DThe German-Turkish writer Doğan Akhanlı became known to the general public after his arrest in the summer of 2017. The Turkish police had requested his arrest via Interpol with a “red notice” – for, of course, terrorism, as every critic of the Erdoğan regime is known to run the risk of when terrorist to be pursued.

The special thing about his case: Akhanlı was arrested in the EU, more precisely: in Granada, because the Spanish authorities took the Turkish arrest request seriously. In the German-Turkish crisis year 2017, this case caused a particular stir; along with many others, including the writers’ association PEN, of which Akhanlı was a member, Chancellor Angela Merkel campaigned for his release and accused Turkey of abusing Interpol for political purposes.

Akhanlı spent ten days in Spanish custody and two months subject to registration in Spain before he was allowed to leave the country. There was something good about it: at the insistence of the federal government, Interpol changed some processes so as not to serve again as an involuntary auxiliary force for the Turkish autocrat.

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For Akhanlı, however, this was not the first and certainly not the worst experience he had ever had with a state power. He was arrested for the first time in 1975 as a student in Istanbul for buying a left-wing magazine. He was detained for five months, tortured and radicalized, not least as a result of the experience.

In 1980, shortly before the military came to power, he went underground as a member of a militant, Marxist-Leninist group and was arrested again in 1985 with his then wife and their sixteen-month-old son. He was released after two and a half years in the worst prison conditions.

While still in prison, he began to grapple with ML dogmatism, the authoritarian spirit of these organizations and their relationship to violence. After his release he began a secluded life in Izmir, where he worked as an instrument maker and fisherman.

Allegation of robbery

Akhanlı always remained true to his convictions, the ideals of freedom, equality, and brotherhood. But the party cadre gradually became a committed but also individualistic intellectual, the left dogmatist who provided answers, a left thinker who asked questions.

But before that there was an escape: he was accused of participating in a robbery on an exchange office in which the owner had been shot. He didn’t want to go to jail again. In 1991 he fled to Germany with his family, which had now grown by one daughter, and soon ended up in Cologne.

Akhanlı always refused to participate in this robbery; the allegation was based solely on the testimony of an alleged witness, which the latter later revoked because he had been blackmailed into it under torture. Nevertheless, this procedure caught up with him in the summer of 2010 when he was visiting his seriously ill father in Turkey and was arrested a third time and spent four months in prison. His arrest in Spain in 2017 was also related to this.

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In the same year, Akhanlı published “Arrested in Granada or Is Turkey Driving into the Dictatorship?” Akhanlı’s only non-fiction book in which he combined reports on his various experiences in prison with an analysis of contemporary Turkey – and his only book in which he describes himself -Form told about himself.

The fact that he was arrested in Spain of all places followed a certain logic. It wasn’t the first time that the Spanish state showed some understanding for the Turkish one. Catalans here, Kurds there, you have to stick together.

However, Akhanlı did not blame the Spanish authorities for this inconvenience very much. In Spain, a little by chance, but mainly out of longing for the Mediterranean, he had started to develop a kind of third home after he had to leave his first home and had not even been able to visit it in recent years. He did not want to give up his Arcadia of the south, his new reserve home. Not again.

Home is a big topic

After all, he had left his first home before fleeing to Germany, when he moved from a village in the Şavşat district in the far north-east of Turkey, in the mountainous, wildly romantic hinterland of the eastern Black Sea coast, to his older brother in Istanbul.

In general, home. One of his big issues, often in connection with flight and violence. Akhanlı knew: Heimat is not as invariably attached to everyone as the color of their eyes or shoe size, nor does it only exist in the singular – even if the grammatically correct plural form in German the homes sounds so strange that it could easily be mistaken for wrong.

But Akhanlı also knew that the progressive ideal of the cosmopolitan and citizen of the world who is at home everywhere on earth will remain a beautiful and for the time being unattainable utopia. That people need a home, two or three to be on the safe side. That home is not to be had for free. That it takes time, effort and a lot more.

Dogan Akhanli (1957-2021)

Dogan Akhanli (1957-2021)

Quelle: picture alliance / Geisler-Fotopress

Let’s take the existential topic of language for every writer: Akhanlı only learned German after his escape – and it was here that he began to work as a writer. He devoured German-language literature – preferably Goethe long before he was awarded the Goethe Medal, and, for a newcomer to Cologne, almost obligatory, Böll.

On the other hand, he made fun of his spoken German: “There is no one who loves German as much and speaks as badly as I do,” he joked. That was a bit exaggerated, but typical of this thoroughly friendly, humorous and quiet person who was free from the airs and vanities that some people carry as evidence of intellectuality and artist existence.

But his working language remained Turkish; only the play “Anne’s Silence” was written in German. “I arrived completely because I now know that I live in Cologne completely voluntarily,” he said in an interview in 2013 at the premiere. He lived in Germany for over 20 years and had only German citizenship for over a decade.

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The broad solidarity that triggered his arrest in 2010 made a decisive contribution to the feeling of arriving in Cologne. It wasn’t a big issue nationwide at the time, but it was all the more so in Cologne. Of course, none of this stopped him from moving to Berlin in 2019, this time following love. Akhanlı was looking for a home, not a fateful attachment to the clod.

On the contrary, he assumed that an enlightened relationship to the homeland can only be broken, i.e. the connection to and with a country (and its people) need not lead to glorification and forest and meadow kitsch, but require something completely different : Responsibility.

He was also convinced that one cannot evade this responsibility by making a voluntaristic declaration, not even as a left-wing oppositionist – especially not if one comes from a dominant majority. Akhanlı was the son of a teacher and an astonishingly well-read housewife in the deepest province, so she did not belong to the ruling class, but to the Turkish-Sunni majority. As a citizen, but also as a man of letters, he drew from this the need to deal with the dark and repressed sides of his homeland – later: his homeland – which is why he did not deal with any topic as often in his seven novels as the genocide of the Armenians.

Between German and Turkish guilt

He succeeded in dealing with this in a particularly intricate manner in his novel “The Last Dream of the Madonna”, which was published in Turkey in 2005 and finally in German in 2016. A story full of cross-references between Germany and Turkey, between fiction, real and literary history, between the fate of the left Turkish writer Sabahattin Ali who was murdered in 1948 and the tragedy of the ship “Struma”, sunk in 1942 with 700 Jewish refugees, in short: between German and Turkish Blame.

Akhanlı is a “traitor to the fatherland and a despiser of power, so a good person,” said the German-Turkish director Fatih Akin once about him. A beautiful, true sentence, which Akhanlı did not get angry about because he knew what his friend Akin had meant: improper, in the language of the dull cheeks of all countries.

I cannot say for sure, but I suspect that Akhanlı would have rejected a formulation such as “critical patriotism” because this word would have seemed too contaminated to him – just like the word “good person” is contaminated at least in German. But contrary to what he is often assumed to be, his criticism did not arise from hatred, but from an emotional affection – yes, love – and never served the self-satisfied pose. The aim of all painful arguments with him was: reconciliation.

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But literature worthy of the name is not scientific or political journalism (or political activism) by any other means. His profession was the poetic and emotional, which also flashed up in his non-literary texts or his interviews.

In 2017, when I was in Turkish custody, Doğan wrote me a letter in prison as a friend, which I was only able to read because the “taz” reprinted it. In it he expressed his hope for my early release. Because: “Ultimately you are the citizen of another country and our Turkish homeland – THIS TOPIC IS WORTH ANALYSIS – does not care about its own citizens.”

The mere fact that Doğan, who had long since left thinking in capital letters behind him, had put this inset in capital letters, shows the pain he was carrying with him. Not just since Erdoğan has this country tended to pursue its talented and critical minds with an almost lavish brutality – and, if at all, only give them credit after death.

In “The Last Dream of the Madonna” Akhanlı has his protagonist, the German-Jewish painter Maria Puder, say: “Your favorite word: home… where is my home, what do you think? Berlin? Warsaw? Krakow? Palestine? By your side? Where is my home? Until January 28, 1938, I had no problem with my homeland. Of course, my home was Berlin. (…) I had heard that you can never return to Berlin, now I can see that that’s true. “

Doğan Akhanlı was not allowed to see his Istanbul, his mountains on the Black Sea again. But at some point he had found an answer to his character’s questions for himself. His last will: If this is practically feasible, part of his ashes should be buried in Cologne, and some in his place of birth Şavşat. Homeland, even beyond death.

Doğan Akhanlı died on Sunday after a brief serious illness in Berlin. He was 64 years old.


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