Turkish novelist Buket Uzuner stirs her culture’s melting pot

Buket Uzuner describes herself as being «from Turkey» rather than as «Turkish» because it connotes a broader, more complex cultural territory. Two of her novels have been translated into Greek: «The Waltz of the Mediterranean» and «Dawn in Kallipoli» by Thanos Zarangalis for Psichoyios. Both treat the inexhaustible theme of Turkish identity. «Turkey is a melting pot of cultures, like the United Sates,» Uzuner said. At an Athenian hotel on Monday she welcomed the news that charges had been dropped against Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. She received the news from Finland, where she lived for a while. A citizen of the world – «I’m writing a book about the philosophy of travel» – she had openly supported Pamuk. «Turks must look at themselves and confront their historical taboos,» she said. «But one must do so in a way that comes from within society and doesn’t turn against it.» Uzuner seems to have struggled against everything she has been taught. «It’s painful but necessary,» she said with an optimistic smile. Born in Ankara to a mother from Izmir and reared in Istanbul, Uzuner feels a part of the city which she sees as encompassing a great civilization that reaches from Italy to the Middle East. Her latest book, «The Citizens,» tells the story of 18 people from Istanbul who meet by chance at Kemal Ataturk Airport. One of them is Dr Yiannis Seferis, a Greek, who was the subject of her address at a meeting last Saturday held by the Society for the Study of Our East on Turkish authors who write about Greeks. «I don’t like the term ‘minorities’,» Uzuner said. «We are all one. Bohemian artists and writers from Europe and the US come and settle in Pera. There are new and old citizens.» Many subjects are now being discussed in Turkey, albeit with difficulty, she said, such as «the Kurdish question, the position of women in the East, the September incidents [attacks on foreign-owned property in 1955], the war of 1922.» Amid the ideological confusion of the progressives, the steady opposition of the conservatives, society progresses. «There are people like me who conduct the battle within,» she said. «You have to go beyond yourself and ask questions. It is often hard to knock down what has been built for you.» Uzuner sees herself with «one foot in Istanbul and the other making circles like a whirling dervish.» She has lived in North America, Northern Europe and North Africa. «For Turks the North has the charm of the exotic, even though for the last 300 years we have been moving towards the West,» she said. «We are partly European, whether that is accepted or not.»

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