"Letters from Zeynep Oral -President of PEN- Turkey"

11 June 2015

Dear / Esteemed PEN members,

The month of June brought with it the elections in Turkey. After an election campaign where all the reserves of the state were issued to the service of the ruling party; the constitution was overruled and all the opposition parties were deemed as enemies, the people made their choice on the 7th of June. They acted in favor of pluralism instead of a single mans authority. They chose peace and dialogue over separatism, war and fighting; a parliamentary regime over the dictatorial regime of Turkish Presidency that feeds on violence and tension.

We hope that this election held in our country which has been turned into an empire of Fear will put an end to lawlessness, the rupture of education, separationism, prohibition and suppression against the freedom of thought and speech, theft, robbery, destruction and violence.

PEN’s agenda was yet again very busy during the last month.

The month of May saw the accusations of promoting terror to 10 journalists; the verdict of conviction to poet Nihat Behram for an article; the continuation of threat and suppression to Cumhuriyet and Hürriyet by setting up inquiries for solely fulfilling their journalistic duties. As PEN Turkey, we have condemned these events and more alike. We have called upon the RTÜK and the High Electoral Board to fulfill their duties considering constitutional principles.

Shortly after, PEN Turkey, English PEN and International PEN have condemned the threatening and putting on trial of our member and editor of Cumhuriyet Daily, Can Dündar by Erdoğan. Ann Harrison, as Program Director for PEN Writers in Prison Committee called on Erdoğan to give up on targeting journalists and writers and to withdraw this case and others alike.

Eugene Shoulgin, Norvegian PEN member writer and our honorary member attended the three-day conference held in the last days of May by the PEN Writers in Prison Committee in Amsterdam. His attendance was significant as he closely monitors the state of freedom of speech and thought in Turkey and we thank him for agreeing to attend this meeting on our behalf and for his speech that attracted wide attention.

We supported the 5th International Eskişehir Poetry Meeting held by the Eskişehir Tepebaşı Municipality from the 28th of May to the 31st as PEN Turkey. Many poets from our country, Denmark, France, Scotland, Luxembourg and Hungary attended the 5th International Meeting directed by our directorial board member Haydar Ergülen. This year’s honorary guest was poet-translator Eray Canberk.

Founders of Esperanto PEN Centre, Giorgio Silfer and Perla Martinelli were at İstanbul at the end of May. A conference on the language history and literature of Esperanto was held in Kadıköy, Tarihçi Kitabevi. Silfer, who responded to questions posed by our Directorial Board member Tarık Günersel, underlined that the Esperanto language established by the end of the 19th century is now being spoken by 2 million people worldwide.

Görkem Evci’s “Story Well” and Büşra Özcan’s “Name” both of which have been selected at the “New Voices” competition have been translated to English and sent to the International competition. We are awaiting the results hastily…

This years first TÜYAP Karadeniz Book Fair was held on the 18-24 May in Samsun. On behalf of PEN – Turkey our Directorial Board member Zeynep Aliye attended as an observer. We wish the best of luck to the Karadeniz Book Fair that attracted the attention of young people, to TÜYAP and to book fanatics of Karadeniz.

I issued an urgent call at the end of May when PEN was the busiest for PEN members who are eloquent in other languages to make time to attend meetings representing PEN Turkey. Only five people have responded, with all but one from outside İstanbul… I thank Ayşe Kilimci, Cüneyt Ayral, Muhammet Güzel, Serenay Özbek and Petek Demir very much for their interest and suggestions.

The Turkish Publishers Association presented the “Freedom of Speech and Thought Awards” the other night. The awards, which are traditionally awarded to one writer, one publisher and one bookstore and one caricaturist was given to caricaturist Bahadır Baruter who has received the penalty of imprisonment for “insulting the President of the Republic”; The founder of Dost Kitapevi Erdal Akalın; and to the founder of publishing house Kırmızı Kedi Yayınları, Haluk Hepkon who currently faces 14 separate trials. The Special Awards were received by Cumhuriyet Newspaper, Engelli Web, Doğan Özgüden and İnci Tuğsavul Özgüden. Many of our members, our International Secretary Tarık Günersel, our Vice President Halil İbrahim Özcan and myself gladly attended this gracious ceremony.

We have rested on all of Can Dündar’s works for our pick of the books of June.

Dear Friends,

Since the agenda is very busy, the letter was long. I owe one last thanks: to Nihat Ateş who provided for all this communication and who diligently garnished the PEN Turkey website (see:www.pen.org.tr). Easier said then done, he has aided us for eight years in keeping the PEN family together. Our boundless thanks!

You’re invited to stroll around the website and to provide us with your news, your published works, news of PEN on the press and your comments. Give us a hand to enrich our website. From this month forth we have agreed to put up the monthly letters I author to the website. In a nutshell what’s being done here is a panorama… So all of us can see what’s being done each month and what is missing from it.

I wish all of you a delicate summer, far from violence.
With Love and Respect,
President of Pen Turkey
Zeynep Oral

13 May 2015

Dear / Esteemed PEN members,

I am writing my letter for May with slight delay.

We managed to conduct our Directory Board Meeting not the first but the second week of May. We waited for our International Secretary Tarık Günersel to return from the USA and in the meantime tried to calm our frustration of not being able to get to reach Taksim Square on the 1st of May as we had planned with TYS…(The Writers Union)

As you will recall, İstanbul was a ghost town the 1st of May this year under the siege police forces and TOMA’s. Yet despite all the suppression, violence and prohibitions out Vice President Halil İbrahim Özcan managed to reach first Beşiktaş and later Taksim to place a carnation at the Atatürk memorial.

The start of May marked the “Peace for Writers Comitteee” conference held by the International PEN and Slovenia PEN for three days in Slovenia. Ayşe Kulin attended the conference upon our invitation and issued a pronouncement by her own means. Her communiqué, focusing on the Gezi Protests was regarded as the most hopeful of the meeting. She presented us with her report upon our return. We thank her for her participation.

As you know the International PEN undertakes each year a competition for “New Voices”. This year, a selective board consisting of Zeynep Aliye, Tülin Dursun, Hikmet Altınkaynak, Yeşim Ağaoğlu and Tarık Günersel reviewed the applications and Görkem Evci’s “Story Well” and Büşra Özcan’s “Name” were selected for submission to the international competition. We hope that their work will also be rewarded in the international arena.

During the month of April, world literature lost two of its great writers.

The novelist of confrontation, Nobel Prize Winner Günter Grass died at the age 87. The Uruguayan author and journalist Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America’s leading voices, died of cancer at the age of 74 .
As you know, PEN Turkey choses a book or books of the month each month. The choice is a thin excuse with the main goal to promote reading… For the month of May, we chose all the works of these two great masters that have been published in our country.

At our Directorial Board Meeting just two days ago we have debated on the lynching campaign set off against artists and writers (those, of course, that don’t act as factitious partisans and offer honest criticism) on television or social media and decided on issuing a condemnation. We ask our friends with capacity to reach the media to make it heard as loudly as possible:


An open act of violence is being committed against the world of arts and culture in recent days. The prohibition of the play “Can” by the Mayor of Edirne, consisting of Can Yücel’s poetry, previously represented in many cities across Turkey, many times over, is an unacceptable act of suppression and violence. We inform once more that we stand in solidarity with writers and artists who have done nothing but proved their worth with their art and writings and condemn their targeting by government partisans aiming to scare them through means of threats and suppression.

For the PEN Turkey Board of Directory

President: Zeynep Oral. 11 May 2015”

Dear PEN members,

Kenan Evren, the lieder of the military coup of 12 September 1980 has died at the age of 97. Yet 12th of September (the military coup d'état) still reigns on our country with its laws and institutions, it’s prohibitions and repressions…

Kenan Evren was solely a pawn, a symbol of fascism in our country… We must remember that the acts against democracy, rights and freedoms the regime of the 12th of September have established through disrupting the legal and educational system is still alive in our country. The laws of the 12th of September are still in place with it’s institutions and counter-revolution efforts.

The 12th of September did not cease with the death of Kenan Evren. The 12th and it’s likes will only cease to exist when the people say “enough is enough!”

Love and respect to you all,
President of PEN Turkey
Zeynep Oral

6 April 2015

Dear / Esteemed PEN members,

As you will recall, I promised I would write to you monthly after our Directorial Committee meeting to share our problems, events and news. I am keeping that promise today to compose my 3rd letter for April:

PEN Turkey, which heavily focused on keeping a watch over court hearings of prosecuted journalists, writers and publishers In February, gave priority to events concerning literature throughout the month of March.

The PEN Duygu Asena Award Ceremony was carried out on the 7th of March at the Gazanfer Özcan – Gönül Ülkü Stage with the recipients of the award attending; Latife Tekin and friends from the Gümüşlük Academy. Many thanks to our Secretary General Tülin Dursun for providing the guests with treats and the location for the ceremony.

Afşar Timuçin, who received the PEN Poetry Prize this year was presented with the award on the 21st of March, World Poetry Day, at the Ortaköy Afife Jale Stage. This years World Poetry Announcement was recited by Afşar Timuçin followed by speeches from various artists, writers and poets. We thank our Directory Board Member Haydar Ergülen for arranging the ceremony and all the speakers respectfully.

Another significant event undertaken during the month of March was to say “stop vandalism”. Five organizations (Besam, Sculptors Assosiation, PEN Turkey, The Turkish Writers Union, The Turkish Publishers Union and the International Plastic Arts Association) gathered together to start a campaign to put a stop to the vandalism of Yaşar Kemal’s sculpture being intentionally scrutinized amidst surrounding construction works, machines and mounting debris. We held a march on the 11th of March at Yeni Kapı under the name “We Walk to Yaşar Kemal” which was attended by all the five organisations named above as well ass other social society organizations. I will not forget the great support of the Nazım Hikmet Culture and Arts Foundation.

We witnessed once more how solidarity breeds power! Yaşar Kemal’s statue is now repaired and moved to its new place, watching Anatolia amidst flowers.

I feel it is my duty to share sculptor Metin Yurdanur’s thanks, who has eloquently carved out the statue of Yaşar Kemal

“Dear Zeynep Oral,

As an artist living on soil that’s been home to 12.000 years of civilization, I thank you for all your efforts in the resurgence of the statue of Yaşar Kemal, our universal sapient. Your contribution to art, artists and our culture will not be forgotten. With love and respect, Metin Yurdanur”

During the month of March we have also carried out the Haldun Taner Panel as PEN under my directory at the Bursa TÜYAP Book Fair. Our Vice President, Halil İbrahim Özcan, was present at our Yaşar Kemal Conference held in Antalya.

The short story workshop held by Zeynep Aliye every Saturday continued throughout March and will do so until the 18th of April…

As you know, as PEN Turkey we pick a book of the month each month… The choice is a thin excuse, the main goal is to provoke reading…. As the book of April we have decided on all the works of Haldun Taner, whose 100th birthday was celebrated at the Caddebostan Culture Centre on the 19th of March.

The TÜYAP İzmir Fair is due to take place on the 18th of April. This time the attention is focused on Aziz Nesin who is 100th birthday will be celebrated. All our members are invited to the İzmir Book Fair…

We have convocation:

It fortifies us all to stand together with brotherly establishments: PEN, The Turkish Writers Union (TYS) and the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) have got together and are calling for all of you:

We are getting together on 10th of April to discuss what can be done on May 1st Labour and Solidarity Day. We invite all our members for the meeting, which will be held at 11.00 in Karaköy Mimarlar Odası (Address: TMMOB Mimarlar Odası İstanbul Büyükkent Şubesi Kemankeş Mah, Kemankeş cad. No 31 Karaköy)

Dear friends and PEN members,

I see good use in reminding you: For any issue concerning PEN (including information on monthly overdue fees) our friend Songül Erdoğan at the PEN Turkey Headquarters will be there for help. We are always open to your suggestion, collaboration and insight. (For contact and information: on work days, between 14:00-17:00 by telephone 2122920026 or by e-mail [email protected])

With Love and Respect,
President of PEN Turkey
Zeynep Oral

4 March 2015

Dear / Esteemed PEN Members,

It’s been a month since I have addressed you.

Within this month our greatest grievance has been the loss of Yaşar Kemal, the “grand plane tree” of our literature. All across Turkey we are left feeling as if we have suffered the loss of someone from our own family. His ponderous heart, big laughter and instrumental rebellion… His outrage towards injustice and exploitation, his resistance against them… His everlasting struggle for democracy… His work that managed to breed hope out of hopelessness…The light he has shed upon the Turkish language… The folksong of goodness and beauty he has granted us with his personality, his actions and his output will live on… On the day we wished him well onto the hands of eternity we all witnessed just how much he was loved…

We have shared our great loss with PEN centers around the world along with the International PEN Offices in London and the foreign press and accepted grievances. I wish his family, friends and readers forbearance.

The disgraceful state of the freedom of thought and expression in Turkey intimately concerns the International PEN: In the last month, we as PEN Turkey have attended the court trials of Can Dündar and Çiğdem Toker. After the trial, the International PEN have started a support campaign for Can Dündar and requested all PEN centers around the world to send word to Erdoğan and the Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdağ and call for the withdrawal of this case.

Only a few days back we held our Directory Committee meating. Apart from the Directorial Staff Members, the Head of the Peace Comitteee Işıl Özgentürk; and the Head of the Woman Writers Committee Yeşim Ağaolu was present.

As you know we chose a book of the month for each month… This time, we have chosen to mark all the works of Yaşar Kemal as the book of the month. His books are the books of this month, of the months to follow and of every season… We believe that the more people are aware of his work, the more habitable this country will get!

In the past month we have received word of the various short story workshops held at the PEN Center from Zeynep Aliye. As you know, various writers are invited to the workshops every week. The guest for the workshop that will be held on the 14th of March is Işıl Özgentürk.

On 7th of March, between 14:00-16:00 we will be presenting the PEN Duygu Asena Prize to Latife Takin and Gümüşlük Academy. We are expecting all members to our award ceremony at the Gönül Ülkü- Gazanfer Özcan Theatre. You should’ve received invitation by e-mail as these were sent out last night.

As to the PEN Poetry Prize, Afşar Timuçin will be it’s recipient on the 21st of March, World Poetry Day, at 14:30 in Ortaköy Afife Jale Theatre. Likewise, an invitation for this event will be delivered to you by e-mail.

I am notifying you of another date to mark on your calenders today: 16th of March which will be Haldun Taner’s 100th birthday. The Kadıköy City Hall is preparing for a splendid program that evening in Caddebostan Cultural Centre, don’t make any other promises!

Between 14th and 21st of March the TÜYAP Bursa Book Fair is due to take place: as PEN, along with our members from Bursa we are working on a panel on the 21st under the name “Haldun Taner and All His Facets”.

We also had guests at the end of our Directory Committee. The Turkish Writers Union payed a visit to PEN and together we discussed common strategies and events for the future. We also developed an urgent action plan and decided to say Stop Vandalism!” together.

Five organisations (Besam, Sculptors Assosiation, PEN Turkey, The Turkish Writers Union, The Turkish Publishers Union and the International Plastic Arts Association) call upon all our members:

“ We’d like to share with you a hurtful truth in the aftermath of the loss of our international writer Yaşar Kemal. The sculpture located in Yenikapı entitled “Yaşar Kemal watching Anatolia” carved by sculptor Metin Yurdanor in 1994 is being vandalized amidst surrounding construction works, machines and mounting debris. To end such vandalism and to save the sculpture and the memory our respected writer we call upon you to gather together. We will be meeting on the 11th of March, Wednesday at 11.00 a.m at Yenikapı dock of sea busses to walk to Yaşar Kemal. We expect the attendance of all our members.

As you can see, the month of March seems like it will be immensely busy. And yet it presents great opportunities for our members to meet and to show solidarity…

Dear friends and PEN members,

I see good use in reminding you: For any issue concerning PEN (including information on monthly overdue fees) our friend Songül Erdoğan at the PEN Turkey Headquarters will be there for help. We are always open to your suggestion, collaboration and insight. (For contact and information: on work days, between 14:00-17:00 by telephone 2122920026 or by e-mail [email protected])

With love and respect,
President of PEN Turkey
Zeynep Oral

3 February 2015

Dear / Esteemed PEN Members,

As you know, we have conducted our regular Plenary Assembly Meeting in İstanbul, Maya- Cüneyt Türel stage. We thank our friends for their attendance and support and to Metin Deniz who generously allowed us to make use of the stage.

On the same day after the elections we carried out our first BOARD OF DIRECTORS meetings and declared the assignment of duties. According to this declaration our administrative staff consists of the following names: Zeynep Oral- President, Halil İbrahim Özcan – Vice President, Tülin Dursun – Secretary General – Secretary of International Relations, Zeynep Aliye- Accounting Officer, Mario Levi- Member, Haydar Ergülen– Member. Auditing Commision: Ahmet Çakmak, Hakan İşçen, Turan Feyzioğlu. Honorary Comission: Adnan Özyalçıner, Deniz Kavukçuğolu, İkna Sarıaslan… Nihat Ateş, who has been carrying out his duty as PEN WEB editor voluntarily, reserves his duty as WEB editor.

Since that day we have stepped up to the plate and are working at full speed. Accordingly, this letter (and every letter to follow monthly addressed to you respectively) aims to inform you of our work; to share events, thoughts and projections; and to give ear to your suggestions, criticisms and expectations… Thus, to fortify our organization collectively…

On a personal trip I took to London, I made use of the opportunity to attend a meeting at the International PEN Office. I answered questions regarding freedom of thought and speech in Turkey and an assessment was made regarding latest situation on these issues in the country.

Also shorty after the General Assembly, our Ankara representative Yaşar Seyman attended the “Publishing Freedom Workshop” conducted in Ankara by Turkish Publishers Association and the European Union. The workshop, which welcomed writers, publishers, journalists, lawmakers and human rights advocates, debated the problems experienced in Turkey and the obstacles faced in publishing.

We have assigned four heads of committees who have assisted the works and events of PEN Turkey. Accordingly, the heads of the committees are as follows: “The Committee of Jailed Writers “ - Halil İbrahim Özcan; “The Committee o Woman Writers” - Yeşim Ağaoğlu; “The Committee of Language and Translation Rights” - Suat Karantay; and “The Peace Committee” - Işıl Özgentürk. Presidents are expected to form their own teams.

There are two yearly, traditional awards presented at PEN Turkey. The PEN Prize for Poetry and the PEN Duygu Asena Prize. Directorship was arranged for these two awards.

We are pleased to announce that the 2015 PEN Poetry Prize has been awarded to Afşar Timuçin; and the 2015 PEN Duygu Asena Prize has been awarded to Latife Tekin and the Gümüşlük Academy. We will inform you of the time and place of our awards ceremony once it has been decided upon. We aim to present one of the awards on the 8th of March International Working Woman’s Day and the other on the 21st of March The International Poetry Day.

We also have good news for you: we have successfully sow the seeds of a new yet important award: PEN Yaşar Kemal Literature Award. We are working on developing this award that will respectfully carry the name of our “grand plane tree”, an globally respected international writer raised in Turkey. Whilst we are preparing a directory, we are also seeking out material sources for the award since we are in need of financial aid for the preparations. We have faith that we will succeed.

As you know, we have been selecting a “Book of the Month” every month for the last three years in the aim of raising awareness. For the month of January, in the respectful and graceful memory of Deniz Gezmiş and all the young revolutionaries we have lost, our choice was Can Dündar’s book “Abim Deniz” published by Can Yayınları.

For February we chose as Book of the Month Emin Karaca’s book “Mistik, Romantik, Ağır Mahkum ve Göçmen şair Nazım Hikmet” published by Kafkültür Yayınları. Emin Karaca is a scrupulous researcher who has authored many books regarding the life of Nazım Hikmet and his lifework. This book carries biographical value and acts a strong source for arts, politics and culture.

Another event that we are proud of is the yearly PEN Turkish Center Short Story Workshop. In the recent years, together with PEN Short Story Committee Director Zeynep Aliye, writes such as Feridun Andaç, Akgün Akova, Tanju Akleman, Sadık Aslankara, Hikmet Altınkaynak, Haydar Ergülen, Mustafa Balel, Mehmet Zaman Saçlıoğlu, Adnan Binyazar ve Tarık Günersel have contributed.

The 2015 Short Story Workshop is held once more under the directory of Zeynep Aliye. The creative writing workshop intended towards the interest of short story writers will be held between 14th of February and 18th of April at the PEN Headquarters on Saturdays 14.30-17.00. You are encouraged to notify those in your immediate circles that show interest. (For information: on work days, between 14:00-17:00 by telephone 2122920026 or by e-mail [email protected])

Dear friends and PEN members,

For any issue concerning PEN (including information on monthly overdue fees) our friend Songül Erdoğan at the PEN Turkey Headquarters will be there for help. We are always open to your suggestion, collaboration and insight.

We are expecting your contribution to PEN, campaigning to glorify, spread, and develop literature; to defend the freedom of thought and speech; to expose various biddings surfacing on this field; to support solidarity between writers regardless of language, religion, race or nationality and to fortify world peace.

With love and respect,
President of PEN Turkey
Zeynep Oral