CHARKRIENORRATHIP SEVIKUL: “A SUCCESSFUL DIPLOMAT AND A FAMOUS TRANSLATOR”
In this part of our interview series with a diplomat in our country, we welcome Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara.
Mr. Sevikul, in addition to being a very successful diplomat, is also a very successful translator. Here you will find Sevikul's intriguing story and the details of his career as a translator.
Diplomatic Observer: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: Sawasdee krub, my name is Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, but I am known as ‘Shakir’ to all my friends. I am a career diplomat and I have been posted to the Royal Thai Embassies in Manama in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ankara is my third posting and I am currently Minister Counsellor and Deputy Chief of Mission, I have been here almost 4 years now. Actually, this is my second time in Turkey, because I had lived here as a teenager when my late father, Mr. Prabhassorn Sevikul, who was also a career diplomat, served at the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara between 1986 – 1990. I thus consider myself very fortunate to have the chance to return to Turkey once again.
Diplomatic Observer: Today, we wish to talk to you about your other role as a writer and translator, as we have learnt that you have written a few books about Turkey.
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: Apart from being a career diplomat, I am also a published author in Thailand. Previously I had mainly written short stories and novels, but since I have been in Turkey I have concentrated more on non-fiction works. I had the honour of translating Prof. Dr. Norman Stone’s “Turkey: A Short History” into Thai for a Thai publishing House called Gypzy Publishing House. And the book was quite well received that the publisher had asked me to write about the history of the Ottoman Empire, which took a year for me to research and write, and which has already been published. And After that they had asked me to write about the history of Constantinople, which is going to be published soon. Turkey is one of the most popular tourist destination for Thai tourists, and in 2019, over 60,000 Thai tourist visite Turkey. Many of them are also interested in the history of Turkey, so I am honoured to be able to offer some thoughts and information in this regard.
Diplomatic Observer: We have learnt that your latest project is the Thai translation of Ms. Ayse Kulin’s book “Last Train to Istanbul” (Nefes Nefese). Could you please tell us more about this project. How did it happen?
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: Interestingly, it came out of the blue. Mr. Nikom Chaorua, the Managing Director of a Thai publisher called Arrow Publishing House contacted me in August 2020. He had published one of my earlier novel many years back.
Mr. Chaorua said that his Publishing House was acquiring the rights to translate Ms. Ayse Kulin’s book “Last Train to Turkey”, and wanted me to translate it since I am in Turkey, and also because of my previous connection with Turkey.
Diplomatic Observer: Had you read the book before?
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: I have to confess that although I have heard of Ms. Ayse Kulin before during my time here in Turkey this second time around, but I had not had the chance to read her books before this. I am very similar to most Thai readers who upon mentioning Turkish literature and writers, would first and foremost think of
Mr. Orhan Pamuk. And like most Thai readers, I also enjoyed Mr. Orhan Pamuk’s books like “My name is Red” and “Museum of Innocent” immensely.
So I asked the Thai publisher for a little time to do some research on the book “Last Train to Turkey”, and as soon as I read the excerpt, I knew I want to do it. I expressed my gratitude to the publisher, confirmed my intention to translate the book, and immediately ordered a copy of the book online. Within a couple of days, the book arrived and I started reading it. I finished my first reading of the book within 4 – 5 days.
Diplomatic Observer: How did you find the book.
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: I enjoyed it tremendously. It is not only a brilliant love story between a Muslim girl and a Jewish boy, Ms. Ayse Kulin draws the reader deeper and deeper into the complex story of the bonds that bind a family which is pushed to the limit not only by the rebellious stubbornness of a youthful idealistic love of the main character, but also a love that had to endure the hellish hardship of war. It is beautifully written, and all the characters are remarkable and memorable.
But the thing that made a lasting impression on me is the fact that this book was based on the experiences related by a number of Turkish diplomats who were posted to Europe during the Second World War, who succeeded in saving many Turkish and non-Turkish Jews from Hitler’s grasp. As a diplomat, I was really inspired by the action and bravery of the Turkish diplomats in the face of adversity during those difficult time.
Diplomatic Observer: Was the translation process difficult?
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: It was not difficult but challenging. As I am a career diplomat, I am only able to do most of my literary work during the evenings and in the weekends so I spent 3 months working on the translation. As it is a translation of another writer’s work, it was imperative that I respected the original work to the best of my ability, so I wanted to make sure that I got every little details right, and convey the thoughts and the underlying ideas of the writer. The fact that Thai readers may not be very familiar with Turkish history yet posted somewhat of an obstacle, so I had to keep thinking about ways to help the Thai readers understand the situation better by adding a few footnotes to give more information about historic figures such as Ataturk and Ismet Inonu, or some cultural details, such as the differences between Anatolia and Istanbul.
For me it was also very important to try to convey the atmosphere, and the thoughts and feelings of the characters in the correct manner so that the readers could truly appreciate the situation and the pressure that the characters were going through.
Diplomatic Observer: How common is it in Thailand for diplomats to also be writers.
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: In Thailand, it is not quite common but also not uncommon. We have some highly respected Thai Ambassadors and diplomats who were great writers and whose works are very popular and are still read widely today. For example, H.E. the late Ambassador Sakchai Bumrungpong, who was Ambassador to Burma and Ethiopia and whose pen name was Sanee Saowapong. He was the author of a very influential novel “Peesat” (Evil) which was first published in 1957, and is considered a Thai classic. He was recognized a National Artist of Thailand in the field of Literature in 1990. H.E. Mr. Pisanu Chanvitan, is another Ambassador who has penned stories of his experience as Ambassador in Pakistan and Laos. And in fact, my father, who was a career diplomat, was also a writer all his life. He wrote over 60 novels, and over 150 short stories, many of them had won award at the National Level, and he was recognized as a National Artist of Thailand in the field of Literature in 2011. He also served as the President of the Writers’ Association of Thailand.
Many of my young colleagues in the Ministry nowadays are also writing, blogging, or photographing, about their experience on their postings in various countries as well.
Diplomatic Observer: Is it normal for a diplomat from another country to promote the country that they are working in rather than promoting their own country?
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: As diplomats we are always working to promote our country, like we have been doing here through various activities like cultural performances and food festivals. But as the saying goes, one hand can’t clap, and it takes two to tango.
So I think a relationship works best when both sides fully participate and engage with each other. We have worked to promote an understanding about Turkey in Thailand as well, such as through inviting Turkish academics, businessmen and members of the press to visit Thailand and introduce Turkey to the Thai businessmen and students. We coordinate closely with our Turkish colleagues on this front, and I really respect and admire the works and efforts of the Turkish organizations like TIKA and Yunus Emre Institute because they introduce the different aspects of the rich and deep culture of Turkey in meaningful ways.
When we visit a country that we don’t know very much about, we are a stranger, but as we learn more about that country, it’s history and it's culture, eat that country’s food, we can feel like a friend or even a family member. And when we become friends, it is so much easier to care, to learn more, and to enhance our relations. Ultimately, this is the power of cultural diplomacy which I firmly believe in, and I think that in cultural diplomacy, everybody wins. When we know more about each other we understand each other better, and we become even closer.
Diplomatic Observer: Finally, what is your hope for the Thai translation of “Last train to Istanbul”?
Mr. Charkrienorrathip Sevikul, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Ankara: I hope that it would be a step towards introducing more Turkish literature to Thai readers, and that the book can be an opportunity for Thai readers to learn more about Turkey and different aspects of the Turkish culture. It would give me the greatest joy if a Thai reader who had read the book is inspired to visit places that were mentioned in the book such as Beyoğlu, Prince Islands (Adalar), or Sirkeci railway station, or to take a trip on the boat in the Bosphorus, or to try a Simit, and to learn more about Turkey.
I am also hopeful that the book can spark an interest in Turkish literature, and many other novels by other Turkish writers can also be translated in Thai as well. And perhaps, some Thai novels can be translated into Turkish too.