Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's verbal assault on German parliamentarians of Turkish descent has been debated in the German Bundestag. Utlu is convinced that there is a method to Erdogan's mad rhetorics.
German-Turkish relations have been strained since the beginning of June, when the Bundestag (Germany's lower house of parliament) passed a resolution referring to the extermination of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as genocide. The Turkish government responded with severe recriminations against Germany. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused German parliamentarians of Turkish heritage of aiding and abetting the PKK, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party seeking an independent Kurdish state. He also expressed doubt about the true ethnicity of Bundestag representatives with Turkish roots and suggested that they take a blood test. Senior German politicians heavily protested in turn. Germans with Turkish roots active on the arts scene have, in contrast, been notably quiet in recent days. One of them however, author Deniz Utlu, is outspoken in this DW interview.
DW: Mr. Utlu, what is your view on the fact that President Erdogan has described German politicians as an extension of the PKK, thus seeking to silence critical voices in Germany?
Deniz Utlu: Unfortunately, this kind of denunciation has a history. There's nothing new about that strategy, at least not on the national level in Turkey. How many journalists, authors and persons engaged in the cultural sector there have been sent to jail under the pretence that they'd supported Ergenekon, the PKK or some other outlawed entity? If Erdogan is employing this kind of rhetoric against German political figures now, they're only getting a taste of what so many democratic forces in Turkey have long had to contend with. Most recently, the government has succeeded in making Turkish parliamentarians vulnerable by revoking their immunity.
What's behind that blood test statement and the implication of ethnic purity?
Lunacy. And an image of humanity that Europe projected to the rest of the world 500 years ago and still hasn't been eliminated. Behind that statement, there's also the danger that fascists predisposed to violence will use this insanity as a pretense for further legitimizing their hate - also by invoking the fact that Erdogan has accused some of supporting terrorism.
What the statement doesn't include is a call to political action as suggested in some media entities. I think we should take a differentiated view. Hysteria isn't helpful. It's monstrous and dangerous enough for such images to be seriously employed. We should defuse these images as they have been used in speech but not lend them additional credence by suggesting in newspaper articles that they are actual policy proposals from Ankara.
Is there a danger that these verbal attacks could be transformed into policy? And what kind of policy would it be?
No, I don't see that happening, at least not in the near future. This is pure, empty rhetoric and bears no relationship to politics in the sense of governing and lawmaking. Neither is this the institutional state of affairs in Turkey. But what we do see is a drastic shrinking of the space in which democracy can maneuver and a strengthening of totalitarian forces.
What can and should politicians, culturally active persons, artists and authors in Germany do about it?
That's a very important question. I think much needs to be done. Serious mistakes have been made here in the past ten years. For example in 2006/07, when Merkel and Sarkozy blocked negotiations with Turkey on admission to the EU. That came at a time when democratic forces in Turkey should have been reinforced through stronger relations with the EU, or even admission. If that had been done, we'd be at a different point today. That's only one of many errors of omission by Europe and Germany with respect to Turkey.
What would be the next concrete step?
I have no recipe for success of course, and it's a complex situation. But a couple of things might help. First, when negotiating with Turkey, we should avoid pouring salt in the wound, such as with the visa issue. It's deplorable that we still require Turkish citizens to get a visa to visit Germany.
Lots of people with Turkish roots live in Germany, and each one has a story about harassment at the border. They'll tell you about families and friends who haven't seen each other in years or about traveling with a sick feeling in their stomach because having to beg for entry is demeaning.
That's only one of many examples of Turkish people's frustration with the EU. That frustration makes them receptive to demagoguery and authoritarian rhetoric. To sum it up: we should give political consideration to what Turks want and not play games with policy.
Secondly, every imaginable democratic or potentially democratic institution should be strengthened, and in every field of policy. For the Yunus Emre Enstitüsü, a Turkish cultural institute, to be admitted to the EUNIC just now is precisely the right decision. More Turkish-language authors should be translated into European languages and filmmaking supported. Humanitarian jobs like those of ombudsmen should be reinforced, and not only by financial means.
What is the role of the media in this context?
When reporting, I think it's important not to reproduce divisive stereotypes and binary oppositional entities like the Occident and the Orient. This is a time to demonstrate how much Turkey belongs to Europe and how drastically oppressive the country's current situation is. When I talk about belonging to Europe, I mean culturally and historically. We talk a lot about European values but often neglect the parallel reality, the centuries of destruction that had their start in colonialism. Turkey is a part of Europe in this respect as well.
And if values are sometimes renegotiated today - for instance, to protect persecuted persons - then that should be done with the goal of deepening these values rather than revoking them. We all have to join forces here. But instead, we're digging ditches again of the kind that kept people apart for hundreds of years.
Interview: Klaus Krämer
Born in 1983 in Hanover, Deniz Utlu is a successful young author of Turkish heritage. Having studied economics in Berlin and Paris, he now lives in Berlin as a freelance author. In his first novel, "Die Ungehaltenen" (The Indignant), Utlu describes the existential rage and sadness of two Berliners whose fathers came from Turkey and are dying. The stage version of "Die Ungehaltenen" premiered in May 2015 at the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin.