Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank the jury for the M100 Media Award, I thank all of you who have gathered here in Potsdam tonight for this occasion. I thank my former editor-in-chief Ines Pohl for her wonderful words and Christian Lindner for his wise speech.
On the occasion of another award ceremony last year, I hurriedly scribbled a message of greeting on the notepad of my defender in a lawyer’s booth of the high-security prison Silivri No. 9. I wrote that I was pleased to receive the venerable “Theodor Wolff Prize” by “just sitting dumb in jail”. And today, more than a year later, I can line up with Natalia Sindeeva, Roberto Saviano or Charlie Hebdo by “simply sitting in jail”. Thank you for that.
The Lord Mayor of the city of Potsdam was so kind as to attest me “a great deal of courage” in connection with the award ceremony. Even out of prison, Jann Jakobs said, I had “stood up for a critical and independent journalism”. I don’t want to be so rude as to publicly contradict Mr Jakobs – the host of this evening, so to speak. But I myself would not claim to have shown any particular courage.
Yes, I spent, Ines has already pointed out in her laudation, that the year of my imprisonment – more precisely: my hostage-taking – primarily with one activity: I fought. I have found ways to outwit the prison’s strict censorship of letters. When paper and pen were forbidden, as in the two weeks in police custody, I tried to use the red sauce of the canned food as spare ink, and because smoking was not allowed there, I smuggled nicotine patches into my cell. Later in the high-security prison, where everything living that would have given a little joy was banned, I raised mint from the jail shop in a yogurt pot, with a mixture of tea set and crumbled egg shells as spare soil. When President Erdogan announced that I would never be extradited as long as he was in office, I declared that I refused extradition. And when the question of arms deals was in exchange for my freedom, I made it clear how I liked this idea: Not so much. I found a solution for some harassment, but not for others. But I never simply resigned myself to the situation.
But it was less an act of courage than an act of self-assertion. If they wanted to silence me, then I could not be silenced; if they wanted to finish me off, they could not succeed. The point was to fight for as much autonomy as possible, even under difficult circumstances. And it was precisely for this reason that, after my release and a few public appearances, I withdrew for the time being. Just as I didn’t want to be a victim of the circumstances in prison, I didn’t want to be driven by the circumstances after my release, which were of course quite different.
Heroes don’t need a break, I do. And I am very grateful to my employer, DIE WELT and the Axel Springer publishing house, that they make this possible for me. So tonight is just a short break from the break for me.
That was a lot of “me” now. But that’s only half the story. Because without the many people who stood by my side, I would not have found the necessary strength for this struggle for self-assertion and autonomy.
That’s why I can’t and won’t talk about my time in prison without always mentioning my wonderful lawyers Veysel Ok, Ferat Çağıl and Refik Türkoğlu; Doris Akrap, Imran Ayata, Tilman Clauß and all the others from the “Friends of Free Deniz” in Berlin and Hamburg; my friend and DIE WELT colleague Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, my editor-in-chief Ulf Poschardt, the Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner and all my colleagues from all over the world and Springer-Verlag; my sister Ilkay Yücel and Michael Antenbrink, the mayor of my hometown Flörsheim am Main; the colleagues from my former newspaper, TAZ, and from other German and Turkish editorial offices who have never forgotten me; Consul General Georg Birgelen and his colleagues in the German representations in Istanbul and Ankara, Sigmar Gabriel, Angela Merkel and many other politicians from the Federal Government, the opposition and the opposition in Turkey – the artists who have read from my texts – and of course the many people who have stood up for me, participated in protest actions or have written to me in prison. I am infinitely grateful to all of them.
But before all others I am grateful to my beloved Dilek, who is here tonight as well and who has done everything that was necessary during this time: Drinking coffee with the Chancellor, negotiating with the Turkish Ministry of Justice, bringing fresh socks to jail. Thank you, Dilek!
Even after my release, the relationship between Germany and Turkey has not disappeared from the public debate. The last protagonist of this debate was a German-Turkish footballer. He was to blame for the fact that Germany was eliminated for the first time in the preliminary round of the Football World Cup. The lack of ideas on the part of the coaches, the bad fitness of the players, the complacency that blew around the entire team – all of this was the fault of Özil alone, as those responsible at the German Football Association and a host of ex-national players analyzed. Or to be more precise: It was the fault of Erdogan, with whom Özil and his team mate Ilkay Gündogan had been photographed shortly before the World Cup. In view of this, one can understand the fans of the Turkish dictator. If such a voodoo can be based on a single snapshot, then there must be something to the attribute “world director”.
Mesut Özil, however, had violated “our values” – “our values”, which the national team would have defended very well otherwise at this event in Russia, which is in conformity with the values. And that’s why Özil will no longer represent “our values” at the next opportunity, namely at the World Championships in the “Value-Emirate” Qatar. The way Özil was treated showed what the criticism of the Erdogan regime is now good for: a cipher for racism. The demand “Turks out of the national team” would be formulated by nobody except a handful of veritable Neo-Nazis. A sentence like “Anyone who pays homage to the Turkish dictator should go back to Anatolia”, sounds so nice and democratic, one might almost say: value-oriented. So it is in the logic of the matter that exactly those who had celebrated Erdogan for my arrest soon demanded Özil’s dismissal most loudly – the “Klemmnazis” in the German Bundestag and their followers.
This discussion about Özil is also strangely disproportionate to the recent change in German policy towards Turkey. When recently Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, during a visit to Turkey, happily shot selfies with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, that was somehow all right with our values. And if the Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will soon receive a criminal for a state banquet, who – among many other things – is guilty in my and in many other cases of human abduction, then “our values” have to go through with it.
Now it seems as if the Federal Government is preparing to betray once again all those people in Turkey who long for a free, democratic and secular society. That is why I say, although I am very grateful to the Federal Government for its efforts to secure my release and I say it with a clear conscience, because I formulated the same criticism even before I was imprisoned – it would now be the third treason of this kind.
The first took place in about 2006/07. At that time, the democratic reforms that had been introduced by the previous government and that Erdogan pushed forward with further momentum were still in progress in Turkey. “Europe” at that time was both – hope and goal – the ultimate goal on which by far the largest part of Turkish society could agree, albeit for very different, sometimes even contradictory reasons.
At that time, the Merkel government, jointly with Nicolas Sarkozy, made it clear to the Turks: no matter what you do, you can’t get in here. Even if Turkey would develop into an exemplary constitutional state and produce a flourishing economy, even if all the serious shortcomings that have accompanied the Turkish Republic since its foundation would be remedied, and even if the conflict with the Kurds would be resolved peacefully – you would not get in here.
An important, perhaps the most important reason for this was the fear of freedom of movement. 80 million Turks should not simply be able to visit Paris or Berlin without a visa – just as any German or French vacationer can fly to Istanbul or Antalya without a visa.
The second betrayal followed about ten years later. And this time the visa issue was suddenly no longer a problem at all. Back then, in autumn 2015, Erdogan had just lost a parliamentary election for the first time and therefore wanted to repeat it shortly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid him her respects and had herself demonstrated in the Ottoman Baroque of the Yildiz Palace. In addition, the German government ensured that the EU’s progress report, which attested to Turkey’s clear regression in view of the renewed escalation of the Kurdish conflict, was not published until after the election date. All this only because people in Europe – soon after an uncoordinated but major humanitarian act – began to perceive people fleeing war and misery as a threat. And for this one was prepared – values back or forth – to appeal to a dictatorial regime. Out of fear they made themselves blackmailable.
Much of what the Turkish president says all day long is hate speech or nonsense. But his accusation of hypocrisy against the EU is not entirely wrong. And just as if the German government wanted to prove this accusation, it now wants to open a new chapter after a crisis phase – whether out of fear of further refugees from Syria, out of fear of the consequences of an economic collapse of Turkey, because of the business interests of Siemens, Rheinmetall & Co. or generally in the sense of the Federal Republic of Germany’s much-tried “strategic interests”. “Pragmatism” is the name given to this – a euphemism with which almost any unscrupulousness can be glossed over.
With such “pragmatism”, short-term profits and goals can be achieved, but in the long run this has still taken revenge.
The Middle East did not get into turmoil because the regimes of the Mubaraks, Gaddafis and Assads were overthrown or came to the brink of overthrow, but because these cliques of murderers and thiefs were supported by West and East for far too long. And one can assume that any pacification by dictatorial means, sooner or later, will result in an explosion with even greater force. Without peace, freedom and social participation, it will not be possible to prevent people elsewhere from seeking a better life.
That is why it is not a good idea to court a serial killer like Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt. And so it is not a good idea to come to terms with the Erdogan regime.
That does not mean that I would reject any economic and political cooperation with Turkey – except, of course, on the issue of weapons. It would perhaps be better not to produce tanks in the first place. At the very least, however, they should not be delivered to countries in which they are used against their own civilian populations or those of neighbouring countries. Nevertheless, talks and cooperation between Turkey and Germany are also needed under Erdogan.
But without conditions, there should be no cooperation. And for this it would not be sufficient, if still another handful of further well-known prisoners like for instance Ahmet Altan, Osman Kavala, Enis Berberoğlu or Selahattin Demirtaş came free.
The current practice, for which a post on Facebook can suffice, – first arrest, then search for evidence and finally let it stew – must stop. And that would be a demand, to which the Federal Government could tie for example the question about loans of the KfW Group. Just as Erdogan knows how to blackmail other people best, he himself has a sore point – the economic situation. With gangsters you have to speak the language they understand.
But, of course, such a policy could at best limit the worst excesses of the dictatorship, nothing more. There will be no liberal and constitutional order in Turkey as long as a larger part of society does not want a change of regime than it is currently the case. “We don’t expect Germany to save us,” said the law professor, opposition politician and Habermas translator Mithat Sancar recently, “but we are opposed to Germany taking on the role of Erdogan’s saviour. I can only agree with that.
However, Turkey of the present day, and this brings me to the end, is not just a sounding board for cheap value debates, the Erdogan regime is not just an attempt to reverse the modernisation initiated under Kemal Atatürk; despite all the transfiguration of Ottomanism, the regime is not just a reactionary curiosity on the edge of Europe.
The Erdogans, Orbans and Trumps, the Putins, Salvinis, Maduros and whatever their names are, are linked by the fact that they did not come to power through violence, but through more or less free and fair elections. To legitimise them, they need confirmation from the electorate and yet despise everything that characterises a democracy beyond the mere acclamation of existing rule: the pluralistic society, the diversity of lifestyles, the material foundations of freedom, the participation of the opposition and, of course, the existence of a free and critical press. But precisely because they need the guise of democracy so urgently, they are best fought with its means – not least with the journalism they hate so much.
That is precisely why I gladly accepted the offer when DIE WELT asked me at the beginning of 2015, whether I wanted to go to Turkey as a correspondent. Not for the sake of adventure and not just because my parents originally come from this country, or because I know the language and the codes. Rather because I am convinced that journalism – I am not saying “critical journalism” because uncritical journalism is not one at all – is needed wherever power is exercised, in small as well as in large, but most of all where it is in danger, and with it the freedom of all. And, of course, also because you can’t deliver well-founded reports from the Internet. You have to go where it hurts, even if it can hurt you yourself.
It was clear to me that this work could entail certain disadvantages. But that is part of it; just as all previous freedoms have never been given, but have always been fought for, our freedom cannot be defended and expanded for nothing either.
I do not want to play down my hostage-taking, solitary confinement, public accusations and so on. But I do not want to make it any bigger than it was. Compared to the fate of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Ján Kuciak or James Foley, compared to the fate of countless Turkish colleagues from Uğur Mumcu via Metin Göktepe and Musa Anter to Hrant Dink, such a year in prison does not carry any weight.
So I don’t regret anything. And it wasn’t all bad about this story. Dilek and I only knew each other for a few months when I was arrested. Jail has made our love grow. And this year in prison I owe the honor to have been able to speak to you tonight.
Thank you again for the M100 Media Award, thank you again to all my supporters and thank you all for your attention.