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

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 6:46 PM

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

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 declare is an unprecedented crackdown, Umit, fifty-five, 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 Pretty Motherland," is told through the eyes of a revolutionary a cent ago in the final years of Ottoman rule, when the Youthful 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 stay faithful to these historical events, I seek to portray our problems now ... The reaction is always the same: 'It'south so much love our times. Has nothing changed?'," he said.

"Today the economy is deteriorating, regulation of law is retreating, and we look 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 thirteen years ago as prime minister on a campaign of liberalization, his AK Party overseeing Turkey'south transformation from an economic backwater.

His grip on power has tightened, bolstered by triumph in Turkey'south first favorite presidential ballot in two thousand-fourteenth and ambition to bestow his office with expansive executive powers.

Several opposition newspapers have been confiscated or closed in recent months and broadcasters taken off the air, accused of terrorist activities, while critical academics have been detained below wide anti-terrorism laws.

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Umit's fourteen novels have been translated into forty languages. Following week, his publisher promotes "Farewell" at the London Book Objective after selling a record 290.000 copies here since December.

"Farewell" includes the harassment, even murder, of opposition journalists a cent ago. "There has always been an intolerance (of criticism). The problem of jailing journalists, the pressure on newspapers, shutting newspapers has been around since the late Ottoman period," said Umit, who's begun work on his following book: a thriller set around the Syrian refugee crisis.

"Amid the growing authoritarianism, we look grand intolerance for those who don't share the same point of view," said Umit.

"Number government official has said to me yet, 'You cannot write this book.' But as an intellectual, I necessity to lift my voice when I look something wrong. Supporters of the government then get to Twitter or similar places to menace me," he said.

Umit, who thought he might work at a state bank, began writing by chance. In one thousand nine hundred eighty-second, he was portion of an underground grouping caught hanging posters decrying military rule.

He evaded arrest and wrote a report picked up by a Marxist journal in Prague. It was translated into forty languages and launched his career as a thriller writer.

"I used to belittle mysteries ... but a writer writes what he knows. To become political at age fourteen in Turkey in one thousand nine hundred seventy-fourth meant I'd a seventy % chance of death, prison or torture. So when I began writing, what came out was a suspense thriller."

(Extra reporting by Hamdi Istanbullu; Editing by Nick Tattersall/Jeremy Gaunt)

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