ISTANBUL // The clash between secularists and Islamists in Turkey has spread to the country's art world, as a group of writers plans to boycott one of the world's most important book fairs in protest at what they see as government efforts to showcase secular Turkey as a country of "moderate Islam". Turkey will be official Guest of Honour at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, which runs from Oct 15 to 19 and brings together authors, agents and publishers from around the world. About 200 Turkish authors, including Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel laureate, were expected to attend.
But in Istanbul, critics of Turkey's government are enraged. "The government that is in power right now is not in a position to represent Turkey's culture and literature," said Fusun Akatli, an academic and literary critic in Istanbul, who is one of the leading voices of the boycott movement. So far, about 20 authors, some of them well-known in Turkey, have said they will not travel to Frankfurt in a show of protest.
The row reflects the wider clash between Kemalists, who see themselves as heirs to the secular values of Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and a rising middle-class of more observant Muslims, sometimes called the "Anatolian bourgeoisie" and led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister. While the Kemalists represent Turkey's traditional elites in the army, judiciary, bureaucracy and art world, the Anatolians have started to challenge long-held positions such as the headscarf ban at Turkey's universities. Last February, Mr Erdogan's government passed a law allowing female students to wear the scarf on campus, but the Constitutional Court annulled the decision.
Intellectuals such as Ms Akatli say the government of Mr Erdogan wants to turn secular Turkey into an Islamic state. "This government wants to take Turkey off its track of progress and modernity that the country has been on for the last 80 years," she said. "The government wants to change the secular character of the Turkish republic with its model of a so-called moderate Islam." Ms Akatli suspects the government wants to use the Frankfurt Book Fair as a stage for its beliefs. She seemed especially outraged by the notion that non-Kemalist authors could be presented on a par with Kemalist writers.
"They want to make it look as if there were authors of all inclinations in Turkey, among them authors who support moderate Islam, who do not support Ataturk's principles, who wear the headscarf or use it as a political symbol," she said. "Those people are only a tiny minority in the 80-year history of Turkish literature." The culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay, a leading member of Mr Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rejected the accusations.
"If they think the AKP is going to take part in the Frankfurt Book Fair, it shows they have still not understood what the fair is about," Mr Gunay told the Milliyet newspaper. The organising committee for Turkey's presentation in Frankfurt, which is composed of representatives of authors and publishers, said the boycott does not make sense, because the book fair is not a government-sponsored event.
It said several organisations of Turkish writers had formed a panel in order to decide which authors would be invited. There had been no intervention by Mr Gunay's ministry in choosing which authors to invite, the committee said. According to Enver Aysever, a young dramatist who is co-ordinating the initiative, the boycott movement has received strong support, even from writers who had already said they would go to Frankfurt.
The boycott movement has its critics in Turkey as well. "A boycott like that seems illogical to me," said Nuket Esen, head of the Turkish Literature Department at Istanbul's Bosphorus University. Ahmet Umit, a prominent thriller author, said the book fair was a great chance for Turkish literature to show itself to the world. "To waste that chance out of protest against the AKP does not make sense to me."