16 March 2012 – It has been a busy week for PEN Turkey, which presented an award to imprisoned women writers and a co-hosted a panel debate on the dire state of free expression in Turkey where authorities see books as “weapons”….
To mark 8 March International Women’s Day Ayşe Berktay and Büşra Ersanlı have been awarded the PEN Turkey Duygu Asena Award 2012. Berktay, a scholar, author and woman’s activist, and Ersanlı, a political science professor, have been detained, awaiting trial since October 2011.
On Monday, 12 March, PEN Turkey members delivered the award in person to the writers in Istanbul’s Bakirköy Women’s Prison. Tarık Günersel, President of PEN Turkey, told Hürriyet Daily News that the writers ‘will be released, not freed, because none of us can really be free in this country in a true sense. All the awards we grant represent a contribution to the struggle for democracy waged by aggrieved intellectuals’
The award, presented annually since 2006, is named in honour of acclaimed Turkish journalist, author and women’s rights activist Duygu Asena. Over the course of a career spanning four decades, Asena rose to prominence as a champion of women’s rights in Turkey, pioneering discussions on subjects such as wife-beating, forced marriages and female sexuality. Her best-selling novel, The Woman Has No Name, was banned for two years by the Turkish government for undermining marriage and containing ‘obscene’ content. Asena passed away in 2006 after a two-year battle with brain cancer.
On 15 March, two days after the prison visit, PEN Turkey co-hosted an event on Freedom of Thought and Expression with the Writers Union of Turkey, the Professional Association of Translators and the Publishers’ Association of Turkey, where writers, journalists, lawyers and publishers gathered to express their growing concerns about the increasing numbers of journalists being arrested. Among them was PEN Vice President, Eugene Schoulgin, and William Nygaard, board member of Norwegian Pen and the International Publishers Association (IPA). It was stated at the symposium that the joint struggle for the release of journalist must continue. Encapsulating the mood among writers today, publisher and PEN Turkey member, Müge Gürsoy Sökmen, told of how she could not consider publishing Ahmet Şık’s Imam’s Army for which he is currently standing trial
“We were told that printing this book was going to be deemed as ‘aiding and abetting a terrorist organization’. …. 30 years after the coup d’état this situation reminded us that once more we have entered an environment of fear where books are accounted for as weapons”. Read more