From a literature award to journalists in prison
The Orhan Kemal Novel Award has been one of the most – perhaps the most – prestigious literary awards in Turkey since it was established by the family of the social-realist novelist after his passing in 1970. For example, the star of Turkey’s only Nobel literature laureate, Orhan Pamuk, who won in 2006, started to rise after he received the Orhan Kemal Award in 1983.
It was Gürsel Korat who received this year’s award for his 2016 novel, “Unutkan Ayna - The Forgetful Mirror.” Setting the novel in Nevşehir, Cappadocia, in 1915 in the middle of the Armenian deportation, it tells a story of love with all the human qualities of betrayal, misery and solidarity in a water-tight text. Korat is already a renowned novelist in Turkey, mostly setting his works in Cappadocia, the Anatolian heartland from which he comes.
“When a person looks at the world with the eye of conscience,” Gürsel said while receiving the award on June 2 in a modest ceremony at an Istanbul public library, “it is possible to see a lot of things.”
Korat also dedicated his award to “all people facing injustice.”
The main reason for that were the words of Işık Öğütçü, the son of Orhan Kemal and the head of the organization committee, during the opening ceremony. He said they really missed Turhan Güney, one of the members of the award jury who has been in Silivri prison near Istanbul for the last 215 days. Günay is the editor of the weekly books supplement of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. He is one of the 161 journalists, writers, editors and publishers who are currently in jail, according to the most recent figures from the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC). Being a peaceful man of letters, he was put in jail together with nine other colleagues last year for allegedly simultaneously helping two mutually opposing terror organizations, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the “Fethullahist Terror Organization” (FETÖ), as the government calls the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher who lives in the United States and is accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt. Later on, Oğuz Güven, the web editor of Cumhuriyet, was also imprisoned because prosecutors and judges did not like the way the web site reported a traffic accident in which a prosecutor who opened cases against Gülenists was killed.
In the same context, another journalist who allegedly aided two mutually antagonistic terror organizations at the same time, Cumhuriyet columnist and International Press Institute (IPI) Turkey head Kadri Gürsel, is also in jail. Like Öğütçü’s sadness about Günay, I and a lot of colleagues also miss Kadri. We miss Ahmet Şık and others as well.
After writing a book about the Gülenists’ illegal activities, Şık was put in prison for two years from 2010 to 2012 by prosecutors and judges who are now either in jail or facing arrest because of their links with Gülen. Now Şık is again in jail on accusations of helping the Gülenist network and the PKK together.
That is why Gürsel Korat’s dedication of his award to all those suffering from injustice tells a lot about a certain cross-section of today’s Turkey.