The disgrace of September 12, the burning of books

by editor | 12th September 2010 8:20 am

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After Sept. 12, a period when fear consumed society, desperate people burned books in ovens, buried them underground or threw them into the sea.  It did not matter if it was Gramsci or about Shariah, reading was considered a criminal act. Books were considered the equal of Kalashnikovs, and just like thousands of students, workers, villagers, businessmen and civil servants who were tortured, writers were also subject to torture. To shed light on both the past and the future, I spoke with writers who owned publishing houses that appealed to the idealist, left and Islamic segments at that time.
The Ötüken, Belge and Dü?ünce (?nsan) publishing houses are continuing from where they left off under the leadership of Erol K?l?nç, Rag?p Zarakolu and Ali Bulaç, respectively. Names like Bulaç and Zarakolu continue to frequently go to court for cases against thought crimes. The Dü?ünce publishing house, which Bulaç managed, and the magazine of the same name, of which he was the editor-in-chief, were both shut down on Sept. 12. Among the rare books that the Dü?ünce publishing house published was Dr. Ya?ar Nuri Öztürk’s translation of the book “Islam and Capitalism Conflict” by Seyyid Kutub. Works by writers such as Hasan El Benna, Mevdudi and Ali ?eriati were either burned or buried. Bulaç was arrested not because of these works but because of a fictitious book that never existed and was never registered: “Mustafa Kemal the British Slave.” Bulaç continues his publishing activities through the publishing house ?nsan Yay?nlar?, which he founded in 1984.
‘I met important leftist writers for the first time in prison’

The first time Bulaç ever came together with leftists like Ahmet ?nsel and Ömer Laçiner was in jail. While at first they were skeptical of each other as they stayed in a 2.5 square meter grave-like cell where the only way they could sit was with their backs leaning against each other, the men of different ideologies eventually became friends. When one returned from torture, the rest in the cell would make room for him so that he could lie on the ground and rest. Communists would do the same for those who wanted to perform the daily prayers. In fact, Bulaç says they would remind him about prayer time and wait beside him as he prayed. Describing the conditions they were staying in, the famous writer said: “We could not always find water. We would have to do tayammum (dry ablution in the absence of water). We were swimming in an unbelievable sea of lice.” During that cursed period when a gun that killed a nationalist in the morning was then used to kill leftists in the late afternoon, the torture that people faced fostered a bond between rightists and leftists, which is the “positive” side of Sept. 12 — if it can be called that.
The sound of wailing in the darkness

Bulaç, who was the editor-in-chief of the weekly Dü?ünce Dergisi (Think Magazine), was tortured just like other political criminals. When he was put behind bars, he insistently told the guard called “Kemikk?ran” (bone breaker) that he wanted to pray. His request was approved, and he was transferred to a more spacious place, where Bulaç says he performed several prayers. After he completed his prayer, Bulaç heard wailing come from the darkness. It was the cry of a pregnant woman who had been beaten because she didn’t know where her husband was. Bulaç says he realized that the woman was having a miscarriage, at which point he felt “shocked” and shaken. He tried to comfort her by reciting verses from the Quran and hadith. He then went to the same guard and begged him to let the woman go. The guard eventually showed mercy and called his superiors to ask them to release the woman. But no one knows what happened to that woman afterwards.
‘Remorseless days when books were the biggest crime factor’

Rag?p Zarakolu founded the publishing house named Belge with his wife, Ay?e Nur Zarakolu, who was a sociologist, in 1977. While the publishing house focused on Marxist literature in the beginning, it started publishing more academic publications instead of explicit leftist literature after Sept. 12. “Every coup affected us, he said. His wife Ay?e Nur Zarakolu was put in Metris Prison for publishing Mete Tunçay’s book “Eski Sol Üzerine Yeni Bilgiler” (New Information About the Former Left). Belge publishing house continues to mainly publish books about politics, economics, philosophy and human rights. Zarakolu explains that books were considered equal to explosives in the 1980s, at which time Turkey was a “republic of fear.” While booksellers were throwing their books into the sea out of fear of persecution, Belge Publishing House was also forced to get rid of some of its books. Assuming that academic works would not be a problem, they published Tunçay’s book. The book was censored at the order of army commander Haydar Saltuk, the “mastermind behind the Sept. 12 coup.” Remembering his wife Ay?e Nur Zarakolu, he says: “She was several times braver than I was. She was a respectable person who struggled for principles not for the sake of defending a particular view but for the sake of citizen rights.” Ay?e Nur Zarakolu was jailed for not complying with martial law.
Ay?e Nur was released from jail in 1982, and the couple continued publishing books with a new publishing house named Alan. This time, a book titled “Benden Selam Söyle Anadoluya” (Send My Regards to Anatolia) was banned. The book focuses on the life of a Greek labor leader to show that Turkish and Greek people are friends but that imperialists have created hostility between the two peoples. The funny part is that the land forces command ordered 163 copies of the book, which won the Turkish Greek Friendship Award. There are still cases against Zarakolu for censored books.
Zarakolu, who says: “I grew up with torture. In one way or another, every coup affected me,” documented how other people were victimized during the coup period. The killing of ?lhan Erdost, the owner of the Sol (Left) publishing house after being brutally beaten caused deep concern and fear in the publishing community. Zarakolu says he will never forget how a police captain walked towards his wife and yelled, “We destroyed an entire generation, what are you trying to resurrect?” He worked with Emir Galip Sandalc?, as a human rights advocate and got in touch with the families of torture victims and prepared a report on the conditions in the Metris and Mamak prisons. While drafting the report, he came across a poem by Nevzat Çelik. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an copied the poem “?afak Türküsü” by Çelik onto a small piece of paper and placed it in the collar of a shirt.
Parents were afraid to read books to their children

Erol K?l?nç got involved in the idealist movement as the founder of the Turkist Foundation and the Counter Communism Foundation’s Söke branch. He’s also the person who started the tradition in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) youth branch of giving seminars on topics like the history of Turkey, the history of Islam, Islamic morals and economic history to thousands of young people. His publishing house Ötüken has published authors that appeal to the general public such as Peyami Safa, Cemil Meriç, Arif Nihat Asya and Tar?k Bu?ra. K?l?nç, who has been publishing for 40 years, is the author of the book “?htilal, ?htiras ve ?deal -68 Ku?a?? Hakk?nda” (Coup, Ambition and Ideal – About the Generation of ‘68).
K?l?nç reckons that the Sept. 12 coup made the public lose interest in books. He believes that book sales dropped because of the strict stance against ideologies. “Parents became afraid to read books to their children. This situation caused an opportunist generation to come into existence, he says. The Ötüken publishing house was not shut down during the coup, but due to the 95 percent drop in book sales it came to the brink of bankruptcy. Sadri Maksudi Arsal’s book “Milliyet Duygusunun Sosyolojik Esaslar?” (Sociological Bases of the Nationalist Feeling) had been one of their best selling books, but after the coup no one bought the book. All publications that represented the nationalist line were hidden in homes and at bookstores, and this situation continued until 1988. According to K?l?nç, the ideological debates before 1980 encouraged people in Turkey to read books. Describing those days K?l?nç said: “Everyone read to feed their ideology. To support this enthusiasm, publishers constantly printed books. Now everyone reads bestsellers. Books that don’t produce ideas are published. Good books are published as well, but they don’t grab as much attention amongst the abundance of publications.” According to K?l?nç, one of the worst effects of Sept. 12 on Turkish literature and thought was how it reduced young people’s interest in books.

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