According to the Turkish Ministry of Education, following the attempted coup that took place in 2016, over 300,000 books have been taken from school and libraries across Turkey and have been destroyed in an effort to clamp down on any reading materials that relate to Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Muslim cleric who is accused by Turkey of instigating 2016’s failed military coup, though Gülen himself has denied any involvement.
As The Guardian reports, the staggering figure of destroyed books was cited by Ziya Selçuk, who serves as Turkey’s education minister. As of last week, the amount of books eradicated stands at 301,878. The news was first covered by newspaper Hürriyet, and an online news outlet named Kronos27 published pictures of books being seized and burned.
Turkey Purge, which is known as “a small group of young journalists who are trying to be the voice for Turkish people who suffer under an oppressive regime,” reported that, in 2016, a maths book was banned due to the fact it featured Fethullah Gülen’s initials in a question which featured the words “from point F to point G.” Over 1.8 million copies of a textbook were destroyed and reprinted simply for containing the word ‘Pennsylvania,’ where Gülen lives in a guarded compound.
PEN International and English PEN said in a joint statement: “In just three years, the publishing landscape in Turkey has been all but decimated, with 29 publishing houses shut down by emergency decree for ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’.”
In 2018, a report from English PEN found that the state of emergency enacted following the coup had seen 200 media outlets and publishing organisations shut down. In addition, 80 writers were being subjected to investigations and prosecutions and more than 5,000 academics were dismissed from over 100 universities. The report concluded that there was a “crisis of freedom of expression” in Turkey.
“The government has dramatically increased its influence on the media and publishing landscape, thereby silencing critical voices,” PEN said. “We call on the Turkish authorities to permit the reopening and independent operation of publishing houses, and to urgently end their far-reaching crackdown on freedom of expression, which continues unabated.”