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“It took ten years to translate Tanpınar”
Appolaniare Avrutina is a translator of Turkish literature into Russian. Currently affiliated with the Department of Oriental Studies at St. Petersburg University, Avrutina has to this day translated the works of renowned Turkish writers including Sabahattin Ali, Nâzım Hikmet, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Bilge Karasu and Orhan Pamuk. Avrutina is well known for her contributions to the culture, language and literature of both countries. We met Appolaniare Avrutina to discuss translation of Turkish works into Russian. 

Avrutina was in Turkey for the 4th Istanbul Fellowship Program and delivered a speech at the panel entitled “Turkish as a language of translation” where she discussed her translation of more than 20 Turkish novels into Russian and her experiences as a translator in general.

Would you briefly introduce yourself and tell us your story?
I am a Turkologist and a literary historian. I currently work at St. Petersburg University, Department of Oriental Studies. I am interested in modern Turkish literature, culture, poetry and language.

How did you first become interested in Turkish literature? What was the first thing you heard about Turkish literature?
The first text I read was Çalıkuşu, which I read when I was a child. It was very popular in Russia, and the story attracted the people very much. The movie adaptation was also very popular. When I was a child, we had a summer house in Crimea, which, as you know, faces Trabzon on the other side of the coast. We used to hear the sound of music from accross the coast. Crimea was also home to an old-style Ottoman mosque and a castle. This triggered my interest in Turkey.

Russian and Turkish political histories share some similarities. Do you think this also had an impact on the literary stories in these countries?
It was at a very later stage that I came to know the similarities in the 20th century politics in both countries. I wasn’t aware of it until I got in the university. So I don’t really think that the interest of Russian people in Turkish literature is a result of these similarities.

Have you ever lived in Turkey?

So you have never lived in Turkey and you are a Turkologist working in Russia, and your Turkish is pretty fluent. How did you achieve this? When did you learn Turkish?
It is all thanks to the songs, novels and reading a lot. I also have many Turkish friends that I can daily communicate with thanks to the Internet. When I first started reading Turkish, my friends, a Turkologist couple, helped me a lot. I am now able to speak Turkish fluently thanks to their help. 
I started learning Turkish at the age of 16, when I started the university. When I was 19, I started studying Turkish professionally. We had Turkish classes every day, so it was a natural outcome.

Is Turkish literature very popular in Russia?
Not really, but I can say that classical Russian writers are very popular in Turkey. You could hardly run accross someone in Turkey who has never heard of Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, or Nabokov. I don’t know if there is a special school program but everyone seems to have read at least one work from Dostoyevski or Tolstoy. The impact of classical Russian literature on Turkish literature is considerable. You could sense the influence of Russian literature in almost all the authors.

Whose works have you translated into Russian?
Many. My favourites are Sabahattin Ali, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Nâzım Hikmet, Bilge Karasu, Orhan Pamuk and Zülfü Livaneli.

Which one was the most challenging?
It took ten years to translate Huzur [A Mind at Peace] from Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. After that, translating Orhan Pamuk and Sabahattin Ali was also difficult at times.

Are there any metaphorical or philosophical similarities between Turkish and Russian as a language?
Turkish and Russian are very different languages but what is a language after all? It is an instrument that reflects the mentality. And our mentalities are pretty similar.

Are there similarities between Russian and Turkish tales?
Russian and Turkish tales are also very different but the mentality is the same. As both countries are situated in the middle of the West and East, we have a very similar mentality. But the tales are very different.

Which contemporary Turkish author is most popular currently in Russia?
Without a doubt, Orhan Pamuk is extremely popular. It is getting harder and harder to meet someone who has never read Pamuk. Almost everyone has read Orhan Pamuk at some point. Currently Zülfü Livaneli is very popular. His works are printed by the biggest publisher in Russia. His novels are bestsellers.

What do Russian readers think of Turkish literature?
They show great interest and liking towards Turkish literature. It is thanks to the Turkish literature that Russian people acknowledge the rich culture of Turkey that goes beyond sun, sand and beaches. It is literature that provides such an insight. Literature helps transcend the image simply as a holiday destination. The TV Series Muhteşem Yüzyıl was one of the factors that helped to change this image. People saw that Turkey has a very rich history and culture. Books were also influential in this regard.

Is there anything you would like to tell the readers of this interview?
Politics aside, Russian and Turkish people are already like relatives. We have a common history that goes back to hundreds of years earlier. We should focus on our friendship and cooperation regardless of politics. We the Turkologists, translators, interpreters should support such friendship to the best of our ability.