Is the Turkish Program at LBF Inclusive Enough of Minorities?

In Discussion by Roger Tagholm

Dr Laurent Mignon

Dr. Laurent Mignon asks if enough minority languages are being represented.

By Roger Tagholm

With a vast number of events in the Turkey Market Focus program both at the London Book Fair Fair and elsewhere in London, all those involved in spreading the word about Turkish writing are naturally very excited. Yet inevitably when a country like Turkey is chosen — just as was the case with China before — this enthusiasm is tempered with some criticism, in this instance over the balance of attention given to the different groups that make up Turkey.

Dr. Laurent Mignon, who lectures in Turkish at Oxford University, points out that Turkey is not a monolingual country, and that there are indeed many other voices. “Literature in Turkey does not only consist of literature in Turkish,” he says. “Literature in Kurdish is a growing market in Turkey. Some Kurdish authors — Bejan Matur, Şeyhmus Diken — and non-Muslim authors — Mario Levi, Jaklin Çelik — have been invited to the Fair, or to parallel events at the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centre. However, these are mostly writers and poets who write exclusively in Turkish.

“The Human Rights lawyer Fethiye Çetinwill be talking about her book Grandchildren, which concerns survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and there are other events too which deal with minority issues. However, the only panel that seems to evoke the existence of literatures in languages other than Turkish is the session on “Migrant, Diaspora and Minority Writing and Translation,” which could be interesting but is not exclusively focused on the literatures of Turkey.

“So it is not as if minority literatures were ignored altogether. This is good. Still, it is a bit ironic that while the motto of the book fair is ‘Turkey in all its colours,’ so little attention is paid to the literatures in Kurdish, Armenian, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and Greek. In this context, Kurdish literature is quite clearly the most important phenomenon and would have deserved a bit more attention and space.”

Yet despite this criticism he praises the main thrust of the initiative. “The book fair is a huge opportunity for the promotion of Turkish literature, and since I teach modern Turkish literature I could not be more delighted. As a whole, the programme on the Turkish language side seems quite balanced, both politically and in terms of literature.”

Note, the article has been updated to reflect the correction in the first comment below.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm

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Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).