PEN Vlaanderen has appointed the imprisoned Turkish writer and journalist Ahmet Altan as an honorary member. The Flemish division of PEN International promotes literature and defends freedom of expression around the world. The freedom of expression is endangered in Turkey.
Ahmet Altan (b. 1950) is one of the greatest writers and journalists in Turkey. He wrote several novels, which have been published in many languages. Altan is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Taraf, which was banned after the failed coup in 2016.
On 23 September 2016 Ahmet Altan was arrested. He was accused of “having given subliminal messages to encourage the coup planners” and sentenced to unconditional life imprisonment with an extra heavy regime.
In May 2019, De Bezige Bij will publish the collection of essays Ik zal de wereld nooit meer zien (I Will Never See the World Again), in which Altan writes about his arrest and life in prison. For the time being, the book will not be published in Turkey.
Altan is behind bars in the Silivri prison, just outside Istanbul. He has no access to books. To The Times Literary Supplement he said: “The only thing I read that was published in the past twelve months was the prison magazine. It wasn’t all that interesting.”
And when asked what he normally reads on holiday, he replied: “If prison is the holiday spot that I think it is, I read whatever I find here. Novels, history books, essays, indictments, court files and shop receipts.”
If he had to choose between Beyoncé or Bob Dylan, it sounded laconic: “I asked my two cellmates. Our anonymous and definite choice is Beyoncé.”
The best advice Altan ever received? “Noblesse oblige. I must have been fifteen when my father told me this in a tone halfway between advice and scolding. A good rule to remember especially in the face of pain. (And I know what George Orwell said!)”
We want to honour Ahmet Altan here by quoting him.
In 2007 he wrote an ode to his mother tongue in our book Standing tall in Babel. Languages in Europe.
“I may not have a stitch to wear, I may be utterly alone, without love, without a penny to my name and friendless, but then I turn to Turkish, take the words and create friends, loves, money and lives for myself.”
“After all our years of friendship I hope that my language will save me from the annihilating claws of death, that it will allow me to live on when I lie under the tall cypresses.”Luc Devoldere