Baris Pirhasan: “The Hrant Dink movie was the most difficult script I’ve ever written”

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Prominent director, poet, and scriptwriter Baris Pirhasan was recently awarded PEN Turkey’s Poetry Award. In this interview, Pirhasan shares his reflections on his work and his process.

ROZERIN YUKSEL- PEN Turkey has awarded its 2023 Poetry Award to director, scriptwriter, and poet Baris Pirhasan. Recently, musician and journalist Sina Kologlu announced on his social media account that the life of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated on January 19, 2007, will be turned into a movie to be released in 2024. Kologlu stated that the screenplay of the film would be undertaken by Baris Pirhasan.

Speaking to GercekNews, Pirhasan shared his poetry writing process, the comments he receives, his films, and the process of committing to paper Hrant Dink's life.


You use poetry and your various works as another language to convey the condition of society and what has befallen it, almost as if you are unearthing these events. Which aspects of life do you describe in your poetry? Can we describe life through poetry?

I have been writing almost since my childhood. Writing poetry is not a matter of planning. Poetry can be written about any aspect of life; however, [a poet] does not do this as a result of a decision. Rather, it just happens.

You might like poetry, feel affected by the poetry you read, or simply enjoy what you have written. I am also unaware as to what I seek [to convey] or what the end result will be. Sometimes, you concentrate on a specific topic, and your feelings of social awareness weigh heavier. At other times, you retreat into your shell. All of this reflects in your poetry. Perhaps the characterizations of “this man is doing this in his work” made by people on the outside are more valid on this matter, no matter what I think I may be writing.


Do you think your readers understand the messages you are trying to convey?

The primary need of the poet is not for readers; it is mostly for a confidant — a person they can truly share things with.

Of course, I have confidants, but perhaps people usually only have one or two of them. However, by virtue of poetry, a person may have many confidants forming a connection with them from different places. If you feel that that connection has been established, you continue to write. A [poet] may have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of readers, yet not a single confidant. This is where the issue of permanency comes into play.


Your poetry selected for the award among many others. PEN Board Member Haydar Ergulen wittily commented on your selection, saying “He is a poet that doesn’t act like a poet. Poetry takes time, and he has no time to be a poet, he can’t find any!”

PEN said, “Describing the word without being a part of the crowd.” These words may be a succinct summary of your work, but how do you characterize yourself? Would you say that you have time for poetry? What is the role of poetry in your life?

Poets often have a set of rituals. Meetings, book signings, award ceremonies, and what not… Haydar says that I do not fit that mold; true. Being occupied only with poetry can drive a person mad. Due to a variety of reasons, I began working on cinema, which is, of course, something that takes up both a lot of time but also a part of one’s soul.

He is trying to say that I am not poetic. I can attest that this is true. I have time to write, to leave what I have written and to live, that is a deep relationship…

The “Manifesto for 2023” that you have penned reflects one of the ‘othered’ aspects of society. At the end of your poetry, we see an allusion to the ritual of asking for forgiveness observed near the end of funerals in Muslim societies. This seeking of forgiveness is a turn of phrase used rather often in politics recently. Can we say there is an allusion to that as well in these lines?

There are elements that I have incorporated from almost every religion here, but the element of humor prevails in the “seeking of forgiveness” portion. One who wishes to perceive that as something religious probably would not like the entirety of the work, anyway.

There is an irony in the beginning with the line "I came not to praise Caesar, but to bury him”* because saying this stirs people up. Speaking of seeking forgiveness, from whom is it sought?

Among those I have mentioned, there are poets and writers who are known for their homosexuality, or there are people who avoid that subject matter entirely and go in a different direction. This is a manifesto; it means whatever the reader thinks it means. [The journalist] Zeynep Oral has said the same; there are those who praise it just as much as those who swear at it. In any case, this is how it should be. No manifesto is written so that everyone likes it indiscriminately. The language I used is not decent or moralistic language; in fact, it has an essence that opposes this. I think it is obvious that the burying is not just burying.

On the one hand, you are the scriptwriter of Naim Suleymanoglu, a person considered to be the "pride” of Turkey’s society; on the other, you are the scriptwriter for a movie about Hrant Dink, someone for whom society holds ambivalent feelings, revered by some groups, held in contempt by others. These are two strong individuals in the eyes of society, who are, at the same, = two contrasting characters. Despite this, do you see any similarities between the two?

They are two very separate cases, but there are reasons as to why I wrote for both.

The Naim Suleymanoglu incident is one that truly upsets me. At that time, when all this was happening, when the Zhivkov regime was truly viciously persecuting Turks, I’ll speak for myself, I said nothing. I couldn’t speak up then due to my role in the communist movement. In smaller groups, we would voice our perspectives, but we never got up and said outright that this is ‘a fuck up’ and this is ‘heinous.’ So I wrote for [that movie] as I reflected on myself.

A number of alterations, which I did not approve of in the slightest, were made by the producer and the director, and the film was turned into a bit of an epic. I believe that the script I wrote had a much more in-depth approach, but there is no point in arguing this any further.


Was the Hrant Dink movie also a form of seeking accountability?

In a different sense, yes. I was very glad to have had that opportunity. It was the most difficult script I have ever written, but I feel at ease. I came to terms with Hrant and the Armenian issue very late even though I was part of the Turkish left-wing.

I was born and raised in the home of a communist. Despite this, my friend from middle school and I made a pact to go to the Ankara Sciences High School together. He backed out at the last moment; I didn’t understand why he would screw me over like that. I pushed him a little and he said, ‘It’s all fun and games for you, you’re a Turk, I’m Armenian.’ I couldn’t believe my ears; this dude was tripping or he was paranoid. I had no idea why he was acting like this. Of course, after that, I began to understand bit by bit.

What impressed you most regarding Dink’s stance, his character, and his struggle for life? How do you feel about having penned his life?

Changing certain dynamics or creating a space for oneself through personal sacrifice has always existed, but I was most moved by his personality, of course. I mean, there were unique aspects to him.

I never met him. [He was] an individual who was so resilient, so genuine… someone who imparted so much even though he was killed right when he was living life to its fullest. His opinions about the diaspora are also in the movie. I can say that the diaspora was proved right in some regards.

*In Turkish, the verb “to bury” also holds an idiomatic, informal meaning of “to ridicule” or “to harshly criticize.”

* Baris Pirhasan was born on April 18, 1951 in Istanbul. As a screenwriter, director, and poet, Pirhasan achieved success in different artistic fields. His movie "Sawdust Tales” received awards in the categories of best film, best director, and best screenplay. Pirhasan, who has directed and scripted many films, has recently come to the fore with a scenario about Hrant Dink's life. The PEN Writers Association recently selected Pirhasan for the 2023 Poetry Award.