Turks Demand Democratic Rights - and Justice


Activist Targeted by Turkish Authorities Again

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

COLOGNE, Germany - What is really happening in Turkey? And where is it
going to lead? What began as a protest against government plans for
Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square has swelled into a mass movement
throughout the country and those thousands of citizens engaging in
civil disobedience are giving no signs of capitulation. Not only:
solidarity actions are unfolding in other countries especially in
Germany, which hosts a very large Turkish community. Here, a new
judicial scandal against a leading German-Turkish intellectual, which
broke out just prior to the Gezi protests, is intersecting the ferment
and fuelling the wave of solidarity with those fighting for democracy
and free speech in Turkey.

The victim of the new judicial scandal is Turkish-born Dogan Akhanli,
a well-known writer and human rights activist based in Cologne,
Germany. The author of several novels, articles and a recent play, he
has dealt in depth with the issue of the Armenian Genocide and, as a
civil society activist, has participated in seminars and conferences
aimed at educating broader layers of the population about this and
related historical issues. Not only in Germany but also in Turkey, he
has engaged personally in activities of the growing civil society
movement among intellectuals, presenting his literary works in public
and writing in the Turkish press. His is a prominent figure, highly
respected for his courage to speak out even in the face of harassment
and repression.

Now, perhaps in reaction to this enhanced stature, the Turkish
judicial authorities have unleashed a new witch-hunt against him. In
April, an Appeals Court in Ankara published its decision to re-open a
case and even to seek a life sentence against him. The facts are the
following: Akhanli, who was a leftist in the 1980s, had been arrested
and jailed and tortured under the military regime at the time
(1985-87). In 1991, he managed to flee to Germany, where he received
political asylum and later citizenship. Years later, in August 2010,
he flew to Istanbul (regardless of the possible political danger),
because he wanted to visit his father who was very old and ill.
Arrested at the airport, he was thrown into jail, and remained there
for several months. (He was not allowed to visit his father, nor to
attend his funeral.)

Serious charges were leveled against him. He was accused of having
taken part in an armed robbery at a currency exchange booth back in
1989, during which one person was killed. In the court proceedings,
his lawyers Haydar Erol (Istanbul) and Ilias Uyar (Cologne) rejected
all accusations, arguing that the key witnesses against the defendant
had provided testimony under torture. Other witnesses, sons of the
murder victim, initially thought they could identify Akhanli, but then
retracted their statements. The accused was nonetheless thrown into
prison. Finally, in December 2010, he was released and expelled from
Turkey, and told he would not be allowed to enter the country again.

Associates and friends mobilized to defend him from what was obviously
a politically-motivated campaign to silence him. Press coverage of his
case appeared in Germany, the US and elsewhere. (Armenian
Mirror-Spectator, September 11, 2010). A delegation of renowned human
rights activists traveled to Istanbul for his trial, which took place
in early December 2011. Under the combined pressure of international
censure and the utter lack of any credible evidence against him,
Akhanli (in absentia, because he was not allowed to enter the country)
was acquitted on December 10. Since the Appeals Court did not take any
steps to reverse the ruling, it held.

It held - that is, until April of this year. Out of the blue, the
Turkish Appeals Court announced in a rush procedure, against the vote
of the State Attorney, that the case against him had to be reopened.
The court stated that it would seek a life sentence in the new trial.
How? Why? On what grounds? Akhanli told the German press: `My defense
lawyer at the time proved my innocence, the State Attorney did not
prove my guilt. How do they now want to prove that I was the criminal?
There is no new evidence.'

The court argued as follows: the fact that all the witnesses back in
December 2010 pleaded for his innocence, and that they accused the
authorities of manipulation and torture, was irrelevant. The only
material of relevance, argued the Appeals Court, were the original
police protocols from 1989 to 1992 and witness testimony submitted at
that time - that is, testimony submitted under torture. Furthermore,
they claimed that an organization in which Akhanli allegedly belonged
posed a threat to Turkey - even though the organization ceased to
exist in 1993.

The news struck like a thunderbolt. In Germany, the Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung - the newspaper of record, comparable to the New
York Times - published an article by Karen Krueger, who follows
developments in Turkey, titled, `He Who Is Supposed To be a Criminal
Will Be Made Into a Criminal.' She commented that `it looks as though
the Turkish judicial authorities have nothing better to do than to
re-open cases that have long since been closed.' She referred to the
case of Pinar Selek, a Turkish human rights activist living in France,
who after having been acquitted several times on trumped-up charges,
was recently convicted in absentia and sentenced to life. She is now
consigned to a permanent exile abroad. The same fate awaits Akhanli.

Why should the Turkish authorities indeed spend their time and efforts
on such cases? Journalist Krueger suggest that the reason why the
authorities want to push ahead regardless of the irrationality of
their effort has to do with the growing impact of Akhanli's work. She
reports on his recent activities in Turkey, including an article in a
well-known magazine, Birikim, in which he wrote about the significance
of the Hardenbergstrasse in Berlin, a street in the capital that has
been the site of historic events, among them the assassination of
Talaat Pasha in 1921. `Perhaps,' Akhanli is quoted saying, `this
report angered some people in Turkey.' The writer's associates have
also stated that the appeals judges want to suffocate the fruitful
exchange between the writer and his homeland, an intellectual exchange
which is vital for him as well as for Turkey.

The new trial should get underway in Istanbul on July 31. The accused
will not be there, for obvious reasons. But there will be a large
delegation made up of well-known personalities from Europe. In
preparation, they are organizing events, for example in Cologne on
July 5, to inform the public of the case and organize further support.
Describing the action as `vendetta justice,' the organizers stress the
fact that thousands of journalists, political figures, artists,
intellectuals Kurds and others, are sitting in Turkish jails today,
and that they see the solidarity movement for Akhanli as a
manifestation of support also for them.

One might add, it is also a manifestation of support for the expanding
civil disobedience campaign in Turkey. The Akhanli case, intersecting
the Taksim ferment, indeed has the potential to inject new energy into
it and to generate further solidarity from abroad for their efforts.
Although the demonstrators in Istanbul have other slogans, they are in
fact denouncing the same arrogance of power and arbitrary `justice' of
the AKP Party-led government that has asserted itself in the
witch-hunt against Akhanli and other dissidents.

Akhanli was one of numerous Turkish personalities in Germany asked by
the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in a Sunday feature on June 9 to
comment on the events there. The feature, titled, `What does Turkey
have to do with us?' sought to identify the relevance of the new
social phenomenon in Turkey to Germans - whether of Turkish extraction
or not.

Akhanli answered: `There have been numerous protests by organized
forces in Turkish history. This time, a couple of ecologists and
leftist activists started a modest action. Due to the brutality of the
security forces and the arrogance of the government, it turned into a
mass rebellion. My utopia,' he went on, `is that people develop a
capacity for tolerance and respect. The AKP government which dared to
sit down at a table with Kurds has forgotten that Turkey is a secular
country ... and that women in particular fear religiously-motivated

He said he hoped that Turkey would become rational and predictable.
`The demonstrators are an important corrective force for a policy
which has become arrogant. Those who hold power have not yet
understood that democracy and a state of law are there for everyone.'
He concluded by expressing his excitement about the demonstrations
here in Germany, which, like those in Turkey, are multi-ethnic but at
the same time, with a majority of German participants.

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