Translating in the Mediterranean
TURKISH (1990-2010)
In the framework of the mapping of translation in the Mediterranean, coproduced by the Anna Lindh Foundation and Transeuropéennes in 2010
Data collection, analysis and write-up
Hakan Özkan
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
The following study is conducted by Transeuropéennes in partnership with the Anna Lindh
Foundation (Translating in the Mediterranean). It is a component of the first mapping of translation
in the Mediterranean, led since 2010 by Transeuropéennes and the Anna Lindh Foundation (EuroMediterranean program for translation), in partnership with over fifteen organizations from all over
the Union for the Mediterranean.
Sharing a common and wider vision of translation, of the central role that it must play in EuroMediterranean relationships, in the enrichment of languages, in the development of societies, in the
production and circulation of knowledge and imaginaries, the partners gathered around this project
shall use this inventory as a basis to formulate and take long term actions.
1. Short historical overview of translation of Arab literature in Turkey
2. Publishing
2.1 Bibliography of published translations
2.2 Publishers
2.3 Websites
3. Dissemination and availability
4. Media and critical reception
5. Funding and Support
6. Translation and translators
7. Learning Arabic in Turkey
Appendix – Bibliography of works translated from Arabic into Turkish (19902010)
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
Aim of this study is to provide a quantitative and tentatively qualitative survey of translated Arab
literature published in Turkey over the last 20 years (1990-2010). In the first instance, it comprises a
purely quantitative inventory of translated works sorted by year (see appendix) and secondly it tries
to find trends in translations and reasons for these trends if any. As there are almost no written
sources and statistics on this subject, I was bound to draw on information provided on demand by
large bookseller chains as well as on personal messages and interviews I was able to receive from
translators, academics, literary agents, scouts and publishers. Among those are editors such as
Adnan Özer, Sait Aykut, Ali Ural. Sait Aykut is at the same time a very productive and erudite
translator and literary scout. Among the academics that helped me I may count Prof. Azmi Yüksel
and Prof. Rahmi Er who gave me general information on this subject. A website
( provided me with information on learning Arabic in Turkey and on
current research undertaken by Turkish academics in the field of Arabic literature. On the same site
I found a very interesting essay on learning Arabic in Turkey by Prof. Nurettin Ceviz.1
The large number of translated works with religious content and those that have been published by
the numerous Islamic publishers in Turkey have not been taken into account. In some cases, it was
possible to find works of literary character published by these publishers which I therefore included
into my research.
Nevertheless, I largely refrain from digging into the stock of Islamic publishers even in cases where
works can be classified as literary or otherwise belonging to the realm of humanities (thus complying
with the mapping mission statement of Transeuropéennes). A comprehensive research, however,
would have required excessive time and effort, only comparable to that of a master’s or even a
doctoral thesis. The reason is that often books published by Islamic publishers are not listed nor
shelved by bookstores.
Main focus of this study is literature in the sense of belles-lettres. One caveat relating to this issue
concerns Classical Arab Prose Literature (8th-18th century) that has been translated extensively in
the last 20 years in Turkey. This kind of literature often cannot be classified as purely belonging to
one genre (short story, essay, satire, memoirs, historiography) or to belles-lettres only. The biggest
group among these works is the so-called adab literature, which encompasses a diffuse set of
different literary genres and sometimes even mimics scientific writing styles. In almost all the cases I
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
preferred to count these works amongst the relevant translations for this study categorizing them as
adab (see appendix).2
Apart from translations of Arab literature, academic and non-academic studies and reviews of Arab
literature have been flourishing remarkably over the last twenty years.3
1. Short historical overview of translation of Arab literature in Turkey
If we disregard the translation of religious and parareligious/paraliterary works over centuries,
interest in Arab literature mounted ever since the Nobel jury endowed Naguib Mahfuz with its
highly regarded award in 1988. In fact, Mahfuz’ famous novel Midaq Alley (Zuqaq al-Midaq) had been
translated into Turkish a whopping 11 years before the award was granted to the author. 4 Although
the translation was made from the English version of the book, this example shows how close
Turkish publishers screened foreign markets in search of promising Arab literature even before the
break-even-point of the Nobel award.
After Mahfuz’s Nobel prize, Arab literature made its way into Turkish publishing. A number of
novels primarily but also short stories and poetry were published in the following years.
It is interesting to note that both academia and the private sector strived together to promote Arab
literature and tried to match readership’s growing demand for this literature in the 90’s.
The publications made by academics are important because they are products of direct translation
from Arabic into Turkish. Here we have for example Prof. Emrullah İşler’s translation of Adonis’
poetics, then Prof. Rahmi Er and Prof. Bedrettin Aytaç who each one translated one of Naguib
Mahfuz’s novels (see appendix). Rahmi Er translated an anthology of short stories and poems
including an introduction to the history of Arab literature in the introduction of his book and
presenting every single author before giving one specimen of each one’s work.
Prof. Kenan Demirayak translated directly from Arabic one work of Tawfiq al-Hakim, four works of
Mikhail Nuayma and the complete works of Khalil Gibran (see appendix).
2 H. Kilpatrick, 'adab' in Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, ed. by Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey (London: Routledge,
1998), vol. 1, pp. 54-6.
3 I counted 7 histories of Arab literature that have been published in the last 20 years. One example is Prof. Kenan
Demirayak’s Arap Edebiyatı Tarihi, published by a publisher (Fenomen Yayıncılık) in the remote town of Erzurum in the
North-East of Turkey. The same publisher brought out a study on Arap poetics by Nevzat Yanık, professor at Ankara
4 Ara sokak, translation by Güler Dikmen. Hür Yayın ve Ticaret A.Ş., Istanbul 1977.
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
In addition to that, academia produced a large number of literary histories not only of Classical Arab
literature, and Modern Arab literature as a whole but also monographs on specific countries like
Lybia for example.5 Monographs on writers, groups of writers, styles, poetics etc. followed.
In the private sector, it is Ali Ural’s (Şule Yayınları) merit to having introduced Turkish readers to a
range of Arab literature in the early 90s. He not only published modern authors such as Tawfiq alHakim and Naguib Mahfuz but also classical authors like Ibn al-Jawzi, Ibn al-Muqaffa and Aqfahsi. Most
importantly, he laid stress on duly editing classical literature by well choosing translators and by
guiding them in their work.
2. Publishing
Bibliography of published translations
In the years 1990-2010, 220 translated books from Arabic (or intermediary languages6) into Turkish
have been published. 31 books are Classical Arab titles that belong to the abovementioned category
of Adab literature. Besides that, I counted 13 essays, 9 memoirs, 79 novels, 64 works of poetry, 13
books with short stories from one author 6 anthologies of poetry, 5 anthologies of short stories and
one anthology that comprises both short stories, and poems.
A total of 92 publishers printed translated Arabic literature. Held against the 220 publications this
equals about 2 books for every publisher.
A considerable number among the 220 books I counted have not been translated from the original
language but from a secondary one (especially English and French). Turkish publishers thoroughly
screen international awards, the French, and US/UK markets. This especially concerns books that
made their way into the internationally recognized contemporary canon of books to read. Very
prominent examples are of course Nagib Mahfuz’ novels, then works by other famous writers such
as Tayeb Saleh and Alaa al-Aswani. The fact that books are translated from a different language than
the original one does not impair their success in Turkey. On the one hand, this is due to the
5 See for example Nurettin Ceviz’ work on Modern Libyan literature which has been published in 2005 (Aktif Yayınevi,
6 See below for more on intermediary languages.
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
reprehensible policy of many a publisher not to reveal to readers that the work has been published
from an intermediary language. On the other hand, it is very well possible that readers disregard this
issue as long as they read a well-written Turkish rendition.
We can even assert that Turkish readers prefer to read literature that has been endorsed by its
translation into English and French.7 Why is that so? Firstly, a large portion of the Turkish readership
considers the Western culture as a model to follow (Leitkultur). The West determines what is good
literature and, to say it in gross terms and simplistically, the Turkish readership follows too willingly.
However, the picture is not that clear-cut anymore because of a growing number of academics,
critics, translators, and publishers who managed to define an original stance that more appropriately
represents Turkey’s history and its cultural ties with the Arab countries. The second argument, that
is logically linked to the first one, reads like this: many Turkish readers who would normally read
Arab literature are suspicious of these languages and their underlying cultures, synonymous with
anachronicity, backwardness and - why not? - Islam. Consequently they think they need the consent
of “modern cultures” like France’s, the US/ UK’s, and Germany’s.
A close look at the catalogues of publishers that print works translated from an intermediary
language show that the primary concern of many of them is not the promulgation and promotion of
Arab literature. Neither are they interested in building a dedicated series of Arab literature in their
catalogue, as established foreign publishers like Actes Sud in France do it for example. Basically, they
jump on the bandwagon to get a part of the cake, which is of course not reprehensible in itself as
publishers are profit-centred. Still, a lack of vision, knowledge and confidence can be attributed to
this attitude of copying the taste of the French and British or American readers whereas the Turkish
market has sufficient independent potential for evaluating Arab literature, as the evidence in this
study shows.
Turkish publishers seem to ignore Arab literature that has been translated into German although
some German and Swiss publishers sport exquisite selections of Arab literature. I suppose that they
do not screen the German-speaking markets as rigorously as they screen the other markets I
already mentioned.
Let’s have a closer look at a representative selection of publishers in order to understand their
policies in publishing Arab literature. Before that, however, I would like to make a general remark on
publishers in Turkey: many of them are short-lived. Unfortunately it is these publishers that often
7 Sait Aykut in
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
present an interesting portfolio of Arab works and venture the translation of lesser known works
from Arabic into Turkish.
If we were to divide the publishers into different groups according to publishing policy we would be
able to define five distinct groups:
To the first group belong publishers whose main objective is to publish literature stricto sensu and to
build a consistent series of Arabic literature in their catalogues by doing diligent research. These
publishers are often left-wing. We can break down this group into two categories: those publishers
who prefer prose and those who prefer poetry.
The second group is primarily characterized by marketing considerations. The foremost concern of
this group is to cash in on bestsellers and internationally successful works.
In the third group we find publishers that can be best characterized by their political, ethnic or
gender-related orientation.
To the fourth group belong Islamic publishers who concentrate on works with morally edifying
works, classical literature, and mystic literature. Additionally we find many books of Palestinian
literature here: this is interesting because the Palestinian cause is also well represented in the leftwing group 1.
The fifth group consists of publishers that focus on teaching Arabic language. They order translations
of Arab literature, classical and modern, to complement their educative programs. Many in this
group show affinities with group 4 above because of the educational commitment of the latter.
Group 1
Şule Yayınları. A publisher whose owner and General Publications Manager is one of the firsts who
started publishing Arab translations in Turkey. The biggest merit of this publisher is his preference
given to translations from the original language and a good taste for outstanding Arab literature.
Kaknüs Yayınları is a newly founded publisher that has a noticeable series of Arabic literature.
Amongst those we find Naguib Mahfuz, Nizar Kabbani, Mikhail Nuayma and particularly Khalil
8 I included all the works of Khalil Gibran’s work in this study even if some of them are written in English. Reason for this
is that he is universally perceived as Arab author, catalyst and most important figure of the emigrant literature.
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
Bordo Siyah Klasik Yayinlar. One of the short-lived publishers I mentioned above. Founded in the
1990s they set themselves the honourable task to publish international classics. The Arab section is
highly interesting as they ventured on texts that are very difficult to translate such as Jahiz' and Ibn
Hazm's works. I probed these translations and was pleased by their respectable quality. This is no
surprise, though, as the editor of the Arab series is Sait Aykut who excelled in ensuring good quality
Generally, however, perhaps because of the poor quality of the other international classics, the
publisher is of very poor renown and even decried for using stolen translations and cutting the
works down to abridged versions without declaring to do so on the cover. One of the other editors
is a professional translator and university faculty with vast knowledge of world literature and
translations. It is rumoured that he used translations made by his students when he was teaching.
Pupa Yayınları is a recently founded publishing house that deserves special attention. They included
rare pearls of Arabic literature into their program: the Iraqi Fadhil al Azzawi, the Lebanese Hubert
Haddad, and the Palestinian Ibrahim Nasrallah.
Kırmızı Yayınları. A publisher with high profile on world literature. Arab literature is represented by
one author only. But their innovative orientation with a selection of authors unknown to the Turkish
public lets expect more to come.
Group 2
Everest Yayınları. A major publisher with a clear focus on publishing prospectively successful titles.
Arab literature is underrepresented in their big catalogue. Women literature, and the Palestinian
cause represent the main strand of their titles of Arab literature.
Merkez Kitapçılık. The publisher that printed Alaa al-Aswani's works in Turkey without any deepness
in Arab literature.
Group 3
Aram yayinlari. A decidedly Kurdish publisher, printing among others PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's
books. In the Arab literature section the Syrian writher Salim Barakat figures in their catalogue. On
the back cover his sympathy for the Kurdish people is highlighted:
Selim Berekat (…) şiddetin aşamalarını yansıtıyor (…) Cezire'yi seviyor; bu halkı, Kürtleri seviyor.
“Selim Barakat (...) mirrors the phases of violence (...) He loves the Jazira; this people, the Kurds.”
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
Group 4
Anka Yayınları. A pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian publisher, sporting an anthology of Palestine poetry
and two works by Amin al-Reyhani, one of the big US emigrant writers from Lebanon next to
Gibran and Nuayma. Apart from that, the catalogue lists works on Hadith and Tafsir, Islamic history,
philosophy, biographies and studies on Islamic thinkers and writers (which are not taken into
account in this study).
Ağaç Yayıncılık. Islamic publisher with strong profile on Iranian and Islamic thought. Jumped on the
Jibran bandwagon. They also published a collection of short stories written by the Syrian writer Ulfat
al-Idlibi who describes and criticizes the Syrian society. This is an outstanding choice and calls for
more to expect from this publisher.
Group 5
Elif Yayınları. An Islamic oriented publisher that contracted Sait Aykut, one of the most reputed
translators of Arab literature, as editor for some of their Arab literature choices. The Arab
literature selection comprises anthologies of short stories for learners of Arabic (one of the main
series of the publisher are books on teaching Arabic, thus matching group 4 as well), classics as Ibn
Jawzi and pro-Islamic novels by Keylani and al-Khadra and sports a historical novel by Bakesir under
the evocative title Call to Jihad.
Aydem Yayinlari has books on learning Arabic. Notably one book with jokes and farces with bilingual
texts (title: Arapça seçme fıkralar: “A selection of Arab jokes”).
2.3. Websites
The weblog written by Nadir Marmara deserves special attention: In four sections he provides
comprehensive historical insight into the literatures of the Arab world (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Irak).
Yet, his weblog is not exclusively dedicated to Arab literature, nor did he add substantial new
material to these introductory articles since 2006.9
9 See eletir_116228941442732148.html
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
3. Dissemination and availability
Arab literature is not as widely available as US American, English, French and Latin American
literature. A spontaneous probe into bookstores in downtown Istanbul shows that titles from the
above literatures are easier to find than their Arab counterpart. Print runs usually amount to 1,000
or 2,000. Famous titles are an exception to this rule. Prices usually range from 4 to 55 TL (Ibn
Battuta’s travelogue, published by YapıKredi Yayınları has the latter price tag). Of course the
existence of many online bookstores in Turkey (,, with big and
diversified stocks makes it easier to get Arab literature than in the bookshop around the corner.
Still, often you have to know what you are looking for because even booksellers on the Internet do
not always provide advanced search methods through which you can narrow down your search to
Arab literature only. The reason for this is that booksellers do not catalogue books precisely
Even libraries that hold up modern standards, like the Bosphorus University library, lack the
appropriate tools in their online and offline search routines to easily find Arab literature.
4. Media and critical reception
Turkey has a very lively and swift media and critical reception of new literary works that come out.
Of course this includes Arab literature but they do not always mention the quality of the translation
and less even do they appreciate the fact that a work has been translated from the original language.
There is a considerable number of literary magazines that publish reviews of books. Apart from that,
some major newspapers like Cumhuriyet and Radikal offer works of literature reviewed by critics on
a weekly or daily basis. The national TV broadcaster TRT presents new titles in at least two weekly
programs. One of the programs moderated by Abdurrahman Başpınar (Haftanın Kitapları - Books of
the Week) reviewed among others one book of Mahmoud Darwish, translated by my humble self,
mentioning the translator at the end.10
A website on literature (idée fixe, obsession) has a big section reserved for book
reviews that are written by writers and critics.
10 See
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Some internet booksellers publish reviews released by newspapers, magazines and other websites
on the page of the corresponding book that they offer for sale (see for example the following link
the showcase of Aswani’s work “Chicago” with a very unfavorable review).11
The reviewer does not make any mention of the translation, neither of the translator nor of the
quality of the translation. He/she does not point out that the book has been translated from English
and not from the original language, Arabic.
5. Funding and Support
According to two of the most productive editors of Arab literature translated into Turkish did not
receive financial support by any Arab governmental or non-governmental body.12 Even translations
and anthologies of Libyan literature, where subventions by the Libyan culture ministry could have
been expected, were financed by the publisher or in the case of Ceviz’ works by Gazi University.13
On the Turkish side, two notable exceptions exist: Rahmi Er who is professor of Arab literature at
the University of Ankara published two of his works with the support of Turkish governmental
1. An anthology of Modern Arab Poetry and Prose with the support of the Turkish Ministry for
Culture and Tourism14
2. Al-Hamadhanis works with the support of the Ministry of Education.15
6. Translation and Translators
Most of the translators that translate directly from Arabic into Turkish are university faculties or
people with a strong academic background. Only Sait Aykut, a translator that won in 2004 the award
given by the Turkish Writers’ Association for his translation of Ibn Battutas travelogue, was until
recently a professional translator. Not even him could devote himself totally to translation of literary
12 Personal information by Ali Ural and Sait Aykut
13 Nurettin Ceviz, Modern Libya Edebiyati, Istanbul 2005 and by the same author Libya’nın Vatan Şairi Ahmed Refik elMehdevi, Hayatı ve Edebi Kişiliği (1898-1961), Istanbul 2005.
14 Rahmi Er, Çağdaş Arap Edebiyatı Seçkisi, Ankara 2004.
15 Rahmi Er, Bediuzzaman el-Hemezani ve Makaleleri, Istanbul 1994.
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010
works and had to find other sources of income. Now he completes his PhD in the US - thus ranging
himself in the category of academics as well.
Translating in Turkey is a very ungrateful task. The work of translators only very seldom is valued
correctly. If translators are able to translate literature from Arabic (and especially old works from
the classical period) they certainly receive some credit and respect by editors and publishers for
their command of this difficult language but when it comes to recompense their efforts, publishers
systematically try to cut the pay check down as far as possible. Only in rare cases the translators get
royalties. Normally they are paid by page.
The above mentioned Sait Aykut complains about this modus operandi in Turkish publishing circles
and demands that translators should be contracted by foundations or government bodies that pay
them royalties and even employ them on a long-term basis.16
7. Learning Arabic in Turkey
Arabic teaching in Turkey has a rooted tradition that reaches back far in history. The instruction was
framed into religious teaching and the approach very much grammar- and reading-oriented without
any notable communicative goal. Emblematic for this approach is the emsile binâ method that centres
around memorizing morphologic and morphosyntactic forms. Speaking Arabic was merely the
natural corollary to the fact that Turkish scholars gathered with scholars from the Ottoman Empire
and other Islamic countries all around the world and were forced to communicate in a way. In this
respect the status of Arabic can be compared to Latin.
Together with the emsile binâ-style madrasas, up to the 80s Arabic teaching was provided mainly by
the theological faculties in Turkey that now still impart the larger part of the Arabic instruction on
university level in Turkey. They adopted a more modern approach to teaching Arabic than the
madrasas. Indicative of this development are the books published by theological faculties in the last
30 years (see for example publications by the theological faculty of Marmara University17). Still,
communication and literature proper is the least of concerns in these books although it figures there
as learning objective. One must not forget, however, that before university level tens of thousands
of pupils learn Arabic in high schools called Imam Hatip Liseleri, high schools that train prospective
16 Personal message by Sait Aykut.
17 and
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imams. Their Arabic teaching programs are being prepared in the Ministry of Education by academics
with theological background.
Compared to the large bulk of Arabic learning within a theological framework, literature and literary
translation from Arabic into Turkish constitutes only a tiny portion. To my knowledge teaching
dedicated to Arabic literature exclusively exists only at Ankara University, Gazi University, and
Istanbul University.
Outside university, education in Arabic also developed in Turkey: following the political and
economic opening of Turkey towards Arab countries, a general shift occurred in the early 90s. Apart
from official language schools as TÖMER in Ankara many other private institutions, including
websites such as, discovered an opportunity to position themselves in a growing
niche. Thus, people with no access to universities or madrasas are now able to learn Arabic in
© Transeuropéennes, Paris & Anna Lindh Foundation, Alexandria - 2010

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