Alperen Yeşil: The Beginning of the End of His Life in Turkey

By | December 20, 2019 at 7:01 pm | No comments | News

In the fall of 2019, PEN Canada collaborated with Ryerson’s Community Engaged Learning & Teaching (CELT) initiative and Literatures of Modernity graduate program in the Faculty of Arts to bring members of our Writers-in-Exile network into the classroom. Students interviewed the writers about their work and asked how their cultural and religious backgrounds had affected their freedom of expression. The students who interviewed Raihan Abir shared the following reflections on the experience.

 

“There is no free media, there is no human rights, no democracy […] it’s a dictatorship.” This is what Alperen Yeşil had to say about his home country, Turkey, and its climate of state censorship and suppression of free speech. Yeşil is an author of poetry, plays, and fiction, as well as a 2002 graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Performing Arts, Dramatic Writing and Dramaturgy at Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir, Turkey. Professor Nima Naghibi’s Literatures of Modernity MA class had the privilege of interviewing Yeşil at Ryerson University on November 13th, 2019.

Yeşil cites his book, Erdişi, as the beginning of the end of his life in Turkey. After the publication of his first poetry collection Hermaphrodite (Erdişi), he received the first of a series of threatening phone calls in response to the homoerotic undertones of his writing. The reactionary backlash against his radical writing continued after the publication of Pink Boots, a love story between two men in the Turkish army. Ironically, while his writing was recognized and honoured with literary awards, such as the Varlık Magazine’s Yaşar Nabi Nayır Youth Prize, he was met with verbal threats and physical assault by individuals and groups who support the conservative ideals of the state. During our conversation at Ryerson, Yesil told us: “People give me awards, but nothing happened. Nothing changed. That’s when I start[ed] to think I’m in the wrong place.”

When we asked him about the significance of situating the gay love story of Pink Boots within the context of the army, Yeşil told us that his first play, “wasn’t just an opportunity to criticize the system;” he told us that he drew on his life experience in his writing. Yeşil was a member of the Turkish army and shared with us his own experiences of feeling love and lust for the men around him. Writing Pink Boots was an attempt to tell his story, and to challenge a system of oppression with the beauty and universality of love; unfortunately, this is the same play that was met with threats and assault by the Turkish state because of its descriptions of LGBTQ+ love.

Fearing for his life, Yeşil applied for asylum in Canada. This move provided him with a chance to express his political and personal beliefs without fearing for his personal safety, and it also allowed him to promote his work in a new community. After a complicated journey through the Canadian court systems, Yeşil described the overwhelming weight of this process, and how he was shaking with relief once he was granted asylum. Upon receiving permanent asylum status, Yeşil and a few of PEN associates who had supported him during this process celebrated with him in true Canadian fashion by going to Tim Hortons.

Despite the dangerous circumstances in which he wrote in Turkey, Yeşil maintains a positive outlook on life. When asked about the naturalistic imagery of his poetry, Yeşil responds,“I’m vegetarian so [I respect] others like animals or trees […] people who are not nice have problems with trees.” It is in these moments that Yeşil’s charismatic personality shines through— and our class was charmed by his good-natured responses and his humour.

Yeşil’s writing addresses the universal need for self-expression and human connection; he tells us:”“I wrote my story but I know that many people share the same story.” He is hoping to reach a wider audience with his writing, one that includes both a Turkish and a Canadian community. Alperen’s goal is to see his plays on a Canadian stage: “Since I came here I am trying to show my play to many people and my main goal is this: to see my play in Canada.” We hope he is successful in realizing this dream.

© PEN Canada 2019 · 401 Richmond St. W., Suite 258, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3A8 · Phone: 416 703 8448
· Charitable Business Number 88916 2541 RR0001