The Turkish Republic at 100: Is democracy still salvageable? / Can Dündar / Aslı Erdogan / DW Documentary

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The Turkish republic is turning 100 – but for Turkish journalist Can Dündar, this is no cause for celebration. His view is also shared by the writer Aslı Erdoğan, who was imprisoned in Turkey for publishing material critical of the regime.

October 28, 2023, Can Dundar & Asli Erdogan, DW Documentary.

Aslı Erdoğan was arrested in Istanbul in 2016 in a wave of detentions of staff at a pro-Kurdish newspaper. Since 2017, the multi prize-winning author has shared the fate of Can Dündar – exile in Berlin. In the film, both reflect on the human rights crisis in their Turkish homeland: Parliamentary democracy is hanging on by a thread; there is almost total disregard for press freedom and freedom of expression; many critics of President Erdoğan are in prison. By moving further and further down a path of Islamisation, Turkey is also distancing itself from the vision of the founder of the republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who wanted a secular nation based on the western model.

But the dream of a democratic Republic of Turkey hasn’t been completely snuffed out – thanks to the many democrats determined not to give up their fight. Can Dündar introduces a few of them: The Istanbul-based human rights lawyer Eren Keskin has opted to stay in Turkey, despite numerous charges against her. For more than 30 years, she’s been giving a voice to Kurds first and foremost, as well as the LGBT community. She represents transsexuals in Istanbul who’ve been facing increasing hostility in recent years.

Yeter Gültekin is a member of the Alevi minority. Her husband was killed 30 years ago in an attack on Alevis in the Turkish city of Sivas. Since then, she has campaigned for the crime to be investigated and the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Sezgin Tanrikulu is a Kurd and member of parliament representing the opposition Republican People’s Party CHP. Although President Erdoğan has been gradually eroding the powers of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, Tanrikulu has been working from Ankara to focus public opinion on the situation in Kurdish regions.

The film accompanies these people in their daily battles against repression and ignorance, shows how their efforts give hope to the victims of human rights abuses – and just how much personal risk is involved. Can Dündar allows them to tell their stories, even though he is himself unable to travel to his homeland. Consequently, this situational report on the Republic of Turkey on its 100th birthday is also infused with the pain of exile.

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