Sabahattin Ali was a Turkish writer killed a long time ago during a show of “civic” force, and even the consolation of giving him a proper burial was denied his family. In his 1945 short story—later banned—entitled The Glasshouse he says, “Never erect a glasshouse over your head. But if one were to be erected somehow, someday, never overestimate its indestructibility. All that’s needed to shatter even the most grandiose into smithereens is a few heads flung in its direction.”
This is a folk tale, in its purest form. The story of a folk, of a nation exploited and hoodwinked by the mighty, and that nation’s awakening and resistance.
The similarities with recent events in Turkey are remarkable. I am writing these lines on the twenty-first day of the awakening of a nation, who shrugged off their sleep with the Taksim Gezi Park Resistance. I’ve no idea how many hours of sleep in total we did manage in twenty-one days. Two of my long-standing female colleagues had to seek shelter in a block of flats on a street suffocating under tear gas. Despite showing their press cards to the police, both were beaten black and blue. All they were doing was taking photos to record the events. Many other journalists were also similarly subjected to police violence, and detained. And not just the journalists; the majority of the demonstrators suffered the same violence. At present there are hundreds in custody. Thousands of people have been subjected to a disproportionate amount of state force for days, all because they’ve declared, “Don’t interfere with my lifestyle, and don’t make decisions in my name, just so you can oppress me later.”
It all began with the uprooting of trees in Taksim, trees extending their roots for years, trees under whose shade we’ve all grown up. A nation hugged those trees. That was all they did. But come dawn, one day, our young people hugging trees faced police violence. Now that was too much! There was an awful lot we’d been swallowing all this time, anyway. Our books faced investigations, and our writers and intellectuals were sentenced on thought crimes. Our historic cinemas were closed down to serve property speculation, and theatres insulted. Our artists and intellectuals were openly threatened by those in power and by the partisan media. Of our writing, living, and breathing space, very little remains. When we resisted so we may save our thoughts, ideas and freedom, we faced accusations of terrorism. They had truncheons and tear gas, and sprayed us with chemicals, burning our skin. Us? Only our pots and pans, and fists clenched in the air. As we raised our fists in the air for our rights and justice, they punched us in the face. To add insult to injury, as the entire world watched this brutal crackdown on the streets, TV channels and newspapers either too scared of the government, or dancing to their tune, said nothing. Instead, they aired a documentary on penguins. TV channels that dared to broadcast live from the streets faced heavy fines.
I am not writing these lines to ask the world for help, to ask that you hear, or do something for us. We don’t need help. Millions of people resisting in many cities of this country need no help. Because they are the people; we are the people, and in this struggle for freedom we’ve begun side by side, shoulder to shoulder, we realized we needed help from no one. We derive our power from our own free will, and our faith in freedom.
I am writing these lines, because I—a journalist and a writer of this country—want to make one thing clear: our literature was always rich and powerful, and now, it will only become stronger still, after all we’ve been through. It won’t take much more than a few years before this resistance, this will of the people, and these experiences will come before us in short stories and novels as tales from the heart, tales of a genuine search for freedom and democracy. Turkey will never forget these days of the resistance, and it won’t be just history books, but also our literature that will have so much to say…
Cesare Pavese says, “Literature is a defense against the attacks of life.” Mario Vargas Llosa says, “Literature is an act of rebellion.” Even if every last act of resistance in Turkey came to a complete halt, our writers and readers would make sure resistance will live on in all art forms.
And we shall fling our novels, poems, and short stories at that glasshouse in Sabahattin Ali’s short story.
Translated by Feyza Howell
Feyza Howell works as a literary translator, and serves English PEN as assessor and a number of public agencies as interpreter. She has been translating fiction and commercial texts for many years, as well as writing copy and nonfiction. She has a wide range of experience in international business, product development and marketing management, TV, radio and press advertising, and TV game shows: production, art direction and graphic design. She has translated The Concubine and Unto the Tulip Gardens: My Shadow by Gül İrepoğlu, Fog and the Night by Ahmet Ümit, and Waste by Hakan Günday, and edited The Aziz Bey Incident by Ayfer Tunç. She is currently translating The Man Who Spoke Jesus's Language and Souvenir of Istanbul by Ahmet Ümit. Her translation of Madam Atatürk by İpek Çalışlar is forthcoming from Saqi in Fall 2013.