A Brawl Over Turkish Press Freedom
February 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Susanne Fowler, February 4, 2012
PARIS — A war of words between an American novelist and the prime minister of Turkey over press freedom is playing out in a befittingly public venue: in newspapers and on Web sites.
Paul Auster, author of “The New York Trilogy” and other works, told Rendezvous by telephone from his studio in Brooklyn on Friday that he had told a Turkish journalist that he would not visit Turkey, nor China for that matter, as a way to protest the jailing of scores of journalists and writers there.
He was not referring to a specific recent invite, although his Turkish publisher would certainly welcome him: Dozens of his works have been translated into Turkish and his name resonates with Turkish readers. His newest book “Winter Journal” was published in Turkey months before it was due to come out in English in the United States.
Our colleagues over at the Arts Beat blogreported earlier this week Mr. Auster’s response to being called “ignorant” by Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Mr. Auster, in addition be being a writer, is a member of American PEN, an organization that aims to fight censorship and defend freedom of expression. Under Mr. Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey has made significant economic strides and has been hailed as a role model for the Middle East, but it has also been accused of treating independent media harshly.
“I wanted to make the statement,” Mr. Auster said Friday, “because not enough people in the West are discussing this, the pressure on the press in Turkey.”
“Of course in every case, these people are not put into jail for what they write,” he said, referring to arrested journalists, “but because they are accused of being terrorists. It’s a very complex business.”
The latest figures from International PEN, he said, showed nearly 100 writers imprisoned in Turkey, “not to speak of independent publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu.’’
Mr. Zarakolu, who has described his own detention as Kafkaesque, was arrested in November, accused of having ties to a group with links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The newspaper Radikal said this week that members of Sweden’s Parliament have asked the Nobel committee to nominate Mr. Zarakolu for the peace prize.
In boycotting Turkey, Mr. Auster unknowingly echoed a recent vow Mr. Erdogan himself had made.
As French lawmakers debated a proposal to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide last month, Mr. Erdogan was splashed across the Turkish front pages saying he’d never visit France again if the law were enacted.
Mr. Erdogan has not been invited to France.
But Mr. Auster has been invited to Turkey. After the public spat with Mr. Erdogan, the opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, extended an invitation to Mr. Auster.
Will he accept?
“I don’t know what I am going to do,’’ Mr. Auster said on Friday, his 65th birthday. With previous commitments, he has no time to go to Turkey this year, he said, “but perhaps some time down the road. We’ll see.”