For exiled novelist, Turkey 'like Nazi Germany'
Protesters react as they listen to the speech of the Turkish President during a protest rally in Istanbul on May 18, 2018, against the recent killings of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza-Israel border and the US embassy move to Jerusalem. (AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE)
Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan, living in exile in Germany as she risks a life sentence on terror charges at home, thinks the writing is on the wall: her country is sliding into fascism.
The award-winning author, still traumatized by the four months she spent in an Istanbul prison, warns that Turkeyâs institutions are âin a state of total collapse.â
In President Recep Tayyip Erdogan â" no relation â" she sees a man tightening control over everyday Turkish life, emboldened by an outright victory in June elections, sweeping new powers and a crackdown on opponents.
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âThe extent of things in Turkey is like Nazi Germany,â the flame-haired 51-year-old told AFP in an interview in Frankfurt, her temporary home as she awaits the outcome of her court case in absentia.
âI think it is a fascist regime. It is not yet 1940s Germany, but 1930s,â said Asli.
âA crucial factor is the lack of a judicial system,â she added, describing a country of overcrowded prisons and pro-Erdogan judges in their twenties rushed in to replace ousted peers.Exiled Turkish writer and human rights activist Asli Erdogan answers AFP journalistsâ questions during an interview on July 23, 2018 in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany (AFP PHOTO / Daniel ROLAND)
Asli herself was among the more than 70,000 people caught up in a wave of arrests under a state of emergency imposed after a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan.
She was held for 136 days over her links to a pro-Kurdish newspaper before being unexpectedly freed on bail.
The detention of the author of such novels as âThe City in Crimson Cloakâ and âThe Stone Building and Other Placesâ, famed for their unflinching explorations of loss and trauma, drew international condemnation.
Turkeyâs Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk has called her âan exceptionally perceptive and sensitive writer.â
Turkeyâs post-coup purge targeted not just alleged backers of preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the attempted putsch, but also opposition media and people accused of ties to Kurdish militants.
Turkish authorities reject accusations of widescale rights violations after the coup, and the state of emergency was lifted last month, after Erdogan was re-elected under a new executive-style presidency giving him direct control of ministries and public institutions.
âErdogan is almost omnipotent,â Asli said.Turkeyâs President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at a ceremony site on âJuly 15 Martyrs Bridgeâ (B osphorus Bridge) in Istanbul on July 15, 2018. (OZAN KOSE/AFP)
âHe decides on the price of medicine, on the future of classical ballet, his family members are in charge of the economyâ¦ Opera, which he hates, is also directly tied to him,â she added, chuckling.
âThatâs the nice thing about fascism, itâs also pathetically funny sometimes.â
Turkish lawmakers have also approved new legislation giving authorities greater powers in detaining suspects and imposing public order, which officials say is necessary to combat multiple terror risks.
âItâs an emergency state made permanent,â said Asli.
As for herself, Asli has given up hope of being acquitted and returning to Turkey anytime soon.
âThey are not bluffing,â she said she realized after several journalists were sentenced to life terms.
She faces charges of spreading âterror propagandaâ for her work as a literary adviser to the newspap er Ozgur Gundem.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to the crowd during a Democracy and Martyrsâ Rally in Istanbul, August. 7, 2016. (Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Press Service via AP)
The paper itself was shut down, accused by Turkish authorities of being a mouthpiece for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
The next hearings in Asliâs case are scheduled for October and March.
The diminutive former physicist said the wait for the verdict was âalmost unbearable.â
âOne of the biggest tortures you can do to a human being is to keep his fate unknown.â
âYou write with bloodâ
Released from prison in late December 2016, it took Asli until last September to get her passport back from Turkish authorities.
She immediately left for Germany, following other Turkish artists and intellectuals into exile.
She now lives in Frankfurt, the recipient of a flat and a monthly stipend as part of the international Cities of Refuge project.
The scheme aims to provide persecuted writers with a safe haven from where they can continue working.
But Asli, who has written eight books translated into 20 languages, hasnât been able to pick up a pen yet.People take streets in Ankara, Turkey during a protest against a military coup on July 16, 2016. (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)
Struggling with insomnia, depression and health problems, it has been easier to âplay the professional writerâ in past months, travelling abroad for literary events and talks.
But slowly her nightmares about prison are becoming less frequent, she said, while a painful neck hernia has done her the unexpected favor of forcing her to slow down.
Asl i said she was getting âmore in the moodâ to write, but her immediate focus remained on raising the plight of those still locked up in Turkey.
âI have been pushed into a political role, which I try to carry with grace.â
But when she is ready, she will put her own experiences of prison to paper, in what Asli predicts will be âa very heavy confrontationâ.
âIn literature, you have to be more than 200 percent honest,â she said. âYou write with blood.âread more:
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