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From reformer to tyrant: The strategy behind Erdogan's 'Nazi' accusations

Erdogan is no longer recognizable as the reformer he once was, says his biographer. DW interviewed Istanbul correspondent Cigdem Akyol on the leader's Nazi statements and complicated relations with press.

DW: Ms. Akyol, how is it to work as a journalist in Istanbul at the moment?

Cigdem Akyol: Even if almost no one believes me when I say this, I haven't had any problems at all with the Turkish Government. I have always gotten a press ID from Ankara, even if there was a delay in getting it. Some German colleagues have to wait a long time to get accredited.

It's important to remember - and it's the reality - that Erdogan was elected democratically. Elections were partially not free and certainly not fair, but the man isn't a dictator. That means it's incredibly important not to be led by populist moods and remain factually oriented and cover the topic in a fair way. Of course it's not always easy, given the political situation - journalists are people after all. But one must also take into account the past positive aspects of Erdogan when reporting in order to explain his strength and determination today.

German author and journalist Cygdem Akyol (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Bockwoldt)

German author and journalist Cygdem Akyol

What positive aspects are you thinking of?

At one point, he was actually a reformer. Among other things, he expanded women's rights and, for a time, freedom of the press. He led Turkey to the door of the EU and created a middle class that did not exist before. Thanks to Erdogan, the social systems were improved. These aspects, of course, are things that have made major contributions to his success.

Under Erdogan, there was an economic rise for years, which had never before existed in Turkey. But these aspects have been ignored because they don't fit into the world picture that many, including the German-language press, has of Erdogan. Instead, one has to agree that he is a tyrant.

But what remains of Erdogan the reformer?

There is nothing left of this. Anyone who claims Erdogan is still on a democratic path or that he's still interested in democratic reform is not living in the same Turkey as I do. The Turkey I live in is a land where people are afraid they will have their passports taken away, be put in jail or lose their jobs because they are critical of the government.

Deniz Yücel, journalist arrested in Turkey (picture-alliance/Eventpress)

"Die Welt" correspondent Deniz Yücel was put behind bars in Turkey.

Under President Erdogan, not only was the German-Turkish correspondent of "Die Welt" Deniz Yücel taken into custody, but also more than a dozen Turkish journalists critical of the regime are sitting behind bars. How did it come to this?

Relations between Erdogan and the press were never good. Above all, the Kemalist press, that was once very strong, really gave it to him. He now is exercising revenge for that. When he was mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998, Erdogan complained that, no matter what he said, the Kemalist press always used it against him. They made fun of him and the poverty he comes from. They also made fun of his wife and daughter because they wore the hijab. Actually, there was no fair reporting. And while Erdogan himself never valued free word, he had to endure it. But since the failed coup attempt, he has carried out a huge cleansing wave, affecting everyone who doesn't share his opinion.

When the election campaigns of Turkish ministers were canceled in Germany, Erdogan spoke of "Nazi practices" in Germany. Were the Nazi comparisons, in your opinion, serious or rather a strategy to get attention?

His absurd accusations are part of an electoral campaign. This inner unrest, which is now growing in Germany, as far as the German-Turkish relationship is concerned, is beneficial to Erdogan. He is fishing for the right target for his presidential system and he needs the voices of the nationalists - that is why he is playing the nationalist tune once again.

The more German politicians and the public react to it, the more he benefits from it. And that's why he's so hot on it at the moment. One shouldn't actually fall for this scam. My tip: Stay objective and polite, and put the finger in the wound in a natural way.

In your opinion, which wound is it most important to touch at the moment?

The dismantling of whatever's left of democracy in Turkey. Berlin and Europe must be very clear that no more opposition politicians be imprisoned, that the few free, critical journalists in Turkey do not have to fear for their lives, that the rule of law is no longer eluded and that the division of power is preserved.

What is the situation with those critical of the regime and the cultural scene at the moment in Turkey?

The critics are moving away further and further. There are still people who demonstrate on the street for a "No" vote at the constitutional conference, but they are usually arrested.

A major topic for those involved in culture and for intellectuals is the question "how can I leave this country?" Are there grants? What country is an option?
At the moment, there is no hope for improvement as far as democratic developments in Turkey are concerned.

Cigdem Akyol (38) lives in Istanbul and works as a correspondent for the Austrian news agency APA. She was born in Germany and is of Turkish-Kurdish heritage. Herunauthorized biography on Erdogan was published in 2016. 

Laura Döing conducted the interview.

 

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