Who was the best Turkish president?

Turkish government critics in Germany Politics from Exile

The Oranienplatz in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Around 500 people gathered on a Saturday afternoon in mid-February, despite sleet and cold, holding banners in the air and stretching their fists.

"Let's make a noise against the mass arrests of students," shouted the women and men in Turkish. "Against political appropriation and emergency laws". Their anger is directed against Turkish President Erdogan, who recently appointed an AKP politician as rector of Boğazɪcɪ University in Istanbul, arguably the best university in Turkey.

"The new rector has hardly any scientific publications to show. He's also being accused of plagiarism," a young woman on Oranienplatz said indignantly. The fact that she wears a headscarf while the demonstrator waving a rainbow-colored LGBT flag next to her sums up the spirit for which the liberal Boğazɪcɪ University in Turkey stands in one picture.

(AFP / Ozan Kose) Protests at Turkish university - students defend themselves against "administrators" rectors
For over a week, students at Istanbul's Bosporus University have been protesting against their new rector. He was installed directly by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and was previously active in the ruling AKP party. Universities across the country have now joined the protests.

"Everyone is welcome there. You just have to be brilliant. And the person who runs such a university should correspond to it. An AKP guy who has written off will certainly not do that. But regardless of that: no rector is allowed to simply be appointed by the government. The academics at the university should choose it themselves. "

Protest in Berlin against conditions in Turkey

Neither the Erdogan government nor the newly appointed rector himself have so far been able to refute the allegations against him. And so, for weeks, thousands of teachers and students have been demonstrating on the Bosphorus against the political appropriation of Boğazɪcɪ University. The Turkish police acted against them with great brutality. President Erdogan publicly called them terrorists and traitors to the country.

On Berlin's Oranienplatz, a young woman shakes her head in disbelief. Nihal studied at Boğazɪcɪ University five years ago. Today, as a scientist in exile, she follows what is happening to her country and university. Every weekend she comes to the solidarity rallies in Berlin.

"We want to show our friends in Istanbul with this demonstration that they are not alone. This attack on academic freedom must be stopped." Nihal is a sociologist. Turkish scientists like her have found shelter, at least temporarily, at numerous German universities in recent years.

Some are threatened with arrest in their homeland because they have signed an appeal for peace to dialogue with the Kurds or because they have worked and spoken on topics that are taboo in Erdogan's Turkey. Their social media networks, numerous events and publications in major German cities, also in cooperation with art, culture and media professionals, as well as demonstrations such as today's show: Around five years after the attempted coup in Turkey, the extra-parliamentary opposition is growing steadily in Germany. The internal Turkish conflict is omnipresent in major German cities, especially beyond government agencies, official offshoots of Turkish parties or state-affiliated organizations such as the Turkish mosque association Ditib.

Solidarity concerts and discussions

"So of course we see that many other colleagues are involved in the matter," said Shermin Langhoff, director of the Gorki Theater in Berlin. She, too, repeatedly speaks out on the situation in Turkey, organizes solidarity concerts and discussion rounds. Last summer she started a social media campaign with the Hamburg film director Fatih Akin called "What did Kavala do?" With the action, she and dozens of others want to support Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned for three years. An entrepreneur and promoter of culture whom President Erdogan declared an enemy of the state overnight in 2017.

Shermin Langhoff, director of the Maxim Gorki Theater (picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer)

In short videos, personalities from all over the world explain what makes Kavala and his work for them. Under the hashtag "What did Kavala do?" they are spread on Twitter to counter Erdogan's coup and terror allegations against the 60-year-old. Osman Kavala is in custody today exactly 1212 days to the day.

"It is just that it is also important, that it is not forgotten, that it remains in the public eye. Only then do we believe that it becomes an issue that the government must continue to deal with. Without any direct results at the moment, this public relations work is important, "says Gorki director Shermin Langhoff.

"And moreover, it is an expression of solidarity for the many opposition forces in Turkey that do not stop fighting for a democratic, a liberal, a freedom-oriented Turkey."

Reforms are a long time coming

Even if it has become quieter about Turkey. Even if the provocations from Ankara and with it the media attention in Germany have waned, the actions against culture sponsor Osman Kavala or the demonstrators at Boğazɪcɪ University alone show that the "democratic reforms" that President Erdogan had announced for the year 2021 are failing so far wait.

On a cold February morning, the professional boxer Ünsal Arɪk is training under an S-Bahn bridge in Berlin's Gleisdreieckpark. White breath rises as he does push-ups over the frozen ground. "Sport is only a means to an end. I think if it weren't for Erdoaan and all that shit, then I wouldn't box at all anymore."

The people strolling through the park while yellow S-Bahn trains rush by on the bridges above are wearing thick winter coats. Ünsal Arɪk is sweating. "Why I stress myself again is only because of this policy. Because only through sport I stay interesting again. As soon as I stop, I am no longer interesting for anyone. How many public people are there in Germany who are so openly against Say Erdogan and risk your life and financial situation? I don't think a single one. "

The professional boxer Ünsal Arɪk (Deutschlandradio / Luise Sammann)

Ünsal Arɪk is panting. Born in Parsberg in 1980, he played soccer as a teenager, including in the Bayern team, and "built a lot of shit," as he says himself.

He came to boxing as an adult. The sport-political breakthrough came in 2013. After a fight in the northern Turkish city of Tekirdağ, he presented himself in a T-shirt with the inscription: "This country belongs to Ataturk, not Tayyip Erdogan". The outcry was great. Overnight, Arɪk became an object of hate for some and a hero for others. Since then he has repeatedly expressed himself critical of Erdogan and the AKP.

"I always tell people: A president has a salary. How did he become a billionaire? Ask that question! How do you become a billionaire with this salary? I can't tell you, don't love him. I can only say one thing: ask him." times. If I say something about Turkey, I'm immediately a traitor, but he steals billions. He lives in a palace with 1000 rooms. Then they say he represents Islam. I wonder where it says in the Koran that one to enrich themselves in this way? These are people who preach water but drink wine. "

Criticism of human rights violations via Twitter

Ünsal Arɪk does not adhere to any netiquette. He speaks as he thinks, is hated and loved for it. But above all, he is heard. More than 140,000 people follow him on his Turkish-speaking Twitter account, read when he denounces human rights violations in Turkey, curses and complains. There are now three arrest warrants against him on the Bosporus - among other things for insulting the president. He hasn't been there for five years.

"I would be arrested twice. Because I am a refusal to war and then because of Erdogan. Because in a rap song I also sing a few passages like" I dig your grave with my own hand and lay you in it and your death will be very bad . "And that is what they see as attempted murder." Ünsal Arɪk looks at his watch, stops the time for the next round of strength training. His next fight is in March. No matter what Erdoğan and others accuse him of. He keeps fighting.

(picture alliance / Esra Hacioglu) Censorship in Turkey - Erdogan's fear of Netflix
The Turkish government has passed a law tightening control over social media. But Ankara is not only aiming for posts that are too critical of the government on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter - the streaming service Netflix is ​​also being attacked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"What would happen if everyone closed their mouths? Everyone said, Unusual you are political. I say no. I fight for human rights. That is our duty. Actually, everyone should be ashamed who says nothing. How can I try here to live my life when I know there are hundreds of thousands of people in prison in Turkey? How am I supposed to live my life there? "

What Ünsal Arɪk describes is felt by many opposition members of Turkish origin in Germany. Especially those who have only recently lived here. People like Can Dündar. "If I could choose, I would like to write a book in peace. But I don't have that luxury. One political earthquake after another takes place in my homeland, it collapses, and people who are dear to me lie under the Rubble. I can't afford to sit back and write. "

The "New Wave Turks"

Can Dündar came to Berlin in 2016, making him one of the so-called New Wave Turks, i.e. those who left Turkey after the attempted coup in July 2016 and the subsequent repression against members of the opposition. Hundreds of thousands are said to be there by now. In Germany, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees recorded 11,000 asylum applications from Turks in 2019 alone. This placed the country in third place behind Syria and Iraq among the most common countries of origin.

"There are so many, whole waves of people leaving our country: scientists, artists, authors. A huge brain drain for Turkey." Can Dündar cannot return to Turkey either. He faces more than 27 years imprisonment there, among other things for espionage and terror support. His assets - the Istanbul apartment, the private library and a seaside holiday home - were confiscated.

He won't stay out of it anyway. Since 2017 he has been running the web radio Özgürüz from Berlin - in German: We are free. He also writes columns on the situation in Turkey for various German newspapers. According to the journalist, he feels "an insatiable thirst" to speak and write about his homeland. Also a pressure.

(picture alliance / dpa / Arne Immanuel Bänsch) Media in Turkey - criticism only online
Journalists in Turkey live dangerously. Those who oppose the censorship must expect prison. While the traditional media are coming under increasing pressure, criticism of Erdogan is shifting to social media.

"In Turkey these days people are busy with the daily struggle for survival. You are constantly on trial, so you have to calculate the cost of your own words very precisely. It is all the more important that I do as much for Turkey as I do from here because it's time to think about the future of Turkey after Erdogan. "

Erdogan critics rely on personal protection

Sentences like this don't go unnoticed. Even if they are pronounced in Berlin. Only twelve employees of the Turkish secret service MIT are officially registered in Germany, said the secret service expert Erich Schmidt Eenboom recently in the ZDF documentary "How Erdogan critics are spied on in Germany". But there would be unofficial agents - as became public not only in the so-called "espionage scandal" surrounding the Ditib mosque association in 2016 - thousands ...

"... who act as agent leaders in the Federal Republic of Germany and who use a large number of agents who place them - in banks, travel agencies, in mosque associations. And the constitutional protection authorities come to this gigantic number of almost 8,000 informers. That is in comparison to all others foreign intelligence services a gigantic number. "

(picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Uncredited) Ultranationalists in Turkey - Erdogan's pact with right-wing extremists
Turkish President Erdogan has been ruling together with the ultra-nationalist party MHP since 2018. It has a decisive influence on the political course. Critics warn that the influence of the MHP is too great.

But not only the Turkish government and its secret service are making life difficult for opposition members in Germany. Often it is simple citizens who think they have to defend their fatherland. Not infrequently they react to reports from Erdogan-related media or hate campaigns launched on the Internet that Can Dündar and others declare to be a target. The journalist is not the only one who has been dependent on personal protection at times since moving to Germany.

"I was stabbed two weeks ago. A knife attack," says boxer Ünsal Arɪk in Berlin's Gleisdreieckpark. Two strangers attacked him from behind during a training run. "My car has been scratched so often, almost 10,000 euros in damage now. Of course, I'm always afraid. So I could die anywhere at any time. I always expect it."

Charge of treason

They are traitors, is the recurring accusation against Erdogan critics such as Ünsal Ar oderk or Can Dündar. The German Turks and the New Wave Turks. The boxer and the intellectual.

Ünsal Arɪk shakes his head: "It makes me sad when I think how often I had to fight Nazis, because of Turkey. Because they said shitty Turk or burned the Turkish flag or insulted our mothers and the country And then they now call me a traitor. Did I sell anything to the enemy? Did I give away any secrets? I just said I don't like Erdogan and anyone who chooses him is stupid. "

(dpa) Against repression in Turkey - cultural workers show solidarity with critics of the regime
Many critics of the regime are in prison in Turkey. Cultural workers are also exposed to repression from President Erdogan's regime. That is why German cultural institutions such as the PEN Center and the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels have called for solidarity with them.

It is not just Erdogan supporters and Erdogan opponents who are irreconcilable. The split within the opposition is the president's greatest strength, observers have long believed. While Kemalists, Kurds, believers and non-believers are fighting each other, his power only increases. This problem also continues in Germany.

"Instead of them saying to each other, we will all team up. No, found two or three parties again. The votes are divided. And the same thing is here. Here the Kurds are networked alone, we Turks are networked alone, then there there are the Kemalists, they are networked alone - and then there are again seven or eight different groups, and they don't like each other either. If we had a scene, these idiots wouldn't exist. We're far too weak there. "

Celal Başlangɪç has set itself the goal of overcoming the deep rifts within Turkish society and thereby strengthening all those who dream of a democratic Turkey. Four years ago, the native of Istanbul founded the Turkish-language television channel Artɪ TV in Cologne.

The Turkish opposition in Germany is growing

He sends a daily 16-hour program to Turkey via satellite and the Internet, which has not existed there for a long time. "Our basic idea is that the various groups should finally perceive each other again through our program. We have created a space where the most diverse political actors - from anti-capitalist Muslims to conservative democrats, liberals, leftists and socialists - can argue and exchange ideas. There is only one condition: You have to be on the side of peace and democracy. Only then will you have room under the umbrella that we have opened. "

What Celal Başlangɪç describes may not sound particularly revolutionary from a German perspective. But for Turkey it is.

"This program is so important because the people in Turkey get news about it that would otherwise be withheld from them. People tell us that we have become like a windpipe for them through which they can breathe. There are practically no alternatives . All information channels are monitored or blocked. And it just keeps getting worse. "

Fully trained editors at Artɪ TV do not earn more than an internship at a German broadcaster. Nevertheless, more colleagues from Turkey call every day, asking if they can come and work, says the editor-in-chief.

(picture alliance / AP Photo) Media in Turkey - instructions from the presidential palace
Fifteen years ago, Turkey was still in the solid midfield on the press freedom ranking. Today the government dictates how newsrooms should write. A long-time star journalist explains how this actually works.

And so the Turkish opposition in Germany continues to grow. Despite isolated meetings and actions by intellectuals and cultural workers, they are not united. And yet: "... it is not the case that precisely these movements from Germany, from Europe, bypass the government or the rulers." So Shermin Langhoff, co-initiator of the solidarity campaign "What did Kavala do".

"So there is a reason for this pressure and threat that is being exerted there. So there is a government, so to speak, that does not tolerate it and is afraid of it. Otherwise it would not lock people up."

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey since the attempted coup on July 15, 2016. The brutality with which the police are currently cracking down on the student protests around Istanbul's Boğazɪcɪ University and members of the pro-Kurdish HDP party give no hope that Erdogan's latest democracy promises will be implemented.

"I really don't know whether we will be able to address you again in this way in the future at a meeting like this in Berlin."

That is why the Turkish writer Aydin Engin confessed when he recently sent a video message to the participants in a solidarity event in Berlin. "It is therefore of great importance that you come together 2,000 kilometers away from Turkey and raise your voice and support us. I greet you!"