The Case of Dogan Akhanli: Without Mercy

Published on (first / © on the Süddeutsche Zeitung/, Translated from the German by John Bergeron), by Kai Strittmatter, 17. December 2010.

The German-Turkish writer Dogan Akhanli has just been released from his Istanbul prison cell, but the story of his imprisonment, as retold here by Kai Strittmatter, reads like an unbelievable tale about the cruel absurdities of the Turkish judiciary.

It is 10 August 2010. The author Dogan Akhanli, a German citizen living in Cologne, has returned to Istanbul for the first time in almost 20 years. Actually, it’s the first time back in his homeland since he was forced into becoming a refugee. He was born in Turkey and this is where his 87-year-old father lives. His father doesn’t have long to live and he would like to see him for the last time. Dogan Akhanli knows the risks. He slows his step as he approaches the passport control. He later recorded the following exchange under the title “Siberia.” 

“Dogan Bey, do you also have your Turkish passport?” asked the passport officer. “No. I am a German citizen. I had my Turkish citizenship thrown out.” – “No, efendim. That doesn’t happen. No one has their Turkish citizenship thrown out.” – “It happened to me. Officially. With a judgement from the Council of Ministers. Twelve years ago.” – “Impossible. That isn’t called thrown out, but loss – loss of citizenship. Just like money. Do you throw away your money? No. You lose it. You have lost your citizenship. Were you born in such and such a place?” – “Yes.” – “And do you come from here and there?” – “Yes.” – “Then you have to come with us. There is a warrant for your arrest.”

The charge: robbery and murder:

Siberia is the name of a cellblock in Metris Prison, where Akhanli was taken. It is the same block where he was imprisoned 24 years ago, before he fled from the country that had him incarcerated and tortured. “A good idea,” wrote his German partner Ulla Kux at the time. “Actually, he likes jokes.”

Dogan Akhanli expected to be held for maybe two or three days, like other political refugees that had dared to return home. After that, he believed, he would be freed. Four months later, Dogan Akhanli is still not free. He is being held in the Tekirdag high-security prison. His trial begins on 8 December. The charge is robbery and murder. And the violent attempt to overthrow the constitutional order.

Even today, his friends, lawyers, and journalists are simply flabbergasted – not by Dogan Akhanli, but by the Turkish judiciary. Haydar Erol, his defence lawyer, says that Dogan Akhanli shouldn’t be sitting in the dock. “Instead, the police, the state prosecutors, and the judges should be sitting there in his place.” And Ulla Kux quietly tells how every morning she wakes up feeling just as completely surprised by events as the morning before. “It is hard to imagine the way in which they simply push aside all of the rules. You say to yourself over and over again, ‘They can’t really do that!’” But they can.

A recanted testimony: … //

… Silence before the court:

Is this simply a case of settling scores with an old enemy who won’t keep quiet? The judiciary is “without mercy” and more destructive for Turkey “than all of the Wikileak revelations,” wrote the liberal columnist Cengiz Candar on Wednesday. He feels that the Turkish judiciary has subjected Akhanli and his father to what can only be described as an “atrocity.”

Ulla Kux was finally permitted to visit Dogan Akhanli a week ago Thursday. Afterwards, she was pleased to report to the German “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper that her friend was in good spirits. He was being treated well and “expressed optimism”. “And as soon as he is released, he plans on booking a flight to visit his father!”

On Saturday, Kux flew back to Germany. In her mailbox back home she found a postcard that Akhanli wrote to her from his prison cell. He wrote, “I write to my father every day, but I never mail off the letters. I want to hand them to him myself.”

A few minutes later, back in her apartment, Kux found out that Akhanli’s sick father, who had promised to hold off death until he had seen his son again, had just passed away. “That is unforgivable,” says Kux. Dogan Akhanli, reports his friend and lawyer Haydar Erol, will remain silent before the court. He won’t even speak his own name. (full long text).

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