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Culture

Turkey Promises Cultural Diversity at Major Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair is set to highlight Turkey and its minority cultures. Besides books, the publishing trade's top annual event will provide a forum for political discussion on a country undergoing rapid change.

books

The book fair draws both publishers and the public

Turkey promised this week to showcase its cultural diversity at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair in October, where its literature will have guest-of-honor status this year.

Speaking from Frankfurt, organizers said 350 authors and translators from Turkey will be at the world's principal book fair, presenting their work to publishers from around the globe.

Ethnic minorities will be included, said Muge Gursoy Sokmen, co-chair of the organizing committee.

She added that Kurdish authors Lal Lales and Seyhmus Diken, Armenian writers Migirdic Margosyan and Jaklin Celik, and Jewish writer Mario Levi would be making appearances in person.

At the October 15-19 fair a special exhibition on Turkish literature will also highlight the little-known "layers" that are woven in with Turkic origins in the country's culture today.

Showcasing Turkey's cultural diversity

"You'll see how it includes Arab or Armenian or Byzantine roots too," she said. "We have to treat the heritage of our cultural diversity with respect," said Sokmen, who is a leftist Istanbul publisher. "We see this as a very rich resource."

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk holding up a book with book shelves in background

Pamuk has often been the subject of controversy

The cultural ferment in Turkey, in which intellectuals argue about whether and how political Islam can be reconciled with modernity, is not just a literary topic, but has also become politicized, with secular Turkish judges now mulling a ban on the country's ruling AKP party, which has Islamic roots.

Germany is home to the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey. "Guest workers," who have migrated since the 1960s, and their descendents make up the country's largest ethnic minority.

"At least 2.5 million people here are of Turkish origin and there is a rich German Turkish literature. That's one reason Turkey feels very close to us, as if it were a next-door neighbor," said Juergen Boos, the book fair chief executive.

Nobel-prize winner Pamuk to open fair

Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel literature prize winner in 2006, will open the fair with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. The best-selling author was the subject of international controversy when he was charged with making statements that violated an article in Turkey's penal code for "insulting Turkishness," though he was never prosecuted.

In addition to authors, hundreds of performers and artists will round out the offerings at the Frankfurt fair.

Ahmet Ari, the coordinator of the Turkish presentation, said the fair would focus not only on the riches of Turkish literature awaiting translation into other languages, but also provide a forum for discussing politically controversial topics in a nation going through rapid change.

Restrictions on minorities eased

Turkish Kurds dance during an rally. Women wave colourful banners and flags

The Turkish-Kurdish minority has long been culturally repressed

He said that Turkey had greatly improved its democratic record in recent years, and there was no longer a single author in jail on account of his political views. Turkish state television had also started its first non-Turkish-language broadcasts only a few days ago, he added.

Ari was referring to Turkey's decades-old policy of repressing minority languages and cultures. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's center-right AKP party has eased many restrictions, with an eye to the eventual possibility of joining the European Union.

Turkey has 1,724 publishing houses with annual sales of $810 million (516 million euros). The Frankfurt Book Fair is a springboard in book publishing that helps boost exports and the translation of works into foreign languages.

For Germans, the fair celebrates the latest and most popular books that become available at Christmas, the biggest sales season for literary and popular works.

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