by Ian Fleming
(Turkish translation by Yakut Güneri)
As James Bond returned recently to theaters in Skyfall, 007 fans around the world celebrated fifty years of her Majesty’s most famous secret servant on the silver screen. But Skyfall marks another anniversary of sorts for Bond: his return to Istanbul 55 years after first catching sight of the Bosphorous in the pages of Ian Fleming’s From Russia with Love, the fifth of his twelve Bond novels.
As travel writers love to remind us, the former Byzantine and Ottoman capital, once called Constantinople, is “where East meets West.” But not according to Ian Fleming, who arrived at Istanbul’s Ye?ilköy Airport aboard a British European Airways flight in early September 1955. He stayed at one of the most prominent symbols of Turkey’s short-lived mid-century boom, the Istanbul Hilton, which had opened in June as the city’s first five-star hotel. Fleming, who was attending an Interpol conference as a member of Scotland Yard’s delegation, described the Istanbul Hilton as “the most fabulous modern hotel in Europe.” It “was to have been a great week for Turkey”, Fleming wrote in a September 11 Sunday Times dispatch. “Obedient to the undying memory of Atatürk, [Turkey] has continued to mould her destiny away from East and towards the West, perhaps in defiance of her stars and certainly in defiance of her true personality, which is at least three-quarters oriental.”
Temporarily leaving Fleming’s Etonian arithmetic aside, when Fleming rode the Orient Express out of an Istanbul forever changed by one of the ugliest outbreaks of ethnic violence in modern Turkish history, he did so with the inspiration for his next novel and his own bigoted ideas about Turkey’s “true personality.” That Fleming’s prejudices found their way into From Russia With Love, published less than two years later, is not surprising. As Bruce A. Rosenberg and Ann Harleman Stewart write in their 1989 biography, Ian Fleming, with the exception of the commendable English, “almost all races and nationalities get rough treatment in the Bond novels.”
However, the depiction of Turkey in From Russia With Love is more complicated than Fleming’s racism and orientalism; it is intertwined, too, with modern Turkish history and identity. The novel is an unsubtle commentary on the modernizing mission of the young Turkish Republic, but the substance of that commentary is entirely dependent on what version of the book you read. In the 1983 Turkish version, Rusya’dan Sevgilerle, translator Yakut Güneri enlists Bond in an effort to locate Istanbul firmly within the West, very much despite Fleming’s polar-opposite views.1 By parsing the 1957 original against the 1983 translation, a world of colliding culture-fabrication opens up before us. Interesting in its own right, the picture takes on special interest today as Turkey’s religiously conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) reshapes the official conception of Turkishness so central, albeit in different ways, to Fleming’s and Güneri’s texts.
or Fleming, the Hilton came to symbolize a deceptively cosmopolitan surface that obscured ancient hatreds, particularly between Turk and Greek. While in Istanbul he witnessed the infamous pogrom of September 6–7, 1955, known in Turkish idiom as the “Events of September 6–7.” From evening until the early hours of the following morning Turkish mobs terrorized the minority communities (particularly Greek but also Armenian and Jewish) of Istanbul, as well as Izmir. They did so in response to false reports that a Greek had set off a bomb at the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki that damaged the childhood home of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The perpetrator turned out to have been a Greek citizen of Turkish origin who acted in cooperation with a consulate worker and Turkish intelligence in hopes of inciting violence on the other side of the Aegean Sea. “Spontaneously on both sides of the Bosphorous in every noisome alley and smart boulevard hatred erupted and ran through the streets like lava”, Fleming reported to his British readers. In the pogrom’s aftermath one British journalist compared the city’s Greek neighborhoods to “the bombed parts of London during the Second World War.”2
In his comprehensive work on the pogrom, The Mechanism of Catastrophe, the historian Speros Vryonis, Jr. puts the Greek death toll between 15 and 37, though contemporary Turkish press reports claimed only 11 fatalities. But the number of deaths barely captures the reality of what happened. The rape of women, sometimes in public, was widespread (Vryonis describes his own estimate of 200 Greek rape victims as “conservative”). Boys were also targeted for rape. Turkish author Aziz Nesin, an accidental eyewitness to the violence, wrote of the forced circumcision of Christian men, including one clergyman, at the hands of marauders.3 Rioters even targeted the dead, overturning tombstones in Greek cemeteries and desecrating mausoleums. Vryonis quotes a British journalist reporting from one graveyard that, “The contents of every coffin spilled into the streets.” Across the city the police looked on passively, and in some cases cheered the mobs. The rioters, which according to one police source numbered around 100,000 in Istanbul, destroyed thousands of Greek businesses and dozens of churches, with estimates of damage to Greek property ranging from $150 million to several times that amount. Greeks did not suffer alone. As much as 40 percent of the shops destroyed belonged to Armenians and Jews. Mobs also attacked Armenian schools and churches.
Fleming didn’t know it at the time, but there was nothing spontaneous about the violence. Daniel Oliver Newberry, an Istanbul-based American diplomat, recalled seeing Turks from outlying neighborhoods bussed into the city center aboard government trucks and concluded, “this could only have been done with the connivance of the Turkish government.”4 Some of the rioters carried lists identifying minority-owned shops by name and address.
It is important to remember the pogrom’s political context. After the Democrat Party (DP) won Turkey’s first truly free parliamentary elections in 1950 it pledged to transform the country into a “little America” within thirty years. Under the leadership of charismatic Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Turkey sent troops to fight in the Korean War in 1950, joined NATO in 1952, received sizeable amounts of American aid and experienced rapid economic growth. When its economic fortunes began to sour in 1954, the Menderes government grew increasingly authoritarian. The DP’s illiberal turn, and its involvement in seeding the riot, had much to do with fears of a decline in popularity at home and an old-guard Kemalist attempt to sabotage the DP experiment.
After military officers deposed the DP government in a coup d’état in 1960 and established a kangaroo court to try Turkey’s former rulers, the court’s investigation concluded, in this case with ample justification, that the Menderes government anticipated that public unrest, sparked by the bombing in Thessaloniki, would empower them in negotiations over Cyprus, where Greek-Turkish tensions ran high and the British were looking for an exit. However, German-Turkish scholar Dilek Güven has emphasized that the September 1955 pogrom should also be seen as one in a series of official “homogenization efforts” during the Republican era designed to encourage minority assimilation or emigration. For their alleged crimes, of which the pogrom was just one, Menderes and two cabinet ministers were infamously hanged in September 1961 (the Turkish parliament reversed these convictions in 1990 and the three men’s corpses were re-interred in an Istanbul mausoleum during a state ceremony).
On the night of September 6, Fleming left the friendly confines of the Hilton to observe the unfolding disaster. “[M]obs went howling through the streets, each under its streaming red flag with the white star and sickle moon”, he wrote. The sound of shattering glass and sirens filled the air, and Fleming eventually returned, “nauseated”, to his hotel. Istanbul’s Chief of Police had invited the visiting Interpol delegates to a lunch at the Lido restaurant the next day, but the restaurant was Greek-owned and thus was in shambles at sunrise. Instead, an Oxford-educated Turkish ship owner named Naz?m Kalkavan, who would inspire the Darko Kerim character in From Russia With Love, played host for the day. Kalkavan, whose own mother had spent the previous night sheltering Greek friends from the violence, took the British delegation to his home on the Asian shore of the Bosphorous where, he recalled in a letter to Fleming’s biographer, they “spent a very pleasant day, almost in mirth, almost oblivious of its [sic] sadness and shame of the preceeding day.”5
Fleming did not mention to Kalkavan the novel already in gestation, though Kalkavan suspected its inchoate beginnings. In his 1966 biography, The Life of Ian Fleming, John Pearson emphasized the riot’s impact on Bond’s creator, who had served as the deskbound assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence during World War II. “Fleming the symmetrist had seen real violence at last”, Pearson wrote. It’s easy to imagine that the riot was on Fleming’s mind when he wrote in From Russia With Love that Istanbul was “a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were its only population.” It was a town Bond, perhaps like Ian Fleming before him, “would be glad to get out of alive.” This passage does not appear in Güneri’s translation.
rom Russia With Love is the story of a Moscow plot to publicly humiliate the West’s intelligence services and salvage the Soviet intelligence community’s tattered reputation. “It is not just a question of blowing up a building or shooting a prime minister”, Colonel General Grubozaboyschikov, the head of SMERSH, the Soviet Union’s most fearsome intelligence agency, addresses his comrades: “Such bourgeouis horseplay is not contemplated.” The Soviets set their sights on Bond and enlist the beautiful Tatiana Romanova (a distant relation of the deposed Romanov dynasty) to feign love and seduce him, promising to defect to the West with the precious Spektor decoding machine in tow. The conspiracy is to culminate in Bond’s assassination aboard the Paris-bound Orient Express.
Though it casts a shadow over Istanbul throughout the novel, From Russia With Love contains only one subtle reference to the 1955 pogrom. In the gathering of intelligence officials, General Grubozaboyschikov lists Moscow’s recent intelligence coups: “Revolution in Morocco, arms to Egypt, friendship with Yugoslavia, trouble in Cyprus, riots in Turkey, strikes in England, great political gains in France—there is no front in the world on which we are not quietly advancing.” By attributing the violence to communist forces, Fleming was parroting the official Turkish explanation for the violence, despite the fact that such large-scale destruction was far beyond the capabilities of the roughly fifty leftists who found themselves scapegoated in Harbiye Prison in the violence’s aftermath.
In Güneri’s translation the reference to riots in Turkey disappears. General Grubozaboyschikov skips from the “trouble in Cyprus” directly to the “strikes in England.” This is not an isolated instance. Güneri’s translation exorcises nearly all traces of the September 1955 pogrom’s influence on the original text as part of a larger effort to identify Turkey with the West. Thus, in From Russia With Love Bond sets out from London on his mission aboard BEA Flight 130, with stops in Rome, Athens and Istanbul. Disembarking in the Greek capital, Bond drinks some ouzo and prepares to re-board the plane. “Near the airport a dog barked excitedly at an unknown human smell”, Fleming writes. “Bond suddenly realized that he had come into the East where the guard-dog howls all night.” But in Güneri’s translation there is no mention of a stopover in Greece, no allusion to Bond’s arrival in the “East” and certainly no howling guard dogs.
Fleming stresses this dividing line once more toward the novel’s conclusion, as Bond and Tatiana travel to Paris by rail, leaving “the furtive lands” behind them. Fleming’s original typed manuscript is emphatic: “By tomorrow they would be out of these damn Balkans and down into Italy, then Switzerland, then France—among friendly people and away from these dark, furtive lands. that stank of conspiracy and treachery”, Fleming wrote (and crossed out).6 Güneri, however, makes no mention of the “furtive”—one of Fleming’s favored adjectives throughout the book—lands Bond is leaving behind. The corresponding passage simply reads: “At least before long they would be in Italy. Then Switzerland and France. He believed that [Tatiana] would be more comfortable there.” As a result, Istanbul geographically becomes linked with a Europe from which Fleming intended to exclude it.
The inconsistencies between the English and Turkish versions continue upon Bond’s arrival in Istanbul. Bond describes the Turks as “dark, ugly, neat little officials.” He focuses on their “bright, angry, cruel eyes that had only lately come down from the mountains. . . . They were hard, untrusting, jealous eyes. Bond didn’t take to them.” For Bond, and of course for his creator, the Turks are barbarians at heart, like the rioters on the streets below the towering Istanbul Hilton. Güneri omits Bond’s reference to the Turks’ ugliness altogether, as well as Bond’s comment that the Turks “had only lately come down from the mountains.” In the Turkish, “hard, untrusting, jealous eyes” become “fearless [korkusuz], anguished [kederli]” eyes that don’t trust foreigners.
But more than Bond, it is his native informant Darko Kerim, British Intelligence’s man in Istanbul, who passes judgment on his fellow Turks and their place in the world. Beneath the “gipsy-like” face Fleming gave him, his “heavy curling black hair and crooked nose”, his gold earing and dark skin, Kerim is not a typical Turk. The son of a Turkish father and English mother, he disdains Turks and is unflinchingly loyal to Britain, as becomes apparent in Bond’s first encounter with Kerim, when the latter introduces himself to Bond with a “warm dry handclasp.” Fleming writes: “It was a strong Western handful of operative fingers—not the banana skin handshake of the East that makes you want to wipe your fingers on your coattails.” Later Bond also compares Kerim favorably with the other “furtive, stunted little men” that inhabit Turkey.
Kerim’s office features Annigoni’s painting of Queen Elizabeth II, two citations for his military service to the Empire, presumably in World War II, and Cecil Beaton’s wartime photograph of Winston Churchill, whose second tenure as prime minister had ended five months before Fleming’s trip to Istanbul. While perhaps the Queen is a relatively anodyne figure, the Churchill photograph is a far more polarizing interior decorating choice. As First Lord of the Admiralty in the run-up to World War I, Churchill requisitioned two warships—the Sultan Osman and Re?adiye—the Ottoman Empire had ordered three years earlier and had already paid for through a public subscription campaign. He was the architect of Britain’s (failed) Gallipoli campaign in the Great War and, as David Lloyd George’s Secretary of State for War and Air, and later his Colonial Secretary, was linked to British support for Greece’s disastrous invasion of Anatolia during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–22. Kerim is a Union Jack man through and through.
While Güneri does not hide the fact that Kerim is a British Intelligence operative, his depiction of the first encounter with Bond is noticeably different. There is no reference to a “Western handful of operative fingers” or “the banana skin handshake of the East”, just “a hand with strength that could break the bones of fingers by squeezing [them].” Kerim’s face is not “gipsy-like.” Bond’s comparison of Kerim to his Turkish countrymen is far more benign: “In a country in which everyone was of medium height his size alone [sadece cüssesiyle] could beget authority.” Kerim’s office still boasts a portrait of the Queen, but there is no picture of Churchill and no reference to military citations.
In Fleming’s text, Kerim speaks of his many children, who double as loyal employees: “They would all die for me—and for M. I have taught them he is just below God.” In Turkish, this becomes the far more mild, and less blasphemous, “They greatly respect M.”
The most blatant example of Güneri’s selective translation comes when Kerim holds forth on Turkey over lunch with Bond. In the English original, after recommending the “sardines grilled en papillote” and haranguing the waiter, Kerim turns to 007:
That is the only way to treat these damned people. They love to be cursed and kicked. It is all they understand. It is in the blood. All this pretence of democracy is killing them. They want some sultans and wars and rape and fun. Poor brutes, in their striped suits and bowler hats. They are miserable. You’ve only got to look at them. However, to hell with them all. Any news?
Kerim’s exposition on what Fleming referred to in his Sunday Times report as the Turks’ “true personality” is more than just a racist outburst. It is an attack on the narrative of modernization and progress central to orthodox Turkish historiography, in which Mustafa Kemal is both the great liberator and modernizer, with the wardrobe to match. From this perspective, as political scientists Taha Parla and Andrew Davison wrote in Corporatist Ideology in Kemalist Turkey (2004), Atatürk brought “Turkey out of the traditional slumber characteristic of the Ottoman Imperial-Islamic past” and “made it into a modern, emancipated nation with secular, democratic, egalitarian foundations.”
Fleming judged Mustafa Kemal and his successors’ efforts a well-intentioned failure. Forget about the Hilton Hotel, Latin alphabet and NATO membership, Fleming is telling the reader. Following the Ottoman collapse Turkey “successfully changed her spots”, as he wrote in the Sunday Times, but only her spots, and the pogrom of September 6–7 was the author’s Exhibit A in support of that judgment. This is way too much, of course, for Güneri, who eliminates the passage altogether. Translating it into Turkish could even have resulted in prosecution for “insulting Turkishness” under Article 159 of Turkey’s criminal code. In the Turkish, Kerim recommends that Bond begin his meal with “grilled bluefish”, shouts at the waiter, gives his order, and merely asks Bond: “Do you have any new news?”
The cumulative effect of all these changes is that Güneri transforms Kerim from a symbol of a Hail Britannia-enthusiast voicing Fleming’s disdain for savage Turks into the epitome of British-Turkish partnership and the sophisticated modern Turk. Further, in Fleming’s original the hierarchical nature of Bond’s relationship with Darko Kerim is inescapable, despite their affection for one another. Kerim can never be more than a native informant, let alone Bond’s equal. He claims not to visit London on account of the weather and the women, but, as Bond puts it aboard the Orient Express, Darko Kerim (who eventually gives his life in defense of Bond) does not belong “outside his territory.” Güneri doesn’t translate this sentence. Doing so would have undermined his efforts to locate Bond and Kerim, hence Britain and Turkey, in a shared geographical space.
On the surface, From Russia With Love and Rusya’dan Sevgilerle tell the same story to different audiences. James Bond travels from London to Istanbul and falls into a Soviet trap. Turkey is the setting for this adventure, but Güneri and Fleming imagine the country very differently. Turkey and its place in the world thus became points of contention between author and translator. For Fleming, the Darko Kerim character is a critical voice of Kemalism’s failed if admirable modernizing mission. In contrast, Güneri allows for Kerim’s Britishness and Turkishness (more accurately, a certain type of Turkishness) to comfortably co-exist, which they must if Darko Kerim is to symbolize the possibilities Turkey’s modernization has created.
ast summer Daniel Craig, playing the Bond role, memorably escorted Queen Elizabeth II to the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. It was a testament to Bond’s status as both national and international phenomenon, despite the character’s historical intolerance for many of the nations marching into the Olympic stadium. Historian Jeremy Black writes in The Politics of James Bond (2001) that one of the hallmarks of 007 is his capacity for “different interpretations by particular audiences.” Güneri’s Rusya’dan Sevgilerle provides an extreme example of Bond’s (forced) adaptability.
Like Fleming, Güneri wrote in a specific historical context. In the aftermath of the 1980 military coup Turkey’s ruling generals severely and violently restricted press freedoms and other basic rights. Fear of prosecution for “insulting Turkishness” could have inspired Güneri or the publisher to omit Fleming’s most offensive passages. Tailoring the story to the prevailing political ideology, personal convictions, or a simple desire to sell books could account for other changes.
For whatever reason, Güneri gives Bond a new mission: the validation of a particular narrative of Turkish history, one that cannot accommodate the very event that helped inspire Fleming’s novel in the first place. In Turkish, at least, the pogrom of September 6–7, which remains an open wound for many, is entirely lost in translation.