Kurdish novelist appointed head of international writers association

Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez. (Photo: Kalem Agency)
Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez. (Photo: Kalem Agency)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Renowned Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez was appointed on Friday as the president of the writers association PEN International.

“We are delighted to announce that award winning Turkish Kurdish novelist and human rights lawyer Burhan Sönmez is our newly elected President,” the organization said in a tweet. 

The London-founded PEN International is a worldwide association of writers created in 1921 to promote co-operation among writers everywhere.

“Burhan Sönmez will lead our work and reaffirm PEN’s mission over the next six years, in what is the beginning of our second #Centenary.”

“I thank my fellow PEN members for entrusting me with PEN’s future - an honour and a responsibility that I recognise and will keep in my mind and heart as I fill the role of President of our noble organisation,” Sönmez said in his acceptance speech.

According to his official biography, Sönmez was born in a small village in central Turkey and grew up speaking the Kurdish language at a time when it was banned in education across the country.

PEN International said that Burhan Sönmez studied law in the years following the 1980 military coup, when he was arrested and tortured.

Moreover, as a lawyer working on human rights cases, he became the regular target of police harassment and court cases. As a result, he was exiled to the United Kingdom, where he shifted his focus to writing novels.

Among his award-winning books are North (Kuzey, 2009), Sins & Innocents (Masumlar, 2011), Istanbul Istanbul (2015), Labyrinth (Labirent, 2018), and Stone and Shadow (Taş ve Gölge, 2021). He was also awarded the EBRD Literature Prize in Britain (2018) and the “Disturbing the Peace” award of the Vaclav Havel Foundation (2017). In Turkey, he won the Sedat Simavi Literature Prize (2011) and Izmir St. Joseph Best Novel Award (2011), as well as the BUYAZ Best Story Honour Prize (2015).

Sönmez lives between Istanbul and Cambridge and his works have been translated into 42 languages.