Thirty Years of İletişim

Kaya Genç

The Turkish publishing house İletişim (the name means ‘communication’) celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1983 by Murat Belge, who had taught English literature at Istanbul University until he was forced out after the 1980 coup because of his socialist views. İletişim’s first publishing venture was the quarterly magazine Yeni Gündem (‘The New Agenda’), which reached out to people whose voices had been silenced, and campaigned for a return to democracy and parliamentary politics. It ran interviews with politicians whose parties had been shut down as well as with writers and artists who dared criticise the generals.

The first book İletişim published was a critical edition of Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu’s 1932 novel Yaban (‘The Stranger’), which deconstructed one of the most important literary representations of the country’s prevalent ideology. Putting out translations of writers including Milan Kundera (his dissident figures struck a chord with Turkish intellectuals), Stanisław Lem, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce and E.M. Forster, İletişim’s literature series helped replace the realism of previous generations with more experimental writing. It has published Orhan Pamuk, Perihan Mağden and Elif Shafak, as well as writers less well known in the west like Oğuz Atay, one of the pioneers of Turkey’s postmodernist literature. İletişim also introduced Turkish readers to the work of theorists like Louis Althusser and historians like E.P. Thompson.

One of the first books I translated into Turkish was Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which İletişim published with Nabokov’s lecture on the tale, including his famous explanatory diagrams. I later translated other English classics – The Diary of a Nobody, The Portrait of Mr W.H. – which, although less known, were well received because İletişim published them.

A few years ago I asked Nihat Tuna, İletişim’s executive director, if the publishing house had a single guiding principle. He said that above all the notion of collectivity was essential for them, and used the term ‘İletişimci’ to describe the thousands of people who had contributed to the operation one way or another: as writers, editors, translators, proof-readers, designers.

Its offices are in Cağaloğlu, once the home of Turkey’s newspapers – Istanbul’s Fleet Street. Most newspaper companies have now abandoned the area, leaving it to publishing houses instead. I first went to İletişim’s headquarters in my second year at university. I had translated an article for Tarih ve Toplum (‘History and Society’) and had to go and pick up my fee. I caught a glimpse of Pamuk, there perhaps to inspect the proofs of his latest novel. On my way out I stopped in the bookshop in the basement, to browse among the piles of Hannah Arendt and John Berger. Some of the books, like the Turkish translation of Marx’s Grundrisse, couldn’t be found anywhere else. I had a difficult time lugging those book-filled bags home: my fee was gone just like that.

Kaya Genç will be in conversation with Maureen Freely at the London Review Bookshop on 19 April.