Telling a Story Differently

By | April 30, 2020 at 6:20 pm | No comments | News

Fatih Demir, an exiled Turkish journalist, is PEN Canada’s current Writer-in-Residence at George Brown College. Demir was an economics reporter for Today’s Zaman, an English-language daily inTurkey and fled to Canada in 2016 while hundreds of journalists were being jailed in the wake of the failed 2015 coup. Demir was recently interviewed by PEN’s Communications Intern, Kayla Chhin.


Kayla Chhin: What have you learned during the past year? Has it changed you as a writer?

Fatih Demir: I have learned that writing in a foreign language is not the same as knowing the culture. One does not feel fully competent in appealing to readers unless he/she lives long enough to appreciate the cultural codes.


KC:  How has working at George Brown changed or evolved your writing process?

FD: It’s  given me the time and resources to improve my technical skills and focus on my writing.


KC:  How has moving to/living in Canada affected your work?

FD: It’s been a while since I was forced to leave journalism as a full time occupation. After my newspaper was closed, I kept myself busy with freelance copyediting and translations and worked on human rights campaigns. Moving to Canada helped me do this. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d stayed back.


KC: As a daughter of refugees, I know the weight of being separated from your home, and I often feel guilty for being here while they are still unable to leave. Do you feel this burden?

FD: From time to time, journalists whom I used to work with write prison letters to their relatives. These are posted on social media circles and whenever I come across one, I feel it. Whenever I translate a news article about, say, people being arrested for “guilt by association” to our newspaper, I get the same feeling, deep in my heart. I’ve come to the realization that survivor’s guilt lasts for many years.


KC: Does the Canadian Government have the right stance on Turkey? If not, what would you change?

FD: I appreciate the Canadian government’s stance against the rights violations in Turkey. I appreciate the sympathy MPs show when recent Turkish immigrants and refugees visit them in their constituency offices. But governments have bigger roles to play when it comes to fighting rights violations across the world. Leveraging economic and political power to uphold human rights wherever/whenever it is possible, is a moral duty that we should take on for all human beings. I would say the Canadian government could be more active in advocating for rights in Turkey through its economic and political relations with Turkey.


KC: What is the Turkish diaspora community in Canada like?

FD: It is a small but developing community. Turks have been in Canada for many years, but the size of the community has grown substantially in recent years in particular.


KC:  If you could give your younger self any advice about writing, what would it be?

FD: I’d tell myself to incorporate more perspectives in my work; to try to understand the other side more.


KC:  How has writing in a second language changed your perspective on the power of language?

FD: I started my career in journalism at an English-language newspaper in Turkey. I am originally a business reporter; however, with the help of features that I read in Canadian media, I’ve discovered many ways to tell a story differently. Whether it be a business story or an opinion, novelty is crucial.


KC:  What are you currently working on?

FD: I’ve just finished a short story and I would like to translate The Rights Revolution by Michael Ignatieff from English into Turkish.


KC: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? And when did you start to identify as a writer?

FD: I have always loved reading newspapers. My teachers at the high school liked my essays, but I guess I decided to take on writing when I was at university.


KC: Which 3 books would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

FD: The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf, Diary of a Madman by Nikolai Gogol and The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar


KC: If you had to label yourself as something – refugee, immigrant, expatriate – what would it be?

FD: I often identify with the main character in the book, The Disoriented. The way the character describes the feeling of “not belonging to either country he lived in” amazes me. So, I would say I am Disoriented, too.


KC: What would you say is the hardest part of your writing process?

FD: Making time to focus on. Settling in a new country is challenging and time-consuming. Although I have had a warm welcome from Canadians so far, it is a real challenge to build everything from scratch.


KC: Would you say, in general, that the Internet and social media have been friends or foes as an author?

FD: Despite its disadvantages, I find social media very valuable. It is the only source of information from back home now. Yes, it’s also a useful tool for manipulative leaders most of the time, but critical thinkers should not be having a hard time accessing the truth.


KC: Speaking of the Internet – where can someone access your work?

FD: The archive of the newspaper where I published most of my work was taken down by the government back home. I have not published many bylined articles since then. I’m hoping to finish my translation of Ignatieff’s books soon and put it online if I get the required permission.


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