Asli's courage and intelligence greatly impressed me. Formerly a quantum physicist with CERN, she gave up the search for elusive particles to become a writer producing two novels The Shell Man in 1994, and The City in Crimson Cloak (about Rio de Janeiro where she did her PhD) as well as a collection of interlinked short stories Miraculous Mandarin in 1996. Her short story Wooden Birds received first prize in a competition opened by Deutsche Welle Radio in 1997.
Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk calls her:
... an exceptionally sensitive and perceptive writer who gives us perfect literary texts.Asli's passionate interest in human rights led her to journalism.
Turkey has the worst record for persecution of writers in the world, she says. The infamous Article 301 making it a crime to insult "turkishness" has hit the headlines as prominent writers have been charged with it for drawing attention to the genocide against the Armenians and the plight of the Kurds. The case that attracted the most international attention was that of Orhan Pamuk who stated in an interview with a Swiss magazine, that "Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it."
But Asli says that the the publicity surrounding Article 301 has drawn attention from even more serious human rights abuses in Turkey. She wrote articles about hunger strikes (in one 110 people died!), rape and deaths from torture in Turkish prisons.
She knew that she risked being jailed for speaking out. She lost her job after two and a half years and has been constantly harassed by the police. The month before the Ubud festival she said, there was a police car parked in front of her apartment all the time. "I felt I was going crazy," she said, but managed to joke about the drug dealers living in the street being in awe of her.
I found online a tribute Asli wrote for another persecuted Turkish writer, Hrant Dink, who was one of the most prominent voices of Turkey's shrinking Armenian community. He was convicted in 2005 under Article 301 for writing about the Armenian genocide, and received threats from nationalists who viewed him as a traitor. He had hoped to emigrate, but was gunned down by a 17 year old nationalist outside his offices on January 19, 2007.
Asli here describes the scene at his funeral as one hundred thousand mourners marched together:
It was a long, silent walk. Thousands and thousands of people were slowly walking, side-by-side, under an unexpected winter sun, a luminous sky, reminiscent of spring. A compact, homogeneous crowd was filling the avenues, the streets, the squares. There were blood-red carnations. Black signs spelling out the same message in three different languages: "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians."Hrant's face emerges above arms, above heads, an intact face, bearing no signs of aging, with his gentle, comforting smile... Thousands of people, in mourning, heartbroken, intently turned to that face with a sense of loss even deeper than if he had been one of them. Newspapers, headlines, people clapping their hands, the white dove, so alive, in front of Agos people recognizing each other and humbly greeting, heads bowed in gravity, weighed down by the assassination. It was a winter sun that we did not seem to deserve. (But who had the right to deprive anyone of that sun, be it for a single minute?) "They say it is five miles away, do you think we can walk that far?" a voice says. Another one replies: "We will make it!" We walk on, leaving a deep invisible mark behind us.Asli, today our thoughts are with you and other Turkish journalists (and other journalists around the world) who are are brave enough to speak out. Regardless of the personal danger.