Asli Erdogan for the first Tempo di Libri preview

17 January 2017

There is now a huge stain on my life and the only way to deal with it is by writing”, says Asli Erdogan during the first public event held since she came out of prison, where she had been held since last August, benefitting from the regime of provisional freedom in force since 29 December.

The words of the Turkish writer resounded with the same strength as her writing in the crowded Sala Piccola in the Milanese Teatro Dal Verme during the first meeting, dedicated to D for dissident, in the series of Tempo di Libri previews, which will be held as the opening date approaches of the new Italian Publishing Fair (scheduled to be held at Milan Rho Fair from 19 to 23 April 2017). Asli Erdogan spoke to the journalist Lirio Abbate and Lea Nocera, the researcher and expert on Turkey, moderated by Marino Sinibaldi, director of Rai Radio3. The evening of reflection on the contexts and regimes that deny freedom of thought and of the press was introduced by Chiara Valerio, curator of the general program of Tempo di Libri, and by Filippo Del Corno, Councillor for Culture of the Municipality of Milan.

When words are emptied of their meaning, freedom starts to die: “We are living in a time where we must ask ourselves the true meaning of the words crime, right, fault, conviction, freedom and innocence, all words which in Turkey have become the subject of discussion”. International support has been a crucial factor in the temporary restitution of freedom to the writer, who emphasises: “In this sense I am aware of an enormous role of responsibility with regard to all those who are still unjustly incarcerated and do not have a voice.”

The situation of Asli Erdogan takes us back to the pages of her book Miraculous Mandarin written in Geneva, where she worked as a young woman as a physicist at Cern: “About migrating, there’s only one positive aspect: I know no other experience which teaches us about life so well.” And she adds: “I learned to give new value to life, inside the cell I shared with other women and the relationship which was created was important. I will start writing again from here, beginning from the stories of the people I met there.” The next hearing of the trial will be held on 14 March but Erdogan does not believe this will be the end: in fact the charge of terrorist propaganda remains.

The preview of Tempo di Libri also hosted the Turkish sociologist and writer Pinar Selek. A scholar of the Kurdish question, she was arrested and tortured in 1998 in Istanbul with the charge of complicity with the PKK. She kept and protected the secrecy of her sources, and was informed in prison of the charge of a terrorist attack which in actual fact never took place. In spite of three acquittals, the trial was never closed and Selek has been forced to live in exile since 2009.

In Italy Fandango published La maschera della verità, dedicated to the denied memory of the Armenian genocide. “They want to punish the intellectuals who are engaged in the public and civil sphere – said Selek – We must understand the continuity of Turkish nationalism, the nationalist structure of the State, based on the repressed genocide of the Armenians.

Selek invited Asli Erdogan and all of us to protect the decisive space of artistic creation, which knows no borders or walls. Quoting Antonio Gramsci: “We must unite the pessimism of intelligence to the optimism of will.”

The direct and precious testimony of the two authoresses was followed by an equally intense moment with reading of long passages from Miraculous Mandarin. Silvia Ballestra, Alessandro Bertante, Helena Janeczek, Federica Manzon, Alessandro Mari and Bianca Pitzorno read extracts from Erdogan’s book and signed copies of the book in her place, following the example of the Turkish writers at the last publishing fair in Instanbul.

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