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Culture

Open letter to Merkel calls for release of intellectuals in Turkish prisons

Germany's leading creative minds have penned an open letter to Chancellor Merkel, asking her to push for the release of imprisoned intellectuals in Turkey. Criticism against Turkish President Erdogan continues to grow.

Representatives of the German culture scene demand a greater show of political solidarity with their colleagues in Turkey. Led by the Berlin Academy of Arts, a series of institutions signed an open letter fighting for the rights of journalists, authors, scientists and opposition personalities in general in Turkey, many of whom have been incarcerated since the onset of the government crackdown after the July 15 failed coup.

Institutions such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Culture Forum Turkey Germany all demand that Chancellor Angela Merkel speak out for their immediate release, stressing that she should use all diplomatic means at her disposal to this end.

"We explicitly demand that the federal government fight against this disastrous development in Turkey as soon as possible, using the utmost political pressure," the open letter reads, adding that years of cultural and societal growth between the two countries were being destroyed within a few short months.

Support of democratic voices in Turkey

The letter came as Germany's ministry of foreign affairs announced that Turks who felt that they were being persecuted on account of their critical views on the government were allowed to file asylum applications in Germany. The spokesman of the board of the Culture Forum Turkey Germany, Osman Okkan, told DW that he welcomed this change, adding all the while that caution needed to be paid in distinguishing the pursuits of many intellectual Turks from those of the Turkish leadership.

Journalist Osman Okkan (imago/S. Simon)

Osman Okkan believes that things in Turkey will get worse before they better

"People also have to see the other side of Turkey, the democratic side, and not solely focus on Erdogan. We have to deliberately support democratic forces in the country and make sure that their voices are also heard within the context of the European community," Okkan said.

"The German government's reaction is shifting and has changed considerably in its tone in the past few days. We have learned that people who are being politically persecuted in Turkey can apply for asylum in Germany."

'Something had to be done'

Okkan also said that the situation in Turkey exemplified how Erdogan was growing increasingly ruthless in achieving his goal of establishing a "presidential dictatorship," not shirking away from bloody conflict both domestically and abroad.

"Turkish troops are now on both Syrian and Iraqi territory," he told DW.

"The German government should improve its analysis of the situation and understand that the state of affairs in Turkey is no longer reconcilable with democracy, and take measures accordingly."

Demonstration in Turkey (Reuters/K. Aslan)

The government's crackdown on dissenting voices has seen scores imprisoned or suspended from work since the July 15 coup attempt

Meanwhile the woman behind the initiative, Katharina Narbutovic, who heads the Berlin artists' program at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), told DW that she felt particularly compelled to take civi action after she saw several Turkish journalists get arrested in recent weeks.

"I turned to my colleagues at other cultural institutions such as the Berliner Festspiele Festival, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, the Maxim Gorki Theater, the Deutsches Theater, and I asked them if they were prepared to do something in the midst of these incredibly fragile, incredibly difficult and dark times," Narbutovic said.

"Wherever I went I walked through open doors, since everyone shared the same feeling that it was about time that something had to be done now. For instance, everyone at last weekend's general meeting of the Academy of Arts in Berlin wholly supported this idea and helped to get this project of a letter addressed to the Chancellor on its way."

'We won't be intimidated'

But a letter alone won't change the world, Narbutovic agrees. "I'm not so naïve as to believe that a letter like this one will start a wave of indignation," she said, adding that she did, however, expect it to get noticed at the highest levels of government in Germany.

Meanwhile the situation for those who are caught up in the growing civilian conflict in Turkey doesn't change - something that is bound to keep Osman Okkan busy for a long time:

"We will go further and not just appeal to the government. We are prepared to launch a comprehensive information campaign and will to continue to hold events to educate people. In spite of direct threats and intimidation attempts we will keep working from abroad as well," Okkan stressed.

"Erdogan is finding himself forced to consolidate his power, as the many concrete accusations of corruption against him could otherwise mean his downfall. That's why his government continues to come up with ways to bully and harass people. It is embarrassing actually to see how a country and its justice system have managed to distance themselves so much from the rule of law."

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