A new outstanding figure, Ms. Aslı Erdoğan, is joining the milieu of Krakow’s literary guests. The Turkish writer will stay in the Polish UNESCO City of Literature as part of a fellowship from ICORN, an international network of cities offering writers and human rights advocates refuge. Krakow’s membership in the programme is one of its strategic areas of action, aimed at deepening the links between literature and human rights in Poland.
The organisers of Ms. Erdoğan’s stay are the city of Krakow, the Krakow Festival Office and the Villa Decius Association, which helps her to realise the fellowship programme and offers her a place for creative work. This is to be another humanitarian and social dimension of activity in the UNESCO City of Literature Programme in which Krakow has participated since 2013. This is all the more significant because our hosting of Ms. Erdoğan will not only guarantee her a space to work, but it will also certainly influence the city’s life and culture.
Writing and Engagement
Certainly, this will not only be literary activity, although we must remember that the work of Ms. Erdoğan, who was born in 1967, has received many prizes. However, she is highly renowned for her work as a journalist, which as a result of her sociopolitical engagement has been accompanied by many controversies. The ICORN fellow has published over 200 articles (many of them are devoted to criticising Turkish politicians and the government) in both Turkish and foreign publications. Her work is very diverse: it includes novels (the first, The Sea Shell Man, was published in 1994), poetry, short stories, poetic prose and travel as well as political essays. Although her writing is ignored in her homeland, Ms. Erdoğan’s works have been translated into many languages, including: French, Danish, English, Swedish, Norwegian, Bosnian, German and Bulgarian. Such authors as Orhan Pamuk, Ingo Arend, Ruth Klüger and Eugene Schoulgin have dealt with her work; what’s more, it has been the subject of more than 100 articles, essays and dissertations published in leading newspapers and literary journals across Europe (it suffices to mention Lire, Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Die Press and Aftenposten). It is worth adding that fragments of Erdoğan’s prose were performed onstage in Milan and performed in dance theatres, and one of her short stories was even adapted into film in France. Certainly, the fact that the magazine Lire placed her on its list of “Fifty Writers of the Future,” thus recognising her works as contemporary classics.
What is interesting, this writer had previously studied computer engineering and physics, and during her academic career she even work in CERN in Geneva. She wanted to pursue a doctorate in Rio de Janeiro, although having left academic work at one point she decided to returned to Istanbul, and only then did she debut as a writer. Ms. Erdoğan is a member of PEN International as well as TYS (the Turkish Authors’ Association). She is active in the literary community, taking part in festivals, conferences and meetings around the world. Certainly, Krakow will have many opportunities to experience her versatile work.
Ms. Erdoğan’s efforts in defending the human rights of the Kurdish community had significant influence on ICORN’s decision to grant her this prestigious fellowship. In 1990, she began her literary career, and in 1998 she became a columnist for the leftist magazine Radikal, where she dealt with such painful topics as: tortures, human rights abuses in prisons, the rights of the Kurdish community and violence against women (the texts from this era were published in 2000 in the collection titled When a Journey Ends). As a response, she has frequently dealt with threats, was arrested and accused, which did not stop her from achieving success in investigative journalism. Presently, she writes for the bilingual Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem and is constantly confronted with repressions on the part of authorities. Ms. Erdoğan still faces the threat of being arrested; thus by giving her this fellowship Krakow would like to give her appropriate conditions not only to develop her work, but also to ensure her safe political refuge as well as a space for further struggles against human rights abuses.
Kraków: City of Literature, City of Refuge
The Polish city joined the ICORN network in 2011, the Year of Czesław Miłosz, and was the first member of this network in the region of East-Central Europe. ICORN, which offers refuge to writers and human rights advocates who cannot freely live and work in their own countries because of political repressions, was formed in 2005 in Norway. One of the initiators of this network was one of the most persecuted writers of the 20th century, Salman Rushdie, whose Satanic Verses led to violent protests in the Islamic world and led Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a famous fatwa, a sentence obliging every true Muslim to kill the writer, on him.
When Krakow joined ICORN, the organisation’s authorities noted that the Polish city is an important and entirely justified candidate that would serve as an excellent example for other cities in this part of Europe. Helge Lunde, Director of the ICORN network, noted that thanks to cultural traditions and a rich artistic and literary life, Krakow would be an ideal place of refuge and inspiration for persecuted artists. It considered the city’s geopolitical location as significant, calling Krakow a “Gateway to the East,” which is important from the perspective of ICORN’s interest in helping numerous writers in Poland’s eastern neighbours. Since then, Krakow has hosted three writers: Maria Amelie (whose real name is Madina Salamova, from Northern Ossetia, yet now is in Norway), Kareem Amer (Egypt, but today Sweden), Mostafa Zamaniniya (Iran) and Lawon Barszczeuski (Belarus).
ICORN creates a continually growing network of over 50 cities, and its activity is one of the strong voices in defence of freedom of speech and freedom to one’s convictions as well as international solidarity. In the ten years it has been active, ICORN has found temporary places of refuge for several hundred writers, intellectuals and bloggers. The network does not only coordinate a “shelter cities” programme, but it also cooperates with the governments of various countries and many organisations around the world, thus very tangibly fighting for freedom of speech and human rights. The refuge given to Ms. Erdoğan is fully in-line with this programme.