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Protests in Turkey: Translating Revolution

  • By Canan Marasligil
  • 5th June 2013
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In the second of a series of posts on the unrest in Turkey, our Translator in Residence Canan Marasligil explains how she has worked to translate and contextualise the news from Turkey for an international audience - and how she has had to separate fact from fiction.

I am not a reporter. I am a translator, today more than ever. But translating and sharing news happening 1500 miles away can be a difficult and questionable task.  I communicate not just from one language to another, but from one space to another; from one culture to another. I have always believed in the intrinsic generosity of the act of translation, which is something I’ve done from an early age. But within the frame of the protests in Turkey, being a translator has become a far more vital act. I want to share with you some examples of how I have used this skill to be a part of the biggest civil movement I have ever experienced.

I was born in Istanbul, and although my parents moved to Belgium when I was one, everyday life in our household remained Turkish. But the reason I care about the fate of my fellow citizens is not only to do with my birth place, but also the fight against oppression in all its forms, irrespective of place. I am human before I am Turkish, and however clichéd it may sound, I do insist on that point. And from what I have observed, people outside of Turkey usually seem to care about Turkey and its future, as many do about human rights for all.

In moments like these, international support is key. Luckily, although Turkish mainstream media has remained shamelessly silent, international media has not, and voices from Taksim or Beşiktaş in Istanbul, Kızılay in Ankara and elsewhere are being heard across the globe. But it was social media which played a triggering role in spreading those words.

I use and work with social media throughout my day, and I don’t separate so-called “real life” from “virtual life”. So following all the developments through #direngezi, #OccupyGezi or the numerous hashtags and accounts of the movement has been natural to me. Many experts have analyzed the role of social media during other important events and uprisings, such as the Arab spring or national elections in various countries, and the use of social media to inspire and trigger change is in itself already a revolutionary concept.

Circulated as an image of marching protestors, it transpired this picture was from the 2012 Istanbul marathon.

In the frame of these protests I’ve mostly been active as a communicator: reading and looking for alternative voices, sharing them as they are, translating them and putting them back into context. I’ve mostly been doing this from Turkish into English and French, to inform international audiences about what’s being said in Turkey.

The most difficult part of this task, which I’ve assigned to myself without thinking I have any other choice, is to differentiate truth from fiction. It will not surprise you to hear that many lies are circulating on social media about these events, and one must be vigilant when trying to act as a news bearer and sharer.

One striking and dangerous example of this manipulation of truth involves a video shared with me by a friend, which has now become unavailable. My friend explained to me that the men in the video, filmed at night in Izmir by protestors from their apartment's balcony, were “Tayyip's men”, close followers of the AKP movement, walking behind the police, with batons and sticks in their hands. The video was of very good quality and you could clearly see the aggressive attitude in their walk and the sticks in their hands. Protestors filming from their balconies were shouting “Yazıklar olsun size Tayyip'in askerleri” meaning “Shame on you you Tayyip's soldiers.”

I then saw the same video, now also unavailable, that was shared on Twitter by Today's Zaman correspondent Mehmet Solmaz, who captioned it with the words “Secularist protesters swearing at a group of people heading to a mosque for the morning prayer”. The video he shared was published on a Facebook page too, but with the difference of being of a much lower quality, so you couldn't really see the walking men. You could only hear the protestors shouting, and read the video credits explaining that these men were being insulted by secularists on their way to prayer.

This is only one example of how images and words can be manipulated into making you believe the most horrible things, and provoking more hatred and division between people. Unfortunately, there are many more examples like this one, or even simpler mistakes such as the image of runners crossing the Bosphorous bridge in the 2012 Istanbul marathon, presented on social media as a crowd of protestors joining the protests in Taksim. The caption was true – thousands of people did walk from Kadıköy on the Asian side to Taksim on the European side – but the fact that we all shared it without even checking the validity of its source shows how vulnerable we can all be when taken in by the excitement, and that we must act more responsibly when spreading and translating these stories.

A much funnier example of a translation I did was of this FB status attached to this picture of a news stand.

Turkish news stand
Circulated as an image of marching protestors, it transpired this picture was from the 2012 Istanbul marathon.

“2 haziran saat 13.50 kadikoy

Bakkal abime dedim
gordun mu gazetelerine ne yapmislar?
Cevap: ne oldu yapistirdigim seyleri mi cikarmislar?” 2 haziran saat 13.50 kadikoy
Bakkal abime dedim
gordun mu gazetelerine ne yapmislar?
Cevap: ne oldu yapistirdigim seyleri mi cikarmislar?

I have shared it as follows on my Facebook page:

A sticker story, worthy of becoming a cartoon: I'm translating the status update from their FB page. On the picture you can see stickers on the newspapers with the following slogan: YANDAŞ MEDYA, meaning PARTISAN MEDIA.

“2 June at 13.50 in Kadıköy.
I've asked the newsstand owner, have you seen what they've done to your newspapers? His response: what, have they took my stickers off?”

Another translation I have worked on is Turkish rock band DUMAN’s protest song, “Eyvallah”, for which I have created a tumblr page with the lyrics in Turkish, their English translation and a link to the song. Note that I haven’t credited myself here: this isn’t because I’m ashamed of the translation, but because this was not about taking credit, but rather acting on the material and putting it out there for all to share.

Last but not least, I have also shared an offer of help on my social media channels for journalists, reporters, researchers and everyone wishing to write about #OccupyGezi and needing help with translation from Turkish during their research. I have also invited all my Turkish friends and followers to share their stories so I could translate and share them with mainstream media like Le Monde, who were looking for comments from people in the streets of Turkey.

Whether these actions are useful or not, I cannot say. Maybe it is just a way to make me feel less guilty of not being there with my friends. But what I am sure of is that translating this news is a matter of urgency for me. This is how my brain has always worked, automatically translating words in my head, and my heart and mind have always been on the side of those who challenge oppression. I could sit here and try to analyze my reasons for hours, but the reality is, I don’t think I have any other choice but to act.

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