Skip to main content

Turkey: Elif Shafak ordered to pay damages over plagiarism

The writer was accused of plagiarising sections from a 1990 book and using them in her best-selling novel 'The Flea Palace'
Turkish writer Elif Shafak, author of "Black Milk" poses during the 5th edition of the Women's Forum at the Deauville International Center on October 16, 2009.  (Mychele Daniau / AFP)
Turkish writer Elif Shafak at the 5th edition of the Women's Forum at the Deauville International Center on 16 October 2009 (Mychele Daniau/AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Izmir, Turkey

A Turkish court has ordered award-winning novelist Elif Shafak to pay damages to another writer after being accused of copying from her book, according to a judgement publicised this week. 

The Istanbul court said last month that the expert report prepared for the case indicates that at least five percent of Shafak’s 2002 novel The Flea Palace had been plagiarised from The Flies Palace, a 1990 work by Turkish columnist and writer Mine Kirikkanat. This included copying some of the ideas, characters, and settings.

The court added that Shafak must pay around 160,000 Turkish lira ($5,200) compensation to Kirikkanat and run an advertisement acknowledging the plagiarism in one of the country's biggest newspapers.

Shafak has said she will appeal. 

In a formal statement on Wednesday, Shafak said that the allegations were “insane smears” and the court case wasn’t built on “the rule of law”, adding that she would also sue Kirikkanat for damaging her reputation. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


“​​There is no bad word or insult left in the dictionary she hasn’t said about me,” Shafak said. “Not once have I responded to evil with evil.”

Shafak added that she suspects Kirikkanat acted in bad faith or out of terrible jealousy. 

Shafak is known for her liberal, democratic, political opinions, while Kirikkanat is part of what the Turkish public calls the “old guard”, a Kemalist with strong opinions on the state and the republic. 

Shafak’s lawyer argued in court that The Flea Palace is 281 pages, while The Flies Palace is 142 pages, and so the plaintiff's claims that there is plagiarism in all four chapters of the book isn’t possible considering the length of the two texts.

Expert advice 'disregarded'

The lawyer also added that several expert reports commissioned by those representing Shafak prove that there isn’t even inspiration, let alone plagiarism, in The Flea Palace.

Shafak also said the court has disregarded the opinions of several respected novelists who said there was no plagiarism at all. 

Shafak is one of Turkey's best-selling novelists and one of the most well-known Turkish literary figures around the world. Yet her name is frequently associated with controversy in Turkey. 

The publication of her 2007 book The Bastard of Istanbul triggered a bizarre court case against her in which she was accused of “insulting Turkishness” because one of the characters in the book acknowledges the Armenian genocide.

Turkey refutes the term and says the mass killings at the beginning of the 20th century - where a million Armenians are estimated to have died - were part of a wider conflict. The charges were later dropped.

In a 2017 TED Talk she declared that she was bisexual, which created a buzz in Turkish media.

In 2019 a Turkish prosecutor launched an investigation against her - and other novelists - for describing child abuse and sexual violence in two novels, The Gaze (1999) and Three Daughters of Eve (2016). 

Turkey: Corpses missing body parts that washed ashore coast likely Syrian
Read More »

During the recent plagiarism judgement, the Istanbul court noted that both The Flea Palace and The Flies Palace had similar names, both explored a story based around an apartment block with five floors and in both an architect emerges as one of the leading characters.

“Both books tackled the protection of the minorities, religious and mystic beliefs, and Kurds,” the court said. “Both apartments in the books had similar architecture, with bird motifs, a doormen family with the same number of individuals, and children with similar body defects.” 

The court added that both books included trans and homosexual characters, and had women who didn't live at the apartment but were introduced by the male residents, who ridiculed them.

However, many experts and novelists have disagreed with the court, including Ulker Gokbertk, a retired literature professor. 

“Both books are unique and valuable novels that tell their narratives in the Beyoglu environment within completely different fiction narrative techniques and completely different semantic and semiotic frameworks,” she said. “There is absolutely no similarity or plagiarism between them.”

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.