In historical fiction, top-selling Turkish writer offers modern critique

Thu Apr 7, 2016 10:13am EDT
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Best-selling Turkish crime writer Ahmet Umit may have set his latest novel in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, but he says its themes are very much of the present day: a drift towards authoritarianism and erosion of freedom of expression.

As parts of the media and academia decry what they say is an unprecedented crackdown, Umit, 55, a former Communist activist who was tortured during military rule, offers a blistering critique of modern Turkey through a fictional lens.

His latest historical mystery, "Farewell, My Beautiful Motherland," is told through the eyes of a revolutionary a century ago in the final years of Ottoman rule, when the Young Turk movement sought, in vain, to reform a crumbling caliphate.

The reformists' slogans were "equality, freedom, brotherhood and justice," Umit told Reuters in an interview. Within a year "they became an oppressive regime, trampling on their promises.

"While I remain faithful to these historical events, I seek to portray our problems now ... The reaction is always the same: 'It's so much like our times. Has nothing changed?'," he said.

"Today the economy is deteriorating, rule of law is retreating, and we see a trend towards authoritarianism ... A movement that (promised) more freedom, conscience, compassion has regressed to something worse than what we had before."

President Tayyip Erdogan swept to power 13 years ago as prime minister on a campaign of liberalization, his AK Party overseeing Turkey's transformation from an economic backwater.

His grip on power has tightened, bolstered by victory in Turkey's first popular presidential ballot in 2014 and ambition to bestow his office with expansive executive powers.   Continued...

Turkish writer Ahmet Umit is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Istanbul, Turkey, March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal