining the faculty at the UA, she was a scholar at the University of Michigan, where the
courses she taught included "Women Writing on Women: East-West Encounters" and "The Queer in the Middle East."