HEPİMİZ HRANT DEĞİL MİYİZ? OR So what was that apology about a couple of weeks ago?
As Mamoste’s trial approaches, we have started to plan how we are going to arrange our summer around it. No one really talks much about the emotions involved. And why should they? There’s nothing we can do about anything. I sometimes wonder if (or fret that) the little bit I’ve written here and the interview in Radikal somehow made things worse. Perhaps that’s why the name ‘Kemal Seven’ pops up so much in almost a third of the 2500 page indictment—the government is punishing him for the small bit of publicity whipped up by his son-in-law. Unlikely, but it crosses my mind.
Occasionally, the topic of anger comes up between me and my in-laws. When I watch the news with Delal, or any of the various talk shows where the shrieking talking heads blather about their benighted political reviews or when I read newspaper articles by Westerners that, after talking about the detention of elderly Kurds for ‘terrorism’ or the massacre of the thirty four teenagers of Uludere, feel obligated to say ‘The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S, the E.U., and Turkey’—I feel such anger as I’ve never felt before. The city would burn to the ground if my anger could get out of my head. My family here inevitably says they’re used to it—it’s been happening all their lives in one way or another and ‘You develop a thick skin’. But what’s under that thick skin? We’re all outwardly calm, but I have dreams sometimes, where Delal and I are hunted by brownshirts or else trapped in a room and killed with cyanide gas. The dreams usually revolve around my failure to protect her.
Recently I have gotten in a few arguments with a few yokels who tell me that I have no right to stick my nose in this KCK business. As one commentator on a blog site said,
‘Jeff, I know some of those people arrested through KCK case. Turkey, unfortunately or fortunately, is not as powerful as those outside-looking super powers. Otherwise, Turkey would have its own Guantanamo base. And, outside-looking Turkish people would not dare to talk about it. Instead they would focus on the jails in other countries.’
Even if this KCK case and Mamoste’s arrest had no direct effect on my life or my emotions here, the effect it had on my wife (who is my soul mate, lover, best friend etc. etc.) just might move me a little bit—not to mention the effect it has on all my in-laws, whom I happen to love. I may be foreign, but the imprisonment of one man in Turkey is far more relevant to me than anyone incarcerated in the United States right now.
Someone else told me I don’t have the right to meddle in Turkey’s business recently; someone rather unexpected and in a rather backhanded way. For a few months now I have been translating Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant Dink, Hrant. A journalist friend of mine was fortunate enough to interview Ms. Çandar and passed my name on to her as someone who might write an article that could drum up interest in an English version of her book. Maureen Freely (Orhan Pamuk’s translator) had been signed on as translator and had drawn up a proposal but it was drawing little interest in the English publishing world, and maybe a few articles or reviews here and there would help. I wrote Ms. Çandar explaining who I was and what I wanted. I ended with the web address of this blog and said that out of enthusiasm for her work, ‘I have translated maybe 60 pages on my private blog—but always with your name attached and if this makes you uncomfortable in anyway, I will immediately erase them.’
Five days passed before she wrote me back and it was a very angry and aggressive email. Her first point was understandable. She said I had used her material without her permission, which was a violation of copyright. I could see why she was upset about that, which is why I posted the apology a couple of weeks ago and erased all the translation I had done. It had simply never struck me as important before because, let’s face it, my blog is read by a small group of family and friends and by the occasional Google searcher who types in ‘Peacock enemies’. But there were more than a few things about her letter that struck me as odd, above and beyond someone who feels that the right to their work has been violated, and I wanted to discuss them here—not because I want revenge (though I am angry and it may come out, so be aware) but because it might have something larger to say about the whole situation here in Turkey.
The first thing she wrote was this,
Hello Jeffrey Gibbs,
I received your mail and your evaluation of my biography really caught my attention. Especially, ‘It’s truly one of the most brilliant examples of oral history I have ever seen’ and It’s not just about Hrant, but about a country’s history that has been deliberately forgotten, hidden, or erased ‘,’ I was powerfully moved by your book, and particularly impressed by its structure’ and ‘I consider it an imperative that the English speaking world know this story ‘. Upon reading such sentences, I began to be persuaded that you had correctly evaluated the work that I did. But then, when I went to your blog I did not run into any lines like the above but rather the opposite. "Tuba Candar does not so much write the book, as shape what already exists. The writers are the hundreds of friends ... They write his story from his birth to death...." or "I started reading Hrant Dink's biography, put together by Tuba Candar..." and other such lines that made me doubt your intentions.
Her first and I guess foremost beef with me is that I did not give her credit for being the writer of the book, just the compiler. She went on to say that if I had bothered myself with reading the prologue of her book I would have known just how much work had gone into it. Well, I did read the prologue which is what gave me the idea that this was not the kind of biography where the writer takes the front seat.
‘This is not a classic biography,’ she writes in About the Book. ‘There is no omniscient narrator who, after reading a ton of research and investigations and books full of anecdotes, after making inquiries and research into a life, after reading letters and diaries and using every detail that happened to get recorded somehow places herself inside that life and writes, as if she is a first-hand witness, ‘the story of a life’. And it was a deliberate choice...Hrant Dink was an archive of oral history. As to the voices in the book besides Hrant, I spent three years talking with the owners of those voices one by one and recording what they said. Then I arranged them according to chronology and theme. Connecting them as they moved from one to anther was almost like weaving a piece of lace...But as far as contents, not one word that they didn’t say has been added.’
She seems to feel my failure to praise her enough connects to secret intentions to steal her book. She goes on to say that much of the style I incorporate into this blog, in particular the italics I use and the method of narration, is plagiarism. She says she has serious doubts about my intentions, that what I have translated amounts to a book on its own.
When I first read all this I was, to be honest, heartbroken. I so much wanted to make a connection on an issue I felt very strongly about. I’ve always followed the Armenian issue since before I even came here, and moreover, her book on Hrant had helped me to see just what my Kurdish family here was facing—they don’t want to talk about it so much—it’s too immediate--but these people in Hrant were talking about it. When Hrant Dink wept as the court sentences came down, I thought I caught a glimpse of what Mamoste might be feeling as he sits in prison for being in the wrong political party, charged with betraying the society he wanted to help, a victim of page after page of false and deliberately misinterpreted evidence (all elements very similar not only to the Hrant Dink trial but countless others). But this, according to Çandar, was another big mistake.
‘And while you are using the English translations on your blog, at first you say ‘Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant,’ later you don’t see fit to say anything.’
Not true by the way. I mentioned her every time except for once, on April 1st. She continues,
Let’s say, you jump right from a BDP meeting into my book and by mixing in my text with part of your own story, render it a part of it?....These are all legal issues but there is also a moral dimension that does not stop with stealing my labor. You are stealing Hrant’s life and using it to create your own story. You are forming parallels between your father-in-law and Rakel Dink and her father Siament and rendering them part of your own life. Did you ever wonder how they would feel about you comparing your marriage with theirs? Did you talk with these people and get their approval? Whenever I spoke with them I was terrified of touching their wounds. Are their incomparable lives, so full of pain and suffering story material for you to use and insert yourself into however you please?
This accusation also pained me very much. Every writer must confront this question. Am I just using someone else’s pain for my own benefit? I imagine Çandar herself asked herself this several times and very well should have, because even the best of us can get overenthusiastic about the writing part and forget about the people part. But no matter how much this particular paragraph upset me, it also made me angry. The problem, it seemed, was that I had dared to compare myself with the great Hrant Dink. His family and their pain were untouchable. As much as I admire Hrant Dink, I do not think his and his family’s pain is unique or untouchable, not in this country where political assassinations of minorities, show trials, and media attacks organized secretly by the government have been the norm for decades. I thought that was one of the strengths of the book—it certainly was a source of comfort for me. You’re not alone. Someone else has been through what your family is going through. There are others out there.
I can’t quite figure out what the problem is. Is it that I, a tourist and overfed Westerner dared to compare myself to one of Turkey’s martyrs? One of the ‘superpowers’ who ‘insist on focusing on the jails in other countries? One of Erdoğan’s ‘secret outside forces’ causing all the problems with our meddling and our encouraging of caesarians? If so then I answer what I did to that blog commenter. When you take my nearly 60 year old father-in-law out of prison, stop the heartache my wife and her family are suffering, and stop insulting them daily in the press—then I’ll shut up about the unjust prison system here. On a personal level, I have my rights as a reader, as a human being. I had a very confusing time getting engaged and I did not really understand any of the unspoken things happening around me—reading about Rakel’s father and the difficulties they had gave me a clue. Mine and Delal’s story is very different from Rakel and Hrant’s, and was much less of a struggle (I said that explicitly when Iwrote about it, too--link here) but I do know what it’s like to be the wanna be son-in-law coming into a closed society that has been harassed for decades and fearful for its existence. And I imagine that if Rakel Dink is anything like she seems, if her and Hrant’s example served as comfort and inspiration to us, she would be pleased. I do not consider Delal’s and my love as anything less than theirs just because we are not famous, just because we did not suffer in the same way.
Or maybe the problem is that anyone compares themself to Hrant Dink? This is a country where idols are made. Before the AKP, you could not say a word that might even be construed as partly negative about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk without serious repercussions. Now it looks like Erdoğan is trying to set himself up as the same sort of figure—people are arrested and charged and persecuted and fired every day for criticizing him. Does Çandar unwittingly want to make Hrant and the Dink family the same sort of untouchables? I wish the Dinks were unique. I wish there were not seven thousand or more people in jail for their political beliefs, maligned by the press, lied about, blackballed, turned into traitors. I wish their families did not suffer so. All the little no names that no one is signing petitions for--I see this now—of all the thousands arrested in the KCK operations, the only one that gets attention is Buşra Ersanlı. Is her life more valuable because she is known? Ragip Zarakolu was released most likely because of the international outcry. What about the 7000 without the international outcry? (7 more arrested yesterday by the way—I haven’t checked today, but there’s always someone) Do you have to be Ataturk, or Dink, or a public figure to be worth anything?
|Musa Anter--assassinated in September of 1992|
Or is the problem that I compare Hrant, the book and the man, to Kurds? She seems particularly taken aback by the BDP meeting (which, by the way, though strongly affiliated with Kurds and Kurdish issues and populated by a majority of Kurds—is actually a coalition party). There may be a reason for this I was not aware of initially. Back in February, apparently, her husband Çengiz Çandar was on schedule to be arrested in one of the KCK round-ups for a forward he wrote in a book about Abdullah Öcalan. Perhaps me going on and on about Tuba Çandar at the same time as I discussed BDP party meetings freaked her out. I’ve read political indictments here, and it would certainly serve as an acceptable piece of evidence that she was planning on blowing up the Earth with her splittist ideas. Or maybe she herself just doesn’t like Kurds, or at least the ‘bad Kurds’ who refuse to behave properly. She once said, according to family hearsay—I can’t find the quote--that when Rakel first came to Istanbul, her ‘wild look’ somehow made her look Kurdish. She has said other things that makes me think she disdains Kurds. In an interview on the internet magazine T24 she said this, (link here in Turkish)
‘I think Hrant was killed for his truthfulness. You can see, there are so many Kurdish intellectuals and politicians, but you will not find a Hrant among them. Hrant wanted a this country to turn into a transparent civilian democracy, both for Turkey and his own people. This is a difficult thing. Kurdish leaders can’t do this. They remain silent about the problems concerning themselves. But Hrant said, ‘I don’t want to talk about the problem of the dead Armenians, but the problems of those that survived.’
Which implies numerous things—that Kurds are not brave enough to speak out. That Kurds cannot speak the truth—Selahattin Demirtaş and Gültan Kışanak (chairmans of the BDP party) immediately come to mind as contemporary contradictions, but the comment insults a number of the Kurds’ butchered and martyred. Of course, there were tons of Kurdish journalists especially in the 90s whose chance to speak out were cut short with murder. The writer and journalist Musa Anter is the first to come to mind—a man called ‘a militant of Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood’ who was assassinated by a former member of the PKK hired by the Turkish secret service. He spent a large part of his life in and out of jail—once just for writing a poem in Kurdish (Some of his books have been re-banned by the government this year—I tried finding one yesterday and was told it’s now impossible). Watch the film Press for the story of the Özgür Gündem newspaper whose writers, editors, and distributors were assassinated willy-nilly by government agents or whose assassinations by Hizbollah were officially tolerated and encouraged. Or look up Ahmet Kaya, a singer whose music is still loved by Turk, Kurd and Armenian. Like Hrant Dink, he was hounded by the media as a traitor to Turkey in a government organized campaign to destroy his name—false evidence, doctored photographs, misquotes. What had he done? Threatened to sing a song in Kurdish. Unlike Hrant, Ahmet Kaya fled the country and died of despair in Paris.
Or maybe her English simply was not good enough to properly read the tone and intent of my blog and she filled in the gaps with paranoia. So many people here over estimate their English.
Maybe it’s just a perfect storm, a fruit cake mix of all of the above.
But I had not thought all this through after getting her first email—I just felt chastened for having used her material without permission and so I wrote a letter of apology. I felt extremely bad about what had happened. I never meant any harm and would immediately erase the translations. I still hold your work in the highest respect and certainly didn’t mean to imply you had not done any work. Etc. etc.
Her first response to the apology was clearly not to me. It said simply, ‘What are we going to do with these two retards?’ (The other retard being the friend who put me in touch with her). ‘Reading this, I was so enraged I couldn’t even laugh!’ (She wrote geri geri zekalı—and misspelled it in her rage—which the Zargan dictionary translates as ‘stupid’ or ‘retarded’ though it literally means ‘Backward intellect’. The repeated ‘geri’ must be like saying ‘super retard’).This was followed by an email in English that said this, ‘Your so-called intentions are irrelevant, since what you've done in your blog for months, proves the opposite.’ There follows a repeat in English all the things she had written in Turkish (which led me to think this is all some weird English hang up) and finally a threat of legal action if I did not publically apologize. I no longer felt all that contrite, but indignant and angry and a bit afraid in an odd way, because it felt like I had somehow struck up a conversation with a crazy person and now would never get rid of them.
I found the statement ‘Your so-called intentions are irrelevant’ odd, given that she wrote a book because she was inspired by a man who defended the intentions behind a sentence he wrote that was taken out of context by the press. Intentions didn’t matter to the court, intentions don’t matter to her. I would think intentions were paramount—but then of course she saw conspiracy and plotting and whatever else behind all my reassuring words (of course, to be logical, why in the world would I have notified her if I had intended on stealing her work?) Equally odd was her desire to file suit against a man who only wanted to help her. This threat of legal action was also ironic, it seemed, coming from someone who had involved herself so intimately with a man who had been ruined by legal actions. But I suppose it was all justified in her mind because she was right, she had discovered my evil intent, my true self hiding behind the words—all of which sounds agonizingly familiar if you have read any statement on official dealings with Hrant, Armenians, Kurds, or the imaginary ‘internal enemies’ that Erdoğan feels is encouraging abortions and caesarians.
In any case, I will restate here. I apologize for using Çandar’s material without asking, but the to-do made about it was way beyond what it deserved. It was just some guy’s private blog in the end, and if anything, it would have helped her name and the name of her book get out there. Still, her reaction to that is totally her business. However the rest seems rather demented—all that misplaced rage, a storm of insulting emails, legal threats. She would have been only a little less logical writing the same things to a street cat. It all seems a distilled example of all the paranoia, sense of persecution, and ego that can be so endemic here. I’m still baffled and a bit bereaved. I still think her book is a brilliant achievement. It took a lot of work and she did it incredibly well—maybe it’s just best not to ask too many questions about the creator of any piece of art. It can taint the whole thing. The work stands apart from them and is not sullied by anything they do...hopefully.
One last thing—the reason for the title. For me, the biggest shock was that I reached out to someone who I thought should be an ally, and found an enemy. Anyone who had dared to spend three years writing about an assassinated Armenian in Turkey, who, inadvertently or not, had discussed the genocide, who would put themselves in that kind of risk—had to be sympathetic to the mass arrests of Turkey’s other maligned minority. There’s so few people here you can talk openly with. And yet she went, to put it bluntly, nuts. I am not convinced Tuba Çandar has anything against Kurds—she was going to write the biography of Mehmet Uzun (the famous exiled Kurdish writer) before he abruptly died after returning to Diyarbakır. That’s impressive. She was even quoted in the Hurriyet as saying ‘He was a warrior who fought for his identity and culture by writing all the time.’ And yet, she made such a point of me lumping her in the same entry as the Kurdish BDP. It is like hearing a trusted and beloved family member suddenly tell a ‘nigger’ joke—there’s this punch-in-the-gut disgust and a profound disappointment.
Maybe it’s nothing to do with Kurds (though she might tell herself the ones in jail or all PKK and therefore okay to hate) I suppose it might be just partly paranoia, partly ego, and partly a fight over her ownership of a martyr. And yet, and yet. There’s that phrase associated with Kurds, ‘No friends but the mountains.’ This is the first time I’ve ever had my hand bitten by someone who should be an ally--but for my in-laws, it’s a commonplace occurrence. The people that hate you, hate you. The people that should like you, hate you. Where to go? Who to turn to? In her book, Blood and Belief, Aliza Marcus discusses the Kurds disillusionment with Turkey’s leftist movements—who promised the usual blend of equality and brotherhood and justice. She quotes Kemal Burkay as saying, ‘The Turkish left was heavily influenced by Turkish ideology and could not openly come up with a Kurdish solution.’ They, too, were in the end nationalists. The right wing Turks preach of Muslim Brotherhood—but they, too, are ultimately nationalist when it comes to Kurdish identity. There are at times, it seems, no friends but the mountains.