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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Letter-writers support UA prof. detained in Turkey

    UA faculty have launched a letter-writing campaign to end the trial of a UA professor under house arrest in Turkey.

    Elif Shafak, assistant professor in the Near Eastern studies department, was charged with “”insulting Turkishness,”” under Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code in July.

    The charges are the result of an inference, made by a character in her most recent novel, “”The Bastard of Istanbul,”” that the killing of about 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 by the Turks was a genocide.

    The “”Armenian question,”” as the issue is sometimes called, is considered a taboo subject in Turkey. Although Shafak cannot “”insult Turkishness”” under the law, some believe she has the right to discuss and analyze events as a scholar.

    Shafak has been placed under house arrest in Turkey and is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 21, just four days before she is due to deliver her first child, said Anne Betteridge, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

    The charges have upset members of the UA community, who are looking to help in any way they can.

    The Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Near Eastern studies department, along with the English department, will be creating a letter template for people to send to the Turkish government, said Fenton Johnson, an associate professor of creative writing.

    The goal of the letter-writing campaign is to create pressure on the government and to prove that there are people outside of their world who are watching what they are doing, Johnson said.

    Johnson, a fellow novelist, said he is enthusiastic about Shafak’s work and her vision.

    “”She is a voice for change and a voice for freedom and liberation,”” Johnson said. “”That is what is exhilarating and dangerous about her work.””

    The English department will meet Friday to start organizing its share of letters and gathering signatures from professors and graduate students, Johnson said.

    Betteridge said university administrators wrote a letter in support of Shafak, and many students and professors are writing their own letters, too.

    “”She is a marvelously talented writer,”” Betteridge said. “”Her writing is so important to her, and she’s so good at it.””

    Betteridge said she wants Shafak to return to Tucson safely and knows that Shafak appreciates the support of the UA.

    The Middle Eastern Studies Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that brings together scholars of the Middle East, has also created a letter in Shafak’s favor.

    Mesa’s Committee on Academic Freedom on the Middle East and North Africa has sent a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and posted the letter on its Web site.

    The CAFMENA letter reminds the Turkish government that, as a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, “”Turkey is required to protect freedom of expression.””

    The “”Armenian question,”” as the issue is sometimes called, is considered a taboo subject in Turkey. Although Shafak cannot “”insult Turkishness”” under the law, some believe she has the right to discuss and analyze events as a scholar.

    The International PEN, a worldwide association that supports writers and fights for freedom of expression in literature, is also urging people to send letters to the Prime Minister of Turkey.

    Two of the areas of appeal they are encouraging is calling off Shafak’s trial by dropping charges and reviewing the legislation.

    There have been several other writers, editors and publishers who have come under the scrutiny of Penal Code 301, including Orhan Pamuk, Hrant Dink, Ersen Korkmaz, Faith Tas and Ragip Zarakolu, according to the Human Rights Watch Web site.

    “”The Bastard of Istanbul”” will be published in English by Viking/Penguin. The book was translated from English to Turkish and released by the Metis Publishing House in Turkey in March 2006 and became a bestseller, according to a Web site maintained by Shafak’s agent, Marly Rusoff.

    Aside from essays and newspaper articles, Shafak has one novel published in English, 2004’s “”The Saint of Incipient Insanities.””

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