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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA professor’s trial begins today

    Elif Shafak
    Elif Shafak

    The trail of a UA professor will begin today in Turkey, although she is not expected to appear in the courtroom because she delivered her first child on Saturday.

    Elif Shafak, a UA assistant professor in Near Eastern studies, is standing trial for “”insulting Turkishness”” in one of her novels, said Anne Betteridge, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

    Shafak is one of 70 writers, publishers and journalists standing trial for the same or similar charges, according to the PEN American Center.

    Shafak will be the first to face prosecution for something a fictional character does, said Hikmet Kocamaner, a Near Eastern studies graduate student.

    The novel in question, “”The Bastard of Istanbul,”” has been on Turkey’s bestseller list since it was published in March.

    Kemal Kerincsiz, a member of the Unity of Jurists, brought the charges against Shafak because of passages in the novel that were deemed offensive.

    In particular, the line, “”I am the grandchild of genocide survivors who lost all their relatives in the hands of Turkish butchers in 1915, but I myself have been brainwashed to deny the genocide,”” is causing the stir.

    The mention of the killing of Armenians as a genocide is a taboo subject in Turkey.

    Some Turks believe when writers say something politically provocative they are trying to generate attention from the West or even a controversy within Turkey, Kocamaner said.

    “”If the government lets these kinds of prosecutions happen, it will hurt the image of Turkey,”” Kocamaner said.

    Kocamaner does not want people in the U.S. to think Turkey embodies a scene out of “”Midnight Express.””

    Kocamaner said he believes each day the country becomes more democratic and, in some senses, is stronger than other countries.

    It bothered him when he read a comment on the Arizona Daily Star Web site pitying the Turkish people and suggesting that Shafak should take political asylum in the U.S.

    Kocamanor said Shafak loves her country and would never think of doing such a thing.

    Turkey is currently under evaluation to join the European Union. Cases involving freedom of speech issues are under going scrutiny from the EU.

    “”There was a nationalist reaction to Turkey joining the EU,”” said Fatma Muge Gocek, an associate professor at the University of Michigan.

    Betteridge said people have suggested that trials like Shafak’s are used by Nationalists to create controversy that could possibly keep them out of the EU.

    Elites in power are searching to preserve the status quo in Turkey and bringing charges like the one Shafak has been accused of as a way to keep their power, Gocek said.

    Gocek said she believes the future of Turkey lies in the West and democracy. Although creating a new democratic system takes time, actions in the Middle East are becoming more urgent, Gocek said.

    “”I think the charges are a travesty,”” Gocek said. “”I hope that it will be dismissed.””

    Gocek and Shafak have known each other since 2003, when Shafak worked at the UM before coming to the UA. Gocek also translated Shafak’s “”The Flea Palace”” into English for publication.

    The Nationalists have said anyone who loves their country should protest Shafak. Opposing groups have said anyone who loves their human rights should protest the charges.

    People from both sides may protest today as Shafak’s trial begins, Gocek said.

    Serpil Atamaz-Hazar, president of the UA Turkish Society and a history graduate student, said because of three military coups, the last one in the ’80s, the process of democratization has not been a completely smooth conversion.

    “”Democracy is working in Turkey, but the history is so short that it hasn’t had the chance to work out problems,”” Atamaz-Hazar said.

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