Turkey to put on full cultural show at Frankfurt Book Fair

Turkey to put on 
   full cultural show at Frankfurt Book Fair

Ertuğrul Günay

September 21, 2008, Sunday/ 11:29:00
As the date of the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair approaches, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay underscores the importance of this event for Turkey. This year Turkey has been invited to the annual book fair as the guest of honor. Günay notes that Turkey will use the occasion to put on a broad cultural exhibition for all of Europe.

The Frankfurt Book Fair will officially begin on Oct. 14, with an opening speech by Turkish President Abdullah Gül in the works. Günay explains: "Traditionally there is a speech by a head of state or a literary figure at the opening of this fair. On the first day of the Frankfurt fair, both President Gül and our Nobel Prize-winning author, Orhan Pamuk, will be speaking.

With the exhibitions, presentations, concerts and other activities scheduled for between Oct. 10 and 20, we will be bringing a complete cultural, artistic and literary presence to Frankfurt. There may not be another opportunity for a presentation of this scope for another 50 years or so.”

Minister Günay also pointed to Turkey’s attendance -- again as a guest of honor -- at the upcoming Berlin Music Festival, which will take place one week before the Frankfurt Book Fair, as evidence of an increased profile for Turkey at European cultural events. Günay says: “We are scheduled to appear before music and art lovers not only in Frankfurt, but also in Berlin and in Vienna. One week before the book fair in Frankfurt there is a music festival in Berlin. We were invited to that and we accepted and will be there also as a guest of honor. In Berlin different musical groups will be appearing with various important artists, and this will all take place over three days, Oct. 8, 9 and 10, one week before the Frankfurt Book Fair. In addition, there is scheduled to be an exhibition and promotional meeting about the ancient ruins of Ephesus at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna. The private group Borusan has already put out a special book regarding Ephesus. This book is a very chic document of Ephesus’s archeological wonders, and it will be on display.”

Minister Günay answered some questions from Sunday’s Zaman about the upcoming event:

There has been some criticism of the preparations made by Turkey in advance of the Frankfurt Book Fair. How do you view this criticism?

Yes, there has been a handful of criticism, but we have attached a great deal of importance to this book fair. We are attending Frankfurt with more than 300 writers and poets, and all together 800 artists and members. Seen as a whole, the Frankfurt Book Fair is actually a process, a special period of time, and there will be between 14 and 19 high points during that process. On Oct. 20, this special period of time will be over. During the time of the book fair, there will be special readings and poetry days going on. There is a lot of material for interesting debates. There are lots of interesting topics for argument, regarding women, Turkey’s ethnic problems and problems of freedom. I would really love it if I had nothing to do but go from room to room listening in on and watching these different seminars and readings. There is really quite a rich program at hand for Frankfurt.

Were you able to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair in previous years?

I started the position I am now holding last year and at that time I headed for Frankfurt to see the book fair in its 59th year. All the nations of the world and all the publishers of the world are there. While it takes place in Germany, Turkey, as guest of honor, will actually be appearing in front of the most select representatives of the world’s intellectuals there. From Latin America to the Far East, from South Asia to North America, everyone is there. While there is a focus on Europe, of course, you are really exhibited before the entire world.

It is a significant opportunity to be a guest of honor. How have the preparations for this gone?

It is truly a very important opportunity for Turkey to be invited as guest of honor to the Frankfurt Book Fair in a year that happens to coincide with the 60th anniversary of this event. This book fair in Frankfurt is the world’s largest. There are lots of other book fairs that take place around the world, but the one in Frankfurt is not only the largest, but the most traditional one. First and foremost, we have approached this opportunity with the mentality that such a chance to present ourselves to the world probably won’t arise for another half century. The preparations for the Frankfurt Book Fair are being run by the national committee that we created at the start of 2008. This committee contains representatives of every side and corner of Turkey’s publishing world. The committee members are involved in work groups on these subjects. As for our ministry, we are represented by one member. In other words, it is the world of publishing that is really carrying out the entire program. They are deciding which panels, which exhibitions, which stands will be opened, which activities will be presented for the enjoyment of art and literature lovers at the book fair. This is all being done by this special committee, and this is a committee made up of the Turkish publishing world. Of course, we tried to put together the financial infrastructure for this. There is a little above 5 million euros being spent on this. We are in coordination with the publication world, and we have tried to fulfill what was asked of us.

As the ministry that put up the budget here, have you made any requests that directed the committee in any particular direction?

The only thing I have stressed from the beginning is that our many colors and cultures should not be damaged at all! Let’s try to display just how it is that democracy has become institutionalized and that an atmosphere of freedom of thought has begun to take root in Turkey. I have only requested that we stay far away from modes of behavior that will damage these efforts. And anyway, the members of the national committee shared these feelings of mine.

Trade fairs essentially function as open markets. For this particular trade fair, which focuses, of course, on culture and art, what are the expectations in terms of it being a sort of open market?

Yes, of course this book fair will have its own trade dimensions. We are occupied with its visual aspects, though. In other words, we want to be able to represent Turkey to the best of our ability and in a way that will appeal to people’s eyes, ears and taste buds. But, of course, with 100 of our publishing houses there, there will be a trade aspect to this, too. There will be some serious trade relationships formed. Publishing houses make new agreements and contracts with one another. And there are translation agencies in attendance, too. As part of the Teda project, we will be exhibiting many of the books we have translated. But, of course, entirely new translation and publishing agreements are also initiated there. So this is really an important event that will spark significant movement in the publishing sector. We are not just taking Turkish publications and displaying them for viewing purposes. At the same time, we are sharing in a process, in a period of time that will ultimately have a great influence on the future. And publishers, writers and artists are all well aware of this.

How large will Turkey’s book fair stand be?

Until last year, we set up in an area of 1,000 square meters. This year we are appearing before the world in an area that measures nearly 4,500 square meters. In addition, we will be inviting people to come and taste our food in an area of the book fair they are calling the “Agora.”

As for the Turkish world of publishing, it has taken a very positive and important step since last year. Until last year, our publishing houses attended this book fair in a less organized manner, with different groups opening up different stands. But then in 2007, there started to be more of a union, with everyone together. We really thought this was great. We insisted that, as the guest of honor of the book fair this year, we needed to attend in this manner, united. So this is really how it has happened this year. All of our “prestige” books will be on display at this book fair. There will be books on calligraphy, books on archeology, a really rich collection of material that you could peruse for hours and not get enough of. And we will have an exhibition of the history of our literature. In touring around that particular exhibition, you will see every story of Turkish literature, from our Yahya Kemals to our Tevfik Fikrets to our Akifs -- from yesterday to today. You will be able to see all the aspects of the writing and thought of people like Nazım Hikmet, Necip Fazıl Kısakürek and Adalet Ağaoğlu, all gathered together in one spot.

What are some of the other planned activities on the program, outside of the book exhibitions?

Other than the book exhibitions, we will have artistic exhibitions that cover an area of more than 2,000 square meters. There will be shows of gilding, “ebru” (a traditional Turkish style of marbled water painting), calligraphy, Turkish handicrafts and other decorative arts. There will be lots of experts in these areas in attendance. So people who come to tour these exhibitions will also get a chance to see how these traditional Turkish arts are done. People will get a chance to try and do “ebru” on their own, for example. After all, the creation of these arts is interesting for us at our own exhibitions, so we think it will be even more so for European visitors. This particular area in the trade fair will be a place where visitors will get to see and be involved in the actual practical creation of a range of traditional Turkish arts.

Will there be stands devoted to Turkish music and Turkish cuisine?

Yes, before I forget to mention it, we will also have a spot for eating and drinking at this book fair. We will have a stylish offering of Turkish cuisine there. In terms of music, we have a very sparkling program. First and foremost, there will be Adnan Saygun’s “Yunus Emre” oratorio, which will be used for the opening. Then, on the second day, there will be an evening program with the Kudsi Erguner and Buluz Dinler Müezzinler group. This is a group that has become quite famous in France. And, of course, there will be concert series that last for three days in a row at the Berlin Music Festival, in advance of this book fair.

Women’s village theater group also headed for Frankfurt

An amateur theater group made up of women from the village of Aslanköy outside of Mersin is also headed to Frankfurt as a part of the upcoming book fair. Minister Ertuğrul Günay, who went to the village of Aslanköy to see this group’s work when he first heard about them, notes: “This year we invited them to the Frankfurt Book Fair. They will represent a part of our local identity. It should be a great event.” Günay said there are currently three village theater groups attracting attention in Turkey, and that the women from the group heading for Frankfurt work during the day in the village’s fields and gardens, and thus their work for the theater is truly something that deserves credit. He commented further: “This is a group made up of Anatolian women whose acting is completely improvisational. The fact that they work completely on their own budget and with an amateur spirit makes what they do even better. What they do on stage is to bring details from village existence to life. They portray their daily lives, some of the struggles of just getting by, even the difficulties of just getting their children to school.”

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