‘Apart from Erdogan, there is a great, modern Turkey’

Deutsche Welle
8 Min Read

After meeting with German officials, Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dundar spoke with DW. The dissident Turkish journalist harshly criticized the EU’s controversial deportations deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, traveled to Berlin this week as part of a program organized by Reporters Without Borders. Dundar met with Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, government spokesman Steffen Seibert and Christoph Heusgen, the foreign policy adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel, in addition to parliamentarians from various parties.

DW: You met with high-level authorities in Berlin. Can you share the expectations you conveyed and the responses you received?

Can Dundar: I’ll summarize what I said with a few items: One, the agreement that you forged with Turkey is a shameful agreement and Europe will be ashamed of this down the road. Two, this agreement is not working anymore. You aren’t granting visa exemption, Turkey is not moving towards changing (terror) laws, and, as far as I can see, Europe does not have a plan B. Three, Turkey does not exclusively consist of Erdogan – you are making this mistake. In fact, apart from Erdogan, there is a great, modern Turkey that believes in Western values, democracy, the rule of law and press freedom, and you are disregarding it. This is the Turkey that needs to be supported and that Europe needs.

What responses did you receive? Will you return to Turkey with support from Germany?

My first purpose was to raise attention regarding my jailed colleagues and the importance of freedom of the press in Turkey. This is known as a European value, so Europe can benefit from being reminded of this because it seems that Europe has abandoned this value – or that it is sacrificing its own values for its daily interests. I told them directly that they must not do this. The one benefit of this is that they are hearing another voice from Turkey. Up until now, the voices they hear are generally the official voices. They need to be told: “No, there is another voice in Turkey and this voice is gradually getting stronger.”

Also there is the importance of international solidarity. We really feel that we need this solidarity right now. Turning a blind eye to an authoritarian regime in Turkey in order to avoid dealing with the refugees is an embarrassment for Europe.

The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, Europe continues to struggle to address the mass arrival of displaced people, and Merkel has given priority to policies that address issues more specific to Germany. In light of recent developments in the European Union, how realistic would it be to expect any help?

Everyone has this feeling of hopelessness. It is present in Turkey, as well. Frankly, I was almost more hopeful when I was in jail. I was in Brussels last week; this week I’m in Berlin. There is an immense wave of hopelessness and fear. And, of course, this exists in Turkey and these fears feed each other. But there is no point to joining this caravan of fear. We need to think about how we can get out of this tunnel of fear. My recommendation is that those who are not afraid get together to create a new future. Not just for Turkey – but for Europe, as well. We are seeing the collapse of the European ideal. Europe is becoming withdrawn. … Is the world we want a world of Putin, Erdogan and Le Pen? If not, do we have dreams of another world? At the moment it seems quite romantic, but if we abandon these dreams we will lose all hope. For this reason, something new needs to be created and I think now is right the time.

Do you see Turkey’s problems as purely an Erdogan problem? Or is it a more intricate situation?

There are lots of problems, but Erdogan is at the outset of all of these problems. On multiple levels, we have never faced such an oppressive leader in our history. We are facing a leader who disregards the law, does not attach importance to democracy and has nearly exported this understanding to Europe. Turkey’s sole problem is not Erdogan, but its biggest problem is Erdogan.

What are your expectations from a German government helmed by Merkel? The isolation of Erdogan and/or Turkey?

Frankly this is a great danger. First, the isolation of Turkey would be another disaster for Turkey. I am in favor of sustaining the negotiation process with Turkey. Secondly, Turkey did something that it should be proud of by hosting nearly 3 million refugees. I hold this in esteem. When you compare this to Europe’s attitude, I want to applaud it. Europe cannot turn its back on the refugees: It cannot close the doors around a chaos that it helped create. There is no plan B. Europe must accept these people. At the moment, the key is in Erdogan’s hand and, when the doors open, Europe will not know what to do.

You face threats to your life. How much longer do you think that this will last? Problems relating to freedom of press and freedom of expression are not new. In your opinion, what is the level of self-criticism in the press?

I’m defending my profession, myself and my lifestyle. If I don’t do this, we’ll lose. That’s why I believe that I don’t have anything else to lose by doing this, but much to gain. I believed this while in jail and believe it even more now. But, as you said, in the 1940s they handcuffed and arrested (humorist and writer) Aziz Nesin. Last week, his son (Ahmet) was cuffed and arrested. Their only crimes were saying things that the government didn’t like. Should Ahmet Nesin’s children have to grow up like this? This is our problem. We need to do something to stop this. Otherwise, we’ll be spectators and most of us will lose our jobs and be thrown in jail. This might seem more optimistic and romantic than most, but we all must contribute to this struggle.

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