Held hostage by the Turkish authorities

Deniz Yucel, the "agent terrorist"

Former correspondent for Germany's "Die Welt" Deniz Yucel comes to terms with his imprisonment in Turkey in an intimate new book. Impressively and humorously, he talks about his struggle for dignity and self-assertion and provides an insight into the debates behind the scenes. Nevertheless, some questions remain unanswered. By Ulrich von Schwerin

Anyone familiar with the case of Deniz Yucel might think that there is nothing left to say on the subject. Not only have German media been providing detailed reports over many months on the detention conditions of the Istanbul correspondent for "Die Welt" and the legal and political complexities of the case; his lawyers, friends, colleagues and those politicians involved have also delivered exhaustive commentaries. Not least, Yucel has repeatedly expressed himself directly from prison and afterwards in letters, articles and interviews.

His recently published book "Agentterrorist" (Agent Terrorist) in which he processes his one year in detention in Turkey, is nevertheless worth reading. The 46-year-old yet again proves himself to be a good narrator, writing about his experience in a manner that is reflective, humorous and frequently self-deprecating. Even though, after a year in detention, he has every reason to feel anger and hatred towards the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his stance remains severe, but considered.

Not only does the son of Turkish guest workers show himself to be an authority on the political history of Turkey, but also capable of clever, balanced analysis. Regarding the PKK in particular, a movement often played down and glorified by the German left, his assessment is both critical and accurate. In his interview with PKK Commander Cemil Bayik, senselessly classified as "terror propaganda" by public prosecutors, he did not give the group an easy ride.

2017 – a year of clashes

The book re-lives a turbulent year that severely tested German-Turkish relations. From the row over Turkish election campaign appearances in Germany, Nazi accusations by the President, and the abstruse terror accusations against 600 German companies, right through to Erdogan calling on voters of Turkish origin in Germany not to vote for the SPD, CDU or the Greens, 2017 brought one clash after another.

Cover of Deniz Yucel’s “Agentterrorist: Eine Geschichte ueber Freiheit und Freundschaft, Demokratie und Nichtsodemokratie“ – Agent terrorist: a story about freedom and friendship, democracy and not-so-democracy – (published in German by Kiepenheuer & Witsch)
Yucel, the political pawn: the former Turkey correspondent of "Die Welt" spent almost a year in Turkish custody from February 2017, nine months of which were in strict solitary confinement. After the public prosecutor's office presented an indictment in February 2018, he was released and left the country

But as it turned out, relations were most severely strained by the detention of Deniz Yucel. Following his arrival in Istanbul in early 2015, the "Die Welt" correspondent rapidly made himself unpopular.

What caused a furore was his appearance at a press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister at the time Ahmet Davutoglu in February 2016 in Ankara, which Yucel used to pose a question that dealt a sweeping blow to Turkish and German policy.

As a German with Turkish heritage, Yucel was particularly exposed, because in the government camp criticism was quickly interpreted as disloyalty. Following his appearance at the press conference, the turmoil was so great that "Die Welt" chose to temporarily recall its correspondent. Later, following his detention, the newspaper was criticised for allowing him to return to Turkey when emotions were still running high, especially as he did not possess an official accreditation.

Yucel does not really explain why, as a left-wing "taz" journalist, he went to a newspaper that several years previously listed 10 reasons on its front page why Turkey did not belong to Europe, among them the abstruse claim that "the legacy of the Antiquity and the Judeo-Christian ethic" had failed to leave any mark on the country. That such a conservative publication would engage a journalist like Yucel also raises questions.

Yucel as top-priority case

The answer is probably because he was courageous and awkward. When in autumn 2016 he and other journalists from the radical left-wing group RedHack gained access to private emails from Erdogan's son-in-law and energy minister Berat Albyarak, he did not hesitate to report the story. When at Christmas 2016 arrest warrants were issued for several Turkish journalists as a result of the RedHack revelations, his name was also on the list.

Because Yucel feared he would be arrested, the very same day the German consul general authorized him to seek refuge at the ambassador's summer residence on the Bosporus – ironically right next door to Erdogan's official residence in Istanbul.  The case quickly came to the attention of the German Chancellery, which endeavoured to find a solution with the government in Ankara. Erdogan learned of the case from a Turkish politician in January 2017. From that moment on, Yucel became a top-priority case.

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