Highlights from the history of PEN Turkey Centre


PEN Turkey Centre was founded in April 1950, to the leadership of the novelist Mrs Halide Edip Adıvar, who attends the PEN Congress in Budapest.

PEN Turkey was closed down after the military coup d’etat in 1980, and re-founded in 1988 thanks to the efforts of Yaşar Kemal, the great novelist of Turkey.

Currently we have more than three hundred members -writing in various languages including Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian. Some of our members have been killed or imprisoned; some are in exile. PEN Turkey has been keen on Freedom of Expression, therefore on secularism –in the sense of separation of state from religion- without which democracy is hardly possible.

* As January 2019 comes to an end, here is a short list of highlights from the history of PEN Turkey Centre, PEN Türkiye Merkezi (officially named as PEN Yazarlar Derneği PEN Writers’ Association).

* PEN Int’l Congresses and conferences have mostly been attended.

* PEN Int’l Literary Project “New Voices” led to the participation of numerous newly emerging writers for three consecutive years.

* The Writers in Prison Committee has necessarily been active, led by Halil Ibrahim Özcan. We are grateful for international solidarity. We often visited imprisoned authors and journalists prior to July 15th,2016, when there was a coup attempt; The Writers for Peace Committee is chaired by Burhan Sönmez, member of PEN Int’l Board. Chair of TLRC, Prof Suat Karantay edited and published selections of poems and stories in English for several years.

* Each year we present at least two awards: To a poet in relation to World Poetry Day, and to a person or organisation in relation to Women’s Day.

* PEN Turkey has been in Ural Altay PEN Centres Solidarity Network, and Balkan Network, supporting the establishment of a Middle East PEN Network and the European PEN Network. Frankly speaking, financial issues have made it more and more difficult to participate in all gatherings.

* Each year the TÜYAP bookfairs host our panels in Adana, Bursa, Diyarbakır, Istanbul, Izmir and Samsun.

* Every year on November 15th, the Imprisoned Writer’s Day, PEN Turkey holds a press conference with The Publishers’ Association, The Writer’s Syndicate, and The Association of Contemporary Journalists.

* For more than a decade now, Zeynep Aliye has led a creative writing workshop in our PEN office focusing on short fiction.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, here are a few years and incidents or events:

* April 1950: “Turkish PEN Club” (Türk PEN Kulübü) is founded thanks to the leadership of the novelist Mrs Halide Edip Adıvar, who attends the PEN Congress in Budapest.

* 1980 September 12th… After the coup d’etat, the military junta abolishes the Parliament and all the political parties. PEN Turkey Centre is closed down.

* 1985 Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller visit Turkey in relation to imprisoned peace activists. Zeynep Oral meets with them as a journalist and human rights activist. Orhan Pamuk acts as  their translator.

* 1988 PEN Turkey Centre is revived thanks to the novelist Yashar Kemal. In 2008, Kemal is presented a symbol of gratitude by PEN Turkey Board and (then) PEN Int’l Secretary Eugene Schoulgin, our Honorary Member.

* 1994-1999 : Meditarrenean Poetry Festival is organised hosted by Bergama Municipality for five years.

* 1997 PEN Congress in Edinburgh unanimously approval of the proposal of World Poetry Day by PEN Turkey Centre, seconded by Melbourne PEN Centre President Judith Rodriguez, presented by Tarık Günersel. Upon the proposal of PEN Int’l, UNESCO declared 21 March as World Poetry Day.

* 2007 Jan 19th, Honorary PEN Member Hrant Dink is assassinated.  PEN Turkey apply to the court to be accepted as a party on the side of the victim; the court refuses to grant this right.

* 2007 November 3rd: PEN Turkey Int’l Literary Award is presented to novelist Vlada Urošević of Macedonia.

* 2008 Women Writers’ Committee, chaired by Müge İplikçi, organises literary activities in several cities.

* 2008 : PEN Turkey Int’l Poetry Award is presented to Pablo Armando Fernandez of Cuba.

* 2009, May 1st: PEN Turkey Centre celebrates Labour Day despite the pressures of the police. Novelist Leyla Erbil and Chair of WiPC Halil Ibrahim Özcan lead the PEN group under tear gas of the police and our group of writers reach the Taksim Square.

* 2009 PEN Ural Altaic Solidarity Network holds its first conference in Istanbul, including a congress of Uyghur PEN Centre led by President Kaiser Özhun.

* 2010 February : Irish short story writer Leland Bardwell is presented PEN Turkey Int’l Literary Award, organised by TLRC chaired by Aysu Erden, PhD.

* 2010 April – 60th Anniversary is organized and hosted by Tülin Dursun.
More than sixty members attend -with a message by President Ms Inci Aral.

* 2010: Hungarian PEN hosts the PEN Ural Altay Solidarity Nework conference in Tokaji.

* 2010 September: At Tokyo PEN Congress, Tarık Günersel is elected to PEN International Board.

* 2011 EU Literary Prize: The National Jury of Turkey was formed by PEN Turkey Centre, leading the the selection of a story book of Ms Çiler İlhan: * 2014 EU Literary Prize Ms Birgül Oğuz, and in 2017 to Ms Sine Ergün.

* 2011 September: PEN Balkan Network is initiated in Belgrade, hosted by Serbian PEN Centre led by Vida Ognjenović, supported by PEN Turkey.

* 2012 May: German PEN Centre organised a conference on writers in prison in Rudolstadt. Vice President Halil Ibrahim Özcan and lawyer and author Fethiye Çetin attended the conference.

* 2012 PEN Turkey Int’l Literary Award is presented to Aschalew Kebede Abebe of Ethiopia. Our TLRC chaired by Aysu Erden, PhD, led the process in cooperation with the Ethiopian PEN.

* 2012 November: PEN Int’l President John Ralston Saul, Int’l Vice President Eugene Schoulgin, Int’l Secretary Hori Takeaki, Int’l Treasurer Eric Lax and more than fifteen PEN representatives constitute a PEN International Delegation including PEN Turkey President Tarık Günersel, and they are welcomed by the EU Minister and then President Abdullah Gül in Ankara, followed by a press conference in Istanbul on Imprisoned Writer’s Day -at the conference hall “Cezayir”, hosted by Osman Kavala. Kavala has been in prison for more than a year at the time of this informative list in Jan 2019. The international PEN Delagation alsıo attended the Award Ceremony of Zeynep Oral (Chevalier des ARTS ET DES LETTRES )

* 2013 June: We protested the violence against the peaceful environmentalist and pro-democracy “Gezi Parkı”demonstrations. (The attempts to ‘criminalise’ the protests are still going on, more than five years after the events.)

* 2013: PEN Ural-Altay Network conference is hosted by Central Asian PEN in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, thanks to the leadership of President Dalmira Tilepbergonova.

* 2015: The Int’l Congress witnessed a wonderful change: Three strong female candidates run for Int’l President: Jennifer Clement of Mexican PEN, Vida Ognjenović of Serbian PEN and Zeynep Oral of PEN Turkey.

* 2016 President Zeynep Oral and Vice President Halil Ibrahim Özcan meet with Kurdish PEN Board in Diyarbakır, where PEN Turkey has been represented by author Şeyhmus Diken for over a decade. PEN Int’l Vice President Eugene Schoulgin, Can Dündar, staff members from our London Office and lawyer Fikret İlkiz also attend the conference.

* 2016 March - Thanks to the sponsorship of Norwegian PEN, a literary book on men’s violence against women (“Canımı Yakma!” (“Don’t Hurt Me” is prepared by PEN Turkey and published by Kırmızı Kedi Publishing House, the Editor-in Chief of which is our member Ms İlknur Özdemir.

* Also in 2016 : The same year, Catalan PEN Centre presents “Free Voice Award” to our President Zeynep Oral.

* Swedish PEN, Uyghur PEN organise a conference in Malmö supported by PEN Int’l focusing on “Finding a Common Ground”. Zeynep Oral, Halil Ibrahim Özcan, Tülin Dursun, Suat Karantay and Tarık Günersel participate in the panels.

* 2018 President Zeynep Oral presents the PEN Duygu Asena Award to Ms Nazan Moroğlu for her contributions as an author, academic and activist in the fields of Freedom of Expression and Women’s Rights.

* Kazakh PEN holds an international conference in Almaty on the effects of globalisation on literature. PEN Turkey is represented among 15 centres and countries.

* 2018 September International Peace Day oriented panels are held in Ankara, Diyarbakır, İstanbul and İzmir.

* 2018 General Secretary Tülin Dursun represents PEN Turkey at the Congress in India, where Chair of Writers for Peace Committee Burhan Sönmez is elected to PEN Int’l Board.

* 2018 “İlkyaz/Early Summer” (www.ilkyaz.world) is founded with the support of International PEN International and Norwegian PEN, and PEN Turkey, has started a publication. It is a platform to publish poems and stories by writers and poets under 35 years of age. Project initiator and Editor is Ege Dündar.

* January 15th Opening of the international exhibition “Children’s Peace”, led by President Zeynep Oral, organised by PEN Turkey, Nazım Hikmet Cultural Foundation, Founding President of Int’l Association of Plastic Artists Bedri Baykam, and Şişli (Shishly) Municipality. We are grateful to the PEN Centres and other organisations that have participated. The Helenic Writers Society contributed from Greece. Striking paintings –inspired by a poem on Hiroshima by Nazım Hikmet (1902-1963)- from ages 7-14 show dedication of children from various backgrounds to the desire of a peaceful world.

* 8 March PEN Duygu Asena Award presented to “Saturday Mothers”, the mothers of the numerous -mostly young- democracy activists “lost” without official information ever since.

* 21 March World Poetry Day: PEN Poetry Award is presented to Süreyya Berfe at a meeting at Izmir TÜYAP Bookfair.

* After several literary panel discussions in Samsun, Bursa and İzmir bookfairs a press conference is held by several organisations in Istanbul in July to protest against the systematic oppression against critical media members. (July 2019)