Turkish satirical magazine Leman is under constant fire. Editor-in-chief Tuncay Akgün talked to DW about its close relationship with Charlie Hebdo, one year after the deadly terror attacks on its French counterpart.
The Turkish magazine Leman published two special editions for Charlie Hebdo. The first one was printed in 2002 after journalists from the French satirical magazine visited their colleagues in Istanbul; the other one after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015. "First of all, these people were our friends. Some of them were very close friends," Leman's editor-in-chief Tuncay Akgün told DW one year after the Islamist attacks. "It was as if our meeting room had been under attack, as if we had been shot, as if we had died. We felt deep sorrow."
The murdered colleagues could never be replaced, said Akgün. "They were very important people, very important artists. They went beyond the borders of that country and the liberal world and created a very open, very anarchist satire." The whole world of satire was hit, he added. "They killed French artists from many generations in one instant."
Akgün has been following Charlie Hebdo and artists like George Wolinski and Jean Cabut ever since he began drawing, and feels very close to them.
The beginning of a strong friendship
"A friend of ours who was living in France established the contact and we invited them here in 2002", Akgün recalled. The colleagues from Charlie Hebdo accepted the invitation and spent several days in Turkey. "We had conferences, panels - and also a lot of fun. We went to Kumkapý, to a hamam and even to see a belly dancer. We hung out day and night, having an exceptional time together."
According to Akgün, this visit was the beginning of a strong friendship between Charlie Hebdo and Leman. "They discovered something and even wrote about it: 'The people that are most similar to us and the magazine that is most similar to ours are here at Leman.' They wrote really beautiful articles." Leman published a special edition dedicated to Charlie Hebdo. Later, the original Charlie Hebdo magazine started to be sold in Istanbul. "Following this, our friendship became permanent and we started traveling back and forth. We also had a great exhibition of Wolinski's work here in Turkey."
'I also felt that fear in the air'
After the Islamist attack a year ago, Charlie Hebdo published a special edition. Leman followed suit. The cover of its special edition depicted Wolinski sitting in the courtyard of the Eyüp-Sultan-Mosque and drawing (top picture). Leman received a lot of threats after this issue.
"It is impossible not to be afraid," said Akgün. "I also felt that fear in the air. However, it is not possible to be afraid while drawing and writing. You cannot do anything which you don't feel. So in that sense, I don't think that this affected our work."
Leman is known as one of Turkey's most critical publications - even in times when human rights organizations are warning that the freedom of speech and press freedom are threatened in this country. "The most important thing is that we are independent. No strings attached," Leman's editor-in-chief explained. "When people call and try to put pressure on us, there is no one at the receiving end."
This is how Leman differs from many other publications in Turkey whose owners are under government pressure.
Threats, trials and fines
However, the attacks on the satirical magazine Leman do not stop. "This has been going on for a long time. We've been doing this for 30 years," said Akgün. "In our history, there is hardly any law under which we haven't been prosecuted." Most of the accusations were connected to "disrespecting state leaders or officials."
"We've been imprisoned and received serious threats. We used to receive letters and phone calls but now there is huge pressure from social media", he stated.
At the moment, several trials are underway against Leman in Turkey. The results are usually imprisonments that eventually turned into fines. "But you are not allowed to commit the same crime for the next five years and you walk around with a Damocles sword hanging over your head," Akgün said. "The fine amounts to between 5,000 and 8,000 euros (5,390-8,630 dollars) which is a huge sum for us."