A nuclear physicist and best-selling author: she gained international renown with her novel “The City in Crimson Cloak”, has won numerous awards and is an ardent campaigner against the oppression of minorities and an advocate of social justice.


How does it feel to succeed, yet come dangerously close to falling into the abyss? Aslı Erdoğan knows only too well. The year 2008 gets off to a promising start for the Istanbul-based author. She is preparing to embark on a book tour giving readings across Germany, following the publication of the German translation of her novel “The City in Crimson Cloak” (the original title from 1998: “Kirmizi Pelerinli Kent”) at the beginning of the year. In autumn Erdoğan plans to travel to Frankfurt Book Fair to take part in Turkey’s Guest of Honor appearance. Her future is bright: continued success worldwide, readings, awards, accolades. Then comes May Day with its demonstrations and riots and she suddenly finds herself peering into the abyss: on 1 May 2008, Istanbul is virtually besieged by police. That morning hundred-strong units of officers in blue uniforms armed with protective shields and truncheons have already sealed off Beyoglu, Istanbul’s city centre, to prevent demonstrators from marching to Taksim Square. Street battles ensue, police fire water cannons, ambulances tear through the city, their sirens blaring. And caught up in the midst of this chaos is Aslı Erdoğan.

When she arrives in Germany a few weeks later in June 2008, she is still wearing a neck brace. The author recounts how the police fired a water jet at her from a distance of five meters, which sent her hurtling through the air. “I hid behind a car. Then they started firing tear gas. They didn’t show this on television.” The author does not make a big fuss of her injuries. But there is a clear tone of resignation in her voice:
“In some respects, society had become more democratic. But now, once again, the focus is on the battle for power. You have the governing AKP party on the one hand, and the conservative state on the other. In this fierce battle, each side is just using the veneer of democracy to achieve its ends. The democratic stance of the AKP doesn’t convince me. This party isn’t interested in freedom at all.”


The journalist Sibylle Thelen was the editor of the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” from 1989 to 2011 and is currently departmental head of the state of Baden-Württemberg’s Agency for Civic Education. Her most recent publications include “Istanbul, Stadt unter Strom” (Herder Verlag, 2008) and “Die Armenierfrage in der Türkei” (Wagenbach Verlag, 2010).

© KulturForum / Sibylle Thelen, Stuttgart, September 2010

Extract from an essay in the booklet accompanying the film series “Human Landscapes – Portraits of Six Turkish Authors”, produced and published by the Turkish-German Forum of Culture.

For more information on the author, go to www.aslierdogan.com