Mehmed Uzun

Defender of Kurdish in Turkey


Mehmed Uzun, writer: born Siverek, Turkey 1953; married (one son, one daughter); died Diyarbakir, Turkey 11 October 2007.

Mehmed Uzun, pioneer of the Kurdish novel in Turkey, will be best remembered on the international stage for the controversy surrounding his novel Roni mina Evine, Tari mina Mirine ("Light as love, Dark as death"), an allegorical treatment of the situation of the Kurds in Turkey published in 1988, which features a passionate love affair between a young female guerrilla fighter and a high-ranking army officer who embarks on a search for his own origins. Translated into Turkish, the book was reprinted 10 times and sold some 20,000 copies.

However, in 2001 Uzun was accused by the Istanbul State Security Court of "having supported terrorism and incited rebellion leading to separatism". These accusations evoked strong protests worldwide; an appeal made to the Turkish high authorities on Uzun's behalf was signed by Nobel Prize winners such as Nadine Gordimer, Günter Grass and Elie Wiesel, and members of the Royal Academy of Denmark and the Swedish Royal Academy en masse.

Uzun was also supported by the government of Sweden, where he had long lived in exile; Anna Lindh, the foreign minister, publicly reproached Turkey for bringing a case against Uzun because of his writings. Uzun himself always maintained that the novel was a love story, with nothing to do with terrorism or separatism.

On 4 April 2001, Uzun stood trial. Before an international audience which included Yashar Kemal, Orhan Pamuk, Akin Birdal and representatives of PEN, he delivered a speech defending human rights and the right of writing Kurdish in Turkey. Despite the gravity of the accusations, Uzun and his publisher, Hasan Öztoprak, were acquitted.

For the people of the Kurdish region of Turkey, Uzun represented far more. He was the first person from Turkey to write novels in Kurmanji Kurdish, a language forbidden for most of the 20th century in Turkey, and which even now has no official presence in the state education system, and is often decried as a "patois", a farrago of mutually incomprehensible subdialects. Uzun's books celebrated Kurdish culture and focused on such themes as love, conflict, political struggle, statelessness and democracy, and memory and forgetting, always suffused with the nostalgia of exile. His protagonists were for the most part the Kurdish intellectual activists who had devoted their life to the revival of their nation. Uzun's books were banned in Turkey for many years.

In April 2000 the State Security Court in Diyarbekir confiscated four of his titles from all bookshops. This was cancelled after the application of international pressure, especially a press conference by Uzun in Stockholm in which many Swedish writers and cultural activists took part.

Mehmed Uzun was born in the town of Siverek, in Turkish Kurdistan, in 1953. After graduating from the local high school, he continued his studies in Ankara. In 1972 he was arrested and condemned to two years' imprisonment. In 1976, after issuing the Kurdish journal Rizgari ("Liberty"), he was arrested again, imprisoned and released after six months. In 1977 he went to Sweden as a political refugee; there he remained until 2006, writing six novels and a number of other books about Kurdish literature, in Kurdish, Turkish, and Swedish. He was also active as a journalist and chief editor of the Kurdish journals Rizgariya Kurdistan ("Liberty of Kurdistan"), Hevi ("Hope") and Kurmanji. From 1989 until 1992, he was on the editorial board of the Swedish literary journal 90-tal (The 90s).

In 2000 he was elected to the International Parliament of Writers, a worldwide organisation for freedom of speech founded by Salman Rushdie. In 2001 he received the freedom of expression prize from the Turkish Association of Publishers.

Upon learning in 2006 that he was suffering from incurable cancer, Uzun decided to go back home, and was received by the people of Diyarbakir as a hero.

Hashem Ahmadzadeh and Christine Allison

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Bid Manager, London

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Marketing Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are working wi...

Senior IT Systems Engineer - Southampton - £28k - £34K + bens

£28000 - £34000 per annum + pension, flexitime, healthcare: Deerfoot IT Resour...

Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

£33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor