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Cemile Sahin
Violence and Patriotism

Cemile Sahin’s second novel is about Turkish society, which is influenced enormously by the military, spying and police brutality. In nine episodes, she describes what pervasive experiences of violence do to people.

By Holger Moos

Sahin: Alle Hunde sterben © Aufbau ​Cemile Sahin is a Kurd. After her birth in Wiesbaden in 1990, her parents moved with her for four years to Dersim in Eastern Anatolia, which was renamed Tunceli (“Iron Fist”) in Turkish in 1946. In 1937 and 1938, the then President of Turkey Ataturk carried out a massacre of the predominantly Alevi Kurds in the province of the same name.

Cemile Sahin’s first novel Taxi (2019) was about the psychological devastation of war. In 2020, Sahin received the Alfred Döblin Medal for her debut. In the jury’s opinion, she succeeded “in finding a compelling and completely contemporary form for the burden of memory and its processing. It is about the existential: Even when the war is over, it devastates minds and sensibilities.”

bones in a plastic baG

Her new novel Alle Hunde sterben (All Dogs Die) is again about the existential and violence. The setting is a 17-story high-rise somewhere in western Turkey. The residents do not feel at home there and do not want to stay. They are all displaced persons and victims of state terror and tell about it. And they are all waiting: for their partners, their children, their parents, for the police or the soldiers, for the possibility of revenge. The high-rise is a metaphor for the country.
Sahin does not see herself primarily as a writer. “I am an artist and do not separate the books from the visual arts, I make installations that consist of video, text and sculpture, for me writing is just a medium within that,” she explains in an interview with Missy Magazine. Each of the nine episodes is preceded by an identical photo. It shows the roof of a parking garage. Arrows saying “one way” can be seen on the asphalt. If you follow these arrows, they go almost in a circle and then one level lower. It’s a downward spiral.

The characters’ lives are also spiralling downwards. All were identified as enemies of the state and persecuted as such. They are badly damaged, traumatised by direct or indirect experiences of violence and loss. Parents sent their children away or abandoned them to protect them. Others were imprisoned, tortured or lost loved ones. The reasons behind the state terror are the conjoined twins of the fight against terrorism and patriotism. “The violence also holds the fatherland together,” says Murat, who saves his mother’s bones from the devastation of a cemetery and keeps them in a plastic bag in the cupboard.

EXPLIcit portrayals of violence

The representations of violence are quite explicit. In the very first episode, Necla is dragged by her hair across the yard by a soldier, squeezed into a dog house and forced to eat a dead rat. Presenting violence bluntly and clearly is important to Cemile Sahin, as she says in a Deutschlandfunk Kultur interview. She also writes in short sentences with few subordinate clauses. This paratactic style sounds harsh, sober and truthful, for example when in the last episode Devrim’s mother apodictically proclaims, “Life is bad. So bad. Where do such things happen? They happen to us every day.”
But even though Sahin’s second book is set in Turkey, as in her debut she does not name any places or people. There is also no explicit reference to the Kurdish minority. For Sahin, Turkey and the Turkish-Kurdish conflict are only examples of something that exists elsewhere. She says, “Turkey is a multi-ethnic state. The perspective from which I write is that of a Kurd, but I would find it odd to write exclusively about Kurds.”

Alle Hunde sterben is very raw and bold; a clear indictment. There is very little space for nuance. The roles of perpetrators and victims are too clear and indisputable. The result is a very dark, very existentialist book, at the end of which a circle closes, but once again it is a circle of violence.  

Logo Rosinenpicker © Goethe-Institut / Illustration: Tobias Schrank Cemile Sahin: Alle Hunde sterben
Berlin: Aufbau, 2020. 239 S.
ISBN: 978-3-351-03827-4
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