Dogan Akhanlı

Dogan Akhanli, Turkish-Born Human Rights Activist, Dies


BERLIN (Combined Sources) — Dogan Akhanli, a fighter for human rights in Turkey and worldwide, and an active proponent of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide died on October 31 from lung cancer. He was 64.

In 2018, he was awarded the European Tolerance Prize for Democracy and Human Rights. In 2019, he received the Goethe Medal of the Goethe-Institut for his courage to “assert himself with artistic and journalistic works against political, religious or social resistance”, as the laudatory speech states.

Akhanli was born in 1957 in southeastern Turkey, in the province of Artvin near the Georgian border. At the age of 12, he was sent to a school in Istanbul. He studied history and pedagogy, became politically active and later joined the banned Revolutionary Communist Party of Turkey (TDKP).

After the military coup in 1980, he went underground.

In May 1985, he, his wife and his 16-month-old son were arrested. For two years he was incarcerated in the military prison of Istanbul, while his wife and child were released after one year. In 1992, Akhanli fled Turkey and was granted political asylum in Germany, eventually settling in Cologne. Turkey revoked his citizenship because of his stance on military service.

Akhanli began writing in exile in Germany. “Here I found the peace to think about everything I experienced,” he recalls in a conversation at the time. “My wife and I were tortured, our child had to watch. We were injured people when we arrived here. But I did not want to accept these injustices that were done to me, to my family and to society as a whole. I used writing as my weapon. That was the only thing I could do. That was my way of raising my voice and resisting,” he said.

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In his writings, Akhanli dealt with violence. But not only with the violence he personally experienced, but also with the violence against women, against minorities and with historical violence, the genocide of the Armenians as well as with the Holocaust. Four of his novels have been translated into German. Most recently Madonna’s Last Dream, a search for clues in the Nazi era.

“Through writing, I can deal with historical violence in a literary way. For me, writing is a tool with which I want to solve social antagonisms and struggles,” said Akhanli.

Akhanli said the Turkish regime had embraced violence as a means of rule. He said this lay at the root of its denial of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and of its handling of Kurdish separatism.

He also said the regime’s nationalist ideology created a dangerous environment.

He recalled that Turkish generals “publicly threatened” Hrant Dink, a journalist, in 2007 prior to Dink’s murder by a nationalist fanatic.

“Under the Erdogan government, the history of violence is not just a story. It is not passive. It is killing people before our very eyes,” he said, referring to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He said Erdogan’s mass arrests of people accused of sympathizing with last year’s failed coup, such as Ahmet Sik, another journalist, were part of the same pattern.

“Especially after the failed coup attempt, the violation of human rights and the restriction of freedom of expression have increased sharply,” Akhanli observed. Writers and journalists are particularly affected.

“Violence concerns everyone,” Akhanli was convinced, even if it happens in a remote part of the world and is not experienced directly. Because sooner or later anyone can be made a target. “This violence is arbitrary. This was as true for the Jews in Europe as it was for the Armenian genocide. These people were killed by the arbitrary exercise of power.” In order for the past not to repeat itself, these genocides of the 20th century must be dealt with again and again, according to Akhanli. To this end, he is also involved in civil society, for example in the project Flight-Exile-Persecution.

 Repeated Arrests

Again and again he was targeted by the Turkish state. When he wanted to visit his sick father in Turkey in 2010, he was arrested upon his arrival on trumped up charges of being involved in a robbery in 1989. Again he was in custody for several months.

In 2017, there is another arrest. During his holiday in Granada, the Spanish police temporarily arrested him in his hotel room on the basis of an Interpol request from Turkey. German politicians as well as the international writers’ association PEN, of which Akhanli was a member, considered the arrests to be politically motivated.

After the intervention of German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel he was set free, but he was not allowed to leave Madrid until the court mulled the Turkish extradition request.  German chancellor Angela Merkel sharply criticized the Turkish government because of abusing the international institution Interpol.

“Turkish power cannot forgive me because I questioned the basic problems of Turkey,” he told the EU Observer then.

The writer said his novels had not made him a celebrity. “I’m not a best-seller,” he said.

But he said that “Turkish persecution makes me more known year by year and makes my words bigger. It is actually a very stupid policy.”

He said Turkey’s latest attempt to deprive him of his freedom had inspired him to write a new book.

“I’m trying to write a report about my political-literary journey into the Turkish past, which is also my own past,” he told this website from Spain.

“I will take a very subjective view of my unfinished persecution, but I will also reflect on how to deal with the history of violence in German, Spanish, and Turkish society,” he said.

(The Mirror-Spectator’s German-based correspondent, Muriel Mirak-Weissbach frequently covered his activities. ( ,,

The current German PEN President Deniz Yücel wrote, “As President, I mourn the loss of the member of the German PEN, as a reader for a great writer, as a companion for a fighter for human rights, peace and the reappraisal of the crimes against the Armenians.”

(A column from Deutsche Welle written by Ceyda Nurtsch as well as a piece from the EU Observer were used to compile this report.)




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