A University of Arizona assistant professor has been charged in Turkey with "insulting Turkishness" and could face a prison sentence.
Elif Shafak, who is a Turkish citizen, said she will stand trial because of the words uttered by fictional Armenian characters in her novel "The Bastard of Istanbul" – a book she wrote while she was living in Tucson. In the book, an Armenian character refers to "Turkish butchers."
The Turkish government and some international historians reject the claim that a mass evacuation and related deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey from 1915 to 1923 was genocide. Turkey also says the death toll is inflated.
Most Armenian and Western scholars say the massacres were genocide, but Turkey has denied it, saying only that many Armenians died of starvation, disease and exposure on forced marches to Syria in retaliation against the Christian minority for reportedly collaborating with Russia during World War I.
Shafak, 35, is on a one-year leave from her teaching post in the UA's department of Near Eastern studies. She said her book was released in Turkey on March 8 and already has sold more than 50,000 copies.
The charges against Shafak were filed under the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code. The European Union has frequently warned Turkey that its efforts to join the bloc could be hampered by Article 301, which sets out penalties for insulting the Turkish Republic, its officials, or "Turkishness," and has been used to bring charges against dozens of journalists, publishers and scholars.
No trial date has been set yet, Shafak said. Her case has been reported in the Turkish media but has not been confirmed by prosecutors or court officials.
Shafak said her book "questions two big taboos, one of them a political taboo – the Armenian Question - and the other a sexual taboo - incest. So it was not easy to digest for some people and it caused a lot of stir."