"The things I didn’t say"
You recently gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, parts of which appeared, wrongly translated, in Le Soir in France – and after that, a smear campaign began against you in Turkey. What happened there?
Asli Erdogan: The reactions came from all sides: radicals, the right, the left, the mass media. It was a nationwide witch hunt.
To what extent did people on the political left react?
Erdogan: Their reaction was nationalistic, the same as those on the right. They accused me of badmouthing Turkey in order to win approval in Europe.
And what were the misleading quotes?
Erdogan: I spoke to Marco Ansaldo from La Repubblica. Turkey had just begun its latest attacks in Syria. He was on the Turkish-Syrian border, where he’d interviewed me a few years ago when I and some other authors took part in a peace protest. He phoned and asked if he could talk to me. Times of war are hysterical wherever you are, and particularly so in Turkey. So I gave him what was, for me, a restrained interview.
He wanted to know where all the Turkish support for this war comes from, and why even the opposition is behind it. I said that in order to understand that, we have to look at our education system, which is very chauvinist and militaristic. We began our school day by affirming our Turkishness. And at one point I said something that hardly anyone took notice of: I said we have to explain to young people that they’re not dying for a country; they’re dying for a government. Then he asked why the Turkish parliament is so against the Kurds. He was trying to be provocative, and I was trying to pour oil on troubled waters. So I said: because all the parties in parliament tend to regard all Kurdish organisations as terrorists.
The headline under which the interview appeared, in speech marks, so it was marked out as a quote, was: "We are being indoctrinated against the Kurdish enemy”. What I said was: we are being indoctrinated against the enemy. An abstract enemy. I corrected that in several interviews: in our education system, there were no Kurds, no Armenians. They didn’t exist. We knew nothing about them. This refusal to acknowledge people is possibly even worse than hatred. "I am a Turk, I live for Turkey” – a fifth of the children who had to recite those words every day were Kurds.
Eight days later, a translation of the interview appeared in Le Soir...
Erdogan: And in those eight days, the Frankfurt Book Fair took place. And of course, I was also asked about the situation in Syria there. I said I was ashamed of what Turkey is doing. Afterwards, a Turkish man came up to me and said: "We’ll see each other again, Asli Erdogan!"
That sounds like a threat.
Erdogan: I wouldn’t describe it as a threat. I can’t say anything I can’t prove. But it felt like one. And then Le Soir came out, and they translated the headline – which was already wrong – as: "We were indoctrinated with hatred of Kurds”. And then a terrible sentence turned up in this piece, something I certainly never said: “All the parliamentarians in Turkey, with the exception of the HDP, are terrorists”.
Has Le Soir apologised for this error?
Erdogan: Yes, they apologised. But by that time, Sputnik had already translated the interview, including that incorrect quote, into English. In all my life I’ve never received an interview request from Russia. That was the Friday evening. The next morning, seven or eight Turkish newspapers appeared with headlines like ”traitor” and ”terrorist sympathiser”, and the Turkish education ministry attacked me as well.