If women in Turkey are strong, there will be no Erdogan

Turkish writer Can Dündar: “I did not leave Turkey. Turkey left me.”

Can Dündar
Can Dündar

Writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker Can Dündar is one of the most popular figures in Turkish media. He has worked both in print media as well as for television channels including NTV, CNN Turk and Kanal D, and was the editor-in-chief of the country’s main opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet, until 2015. After breaking a story about the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) supplying weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria, Dündar was arrested, facing life imprisonment. Even though the journalist was acquitted after having spent three months in prison, the pressure continued. In May 2016, an assailant fired two shots at Dündar while he was speaking in front of an Istanbul courthouse, trying to kill him. Dündar remained unharmed but moved to Germany a few weeks later, fearing for his safety.

In Germany he co-founded the online news magazine #ÖZGÜRÜZ which went online in January 2017. The platform aims to provide people in Turkey with unfiltered news and investigative reporting and to combat the increasing polarization among Turks based in Germany.

At a recent breakfast meeting at the Oslo House of Literature organized by the Norwegian PEN Centre and the Nobel Peace Centre, Meydan TV had the chance to interview the popular journalistand speak with him about his experiences and plans for the future.

Mr Dündar, you have been in Germany for two years now. Have you picked up some German?

No. It’s a somewhat psychological issue. Learning German means being prepared to stay here for a long time. But I live in Germany with the intention of returning to Turkey one day.

How do your days look like? As a journalist in Turkey, you were part of a large group of friends and colleagues. Things must be different in Germany.

There are some German journalists I meet up or work with. I work in an office, and sometimes I am alone at home. I talk to my wife via Skype. She cannot come because her passport was taken away from her.

After your arrest in Turkey, someone tried to kill you. How has this impacted your life? Has it changed you in any way?

Humans fantasize about the time when they are old and get to retire, and about how they are going to live their lives when this day comes. When you get shot at, you suddenly understand that those old years may never come. You realize just how close and real death is. But I did not change that much, it’s as if I had been prepared. I was quite calm.

Millions of Turks live in Germany. What is the relationship with your compatriots there like?

It depends on their attitude towards Erdogan. Those who like his regime hate me, and those who hate him like me. What unites people is their values and principles. Either we and all people stand in one line against evil – or people who stand by evil’s side stand against us. When you are taking sides, it doesn’t matter which nation or continent you represent. I am in Norway at the moment, but the notion “we” does not refer to Turks or the East, and the notion “they” does not refer to the Norwegians or the West. “We” – that’s the Turks and Norwegians who oppose evil, the Erdogan regime, and “they” – that’s the people who stand by Erdogan. It could be anyone. Sometimes you have people from the West standing by Erdogan, opposing us.

Do you think the rise of radical groups in Turkey and increased aggressiveness in people is a result of the Erdogan regime?

The Erdogan regime and the current developments in Turkey are part of a global illness. Attacks on democracy and human rights are happening around the world. Who could have imagined just five years ago that someone who attacks journalists, wants to build a wall and insults women would become the U.S. president? Who would have thought that fascists in Germany and a rightist regime in Sweden become popular? The world suffers from a global illness, and Erdogan is part of this illness. When the army defeated the leftists in Turkey two years ago, it opened the way for an Islamic movement. In fact, the changes made to the secular educational system in the 1980s and the investment in Iman Hatib schools prepared the ground for Erdogan and today’s developments. That generation has now come to power, they have become chiefs of municipalities, judges, and ministers. That shows us how important education is. And that we now have to train a new secular generation.

During the Gezi Park protests in 2013 events, we saw resistance from Turkish intellectuals and artists, who were later punished. Do you think this defeat had an impact on the community?

Think of the Arab Spring. The Gezi events were part of a global process as well. But they came as a surprise, and because they did not have a big leader, institution or network behind them, they were quickly suppressed. Those events showed us one thing though, that there was potential within the community. I did not lose hope. Those young people sent us the message that they are here and have not given up. Erdogan understood that message perfectly well, and he fired on our young people out of fear. He killed some of them. Considering the circumstances, we could not have expected more from these events. We know that there is potential in this community, but Erdogan also knows that very well.

What is the reason for the sensitivity and irritation regarding women, sexuality and alcohol? Why does the Erdogan regime devote so much time it, why are they so interested in this topic?

At the root of their irritation about the freedom of women and women drinking alcohol is disapproval of the West and the Christian World. There is a certain hostility towards the West that comes from education. Their hatred of women and alcohol is in some way hatred of the West. That’s something very typical of Oriental communities. Furthermore, in societies where women are free, there are strong waves of protests against authoritarian regimes. Women are more aware of what they will lose living in an Islamic regime. Therefore, women protest more. This is why it is very important for Erdogan to silence women’s movements. If women become free, he will no longer be there. Erdogan is attacking women in an attempt to retain power, and because it is part of his ideology.

Until recently it was not common to see open disapproval of Ataturk, or to hear insults against him. Now there are attempts to demolish his statues. Has there really been secret hatred towards Ataturk within the community, is it surfacing now, or is this coming from the ruling regime?

These are Erdogan’s social experiments. It’s as if he is learning to walk on fire. He places his feet on a fire, and if it gets too hot, he pulls them back again. That’s how he works with people. He does something, and if there is a protest, he retracts. If not, he continues. He also attacked the army this same way. He attacked it once, and after seeing that there was no reaction, he went on. And now he is doing the same thing with Ataturk. We know that Erdogan and the people he brought to power hate him. Erdogan used to hide this because he needed support. It has to do with leadership, when a leader pushes into a certain direction, people try hard to get noticed, they do things that he will approve of. When Kenan Evren was erecting monuments in the honor of Ataturk across Turkey, 95% of the country admired Ataturk. It’s the same community, just a different leader. The government has a certain magnetic effect on people. The community tries to act in accordance with whatever those in power call for. I do not think there is hatred towards Ataturk in the community, it’s just an order given by the leader.

Do you feel safe in Germany?

If you are in opposition to Erdogan, it is impossible to be safe anywhere in the world. You can be safer in Germany than in Turkey, but there is no such thing as complete safety. I can travel out of the EU of course, it’s just that I am worried about being arrested. Dictators have long arms.

Let us talk about the website you founded in Germany, #ÖZGÜRÜZ. How did you find the money and staff for the website? What have been your success stories and challenges so far?

We got the money in quite a simple way, through crowdfunding. Finding people to work for us is a challenge, especially correspondents from Turkey. People take a big risk when they cooperate with us. It’s also not easy to find people willing to comment and provide their opinion about the on-going developments. But despite these challenges we have millions of Turkish-speaking readers from Germany and Turkey, and from all over the world.

Do you know what happened to the person who tried to kill you?

He’s free. I heard he obtained a new passport. Can you imagine that my wife doesn’t have a passport or freedom of movement, but someone who made an attempt on someone else’s life has a passport and the freedom to travel to any part of the world he wants to?

When reading the works of writers who emigrated in the early 20th century, and then during the Soviet period, we understand that we are luckier than they were. We can talk to our families back home, and we also can work for the benefit of our countries. We can continue to do our work in exile, we can establish our own press. But what is it that we have lost?

If we think of ourselves as trees, it means that we are torn off from our roots and planted in a different environment. We leave everything we had behind us, and everything changes – the environment he are used to, the air, water, the land.

Could you tell me one last thing – how hard was it to leave Turkey?

I did not leave Turkey. Turkey left me. Newspapers refused to publish my articles and interviews, my publishing house refused to print my books. So many doors closed for me. I am not talking about ordinary people though, Turks, they certainly did whatever they could to support me. But that did not change anything.

Interview by Gunel Movlud

Ana səhifəNewsIf women in Turkey are strong, there will be no Erdogan