For exiled novelist, Turkey ‘like 1930s Germany’

The award-winning author, living in exile as she risks a life sentence on terror charges at home and still traumatized by the four months she spent in an Istanbul prison, warns that Turkey’s institutions are “in a state of total collapse.” (AFP/Daniel Roland)
Updated 05 August 2018
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For exiled novelist, Turkey ‘like 1930s Germany’

  • Turkey’s post-coup purge targeted not just alleged backers of Gulen, but also opposition media and people accused of ties to Kurdish militants
  • Turkish authorities reject accusations of widescale rights violations after the coup

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan, living in exile in Germany as she risks a life sentence on terror charges at home, thinks the writing is on the wall: her country is sliding into fascism.
The award-winning author, still traumatized by the four months she spent in an Istanbul prison, warns that Turkey’s institutions are “in a state of total collapse.”
In President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — no relation — she sees a man tightening control over everyday Turkish life, emboldened by an outright victory in June elections, sweeping new powers and a crackdown on opponents.
“The extent of things in Turkey is like Nazi Germany,” the flame-haired 51-year-old told AFP in an interview in Frankfurt, her temporary home as she awaits the outcome of her court case in absentia.
“I think it is a fascist regime. It is not yet 1940s Germany, but 1930s,” said Asli.
“A crucial factor is the lack of a judicial system,” she added, describing a country of overcrowded prisons and pro-Erdogan judges in their twenties rushed in to replace ousted peers.
Asli herself was among the more than 70,000 people caught up in a wave of arrests under a state of emergency imposed after a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan.
She was held for 136 days over her links to a pro-Kurdish newspaper before being unexpectedly freed on bail.
The detention of the author of such novels as “The City in Crimson Cloak” and “The Stone Building and Other Places,” famed for their unflinching explorations of loss and trauma, drew international condemnation.
Turkey’s Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk has called her “an exceptionally perceptive and sensitive writer.”
Turkey’s post-coup purge targeted not just alleged backers of preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the attempted putsch, but also opposition media and people accused of ties to Kurdish militants.
Turkish authorities reject accusations of widescale rights violations after the coup, and the state of emergency was lifted last month, after Erdogan was re-elected under a new executive-style presidency giving him direct control of ministries and public institutions.
“Erdogan is almost omnipotent,” Asli said.
“He decides on the price of medicine, on the future of classical ballet, his family members are in charge of the economy... Opera, which he hates, is also directly tied to him,” she added, chuckling.
“That’s the nice thing about fascism, it’s also pathetically funny sometimes.”
Turkish lawmakers have also approved new legislation giving authorities greater powers in detaining suspects and imposing public order, which officials say is necessary to combat multiple terror risks.
“It’s an emergency state made permanent,” said Asli.
As for herself, Asli has given up hope of being acquitted and returning to Turkey anytime soon.
“They are not bluffing,” she said she realized after several journalists were sentenced to life terms.
She faces charges of spreading “terror propaganda” for her work as a literary adviser to the newspaper Ozgur Gundem.
The paper itself was shut down, accused by Turkish authorities of being a mouthpiece for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
The next hearings in Asli’s case are scheduled for October and March.
The diminutive former physicist said the wait for the verdict was “almost unbearable.”
“One of the biggest tortures you can do to a human being is to keep his fate unknown.”
Released from prison in late December 2016, it took Asli until last September to get her passport back from Turkish authorities.
She immediately left for Germany, following other Turkish artists and intellectuals into exile.
She now lives in Frankfurt, the recipient of a flat and a monthly stipend as part of the international Cities of Refuge project.
The scheme aims to provide persecuted writers with a safe haven from where they can continue working.
But Asli, who has written eight books translated into 20 languages, hasn’t been able to pick up a pen yet.
Struggling with insomnia, depression and health problems, it has been easier to “play the professional writer” in past months, traveling abroad for literary events and talks.
But slowly her nightmares about prison are becoming less frequent, she said, while a painful neck hernia has done her the unexpected favor of forcing her to slow down.
Asli said she was getting “more in the mood” to write, but her immediate focus remained on raising the plight of those still locked up in Turkey.
“I have been pushed into a political role, which I try to carry with grace.”
But when she is ready, she will put her own experiences of prison to paper, in what Asli predicts will be “a very heavy confrontation.”
“In literature, you have to be more than 200 percent honest,” she said. “You write with blood.”


Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Turkey: EU sanctions over gas drilling ‘worthless’

  • EU foreign ministers said they are suspending talks with Turkey over air transport agreement
  • They backed EU’s proposal to decrease financial assistance to Turkey

ANKARA: Turkey on Tuesday rejected as “worthless” an initial set of sanctions approved by the European Union against Ankara, and vowed to send a new vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to reinforce its efforts to drill for hydrocarbons off the island of Cyprus.
EU foreign ministers on Monday approved sanctions against Turkey over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights. They said they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement, as well as high-level Turkey-EU dialogues, and would call on the European Investment Bank to review its lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU’s executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional “targeted measures” were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Speaking at a news conference in Macedonia, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the sanctions aimed to “appease” Cyprus and were of “no importance.”
“The EU needs us concerning the migration issue or other issues,” he said. “They will come to us and hold contacts; there is no escaping that.”
“They know that the decisions they took cannot be applied,” he said. “They were forced to take the worthless decisions under pressure from the Greek Cypriots and Greece.”
Cavusoglu added: “If you take such decisions against Turkey, we will increase our activities. We have three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, will with send a fourth.”
Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU for ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots and accused the 28-nation bloc of “prejudice and bias.”
It added that Turkey was determined to protect its rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus. A third Turkish exploration ship is also in the area. Turkey insists that it has rights over certain offshore zones and that Turkish Cypriots have rights over others.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Cypriot officials accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 68 kilometers off the island’s west coast.