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Turkish publisher joins Istanbul protests -- and is attacked

AuthorsTurkeyRecep Tayyip ErdoganIstanbul (Turkey)EnglandJane AustenCharles Darwin

The head of Turkey’s biggest publishing house is a 32-year-old, Istanbul-raised, Boston-educated sociologist with a smart nose for business and the good sense to steer clear of politics — until now.

Can Oz runs the publishing house Can Yayinlari and this month he spoke out publicly against his government for the first time, in the support of the movement that occupied Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where thousands of mostly young people had been protesting for days against the government.

“I am scared,” Oz wrote in an op-ed in the Guardian this month. “With every speech that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives, I feel the hatred and disgust against me and young people of my generation increase. All we are after is a bit of freedom, a bit of space to live and a few trees.”

Oz’s decision to publicly attack the government was not an easy one to take, and it’s now the subject of an excellent report in Der Spiegel (translated into English) that profiles the publisher. Now Oz has become, almost overnight, one of the most prominent public critics of the regime.

“In conversations with friends, [Oz] had long criticized the policies of the Erdogan government, but he had never voiced his concerns publicly out of concern for his family and his company,” Maximilian Popp, a longtime friend of Oz, writes in Der Spiegel. “The Erdogan administration has had critical intellectuals and journalists arrested. Oz had stopped talking on the telephone, fearing that his conversations would be wiretapped.”

Oz inherited the business from his father, who long counseled his son to steer clear of politics.

But with the protests against the government's plans to redevelop the park growing, Oz made his first statements in favor of the dissident movement on his Twitter feed. Threats from government supporters soon followed.

“In the past few days I have received hate mail and death threats, just because I was publicly part of this passive resistance movement,” Oz wrote in the Guardian. “After each speech Erdogan gave, the language in these emails became more violent.”

Can Yayinlari has published Jane Austen, Umberto Eco and many other writers in translation, along with Turkish writers such as Orhan Pamuk, who later won the Nobel Prize in literature. It also published a book by a British writer whose Turkish title is: “Bin Dokuz Yüz Seksen Dört." In English, “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

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hector.tobar@latimes.com

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