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Elif Shafek cleared of "insulting Turkishness"
Meredith Tax, USA
September 23, 2006
On Sept. 21, a high court in Istanbul cleared Elif Shafak, a prominent author and feminist, of charges of "insulting Turkishness," which had been brought by nationalistic lawyers under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code. Her publisher, Semi Sökmen of the Metis Press, and translator Asli Bican were also charged in connection with Shafak's book, The Bastard of Istanbul. The court decided to drop charges partly in response to a campaign by the European Union.
The case had previously been dismissed in June by the Beyoglu Public Prosecutor after hearing Shafak and Sökmen's argument that the book was a work of literature and it was therefore not appropriate for prosecution. They added that the book aimed to promote the culture of peace. However, in early July the Istanbul 7th High Criminal Court over-ruled the decision not to proceed, following a complaint filed by Kemal Kerincsiz, a member of a group of right wing lawyers known as the "Unity of Jurists" who have been involved in cases against numerous writers and journalists in recent months, including Orhan Pamuk, also prosecuted for using the term genocide in relation to the Armenian massacres of World War I. Charges against Pamuk were dropped after an international campaign.
Shafak's book tells the story of two families, one based in Istanbul, the other an exiled Armenian family living in San Francisco, who share a family secret dating from the early 19th century. Originally written in English, the book was published by the Metis Publishing House in March 2006 and has since become a best seller. It is due to be published in English by Viking/Penguin.
Elif Shafak was born in France and spent her childhood in Spain. After studying political science in Turkey, she held teaching positions in the United Kingdom, Turkey, and the United States. She is now Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona. Her publications include The Saint of Incipient Insanities, which was her first book published in English, and Bit Palas, Mahrem, which won the Turkish Writers' Association Best Novel of the Year Award.
Metis Press has published a number of other censored writers, notably Nadire Matere, who was the subject of an international campaign in 1999-2000 when she was put on trial for Mehmet’s Book, an oral history of the secret war against the Kurds in Southern Turkey, drawn from interviews with young conscripts.