Born in 1971 in Istanbul, Pinar Selek is a Turkish writer, sociologist and activist. In exile in France after fleeing the Turkish dictatorship and prison, she tells us about her experience, her struggles and her vision of a world undergoing a process, in her own words, of “rhinocerisation.” An exclusive interview with Christian Rinaudo and Eric Mangion for Switch (on Paper).
From a “wealthy, literate and white family,” Pinar (pronounced P’nar) Selek grew up in a libertarian spirit. Her mother’s pharmacy and the family house were “group homes” where all sorts of personalities came to debate and put the world to rights. Following General Kenan Evren coming to power on 12 September 1980, her father, a lawyer, was arbitrarily imprisoned for five years. Pinar Selek spent her youth under the dictatorship. Very early on she wrote children’s stories, enrolled at the University of Ankara, but it was in the street, particularly along with the Tinerji (“solvent abusers”), that she would really learn how the world worked. These young beggars, drug abusers and small-time thugs, for the most part, welcomed her warmly. She frequented via prostitutes, Istanbul’s LGBTI community. She brought all these people together in the “Street Artists’ Workshop” which she set up with what means came to hand in 1995. This in vivo experience would continue to be the basis for her research and thinking. Her first books showed this method: Where is Turkey’s Chiapas? (1995) and Masks, Knights and Chicks. Ülker Street: A Place of Exclusion (2001). Ülker Street was, before Istanbul’s gentrification from the year 2000, the street where transsexual prostitution was centred. Pinar Selek also began to frequent Armenian and particularly Kurdish communities. She was imprisoned in her turn on 11 July 1998, accused of “belonging to an illegal organisation (in this case the PKK, The Kurdistan Workers’ Party), then of an act of terrorism. She spent two and a half years behind bars and being tortured. Even injured, she continued exploring life in prison, the rituals, actions and solidarity she discovered there. Released on bail, she had to face a trial as unjust as it was ludicrous, which is still in progress today. In 2003, she co-founded the feminist magazine Amargi, purposefully open to broader reflections such as social ecology. Threatened time and again, she reluctantly left Turkey on 7 April 2009, first of all for Germany and then France. While she found it difficult to take on her status as an exile right away, by leaving those close to her and her country she decided to write her first novels, while continuing her research in sociology as a lecturer and even passing her doctorate in Political Science in 2014. Since then, Pinar Selek has filled every day of her exile with writing, publications, travel and action, as a tireless activist for a humanity of which she chose never to despair.
Podcast produced by Eddie Ladoire, Unendlichestudio
Translation by Attic
Interview translation and English voice: Audrey Chalmers