A Panorama of Literary Censorship in Turkey

The purpose of this research project is to draw a panorama of the censorship targeting literary publications in Turkey. The study aims to discuss the dynamics of cultural production in a specific context and period, with reference to the censorship policies applied to the publication of literary texts.

Although many aspects of cultural production in Turkey have been subject to scientific inquiry since the 2000s, there is still a lack of in-depth research on the publishing history and censorship. In fact, the history of modern Turkey provides a case study for political intervention on literary and cultural publishing with regards to a non-Western socio-political and cultural context, determined by conditions of late-Modernization. Modern publishing in the Ottoman Empire begins in the mid-19th century as an outcome of increasing cultural and commercial relations with Western countries. However, publications remain under strict government control and censorship until the collapse of the empire, preventing the publishing sector from making significant advances.

The Republican era, in many aspects, reflects both continuities with, and break from, the Ottoman administrative and bureaucratic heritage: The Republican party was a devoted advocate of cultural westernization and modernization. On the other hand, the conception of modernization was limited to the extent that it blended in the political ideology of the newly-established nation-state. Thus, publication and distribution of the texts that discuss certain issues, such as Kurdish ethnicity, Christian minorities, Islamism, and communism/socialism were strictly controlled by the political authorities. The publication of literary texts was banned and/or censored within the frame of this formal censorship.

In 1946, Turkey adopted a liberal multi-party regime and became a NATO member in 1952 in order to take sides in the western/capitalist block. Limits of social and political rights and freedom of speech were determined by given conditions of liberalism and anti-communism. The multi-party regime was interrupted by military interventions in 1960, 1971, and 1980, each of them followed by a crackdown against publishers and authors.

This study attempts to contribute to the discussions on the publishing history and censorship practices by outlining the censored literary texts and banned books, in comparison with the socio-political context of Turkey. It is aimed to argue the role of literary texts and literary agents on the intellectual climate of the country, how the literary production was critical of the political and social system, and how it was shaped by political ideology via censorship.

With respect to addressing these issues, the study suggests discussing the conditions of literary production in Turkey, in the light of censored literary books.

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