Kurdistan 'erased' from Turkish translation of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho's novel

Kurdistan 'erased' from Turkish translation of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho's novel
Language has frequently been a battleground for tensions between the Turkish state and the Kurdish population.
3 min read
18 July, 2019
The use of the word 'Kurdistan' was at one point banned in Turkey [Getty]
A Turkish publishing house is pulling its translation of a Paulo Coelho novel after readers discovered that the edition had removed a reference to Kurdistan, The Guardian reported.

The Turkish translation of the Brazilian author's novel "Eleven Minutes" had gone through 38 reprints over the past 15 years before publishing chief Can Oz was alerted to the error - most likely a deliberate and highly political alteration.

In the English translation of the novel, Coelho writes: "She went into an internet cafe and discovered that the Kurds came from Kurdistan, a nonexistent country, now divided between Turkey and Iraq".

The Turkish translation published by Can publishing house alters the second part of that sentence to "it was written on the internet that the Kurds lived in the Middle East."

Tensions between the Turkish state and the Kurdish population, the country's largest ethnic minority group, are long-running, and language has frequently been a battleground.

Just after the Turkish Republic was founded in the 1920s, the use of the words Kurd, Kurdish and Kurdistan was banned. Between 1983 and 1991 as Turkey's civil war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish militia, escalated, the use of the Kurdish language was banned entirely.

While those prohibitions were later overturned, Kurds in Turkey continue to face institutional and societal racism, and referring to a land named "Kurdistan" - whether including land inside Turkey or not - is still highly contentious.

Can's owner was shocked to discover the gaping translation error after angry readers pointed it out on social media.

"We will correct in the next edition," Oz said.

"I don't know who is responsible for the differences between the original and translated versions. Our edition is very old. However, there is no right for the publisher to change the text as they wish."

Saadet Ozen, the translator, said she had no idea how the word "Kurdistan" had been omitted from the text.

Pointing to other texts she had translated which included the word "Kurdistan", Ozen said on Twitter that she was sure she had not removed the reference.

"I have been trying to remember if I thought differently back then, but no. I am still the same person. Principles are what save us at times of indecision," she wrote. "Translation always walks hand in hand with interpretation, but censorship is out of the question. I have never sided with censorship."

Oz agreed that the omission must have been made at the "editorial stage".

While relations between the state and the Kurdish population improved in the early 2000s as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) instituted reforms demanded by the EU accession process, the past four years have witnessed a crackdown on Kurdish political activism and media.

There have also been several deadly military operations in majority-Kurdish civilian areas.

The AKP banned the mention of "Kurdistan" in parliament two years ago.