The best thing I saw at Edinburgh this year was The Sleeper, written and directed by Henry Krempels. (The play will be on for one night only in London, at the Rosemary Branch Theatre on Thursday.) Karina, played by Michelle Fahrenheim, is a Londoner travelling on an overnight train somewhere in Europe. She’s a writer, probably a Guardian reader, definitely a Remainer. Returning to her compartment after brushing her teeth, she finds someone else in her bunk. She rushes to the guard in a panic. The young woman hiding in her berth, Amena, is a Syrian refugee. She will be kicked off the train at the next stop.
In August 2012, Fadi Mansour, a 28-year-old law student from Homs, left Syria to avoid conscription. ‘I had to do my military service before the war started; after the war they called me to fight in the reserve army, so I escaped,’ he wrote to me yesterday. He told Amnesty International that he went first to Lebanon, where he was kidnapped and held to ransom. After his release he felt unsafe; in early 2015 he came to Turkey. He flew to Malaysia but was denied entry and sent back to Istanbul. ‘They caught me in the airport,’ Mansour said. ‘I asked for asylum here. But they rejected my request.’ This was on 15 March 2015. Since then Mansour has been detained at Istanbul's Atatürk Airport. He is living in the ‘Problematic Passengers Room’. It has no natural light and no beds. The electric lights are kept on around the clock. ‘Sometimes they let me go outside the room for one or two hours,’ he told me. ‘But nothing is different between here and outside.’
The Turkish publisher Aylak Adam announced on its Facebook page on 5 December that it would soon be putting out a new book that would ‘make the 76-year wait worthwhile’. In 15 days time, ‘the yearning would come to an end’. Readers began to speculate: was Hermann Broch’s Sleepwalkers finally going to appear in Turkish? Further clues from the publisher followed: the forthcoming work was a ‘crossword’, an ‘illustrated riddle’, a ‘multifaceted, massive obelisk’. Last Friday, three days before publication, the answer was leaked: the first volume of a translation of Finnegans Wake, by Umur Çelikyay of Istanbul’s Koç University.
The copyright in The Little Prince expired in most of the world at the end of last year (it has thirty more years to run in France because Antoine de Saint-Exupéry died in the Second World War, 'Mort pour la France'). In the first two weeks of January, more than thirty Turkish publishers released translations of the 1943 novella. Between them they bought 130,000 bandrols, holographic stickers required for every book sold in Turkey.
Selahattin Demirtaş, one of the leaders of Turkey’s left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is tall, self-confident, strong and soft-spoken. When he ran for president earlier this month, some of his supporters tried to convince undecided friends to vote for him by asking them to choose the ‘most handsome candidate on the ballot paper’. A friend’s grandmother said Demirtaş may be handsome but she would ‘never vote for a Kurd’. He came in third, with just under 10 per cent of the vote (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won with 52 per cent).
The rescue operation at the Soma coal mine in western Turkey came to an end on Saturday 17 May. Workers sealed the entrance to the mine with a concrete wall. The final death toll was announced on Sunday: 301 people had been killed and another 80 injured, making this the worst mine disaster in Turkey’s history. The Soma mine was operated through the so-called taşeron (‘subcontractor’) system. In 2003, the Erdoğan government passed legislation allowing publicly owned coal mines to be run by private companies. Production increased but costs were cut and safety standards dropped.
Istanbul's mayoral election is tomorrow. I wonder if rescheduling it for two month’s time would make a difference. I have a hunch that it might: 27 May marks the first anniversary of the beginning of the Gezi Park demonstrations, and the results of the election will in part reflect the way people here feel about last year's protests. My walk to the polling station will take me past Gezi, which is now a refuge for dozens of homeless Syrians. The continuing existence of the park is itself a triumph for the protesters. Had the proposed shopping mall been built there, the refugees would almost certainly not be allowed inside. There is a reason people want to preserve public spaces.
Erje Ayden died last month in New York. He was born Erce Aydıner in Istanbul in 1937. His father was a politician and, later, justice minister. Erce was sent to Robert College, a private American high school overlooking the Bosphorus. His family wanted him to be a lawyer but he dropped out and escaped to Paris, where Nato employed him as a spy (or so he claimed). He moved to New York in 1957, and worked as a bricklayer, waiter and gravedigger before writing down his experiences in a series of pulp novels.
The Greek-language newspaper
At the tail end of Istanbul’s İstiklâl Caddesi (Independence Street) in Beyoğlu, there’s a shop called Robinson Crusoe 389. It’s one of the last remaining bookshops on Istanbul’s busiest shopping street, a castaway among the big brand retailers, coffee shops and waffle places. Designed by Han Tümertekin, it opened its doors at 389 İstiklâl in 1994, selling an impressive range of Turkish and English books. The street has been renumbered since then – the bookshop’s address is now 195 İstiklâl – but the number 389 still appears above the door and on the shop’s bags.