Captain Miki and The Banned Atlas

 In a twist of irony, Turkey is at once celebrating the lifting of decades-old bans on 453 books and 645 periodicals while waiting for the fate of two classics whose fates are yet to be decided. One of these classics is John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The other one is the beloved children’s book “My Sweet Orange Tree” by Brazilian writer José Mauro de Vasconcelos…

On the list [of newly freed books] are also books by Turkish authors like Nazım Hikmet, Aziz Nesin, İsmail Beşikçi and Abdurrahim Karakoç, whose books were banned due to the political atmosphere of the time. But there are also the titles that makes one scratch one’s head, such as the “National Geographic Atlas of the World,” banned as late as 1987, and an issue of the Italian comic book “Capitan Miki,” or known as “Tommiks” here in Turkey…

Writing for the free speech watchdog Indexoncensorship.org on the unfortunate fate of “Tommiks” two weeks ago, Kaya Genç summarizes the reasons for the comic hero’s persecution in 1961: “The generals, who hanged a democratically elected prime minister the same year [referring to the 1960 coup], accused Captain Miki of having encouraged laziness and a ‘spirit of adventurousness’ among Turkish people.”… [click here for the full article and to learn why Steinbeck and "My Sweet Orange Tree" are under threat of being banned.]

I can give some insight into why the atlas was banned. In the mid-1980s, I ordered a National Geographic atlas to be sent as a gift to a friend in Ankara. National Geographic wrote back that they were unwilling to mail the atlas to Turkey because it would be mutilated at customs. Not knowing how big the atlas was (the size of a small coffee table), I asked a kind Turkish friend visiting London to buy one there and bring it back to Turkey for me and pass it on to my other friend. It was only years later when I saw the atlas in Ankara that I realized what an imposition that had been on the friend visiting London. Indeed, when I asked her about it and apologized, she admitted that she had hand-carried it onto the plane, since it was too big to fit into her luggage. Why the problem with mailing it? The atlas apparently showed some aspect of the border with Syria with which Turkey did not agree.

2 Responses to “Captain Miki and The Banned Atlas”

  1. Jenny: unfortunately, there are Sarah Palins every where.

    I think this post is missing what the Minister of Culture said about the İzmir Education Directorate’s attempts to ban Steinbeck.

  2. Also, ironically the bans put by Kemalist, secular, and militarist governments are lifted by so-called an Islamist government.

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