World academics, authors rally to Altans’ support

Nobel laureates, novelists, professors, and publishers condemn government vendetta and demand Altan brothers’ immediate release

12 Eylül 2016 14:00

The recent detention of Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and other Turkish journalists and writers has produced a wave of international outrage and concern. Within 24 hours of the Altans’ being taken off by the police, 54 leading writers, academics and publishers from all corners of the world put their name to a letter in protest. Well known novelists such as Elena Ferrante or Peter Carey, Nobel laureates JM Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk, leading academics like John Berger or Adam Hochschild and famous human rights QC Philippe Sands, all volunteered their support.  

And the list continues to grow exponentially.

“In the aftermath of that coup, it is understandable that the government would have imposed a temporary state of emergency. However, the failed coup should not be a pretext for a McCarthy style witch hunt nor should that state of emergency be conducted with scant regard for basic rights, rules of evidence or even common sense,” the letter reads.

National PEN groups from countries like Germany, England, and the USA, as well as PEN International promoted the letter. Those responsible for organizing the letter are concerned that the focus on the Altan brothers should not be at the expense of justice being seen to be done in the case of other Turkish writers and journalists who are denied their liberty. However, the case against the two of appearing on a television show and giving “subliminal signals of support for the coup” so obviously beggars credulity that the world has stood up to take note.

The letter is posted below and the list of signatories will be updated regularly: 

We the undersigned call upon democrats throughout the world as well as those who care about the future of Turkey and the region in which it exerts a leading role, to protest the vendetta, which the government is waging against its brightest thinkers and writers who may not share their point of view.

The background to this letter is the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, which mercifully failed and was quickly subdued. Had the Turkish people themselves not resisted this assault on their institutions, the result would have been years of misery. 

In the aftermath of that coup, it is understandable that the government would have imposed a temporary state of emergency.  However, the failed coup should not be a pretext for a McCarthy style witch hunt nor should that state of emergency be conducted with scant regard for basic rights, rules of evidence or even common sense.

We as writers, academics and defenders of freedom of expression are particularly disturbed to see colleagues we know and respect to being imprisoned under emergency regulations. Journalists like Şahin Alpay, Nazlı Ilıcak or the novelist Aslı Erdoğan have been outspoken defenders of democracy and opponents of militarism or tyranny of any sort. 

We are particularly disturbed to see the prominent novelist Ahmet Altan, and his brother, Mehmet Altan, a writer and distinguished professor of economics, being detained in a dawn raid on September 10, 2016.  The pair stands accused of somehow giving subliminal messages to rally coup supporters on a television panel show broadcast July 14th, the night before the coup-attempt.

Ahmet Altan is one of Turkey’s most important writers whose novels appear in translation and sell in the millions. He was also editor in chief for five years of the liberal daily newspaper Taraf. The paper championed the public’s right to know. He has been prosecuted many times over his career –in the 1990s for trying to get a Turkish readership to empathize with the country’s Kurds or more recently for trying to force an apology from the prime minister for the 2011 Roboski massacre in which 34 villagers were bombed. He appeared in court as recently as September 2, charged with handling state secrets based on an indictment that was in large part copy pasted from two entirely different cases. 

Mehmet Altan is a professor at Istanbul University, a columnist whose numerous books campaigned to rebuild Turkey’s identity not on race or religion but respect for human rights. Like his brother and others now in jail his crime is not for supporting a coup but for the effectiveness of his criticism of the current government whose initial progress in broadening democracy is now jammed in reverse gear.

We therefore call upon the Turkish government to cease its persecution of prominent writers and to speed the release of Ahmet and Mehmet Altan as well as so many of their colleagues wrongly accused.

Héctor Abad, Writer.

Daron Acemoğlu, Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor Rosental Calmon Alves, Knight Chair in Journalism & UNESCO Chair in Communication ; Director, Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, University of Texas at Austin.

Chloe Aridjis, Writer, Mexico / United Kingdom.

Hans Jürgen Balmes, Editor, S. Fischer Verlage.

Russell Banks, Writer.

John Berger, Writer.

Warren Breckman, Rose Family Endowed Term Chair, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania.

Breyten Breytenbach, Writer, South Africa / France.

Daphné Breytenbach, Independent journalist, France.

Jamie Byng, Publisher, Canongate Books.

Peter Carey, Writer.

JM Coetzee, Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Catherine Farin, Editor, S. Fischer Verlage.

Rita Felski, Professor of literature, University of Virginia and University of Southern Denmark.

Elena Ferrante, Writer.

Sandro Ferri, Publisher, edizioni e/o, Europa editions.

Maureen Freely, Writer ; President of English PEN.

Professor Anthony T. Grafton, Historian, Princeton University.

Constanze Güthenke, Associate Professor of Greek Literature, Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford.

Chris Hedges, Author, Pulitzer Prize Winner.

Jim Hicks, Executive Editor of the Massachusetts Review ; Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Adam Hochschild, Journalist, historian. 

Violaine Huisman, Director of Humanities, Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Ayesha Jalal, Mary Richardson Professor of History ; Director, Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, Tufts University

A.L. Kennedy, Writer.

Laurens van Krevelen, Writer and publisher, The Netherlands.

Wolf Lepenies, Professor, Sociology, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin; Freie Universität.

Mark Lilla, Writer, Professor of Humanities, Columbia University.

Clementina Liuzzi, Literary agent.

Alberto Manguel, Writer, Director of the National Library of Argentina.

Claudia Mattalucci, Professor, Anthropology, University of Milan-Bicocca.

Hisham Matar, Writer.

Tom McCarthy, National affairs correspondent, Guardian.

Allan Megill, Professor of History, University of Virginia.

Laurent Mignon, Associate Professor of Turkish ; Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford.

Rick Moody, Writer.

Paul W. Morris, Director of Literary Programs at PEN American Center. 

Dirk Moses, Professsor, History, University of Sydney.

Glenn W. Most, Professor of Classics, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa ; The University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought.

Enrique Murillo, Editor, Los libros del lince. 

Françoise Nyssen, Publisher, Actes Sud.

Sandra Ozzola, Publisher, edizioni e/o, Europa editions.

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Tim Parks, Writer.

Daniel Rondeau, Writer; former ambassador.

Professor Philippe Sands QC, University College London and Matrix Chambers. 

Roberto Saviano, Journalist, writer.

Anya Schiffrin, Director (IMAC) at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

Eugene Schoulgin, Vice President, PEN International.

Professor Salvatore Settis, Art Historian, President of Louvre Museum’s Scientific Board ; Former President of Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. 

Dan Simon, Founder and publisher, Seven Stories Press.

Adam Thirlwell, Writer.

Regula Venske, General Secretary, PEN Germany.