Organized by TÜYAP Fairs in partnership with the Turkish Publishers Association, the 38th Istanbul International Book Fair opened at the TÜYAP Fair and Congress Center in the Büyükçekmece district of Istanbul on November 2.

While offering no clear explanation for the projection, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya has said the event, which will run until November 10, is expecting over one million visitors this year.

The Istanbul fair already holds the record as the largest literary event in Turkey, pulling in 750,000 visitors last year.

Head of the Turkish Publishers Association, Kenan Kocatürk, reports over 800 national and international publishers and NGOs are at the fair, which has around 300 cultural events laid on.

If the Istanbul International Book Fair can break the one million visitor mark it will join Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Baghdad (Iraq) in seeing one million visitors for the first time this year.

But one million visitor book fairs are commonplace nowadays in the so-called emerging markets, while 2 million visitors or more is hardly a rarity.

As this post goes live there are two book fairs happening – Sharjah and Algiers – with each expecting at least two million visitors.

But visitor number rivalry aside there is, and I can only hope this idiom makes sense to those reading in far-flung lands, an elephant in the room.

That is to say, a topic many prefer not to acknowledge, so let’s lay it out clearly.

Turkey is at this time a hotbed of human rights abuses and dictatorial rule, quite apart from its role in neighbouring countries.

In which case, many may be thinking, should TNPS be giving oxygen to this country by showing it in a good light when so many bad things are happening?

Let me first be clear – coverage of any literary or publishing event by TNPS does not confer support or approval for that country’s government or ruling elite.

TNPS comes out in support of the authors, publishers and readers of Turkey and other countries regardless of how those governments may be viewed on the international stage.

The same goes for the International Publishers Association (IPA), as was made clear by IPA President Hugo Setzer at the Istanbul International Book Fair opening.

Noting that the Turkish Publishers Association was an active IPA member, Setzer spoke about the threat to copyright values, with special reference to large tech corporations, but here to focus on what was said pertaining to the situation in Turkey.

Since I started as president of the International Publishers Association, I’ve been talking about the importance of building bridges between different countries and cultures. To talk about it, there could be no better place than a city with a rich tradition of 2,500 years as a bridge between Europe and Asia. It is a beautiful city that brings together the best sides of both worlds and where different beliefs and cultures can coexist in peace.

But … President Kemal Ataturk’s democratic values that have characterized Turkey (are) at risk because of increasing censorship and self-censorship today.

Freedom of expression and freedom to publish are fundamental human rights, the cornerstones of a democratic, civilized society. Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes the right not to be disturbed by the ideas, to seek, obtain or disseminate information and ideas by any means without being subject to the borders of the country. ”

And freedom to publish is a natural extension of this human right. But what happens when publishers, writers, journalists are at risk of being persecuted, imprisoned or even killed?

There are problems all over the world. In Egypt, for example, Egyptian publisher Khaled Lotfy, who received the 2019 Prix Voltaire award, is in jail for a book he published. My own country, which I had journalists killed in Mexico and many others … But here, there are also restrictions on the freedom to publish in Turkey.

There have been many Turks who have received the Prix Voltaire award. Among them are Turhan Gunay, a book publisher, journalist and literary critic who was arrested along with ten colleagues and spent nine months in detention. I know that he is now free, but he cannot get a passport to allow him to travel abroad, imprisonment in his own country. There are also many journalists still in custody.

The rest of the world is watching and demanding that freedom of expression and freedom of broadcasting be improved and reassured. Your colleagues from all over the world are taking inspiration from their struggle for freedom of Turkish publishers to publish.

The IPA believes that we need to support our brave colleagues (in Turkey) who take risks is because they are the ones that keep us from self-censorship and intimidation into silence. Self-censorship means that authors do not express their opinions boldly and publishers refrain from bringing them closer to readers.

In 1638, House of Elzevir published Galileo’s latest work, despite the ban on the writings of the Inquisition. About 400 years later, The Guardian reported a study of increasing numbers of believers in the theory that the Earth is flat because of YouTube videos.

And in this age of false news, (the IPA’s) role is more important than ever.

Publishers are not technophobic. Publishers have adopted technology and incorporated it in terms of both distribution and workflow. Our industry may be old, it goes back to its historic Johannes Gutenberg, but it’s true that we’ve continually developed and used technology to deliver more and better, more reliable publications to more people.

Setzer’s speech is worth reading in full, covering as it does other key matters such as accessibility of reading to the visually impaired, and the challenges publishers face from big tech firms. All worthy sentiments but beyond the scope of this essay on Turkey.

So let’s end here by returning to the Istanbul International Book Fair and the aspirations to join the 1 million visitors club.

For the sake of Turkey’s readers, authors and publishers we hope it does happen and that the 38th incarnation of Turkey’s biggest book fair is hugely successful.

But if it does and is, it will be in spite of, not because of, the actions of the Turkish government.