As part of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, renowned Turkish writer and PEN International Writers Circle member, Elif Shafak writes to Asli Erdoğan.
I spoke with your mother on the phone yesterday. The gentleness, the peace and the love that came into her voice every time she mentioned your name left a deep impression on me. The contrast is so stark—the kindness in your mother’s tone and the harshness with which you have been treated ever since you have been taken into custody, put on trial and then, shockingly, sent to prison.
Before we hung up, your mother said, “Tell everyone, Asli is not a political person, she does not even vote for any political party, how can they accuse her of such awful things?”
They have accused you of “such awful things” but no one in their right mind was convinced by the charges. Not in Turkey, nor abroad. We don’t believe what they say about you. We believe you.
For you have built a life’s worth of “evidence” to refute their claims—your books, your stories, your words, each of which pays homage to your faith in peace, non-violence, democracy, coexistence and empathy. You are someone who wishes to see the restoration of harmony between Turks and Kurds. You are someone who cares about your fellow human beings. You are one of the last people on earth who can be accused of “inciting violence and terrorism.”
And yet, on August 17th, you were arrested with twenty other journalists and staff-members of Ozgur Gundem newspaper. Your ‘crime’ was to add your name to the advisory board of the paper in a symbolic act of solidarity. The prosecutors knew that those on the advisory board do not control the newspaper’s publishing policy but they still asked that you be given a life sentence.
Meanwhile, you suffer from asthma and several chronic diseases. Being a diabetic, you need a special diet. You have told us, through your lawyer: “I am being treated in a way that will leave permanent damage on my body.”
We—a whole community of writers and readers—are waiting impatiently for the day you will walk out of those prison gates, ill-treated, yes, but undefeated. When that day arrives, you will see that the boundary between “the inside” and “the outside” has long been blurred. In a country where novelists, poets, journalists, editors and cartoonists are put in prison on the basis of the most ridiculous charges, how can any writer say that they are “free”?
Keep writing, inside your head.
Keep imagining, away from their reach.
You have many people, both in Turkey and beyond, who can’t wait to read your next great book. I, certainly, am one of them.
I send you my love, solidarity & sisterhood,