Perihan Magden, one of Turkey’s most prominent novelists, has joined a long list of intellectuals to face trial for what the state deems offensive writing.
Magden’s novels The Messenger Boy Murders, and Two Girls, have been widely praised around the world, but it is her work as a columnist for Yeni Aktuel magazine that raised the ire of the Turkish military.
Magden had faced a possible three-year jail term for “discouraging people from military service”.
Talking on the phone from Italy where she is attending a film festival screening of Turkish director Kutlug Ataman’s film adaptation of Two Girls, she describes her situation as a “war of nerves” with the Turkish authorities.
In the offending article, published at the end of last year, she supported the idea of conscientious objection and defended the case of Mehmet Tarhan, a young man who at the time was in prison for refusing military service.
A Turkish court acquitted her on July 27.
Aljazeera.Net: Did you feel your article was inflammatory while you were writing it?
Perihan Magden: The whole article was logically written. I said that the Turkish military was so rich, so omnipotent that we really don’t need these unnecessary numbers of people in service. The period [of conscription] is too long and the number [of conscripts] is too high.
I also defended Mehmet Tarhan who at the time was in military prison in Sivas because he is a conscientious objector. He is gay and the authorities wanted to examine him – a medical examination – as if you can discover a person is gay from that!
Were you surprised by the reaction to your article?
I was, because I’m a columnist and this is my job, and conscientious objection is such a normal human right, so I thought of course I can write about it.
But you always expect something to happen because writers have been sued so much; I have been in court so much but still you hope for the best and you don’t want them to stop you from writing.
This is what they [the authorities] want; they want to give us all this trouble. It’s a long process, even the simplest case in Turkey – it’s a sort of psychological torture.
Will this court case discourage other Turkish writers from freely expressing their ideas?
I think the problem with Turkish writers is that they apply an incredible amount of self-censorship anyway. They don’t want to get themselves into trouble and they’re not politically involved. Some of them are very old and for 40 years they’ve been writing the same stuff – that’s the majority of columnists.
But there are a couple of [more rebellious] writers, and we’ve become constant trouble. In a way, it was good that they chose me because the case became mainstream – the most conservative columnists wrote articles backing me because the things that were said in court were scandalous.
A lynch mob demonstrated there for two hours, taunting me, calling me a whore. It was such an ugly scene.
So far your novels have gone under the radar as far as the authorities are concerned.
My fiction doesn’t get me into trouble because they [the authorities] don’t have the patience to read books. But in the future I think I will get into trouble because now I’ve attained this black sheep status. At the moment I’m writing a novel and at the end of it I have a great surprise for the military!
Will this case stop you from writing columns?
I was trying to quit to concentrate on my novel but because of this case I don’t want to because I don’t want them to say ‘she’s a quitter’.
But I’ll be quitting at the end of August so I can concentrate on my novel.
Are you optimistic about the outcome?
I believe strongly they will acquit me. But the thing is, they want you to show up in court, they want the lynch mob to humiliate you, they want to show you can’t speak your mind, write your mind.
It’s a war of nerves.