October 19, 2008 / 10:44 AM / 10 years ago

Kurdish literature revives in Turkey, writers say

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Turkey’s inclusion of the Kurdish literary community in its cultural program at the world’s biggest book fair this week was hailed as a “revolution” by Kurdish writers this weekend.

Turkish literature was the central theme of this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, a week-long event which attracts about 300,000 visitors each year.

The rights of Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish minority, which makes up a sixth of its total population, is still a sensitive topic in Turkish politics, with Kurdish autonomy seen as a threat to the modern republic.

But Kurdish writers at the fair said there had been a renaissance in Kurdish literature since Turkey had eased some restrictions on their language and culture in recent years, under pressure from the European Union which it hopes to join.

“The fact that we are even here and can hold this forum is a revolution,” Kurdish author Muhsin Kizilkaya said at a seminar on the efforts of author Mehmet Uzun to establish Kurdish as a literary language.

Uzun, who lived for several decades in exile in Sweden and died last year, is seen as the father of modern Kurdish fiction and his work has been translated into more than 20 languages.

A ban on the Kurdish language in Turkey was lifted only in 1991, and Kizilkaya and other writers at the seminar said they still faced censorship and restrictions.

Turkish nationalists fear that encouraging the Kurdish language will undermine national unity and security.

Nearly 40,000 people have died in civil conflict since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against Turkey in 1984 with the aim of creating an ethnic homeland in the southeast.

The slogan of the Turkish cultural program is “Turkey in all its colors,” but Kurdish writers pointed out that only one of the hundred Turkish publishers attending was Kurdish.

“While there are too few Kurdish publishers here — we are the only one — it was an important step to invite us, because this wouldn’t even have been debatable before,” said Lal Lales, a poet and chief editor at Lis publishing house.

Lales said there were now 16 Kurdish publishers in Turkey, publishing Kurdish literature and translating foreign literature into Kurdish.

“The number of Kurdish authors is also multiplying from day to day, and slowly, a modern Kurdish literature is establishing itself,” he said.

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