George Brown College’s PEN Writer–in–Residence is exiled Turkish journalist Fatih Demir

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Exiled Turkish journalist Fatih Demir is George Brown College’s current PEN Writer-in-Residence, a role that gives him the space and time to refocus on his writing career and to share his story and perspectives with students.  

Demir was an economics reporter for Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s former English-language daily newspaper. After the newspaper spoke out against the autocracy in Turkey, the Turkish government shut down the newspaper and hundreds of journalists there were jailed. Demir was forced to flee to Canada in 2016, and he’s telling his story to students at George Brown to build awareness of human rights issues and give a voice to those who have been silenced. He will be at George Brown until the end of March. 

At Today’s Zaman, Demir wrote about business developments, economics and trade data, and covered some news about the plight of Syrian refugees in Istanbul. As George Brown’s PEN writer, he attends classes across the college to help educate students on topics including freedom of the press, bias in the media, critical thinking and human rights violations. He also spends his time translating The Rights Revolution by Michael Ignatieff.  

“The PEN program gives writers in exile the space to write, as well as contribute to the college,” says Demir. “I feel lucky to engage with the students here, listen to their ideas, and increase their knowledge of the state of freedom of the press in Turkey and other parts of the world.”  

Getting settled in Canada  

When Demir came to Canada, he had to focus on surviving in a new country before his career as a writer, so he became an Uber driver.   

Once Demir secured his role as George Brown’s PEN writer, he could focus on his writing career again and now sees a niche for himself in translation. Based on his experience adjusting to Canadian life, he has lectured students from across disciplines on topics ranging from the challenges of being a new immigrant in Canada, to the gig economy.   

He also started a news portal that reports on human rights violations in Turkey.  

 “We have to talk about these issues in Turkey and other parts of the world where people are silenced,” Demir says. “The state of freedom of the press is the main purpose behind my work as a writer.”  

Helping students build human skills 

Paula Applebaum, Communications Professor and Liaison, PEN Writer-in-Residence Program, explains that by sharing their stories, Demir and other PEN writers can help George Brown students to develop human skills like resilience and the ability to talk about controversial topics in a respectful way.  

By sharing their stories with students, PEN writers also share narratives that show strength in the face of hardship.   

“One of the key points in our Vision 2030/Strategy 2022 plan is developing resilience in our students — resilience to the changing job market, working with diverse groups of people, and being adaptable,” she explains.  

Applebaum says that PEN writers like Demir give us perspective into what journalists fight so hard for, such as freedom of expression and democracy, and this can help to shape students’ outlook.