Kaya Genç

From The Blog
29 August 2017

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.

From The Blog
16 March 2016

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.’

From The Blog
21 December 2015

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.

From The Blog
26 February 2015

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.

From The Blog
21 August 2014

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).

From The Blog
22 May 2014

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.

From The Blog
29 March 2014

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.

From The Blog
25 November 2013

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.

From The Blog
23 August 2013

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.

From The Blog
25 July 2013

Adnan Menderes is the only Turkish prime minister to have been hanged by the generals. Others have been arrested (Süleyman Demirel in 1980), forced out of office (Necmettin Erbakan in 1997) or politely warned about a possible intervention (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2007). Menderes, Turkey’s first democratically elected premier, governed from 1950 until the military coup ten years later. He was executed on 17 September 1961.

From The Blog
3 June 2013

I used to walk through Gezi Park every morning on my way to work. But on 1 May the park was closed. There are plans to build a shopping mall on top of it, and the mayor of Istanbul and the minister of the interior had used this as an excuse to cancel the May Day celebrations there. Trade unions and opposition political parties organised marches to Taksim anyway. The stand-off led to a curfew in all but name. On May Day I looked out the window of my flat and counted ten police officers on the street, one outside every building.

From The Blog
1 May 2013

Last year the Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say retweeted some lines attributed to Omar Khayyám: You say rivers of wine flow in heaven,is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris await each believer there,is heaven a brothel to you? Say was accused of inciting hatred against Islam and taken to court. As a schoolboy fan of Khayyám’s epigrammatic rubais (Persian quatrains) about wine and women, I once wrote an essay entitled ‘From Omar Khayyám to Karl Marx: The Struggle for Freedom’, in which I made some bold claims about the revolutionary role I believed he had played in the middle ages, based on my selective reading of some of the more than thirty Turkish translations of Khayyám that appeared during the 20th century.

From The Blog
26 February 2013

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.

From The Blog
18 July 2012

In Greek, istos means web; in Turkey it is the name of a new publishing house which is putting out books in Greek for the first time in half a century. There’s a long tradition of Greek publishing in Istanbul – one of the first presses in the Ottoman Empire belonged to the patriarchate in the 17th century – and the industry more or less flourished until 1964, when commercial activity by Greeks was prohibited and most of Istanbul's Greek community was forced to leave. The city’s current Greek population is thought to be around 3000.

From The Blog
12 April 2012

Elif Shafak’s novel Iskender, published in English as Honour this week, came out in Turkey last August. Like her previous books, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Within days of its appearance, however, a blogger accused Shafak of ‘lifting’ themes and characters from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. The blog post quickly went viral. Smith’s Turkish translator said that Shafak had used White Teeth as a ‘template’ which didn’t really fit with the Kurdish characters in her novel. One journalist suggested the book should be moved to the foreign fiction shelves of Turkish bookshops.

From The Blog
8 December 2011

On 23 November, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, admitted that more than 13,000 Kurds had been killed by the Turkish military in Dersim in the 1930s. Apologising for the massacre, he called it ‘the most tragic event in our recent history’. Liberals and leftists welcomed the apology, which appears to promise a more open discussion of the Turkish state's past atrocities. Ragıp Zarakolu, the 63-year-old head of the Belge Publishing House, was behind bars when he heard the news.

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