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Turkey: Bestselling author faces backlash, boycott calls after anti-Palestinian rant

Several online bookstores have stopped selling Azra Kohen’s novels after she said many Palestinians were 'intentionally' sacrificing children to 'make videos'
Azra Kohen, seen in a screengrab of a video she published on Thursday, attempts to clarify remarks she made regarding Israel's war on Gaza that sparked outrage among social media users (X/Screengrab)

A Turkish novelist is facing intense backlash and calls for a boycott after her comments blaming Palestinians for their own deaths amid Israel's war on Gaza went viral on social media.

Azra "Akilah" Kohen, the author of several bestselling books, repeatedly claimed that a large number of Palestinians were intentionally risking their children’s lives to film videos.

"I wish the destruction of everyone who takes their own children to locations where it was announced three hours ago with a megaphone that it will be bombed and film videos," Kohen said on Instagram in response to a follower who questioned her position regarding Israel's war on Gaza.

"And I pray every day that these children will be saved – from those disgusting creatures who put them in a location that will be bombed to make a video out of it. No one who doesn’t protect their children deserves to live," she said.

In a separate comment, Kohen said she is outraged "enough" to help destroy those Palestinians "with her bare hands".

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After Kohen's comments went viral, social media users called for a boycott of her works and began blocking her social media accounts.

"She [Azra Kohen] wants the mothers who were subjected to genocide and whose hospitals, tent cities, homes and schools were bombed to be killed," one user said on X, formally known as Twitter.

"Azra Kohen publicly praises genocide. This is a crime. One should not get away with what they say. Those who print this Zionist apparatchik's books, present them on their screens and hand her a microphone should be boycotted," another user said.

Translation: "Azra Kohen, who marketed herself as a psychologist and played the psychologist with our people despite having studied communications and economics, made a statement as if it was their parents who killed the Palestinian children, not the Israeli terrorist state. I felt chills while reading it. I cannot fathom supporting an aggressive mentality that burns children alive. This is the kind of defence that no one with an iota of conscience could make..."

Some of the largest book sale websites in Turkey, including D&R, Idefix, BKM Kitap and Kitapyurdu, have dropped the sales of the author’s books. Now, users are met with an error page when they search for Kohen or her books on the websites.

Some social media users noted that BKM Kitap website's search tool displayed Palestine-related books when Kohen's books were searched. While videos apprently showing this function were posted online, the feature appears to have been removed as of the time of publication.

Translation: @bkmkitap also removed Azra Kohen from their site. At the same time, when you type Azra Kohen in the search section, books about Palestine appear before you. We congratulate you.

Social media users also called for her publisher, Everest Yayinlari, to stop publishing her works. The company later issued a statement condemning "the genocide committed against the Palestinian people".

"We believe all of our writers share the same sentiment without the slightest hesitation. We would like the public to know that anyone who legitimises or praises these great crimes against humanity will not be part of our publishing group," Everest said.

However, the response was not sufficient for many users.

"That was not enough, Everest! Announce that you have cut off all partnerships with Azra Kohen," said a user on X.

Translation: Turkish journalist Cuneyt Ozdemir, who hosts a daily show on YouTube and other platforms, mentioned the social media backlash against Kohen and called her a "former writer", adding: "I say 'former writer' because after this point, at least in Turkey, I don't think there is a publishing house that will print or distribute her books".

"Everest made a vague statement. It is not clear whether it condemns Kohen's views or actually agrees with them, and if it condemns them, what sanctions it will impose. In short, keep the pressure on," said another.

Everest later seems to have removed Kohen's books from its listings, as Kohen does not currently appear among its authors.

Middle East Eye reached out to Kohen and her publisher, Everest, for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

'You can't make an Arab-lover out of me'

Meanwhile, a few social media users took the largest online forum in Turkey, Eksi Sozluk, to show their support for the writer.

"I will support this by buying one of each of her books in order to congratulate Azra Kohen for enriching the barren freedom of expression environment in Turkey and providing people with information that's different than what they are used to hearing," one person on the forum said.

Some users condemned Kohen for her racially discriminative comments against Arabs, referencing a separate response to a user where she said that "a nation that uses their own children as shields is doomed to disappear," adding: “there is a problem with this race”.

"First of all, my original [maiden] last name is Sarizeybek. I was born and raised in a Muslim family," she said.

“You can't make an Arab-lover out of me, not because of my last name [Kohen] but because it is Sarizeybek," she continued.

The writer was referencing her last name, which is common among Jewish people. She adopted it after marrying Sadok Kohen, a Turkish businessman of Jewish descent.

In response to the backlash, Kohen published a lengthy video to clarify her stance. She said her comments were taken out of context and were specifically directed at a large group of people who, she alleged, intentionally sacrificed their children.

"I never said anything against the Palestinian mothers…  I find Israel unforgivable for killing innocent people, the children the most… But there are children who were killed just for us to share [the videos] on social media," she said.

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