Pinar Selek, acrobatic feminism and combat poetry

by Christian Rinaudo and Éric Mangion

Born in Istanbul in 1971, Pinar Selek is a Turkish writer, sociologist and activist. Exiled to France after fleeing the Turkish dictatorship and prison, she talks to us about her experience, her struggles and her vision of a world in the process of, in her own words, « rhinocerisation ». An exclusive interview with Christian Rinaudo and Eric Mangion for Switch (on Paper).

Born into a « well-off, literate, white family », Pinar (pronounced P’nar) Selek grew up in a libertarian spirit. Her mother’s pharmacy and the family home were « collective homes » where all sorts of personalities came to debate and remake the world. When General Kenan Evren came to power on 12 September 1980, her father, a lawyer, was arbitrarily imprisoned for 5 years. Pinar Selek spent her youth under the dictatorship. She wrote children’s stories from an early age and
enrolled at Ankara University, but it was on the streets, particularly with the Tinerji (« those who use solvent »), that she really learned how the world worked. These young beggars, mostly drug addicts and petty thugs, gave her a warm welcome. At the same time, she became involved with prostitutes and Istanbul’s LGBTI community. She brought all these people together in the « Street Artists Workshop », which she set up with the means at hand in 1995. This in vivo experience would remain the foundation of her research and thinking.

Her first books bear witness to this method: Où est le Chiapas de la Turquie? (1995) (Where is Turkey’s Chiapas ?) and Masques, cavaliers et nanas. La rue Ülker: un lieu d’exclusion (2001) (Masks, riders and chicks. Ülker street : a place of exclusion). Before the gentrification of Istanbul in the 2000s, Ülker Street was the street where transsexual prostitution was concentrated. Pinar Selek also began to frequent Armenian and especially Kurdish communities. She was in turn
imprisoned on 11 July 1998, accused of « belonging to an illegal organisation » (in this case the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), and then of acts of terrorism. She spent two and a half years locked up and tortured. Even bruised, she continued to explore life in prison, the rituals, gestures and solidarity she discovered there. Released on bail, she had to face a trial that was as iniquitous as it was extraordinary, and which is still going on today. In 2003, she co-founded the feminist magazine Amargi, which was deliberately open to broader issues such as social ecology.

Threatened on numerous occasions, she reluctantly left Turkey on 7 April 2009, first for Germany and then for France. Although it was difficult for her to come to terms with her status as an exile from the outset, leaving her family and her country behind, she decided to write her first novels, while continuing her research in sociology so that she could teach and even become a doctor of political science in 2014. Since then, Pinar Selek has filled her exile every day with writing, publishing, travelling and action, as a tireless campaigner for a humanity she has chosen never to despair of.

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