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Turkish Migrant Writers1 in Europe: Mehmed Uzun in Sweden and Aras Ören in West Germany

  • Wiebke Sievers (a1)

The literatures that have emerged from post-war Turkish migration to Europe have become a topic of discussion since the 1980s. However, studies comparing the emergence of these literatures in different European contexts are rare. This article compares Sweden and West Germany, two contexts where migration from Turkey has a similar history, but where the resulting literatures differ massively due to different political and literary conditions. Multicultural, and in particular multilingual, public policies in Sweden have facilitated the emergence of a Kurdish diaspora literature; this then became a major impetus for the emergence of a Kurdish literature in Turkey when it was finally possible to write and publish in Kurdish there in the 1990s. The emergence of the New Left in West Germany, reflected in a re-awakened workers’ literature and new left-wing publishing houses in the German literary field, has provided publishing opportunities for Turkish migrant writers influenced by a socialist internationalist tradition in the 1970s. These works laid the foundation for a literary tradition that has since come to be regarded as having changed the understanding of what it means to be German.

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1.I use the term ‘Turkish migrant writers’ to refer to writers who originate from Turkey, migrated to another country at some stage of their lives and became writers there. All writers discussed in this article refer to this origin in their writing. This does not imply that they refer to themselves as Turkish. In fact, some describe themselves as Kurdish, but regard overcoming the repression of Kurds in Turkey as a major incentive for their writing. They may also not refer to themselves as migrants, but migration is regarded as relevant for their careers as writers in two respects: first, the new context has allowed them to express ideas repressed in Turkey; second, the new context had a major impact on which of these ideas found recognition. It is the latter point that is in the focus of attention in this article as it has been neglected in research on migration and literature.
2.Canetti, E. (1999) The tongue set free. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. In: The Memoirs of Elias Canetti (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), p. 246.
3.Like many other Sephardic Jews, Canetti’s family did not acquire Bulgarian citizenship when the Principality of Bulgaria was established in 1878. Canetti explains this decision with the deep trust that they had in the Ottoman Empire which had invited them when they were forced to leave Spain and had always treated them well.
4.See Casanova, P. (2004) The World Republic of Letters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
5.Broch, H. (1976) Einleitung zu einer Canetti-Lesung (1933). In: H. Broch, Schriften zur Literatur 1: Kritik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), pp. 5962 (here: p. 59). My translation.
6.Yildiz, Y. (2013) Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (New York: Fordham University Press).
7.This article is based on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the literary field. Further details on the theoretical background can be found W. Sievers, B. Kaya and M. Kamm (2016), Wie ImmigrantInnen und deren Nachfahren zu SchriftstellerInnen wurden. Zur Transnationalisierung nationalisierter literarischer Felder in Europa. In: M. Hofmann and W. Schmitz (eds), Eine andere literarische Karte Europas. Das Mittelmeer, Deutschland und seine Nachbarn im Schreiben der Migranten (Dresden: Thelem), in print.
8.Kurdish literature here refers to works maintaining the Kurdish language and literary tradition prohibited in Turkey.
9.For the migration histories see: Içduygu, A. (2014) Turkish emigration and its implications for the sending and receiving countries. In: M. Bommes, H. Fassmann and W. Sievers (eds), Migration from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe: Past Developments, Current Status and Future Trends (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press), pp. 99–136; P. Schnell (2014) Educational Mobility of Second-Generation Turks. Cross-National Perspectives (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press), pp. 45–48.
10.Statistisches Bundesamt, Germany, and Statistics Sweden.
11.Fondation-Institut Kurde de Paris, Diaspora Kurde, (accessed 10 September 2014). The text does not further specify who exactly is included in these figures, but the large numbers seem to imply that they refer not only to immigrants, but also to their descendants.
12.Scalbert-Yücel, C. (2006) La diaspora kurde en Suède. Conservation, production et diffusion d’un savoir linguistique. European Journal of Turkish Studies, 5, (accessed 11 September 2014).
13.Scalbert-Yücel, C. (2012) Emergence and equivocal autonomization of a Kurdish literary field in Turkey. Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, 40(3), pp. 357372.
14.Uzun, M. (2001) The Kurdish renaissance in exile. Autodafe: The Journal of the International Parliament of Writers, 1, pp. 6777 (here p. 75).
15.Uzun, M. (1994) Einführung in die kurdische Literatur: eine Studie, translated by S. Atasoy (St. Gallen: Ararat).
16.Uzun, M. (1998) Im Schatten der verlorenen Liebe, translated by H. Dozen and A. Grenda (Zürich: Unionsverlag), p. 197. All quotes are my translation of the German version.
18.Nilsson, M. (2013) Literature in multicultural and multilingual Sweden: the birth and death of the immigrant writer. In: W. Behschnitt, S. De Mul and L. Minnaard (eds) Literature, Language, and Multiculturalism in Scandinavia and the Low Countries (Amsterdam: Rodopi), pp. 4161 (here p. 44).
19.Hama Tschawisch, M. (1996) Die kurdische Exilliteratur in Deutschland von den 70er Jahren bis heute (Marburg: Tectum), p. 81.
20.See Brizić, K. (2007) Das geheime Leben der Sprachen. Gesprochene und verschwiegene Sprachen und ihr Einfluss auf den Spracherwerb in der Migration (Münster: Waxmann).
21.Adelson, L. (2002) The Turkish turn in contemporary German literature and memory work. Germanic Review, 77(4), pp. 326338 (here p. 333).
22.For a more detailed analysis of these developments in the German literary field see Sievers, W. (2008) Writing politics: the emergence of immigrant writing in West Germany and Austria. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34(8), pp. 12171235.
23.Chin, R. C.-K. (2002) Imagining a German multiculturalism: Aras Ören and the contested meanings of the ‘guest worker’, 1955–1980. Radical History Review, 83, pp. 4472.
24.Ören, A. (1973) Was will Niyazi in der Naunynstraße, translated by H. A. Schmiede and J. Schenk (Berlin: Rotbuch), p. 5. All quotes are my translation of the German version.
25.Ören, A. (1988) Die Grenze der Wirklichkeit sei die Grenzenlosigkeit der Arbeit und der Phantasie. In: C. Chiellino (ed.) Die Reise hält an: Ausländische Künstler in der Bundesrepublik (Munich: Beck), pp. 163175 (here p. 164). My translation.
26.See amongst others Bhabha, H. K. (1994) The Location of Culture (London: Routledge).
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European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review
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