Dogan Akhanlı Receives Goethe Medal for Cultural Exchange


BERLIN — If there is one name that calls to mind the conflict-laden relationship between Germany and Turkey, it is Dogan Akhanlı. The Turkish-born German writer has lived in the Federal Republic since 1992, after he fled political persecution in his homeland, and received asylum, then citizenship. Since then, several of his books have been published in German translations, and have received literary prizes.

Yet, even as a German citizen and acclaimed author, he has not escaped harassment from the Turkish authorities. In August 2010, when he flew to Istanbul to visit his dying father, he was seized at the airport, and jailed on hoked-up charges of participation in armed robbery and murder. An international mobilization of intellectuals and political activists led to his eventual acquittal and release. But in Spring 2013 an Appeals Court in Ankara reversed the ruling, reopened the case and issued an international warrant for his arrest. Akhanlı responded by refusing to return to Turkey. In 2016 his book, The Days without Father appeared in German, and told the story of a politically persecuted exile in Germany.

In 2017, while on vacation in Grenada, Spain he was hauled out of his hotel room by police and transferred to Madrid, on the initiative of Turkish authorities, who hoped to extradite him. The case escalated into an international scandal and brought German-Turkish relations to a boiling point (See

Again, the writer regained his freedom; and, again, he found refuge in literature. His account of his most recent Kafkaesque experience appeared in a new book, Arrest in Grenada, or Is Turkey Drifting into Dictatorship?

Enhancing Cultural Exchange

Considering his political-literary adventures and the strain they have left on relations between Berlin and Ankara, it is not without a touch of irony that Akhanlı is to receive this special award from the Goethe Institute. The Goethe Institute is named after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who, like Friedrich Schiller, is a national poet of Germany. In addition to his own literary works, Goethe was instrumental in building cultural bridges to the Islamic world; this year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of his West-Eastern Diwan, a collection of his lyrical works inspired by the Persian poet Hafez. As Germany’s cultural representative, the Goethe Institute is active in almost 100 countries with over 150 offices. An official institution, it promotes not only study of the German language but–in the spirit of its namesake–also exchange between different cultures, and supports a vast array of programs in all the arts (

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As a press release announcing this year’s recipients explains, the Goethe Medal is awarded annually to personalities “who have performed outstanding service for the German language and for international cultural relations.” Akhanlı’s contribution to “cultural relations” between his place of birth and Germany is of a special kind. Not only was he an opponent of the military regime in Turkey during the 1980s, for which he spent three years in prison, but he broke the taboo on the Armenian Genocide, which some official figures in Erdogan’s Turkey may regard as an even more serious crime. His prize-winning novel, The Judges of the Last Judgment, is dedicated to the story of the genocide, and his monodrama, “Anne’s Silence,” portrays the personal crisis of a Turkish-German girl who discovers her mother was Armenian. In addition, the author has played a leading role in conferences, seminars, historical tours and other civil society activities dedicated to educating people about the Armenian Genocide and the Shoah.

A Gathering of Luminaries  

The selection process leading to the nomination of the candidates for the honor involves members of the various Goethe Institutes abroad, “in close collaboration with Germany’s diplomatic representation offices.” Prominent representatives from science, art and culture make up the Conferment Commission which makes the initial selection of individuals, and the Board of Trustees confirms the winners. The chair of the Goethe Medal Conferment Commission is the cultural scientist and Vice President of the Goethe Institute Christina von Braun.

The prestigious award was established in 1954, and in 1975 it became the official decoration of Germany. The ceremony will take place on Goethe’s birthday, August 28, in Weimar. Among the 348 individuals who have received the honor since 1955 are Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Bourdieu, David Cornwell AKA John le Carré, Sir Ernst Gombrich, Lars Gustafsson, Ágnes Heller, Petros Markaris, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Jorge Semprún, Robert Wilson, Neil MacGregor, Helen Wolff and Irina Shcherbakova. This year, along with Akhanlı, are the publisher, bookseller and political journalist Enkhbat Roozon from Mongolia and artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat from Iran and the US.



Topics: Germany










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