“Stand by us, the other Turkey,” pleaded exiled Turkish journalist and newspaper editor Can Dündar, who presented the German translation of his new memoir We Are Arrested: A Journalist’s Notes from at Turkish Prison on Wednesday morning at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Sitting alongside fair director Juergen Boos and his literary agent Nermin Mollaoglu of Istanbul’s Kalem Agency, Dündar spoke frankly about his frustration with the failure of Western countries to engage with the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which has “imprisoned thousands, including hundreds of writers and journalists” and has “effectively ended freedom of speech as we know it.”
Dündar was editor-in-chief of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper and writes of having been was arrested and sentenced to solitary confinement in November 2015 after reporting on illegal Turkish arms shipments. “He wrote the book very quickly, by hand,” said Mollaoglu, who underscored the urgency in getting the story published as soon as possible. English rights to the book have been acquired by the U.K. house, Biteback Publishing.
Asked if she feared for her own security in representing dissident Turkish writers, Mollaoglu replied, “It is a risk, but I like this risk. It is something I must do for myself, my agency, my future and my country.”
Mollagou’s Kalem Agency celebrated its 10th anniversary with a large party in Frankfurt on Tuesday night and instructed partygoers to wear something with the color red. Erdogan’s crackdown was the topic of conversation at the party and several key figures in the Turkish publishing community (all of whom declined to be named) underscored that censorship was rampant and and there was a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds. In his press conference, Dundar noted that there remains just one television station and three newspapers who are willing to criticize the government; meanwhile, scored of publishers have been closed as well.
For his part, Frankfurt’s Boos noted that it was just eight years ago that Turkey was the guest of honor at Frankfurt and Erdogan and author Orhan Pamuk shared the same stage and exchanged ideas. “That could never happen now,” said Boos. In fact, the fair’s opening ceremony on Tuesday night featured a speech by the European Parliament President Martin Schulz, which proclaimed his "full solidarity" with "all authors and journalists languishing in Turkish jails.” In addition, Heinrich Riethmueller, who is the head of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, read a letter by novelist and rights activist Asli Erdogan which he said had been smuggled out of prison. "I cry out to you from behind stones, concrete and barbed wire,” he read. “Conscience is being trampled upon in my country…they are trying to kill off truth.”