Burhan Sönmez on the Tensions Between Politics and Art in Turkey

WORLD NEWS: Burhan Sönmez on the Tensions Between Politics and Art in Turkey

Yet there’s a rare lightness and freedom to your characterization of these political themes. “Labyrinth,” the story of a musician who loses his memory after jumping into the Bosporus, barely hints at the upheavals of the Erdogan years, when the amnesiac sees a torn poster of the president and confuses him for a sultan.

We know the difference between art and journalism. Journalism speaks directly. Speaking this different language of art, we feel that we are no longer in the field of society, of politics. A political matter or a historical fact is just a color in my novel. That is real power. When I write a novel, I feel that I unite the past and the future. Because the past is a story and the future is a dream.

Has there been a self-censorship of artists and writers in Turkey over the last few years?

Well, first, every year more than 500 new Turkish novels are being published. When I was at the university, the number of new novels published in Turkish was about 15 or 20. That’s an enormous difference.

With the young generation, I see that they are brave. Despite all this oppression, this danger of going to prison or being unemployed, young people are writing fearlessly. They are writing about Kurdish issues, about women’s issues, about L.G.B.T. issues, about political crimes in Turkey.

Hundreds of writers are like this: writing openly, and at some point a bit dangerously, for themselves. This is something of which we should be proud.

As president of PEN International, you have a particularly close view of the state of free expression. Have things gotten any better in Turkey since the crackdowns of 2016-2017, when thousands of academics and journalists were arrested or purged?

No, no, it’s not better. In Turkey, we never got to distinguish between bad and good. It was always: bad or worse.

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