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Speech by Minister of State Maria Böhmer at the opening of the International Istanbul Book Fair

12.11.2016

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Deputy Culture Minister Yayman,
Mr Kavukçuoğlu,
Mr Celal,
Mr Hizlan,
Ms Becker,
Dr Reimar,
Ladies and gentlemen!

I am delighted to be here with you today for the opening of the International Istanbul Book Fair.

Istanbul is an excellent choice of venue, as it creates a feeling of longing in all those who have ever gone on a voyage of discovery here.

When I think of Istanbul, I am first and foremost reminded of the first sentence of the poem by Orhan Veli [1], who captured his home town so beautifully in the words: “I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.”

“At first there is a gentle breeze

And the leaves on the trees

Softly sway;

Out there, far away,

The bells of water-carriers unceasingly ring;

I am listening to Istanbul, intent, my eyes closed.”

As the metropolis of art and culture at the Bosphorus, as the bridge between East and West and between tradition and modernity, Istanbul is an invitation to literature. Its appeal has enchanted authors from all over the world, who have delved into the city and made it come alive in their own texts.

Tarabya Cultural Academy’s grant holders, with whom I spoke this morning, share the experience of being inspired by this unique atmosphere. Tarabya Cultural Academy, whose advisory board I chair, brings German and Turkish artists together.  It offers a peaceful place to work, but at the same time, a gateway to the city of Istanbul.

I am absolutely delighted that Germany is the Guest of Honour at the International Istanbul Book Fair.

Our aim is to discover and explore cultural and literary treasures together. Literature is the key to the essence, mentality and culture of other countries. The Tarabya Translation Prize, which we co-award with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is an excellent example of this.

The award pays tribute to literary translation’s important role as a communicator of culture and a builder of bridges in literature between Germany and Turkey.

Germany and Turkey have had close ties for many years. Above all, we are united by people,

by those who arrived in our country in the 1950s and 1960s to live and work in Germany

and by those of the third and fourth generation, whose roots are in Germany. But I am also thinking of the people who returned to Turkey after living in Germany for some time.

All of them took part of our country and culture back with them to your country, Turkey.

In my time as Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, it was always particularly important to me to foster exchange with and understanding of one another, to speak with one another and not about one another.

During my many visits to Turkey, I benefited most from meetings and talks with local people, whether this was in Kayseri, Antakya, Trabzon, Bergama or Istanbul.

Before my first visit, I was very curious to learn more about this unique country and its people.  I read Turkish short stories to get an idea of what awaited me.

This took me on a fascinating literary voyage of discovery, from Istanbul to Hakkari.

I experience the same fascination at the International Istanbul Book Fair.  This event is a true festival of books. We celebrate this event here in Istanbul with ever-growing numbers of visitors, including many families and young people. This is wonderful!

Books and literature serve to mediate between cultures and foster understanding that transcends borders.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Even in difficult times we believe in the power of understanding and dialogue – with the Government, Parliament and civil society. Now more than ever we want to strengthen the cultural ties between Germany and the people in Turkey in order to support people here. Turkey is experiencing threatening times. Many people are worried in Turkey, but also in Germany.

The attempted coup took place only a few months ago. Last week, I visited the Turkish Parliament in Ankara and saw the impact for myself. The putschists struck at the heart of democracy and at the people who defended it.

We share your grief for the victims. I would like to pay tribute to and thank all those who stood up so courageously to the putschists, thus thwarting the attempted coup.

We condemn the attempted coup and the terrorism in Turkey that is rocking your country. Germany stands at Turkey’s side.

But precisely because we have such close ties, we view the current developments in Turkey with the gravest concern. As good friends, we can speak openly with one another. That is important to me.

Time and again during my visits, my experience was that many people in Turkey want to have closer connections to Europe. We support this, as it is in our mutual interest.

However, it is increasingly apparent that Turkey has reached a crossroads. Does Turkey want to continue along the path of democracy, the rule of law, freedom and sound economic development, a path that has earned it great recognition and appreciation?

Or will Turkey abandon this path of hope and go down the wrong track? That puts it at risk of coming to a dead end.

During my visit to Ankara, I made this concern very clear in talks with representatives of the Turkish Government.

I also visited the offices of “Cumhuriyet” in order to underline the importance of freedom of the media and freedom of opinion. After the arrests, Members of the German Bundestag and I met HDP members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Protecting the rights of freely elected members of parliament is a key element of a functioning democracy.

Germany’s recent history shows the infinite value and importance of freedom guaranteed by the rule of law for journalism, politics, culture and research.

A book fair is a place of open dialogue and free speech. Against this backdrop, we have chosen the motto “The Power of Words” for our role as Guest of Honour.

Writers are guardians of free speech. Our aim as Guest of Honour is to emphasise this. We want to create scope for culture to facilitate interaction and understanding. We want to allow words to move freely.

Fifteen German authors and a large number of experts from the field of literature have accompanied us to Istanbul. We firmly believe in the power of words, in the impact of culture and in dialogue. We want to build on old common ground here, to establish new paths of dialogue and to work on a shared perception of the world via books.

I would like to conclude by thanking you, Mr Celal, and the representatives of Tüyap Trade Fair and Exhibition Centre.

I would also like to thank the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Goethe-Institut Istanbul, which helped us to organise Germany’s role as Guest of Honour along with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry.

We are looking forward to the coming days here at the trade fair in Istanbul. I would like to invite you all to visit our joint stand.

I hope that there will be many enthusiastic visitors and exciting discussions at the International Istanbul Book Fair.

Thank you very much.

[1] Orhan Veli (1915-1950) is a popular Turkish poet. “I am listening to Istanbul” is a famous poem.

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