Elif Shafak

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Women huddle after gendarmes used water cannon and teargas against them during clashes over deforestation in Ikizkoy, Muğla province, Turkey. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

This summer, as Rhodes was ravaged by wildfires and the world witnessed the destruction of precious trees and fragile ecosystems, on the opposite shore in Turkey, only miles away, ancient forests were being felled for the sake of more coal, more profit. But what the energy company hadn’t reckoned with was the resistance of local women.

Akbelen, in the province of Muğla, is a woodland of about 730 hectares (1,800 acres) that provides a natural habitat for a diverse range of flora and fauna. It is this beautiful place that YK Energy, a private energy company, has been aiming to occupy in order to expand an open-pit lignite mine to supply a thermal power plant.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘There are reports from human rights organisations that it is harder to find a tent or access aid if you are a single woman.’ Tents for earthquake survivors in Adiyaman, Turkey, 25 February 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In Turkey’s southern province of Hatay, one of the most ravaged cities in the recent earthquakes, 25-year-old Alev Altun, the mother of two young children, became homeless in one night, like thousands of others. Having nowhere to go, she agreed to take refuge in the house of her ex-husband, on his invitation, assuming it would be safer to stay with the father of her children than alone in a tent or in a building at risk of collapse.

While she was sleeping, her ex-husband allegedly poured scalding water all over her, shouting she should be grateful that he had not killed her.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Fuat Oktay, Turkey’s vice-president, declared: ‘They said it was because of hunger – that’s not true. We do not have any information that the deaths were due to poverty.’’ Photograph: Alamy

Fatih is known as one of the most conservative districts of Istanbul. Last week some people in the area saw a note attached to the door of a flat: “Beware! There’s cyanide inside. Call the police. Don’t enter”. Whoever wrote the note had clearly wanted to protect the neighbours from a toxic substance. When the police arrived they found four bodies – two men, two women, aged between 48 and 60. The dead were all from the same family, the Yetişkins, who had been residents of the neighbourhood for decades. The siblings had, according to friends, also lived in unemployment and penury – the wages of one sister, a music teacher, used to keep creditors at bay.…  Seguir leyendo »

The funeral of Yunus Gormek, one of the victims of the Reina nightclub attack. Photograph: IBL/REX/Shutterstock

Last year was one of incessant tension and sorrow for Turkey. A series of deadly terror attacks left the entire country fearful, traumatised. There were public funerals in almost every town, but even grief can’t unite a society as polarised as ours.

Failed military coup, foreign policy setbacks and a string of terrorist atrocities have left country reeling.

As a nation we now spend more time talking about death than about the joys of life. “Will it be after a football match? Or maybe when I am returning home from work? When will I become a number?” wrote one person on Twitter, reflecting the sentiments of millions of citizens.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mourners at the site of explosions near a football stadium in Istanbul that killed 44 people on Tuesday. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

“‘You are a writer. You have to speak up,’ I kept telling myself,” said Yasar Kemal, the great Turkish author of Kurdish descent. As a human rights activist and advocate of pluralistic democracy, his task was not easy – to promote co-existence in a land where hatred spoke louder than peace. Since his death in 2015, things have taken a turn for the worse. Yet another terror attack hit Turkey this weekend, aiming at driving a further wedge between Turks and Kurds, and shattering our hopes for peaceful reconciliation.

Shaken by 31 suicide attacks and bombings in the past 15 years only, Turkey has become a nation of perpetual angst.…  Seguir leyendo »

Turkey's newspapers this week documented the deep cracks appearing inside the treasury room of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace -- one of the country's top tourism destinations and once the home of Ottoman sultans. While older cracks had been covered with concrete, "Hurriyet" reported that parts of this iconic structure risk total collapse as a "result of years of neglect of historical heritage."

These days, I often find myself thinking about similar cracks -- political fault lines and social fissures to be more specific -- appearing more and more across my motherland, Turkey. And there are many, way too many.

Turkey's connection with its own past is beset by sharp ruptures.…  Seguir leyendo »

« La situation politique en Turquie est vraiment déconcertante pour nous », me confiait récemment un ancien journaliste européen. «  Que se passe-t-il  ? On n’y comprend rien  !  » Les observateurs étrangers ne sont pas les seuls à avoir du mal à suivre les événements. Les Turcs eux-mêmes sont déconcertés et peinent à comprendre ce qui se passe. C’est fatigant d’être turc aujourd’hui.

La Turquie est un pays liquide  : rien ne tient, rien n’est stable. Le temps s’écoule plus vite à Istanbul que dans n’importe quelle autre ville du monde. Chaque jour, il faut aller plusieurs fois sur Internet pour voir ce qui a encore pu se passer.…  Seguir leyendo »

Galata bridge, spanning the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1895. ‘In the aftermath of the elections, a rare sense of relief and hope can be felt across the country.' Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty

As every writer, journalist or poet knows only too well, words are not to be taken lightly. Especially so in Turkey. Words can get you sued and put on trial, demonised by the government and their henchmen in the media, sent to prison or into exile. Critical-minded individuals can be branded as “traitors” overnight – just because of an article or a poem or even a tweet.

The surprise outcome of last Sunday’s Turkish elections, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) lost its majority, leading to the resignation of prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, has sent shockwaves around Europe and the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

Before a recent interview in Istanbul, I was talking to the journalist about Turkish politics. After about 15 minutes, she looked down and lowered her voice, as though confiding a secret: “It is so tiring to be Turkish sometimes.”

That mental exhaustion is caused for the most part by politics. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his leading cadres have chosen a divisive strategy, pursuing hostility over compromise and a politics of duality over a culture of coexistence. Even the most trivial or absurd questions can provoke heated debate: “Would laughing in public endanger a Turkish woman’s modesty?” “Should Turkish Airlines female flight attendants be allowed to wear red lipstick, and if not, which color might be permissible?”…  Seguir leyendo »

Residents walking through the conservative Fatih neighborhood here were used to seeing a billboard with the Brazilian actress and model Adriana Lima advertising a hair-removal product — until, one recent day, she appeared in a full burqa. Someone had covered Lima head to toe in black spray. Next to the image, a mysterious hand had scrawled: “Do not commit indecency!”

All over Istanbul, billboards displaying women’s bodies were similarly vandalized, triggering spirited debates about the female form in public space. When I used my Twitter feed to condemn the vandalism, which I see as a form of censorship, the feedback from female followers was heated.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the continuing political turmoil in Turkey, the suicide of Hatice Can might have gone unnoticed. Hatice's son, Onur, was a talented young architect – a graduate of one of the leading universities. In 2010 Onur was taken into custody on suspicion of selling drugs. He was allegedly tortured, verbally and sexually abused and, on his release, put under pressure by police to become an informer. After weeks of anguish the architect jumped from the balcony of his home, ending his life. This month his 57-year-old mother followed suit. The family's efforts to bring the police officers responsible for Orun's death to justice had all come to nought.…  Seguir leyendo »

Although the word turbulence doesn’t exist in Turkish, it is probably the best description of the state of politics in Turkey these days. But we have other words, many of them, that denote “tension,” “masculinity” and “polarization,” all of which afflict the Turkish state.

Turkey is a liquid country, a watercourse of conflicts and contradictions. The mood changes weekly, sometimes daily. Until recently the country was seen as a successful combination of Islam and Western democracy, a power broker in the Middle East. That view is rapidly fading, and the river that is Turkey is running faster than ever.

With local, presidential and general elections coming, this is a year of loud polemics and quiet concerns.…  Seguir leyendo »

'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they killed people on the streets, and I didn't know what I was doing in Istanbul …" There was something about Turkey's Taksim Square protests that often made me think of the opening line in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The same gloom was in the air; heavy with pepper spray and tear gas.

As difficult as last summer was for the nation, autumn brings new hope. The long-awaited "democratisation package" was announced this week at a huge press conference, and translated into Arabic and English simultaneously. The details tell a lot. The fact that it was named "democratization package" gave the impression that it would have something for every religious, ethnic and political group.…  Seguir leyendo »

I was in London working on a novel a few weeks ago when I heard from a friend in Istanbul that he was on his way to Gezi Park. “To guard the sycamores,” he said, laughter in his voice. “We will camp by the trees and make sure the bulldozers don’t hurt them.”

Wishing him luck, suspecting nothing, I returned to my story of a young Indian elephant driver, an outsider, finding his way through 16th-century Istanbul. All day long, I remained in the past, unaware of what was happening in my home city as police raided Gezi Park, dousing peaceful protesters with water cannons and tear gas.…  Seguir leyendo »

"She was my mother's best friend," the middle-aged woman told me over a cup of coffee in a trendy cafe overlooking the Bosphorus. "She died bleeding in a back alley because back then abortion was illegal. Every Ramadan my mother would pray for her soul and ask us children to do the same."

Because abortion was only legalised in Turkey in 1983, there are many women who are old enough to have memories of the preceding period – and they have rather dark stories to tell today. The problem is, very few of these women are in parliament. Politics, both at the local and national level, remains a male-dominated arena.…  Seguir leyendo »

I started reading the fiction of the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz with a delay that embarrasses me, not until my early 30s. In the Turkey of my formative years, he was not well-known. His famous “Cairo Trilogy,” published in the 1950s, wasn’t widely available in Turkish until 2008.

We were far more interested in Russian literature — Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Chekhov and Tolstoy — and European literature — Balzac, Hugo, Maupassant and Dickens — than in Arab literature. Western classics had been widely translated into Turkish since the late 19th century. A number of them were even published as supplements in children’s magazines, and I remember devouring them eagerly.…  Seguir leyendo »