Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Interview

Erdogan's attack backfired, Turkish writer says

  • Akhanli moved to Germany in 1991 (Photo: Amnesty International)

Turkey's attempt to silence dissident writer Dogan Akhanli has backfired by giving him a bigger platform, he told EUobserver in an interview.

Akhanli spoke amid Turkey's attempt to extradite him from Spain on terrorism charges.

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  • Turkey's post-coup crackdown saw tens of thousands of people jailed (Photo: Reuters)

He is currently stuck in Madrid after Spanish police arrested him while he was on holiday on the basis of a Turkish Interpol request.

He said the "Kafkaesque" process was the latest step in a campaign that began long ago.

Akhanli was born in Turkey, but fled to Germany in 1991 after being persecuted for his views on the Armenian Genocide and on Turkey's repression of its Kurdish minority.

He also spent four months in a Turkish jail in 2010 after visiting the country.

"Turkish power cannot forgive me because I questioned the basic problems of Turkey," he told this website.

The writer said his novels had not made him a celebrity. "I'm not a best-seller," he said.

But he said that "Turkish persecution makes me more known year by year and makes my words bigger. It is actually a very stupid policy".

He said Turkey's latest attempt to deprive him of his freedom had inspired him to write a new book.

"I'm trying to write a report about my political-literary journey into the Turkish past, which is also my own past," he told this website from Spain.

"I will take a very subjective view of my unfinished persecution, but I will also reflect on how to deal with the history of violence in German, Spanish, and Turkish society", he said.

History of violence

Akhanli said the Turkish regime had embraced violence as a means of rule.

He said this lay at the root of its denial of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and of its handling of Kurdish separatism.

He also said the regime's nationalist ideology created a dangerous environment.

He recalled that Turkish generals "publicly threatened" Hrant Dink, a journalist, in 2007 prior to Dink's murder by a nationalist fanatic.

"Under the Erdogan government, the history of violence is not just a story. It is not passive. It is killing people before our very eyes," he said, referring to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He said Erdogan's mass arrests of people accused of sympathising with last year's failed coup, such as Ahmet Sik, another journalist, were part of the same pattern.

Sik is one of 158 journalists in prison, along with 12 MPs, 85 mayors, and more than 50,000 others who were detained on coup-related charges.

"One cannot give up on the people in such a country, where there is enormous arbitrariness and despotism," Akhanli said.

He thanked two artists' groups, the Goethe Institute and PEN International, for helping to pay his living costs in Madrid and his legal fees.

But he said the EU ought to do more to promote democracy in Turkey.

"He [Erdogan] cannot continue to rule Turkey in the long term with only the support of the rural population. EU countries should side with the secular, democratic forces, not with the despot," Akhanli said.

Kafkaesque

Akhanli's lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, told EUobserver it could take "months" before the Spanish government decided whether to extradite his client.

In the meantime, the 60-year old writer has been forced to surrender his passport and must report to authorities every Monday to prove that he is in Madrid.

His wife has been travelling between Germany and Spain since August to keep him company.

Even if Turkey's request comes to nothing, it has highlighted the way rogue Interpol members use the international police agency to intimidate their enemies, Boye said.

It has also highlighted Spain's track record on extraditions, he added.

"There is systematic abuse of Interpol by certain countries, but also Spain could have done more - they could have rejected it [the Interpol notice]," he said.

He said Spain had a history of extraditing people without due consideration of the merits of their case.

The lawyer said Interpol abusers were "jurisdiction shopping" in Europe and that Spain had become "heaven" for their attacks.

"If I were Erdogan and I wanted to grab a Turkish citizen, wherever he may be, I would wait until that person was passing through Spain before I placed my Interpol notice," Boye said.

Interpol reform

Turkey has also asked Interpol, the international police agency, to issue Red Notices on two journalists - Hamza Yalcin and Can Dundar.

Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Iran, and Russia are likewise said to use its systems to harass political exiles.

Leading NGOs, such as Fair Trials in the UK, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders in Paris, have urged the police agency to weed out abuse.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg is to debate the problem with EU officials on Wednesday evening.

Interpol did not reply to EUobserver's questions in time for publication.

The Spanish interior ministry declined to comment.

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