He is not the first writer to live far from his homeland, but Nedim Gürsel, one of Turkey’s greatest authors, likes to think of himself as a bridge, not only between two nations, but between the west and the east.
He fled his country during the military coup of 1980, and is now a naturalised Frenchman living in Paris where he heads research at the CNRS, and holds conferences on Europe. His latest was at Paris’s Science-Politics grande ecole. Nowadays he is a frequent visitor to his homeland, but he still faces a blasphemy trial for his novel “Allah’s daughters”, published in Turkey last year. The state prosecutor has already called for his aquittal, but there remains a one to two-year prison term at stake. Euronews caught up with Nedim Gèrsel in Paris. euronews: “Europeans ask themselves if Turkey really is a secular nation that deserves integration in the European Union. How would you answer them?” Nedim Gürsel: “You know, I’m a fervent partisan for my country’s integration in the EU. But now with this trial I wonder, all the same. Is Turkey drifting towards a more authoritarian regime? That wouldn’t be compatible with Turkey’s desire to be European. I just hope that my trial is a hiccup on the way, but I think Europe is right to ask questions, because today Turkey is perhaps not ready to join.” euronews: “Isn’t the EU, or rather, aren’t Europeans to blame? When you talk with Turkish people they often describe the contempt they have to deal with; they see the EU as a ‘christian club’.” NG: “Yes, the Turks hate this rejection. It hurts their national pride. I’m against nationalism, but Turkey has been knocking on the EU’s door for a long time now, and someone is always finding some excuse to deliver a speech against Turkish membership. As Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy are doing at the moment. Turkey is a muslim country. But if it shared Europe’s values it would be an enriching experience for Europe. This is a difficult thing for Europeans to recognise, they won’t admit it, but Turkey’s candidature forces Europe to live up to its image: Does Europe affirm its own identity by rejecting the Turkish one? Or does it reconcile the two? A reconciliation is needed.” euronews: “There is still progress to report. Freedom of expression has advanced in recent years, the poet Narim Hikmet’s nationality was restored, and last year the infamous article 301 which punished the crime of denigrating the Turkish nation was reformed. But there are organisations and individuals who claim these changes are merely cosmetic. Do you agree?” NG: “It’s good that you mention Nazim Hikmet, one of Turkey’s greatest poets. The state committed a terrible crime by jailing him for 16 years, then exiling him, and he died in Moscow in 1963. So our prime minister recently announced his rehabilitation, and added that Turkey was no longer a country that persecuted its writers. I was obviously one of the first to cheer, but this trial is a glaring denial of that speech…So it’s been said the changes are cosmetic, small, but maybe that’s all for the good because the democratisation of Turkey still has far to go, and without Europe on the horizon it will get nowhere.” euronews: “You are one of the signatories to the Letter of Apology to the Armenians published by a group of Turkish intellectuals. Some have criticised the letter for not using the word ‘genocide’.” NG: “Turkey really needs to face up to its past. I think it was a good thing to sign this letter, because it breaks taboos. Ah, taboos! Like religion, the Armenian problem is a taboo in Turks’ collective memory. It’s the same for the Kurds. Only 10 years ago we couldn’t even talk about it, couldn’t even use the word Kurd. Now the President Abdullah Gul says the Kurdish question is the most important one facing our country. So there has been a clear evolution.” euronews: “Do you consider yourself in exile?” NG:“It’s a voluntary exile. I’m not in exile in fact, I go to Turkey very often to nourish my imagination, to feed on Turkey’s Ottoman heritage. I write historical novels and I love Istanbul, but there was a time, just after the military coup on September the 12th 1980 when I couldn’t return to my country for 3 years. Then I really was in exile. That’s why I wrote “The last tram”, where I express my feelings as a Turkish writer in exile, his wanderings, his attachment to his country, his city. Now I don’t feel like an exile at all. I’m a little in Paris, a little in Istanbul and I always say metaphorically that I’m like the Bosphorous bridge, that doesn’t just join two banks, Europe and Asia, but also joins men and cultures, and I think that’s the writer’s role, because literature is universal and brings people together.”