The New York Times

Editors’ note: On Feb. 16, a Turkish court sentenced Ahmet Altan, a novelist and former newspaper editor; his brother, Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and political commentator; Nazli Ilicak, a prominent journalist; and three media employees to life imprisonment without parole for involvement in the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey.

The Altan brothers had appeared on a television program hosted by Ms. Ilicak a day before the coup attempt. Turkish prosecutors claimed that they gave “subliminal messages” announcing the coup on the program.

Turkey says that a network led by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist cleric based in the United States, orchestrated the coup, which included an attempt on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s life, the bombing of the Parliament and the deaths of more than 270 people. In the purge by the Turkish government that followed, more than 150,000 people have been fired from their jobs, detained or arrested.

Mr. Altan wrote this essay about his imprisonment and sentencing, and about fiction and reality, in his prison cell in the city of Silivri, on the outskirts of Istanbul.

SILIVRI, Turkey — They sit on a bench that is two meters high. They wear black robes with red collars. In a few hours they will decide my destiny. I look at them. They have loosened their ties out of boredom.

The chief judge, sitting in the middle, splays his right arm across the bench like a piece of wet laundry and fiddles with his fingers. He has a long, narrow face. His eyes are hidden under swollen half-closed eyelids. Every now and then he looks at his cellphone to read his messages.

When one of my co-defendants says he is about to undergo heart bypass surgery, the chief judge pulls the microphone toward him and speaks in a mechanical voice. “The hospital told us there were no circumstances preventing your stay in prison,” he says.

As defense lawyers talk about the most crucial matters, his mechanical voice orders: “You have two minutes. Wrap it up.” I remember what Elias Canetti said about such people: “Being safe, at peace and in splendor, and then to hear a person’s pleas while determined to turn a deaf ear … could anything be more vile than that?”

While the defendants and their lawyers speak, the chubby, skew-eyed judge to the chief’s right leans back in his chair and looks up at the ceiling. The lines of pleasure moving across his face suggest he is daydreaming. When he doesn’t seem to be daydreaming he leans his head on his hand and sleeps. The judge on the left busies himself with the computer in front of him, continuously reading something.

Around noon they tell us they will withdraw for deliberations. We are surrounded by gendarmes. They are wearing RoboCop gear with black plastrons and kneepads. A gendarme takes each of us by the arm and walks us between two rows of guards and down narrow stairs.

Continue reading “”I Will Never See the World Again””

This essay by Ahmet Altan was commissioned by The Author for the UK publication’s Winter 2017 issue and first published by the Society of Authors website. It was translated into English by Yasemin Çongar. For the Turkish original of Altan’s essay, please go to this page at K24.

‘A moving object is neither where it is nor where it is not,’ implies Zeno in his famous paradox. Ever since my youth I have believed this paradox is better suited to literature or, indeed, to writers, rather than to physics.

I am writing these words from a prison cell.

Add the sentence ‘I am writing these words from a prison cell’ to any narrative and you will be adding a tense vitality, a frightening voice that reaches out from a dark and mysterious world, the brave stance of the robust underdog and an ill-concealed call for mercy.

It is a dangerous sentence that can be used to exploit people’s feelings. And writers do not always refrain from using sentences in a manner that serves their interests when what is at stake is the possibility of touching people’s feelings. Even understanding that this is their intention may be enough for the reader to feel mercy towards the writer of that sentence.

But wait. Before you start playing the drums of mercy for me listen to what I will tell you.

Continue reading “The Writer’s Paradox”

*Ahmet Altan was detained on September 10, 2016 on charges of giving ‘’subliminal messages’’ favoring a coup d’etat on a TV show that aired on the eve of the failed coup attempt of July 15 in Turkey. He is now under pre-trial arrest in Silivri Prison, where he is prohibited from all sorts of written correspondence with the outside world. Altan wrote this column on July 21, 2016 for the Greek newspaper, Ethnos. This English version was first published on P24Blog on November 20, 2016.

I have seen many coups.

I was just a child when I witnessed a military coup for the first time.

I was a young man at the time of the second coup.

They raided our house and arrested my father.

Arresting my father was not enough; they came once again towards morning, at the break of down, and searched the house… A weary soldier, holding in his hand a flamethrower taller than him, was standing guard by the window.

I remember a tall, arrogant officer pointing the books that were written by my father, sitting next to each other on a shelf of our library, to my mother, asking, “What are the books by this man are doing in your house?” and my mother, in an ice cold voice, responding, “this house belongs to the man who wrote these books.”

Then there were other coups and coup attempts.

But never in my life have I seen one that was as bloody and foolish as the coup attempt that took place last week.

Continue reading “Bloody night”

”I think the true book lovers are not those who only search for the best, but those who find a personal way to enjoy all books whether they are good or bad.”

The Turkish original of Ahmet Altan’s essay which was published on 2 March 2016 can be read here.


La référence aux valeurs européennes peut, quelles que soient les forces en présence, relancer un projet démocratique et consensuel.

Le Monde  12.06. 2007

La Turquie se dirige vers un grand règlement de comptes final. Cette situation n’est pas due, comme on pourrait le craindre, à un conflit de race ou de religion. Le pays est traversé d’une fracture plus fondamentale et plus dangereuse.

Nous avons aujourd’hui d’un côté une grande masse de gens qui ôtent leurs chaussures avant d’entrer dans une maison, des femmes qui se couvrent la tête, des garçons qui fréquentent les cafés pendant que les filles sont soumises à des règles extrêmement oppressives, des gens dont les foyers sont éclairés par des ampoules nues, qui apprécient une musique à mi-chemin entre la chanson populaire et l’arabesque, qui n’ont peut-être jamais lu un livre, n’ont jamais dansé, des hommes qui ne sont jamais allés au restaurant avec leur femme, n’ont jamais été au théâtre, ont très peu d’éducation et professent de fort sentiments religieux.

Continue reading “La Turquie au bord de l’implosion”