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Turkish government censors classic literary works

Turkish girls read books at a school in Istanbul 10 February, 2010.
Turkish girls read books at a school in Istanbul 10 February, 2010.

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

(Bianet/IFEX) - Three associations representing Turkey's biggest educational, writing and film-making unions organized a panel yesterday [7 March] to discuss the The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's recent censorship of classic literary works, such as Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and John Steinback's Of Mice and Men.

"The government aims to give society a more Islamic identity by censoring classic literary works," said Ünsal Yıldız, chairperson of Egitim-Sen, Turkey's Education and Science Workers Union.

Noting that the early AKP government promised to transform Turkey into a more transparent and pluralistic society, Yıldız claimed that the AKP has finally shown its true colours.

"It is not only about censorship," Yıldız continued. "The government is putting pressure on every opposing opinion. We are experiencing lay-offs at major newspapers. The purpose behind all of these practices is to flourish political Islam in Turkey's mainstream culture." Yıldız further claimed that several classic literary works have been edited to sound more Islamic.

"From Oscar Wilde to Leo Tolstoy, to Heidi and Pinnochio. We see this even in cartoons. This reminds us of the military coup days in 1980, where teachers were facing investigations for what they used in their curriculum. As the union, we strongly encourage our teacher members to keep 'state-censored' classic literary pieces in their curriculum, with the original version."

Mustafa Köz , chairperson of the Writers Union of Turkey, described government censorship as "black humor."

"We have a government that sees writers and literature as adversaries," he said. "They want to form a new society by putting a barrier between people and literature. We won't let that happen."

Poet Ataol Behramoğlu from the Moviemakers Labor Union of Turkey also supported the panel, saying that an intervention on literary works would severely damage their quality.

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