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Mаry Mamyan

Translator of Şafak and Pamuk: “There definitely won’t be any miracles come this April 24”

Hetq talks to Arpi Atabekyan, who translated Elif Şafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul and Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red from Turkish to Armenian.

The two Turkish writers, prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” by raising the issue of the 1915 Armenian Genocide today mainly reside outside of Turkey for safety reasons.

Those Turkish writers who speak and write about the Armenian Genocide are subjected to harsh criticism within Turkey. In your opinion, does the actions of such intellectuals impact on Armenian-Turkish relations, and if so, to what degree?

I’d say that there isn’t much of an impact on politics, but that such actions influence society. Politics for me is a straight line. If a political party has adopted a line and has its own agenda, then the opinions of a writer won’t have much impact on politics.

But discussions regarding the genocide engender debate within society, especially in the media. Such debate not only impacts the top level intelligentsia but also average citizens who follow the media on a daily basis.

I believe that all of this creates a disparity between the public opinion of fifty years ago and today. Both Şafak and Pamuk are prominent public figures and what they say has a great impact on Turkish society. Many in Turkey didn’t even know about what happened in 1915.

Şafak and Pamuk frequently note that their aim is not to politicize the issue but that they are attempting to create a cultural dialog. How successful have they been?

I don’t believe in politics. If anything is changing it’s the society and people. People must exert their influence on politicians. Thus, I place great importance on literary works. But there is one inadequacy. Literature is not able to envelop wide sectors of society. For example, the level of literary recognition in Turkey is quite low. That’s to say that these literary works have a specific following. Something must be done so that this audience conveys the works to others, along the lines of a domino effect.

Otherwise, the audience will remain the same. And I’m not sure if this specific audience will be able to change anything or not. The intellectual sector in Turkey is small but strong. First, you must understand who your audience is and then try to spread those books and ideas.

Both writers don’t reside in Turkey. On the one hand it seems that it is easy to talk and criticize from the outside, but on the other, they don’t have the capacity to make observations from within. How successful are they at getting their message across?

I take a critical approach to both because they are elitist writers. Not only were they forced to leave Turkey for a time during their court cases, but they actually like being outside. It’s easy for a writer to come and go, to observe cultures and compare them. But such people should stay in the country and raise problems from a much closer perspective.

To what degree have these writers succeeded in portraying Armenian-Turkish relations?

Pamuk mainly reflected about Armenians in his book Snow. But it wasn’t a deep examination on Armenian-Turkish relations. He’s talked at greater length on the matter in his interviews. Even though he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006, it’s because he talked about the Genocide, which resulted in a scandal, that he became known in Armenia. Scandals propel people into prominence. In Şafak’s case, I was surprised to see that she listed the characteristics of American-Armenians one by one. I give her credit for doing her homework.

How are these writers perceived in Turkey?

There is great criticism surrounding Şafak. She gets published a lot and is seen as a commercial writer. She’s criticized as an ultra-feminist as well. But that derives from her life experience. She often uses personal experiences in her works. I believe Turkey needs more women with her beliefs. Women in Turkey are greatly in need of encouragement.

Pamuk is criticized because he is regarded as a writer removed from the people and that she represents the upper classes.

In The Bastard of Istanbul, one of the Armenian protagonists says that Armenians need books rather than guns. What’s your opinion?

It’s a bit of an extreme comparison, but in that section she stresses just how important education is for Armenian families. I know that Şafak really studied the American-Armenian community.

But the comparison isn’t correct because society can chose both. Armenians living in the United States are portrayed in the book. Perhaps, for diaspora Armenians, literature, education and language are more important. But if the same question is asked of young people in Armenia, they would probably choose the gun.

We Armenians, in Armenia and the diaspora, live in completely different conditions. Had Şafak researched Armenia as well that sentence might have been different.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. What are your expectations, if any?

It’s difficult to observe the issue from a political perspective. I cannot say what can be dome in the political arena, but I’d really like to see much more being done culturally.

Every year, Armenians in Istanbul mark the anniversary with a candlelight vigil. I’d like to see the event done on a more widespread level, even in the form of a protest action. But I realize how difficult it is for them there.

Politically, I don’t think that anything will change. I expect no change from the Turkish side. There definitely will be no miracles come April.

Comments (1)

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Red Snow & the Bastard, good girl. Thanks

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