Sentenced to more than twenty-seven years in prison, Can Dündar, the former editor of the Turkish daily “Cumhuriyet”, in exile in Germany, and the Egyptian-Sudanese cartoonist Mohamed (Jbr) Anwar draw up an indictment against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Chronologically, they trace the trajectory of the Turkish leader, his childhood, his rise, until the imposition of political Islam. “Erdogan, the new sultan” is a real journalistic investigation. This black and white graphic novel allows readers to better understand the turn taken by Turkey under Erdogan. The book stops at the moment of the creation of the AKP, the Justice and Development Party, which will bring it to power, two years later. Can Dündar tells us that he is already working on the sequel. Maintenance.
You are an investigative journalist. Why did you choose the comic book format for this documentary and biographical novel on Erdogan?
The idea germinated when I was in France, four years ago. At the time, I was visiting Strasbourg and, wandering around the city’s bookstores and shops, I noticed that many shelves were devoted to biographies in the form of graphic novels. There were works on Napoleon, de Gaulle… It was then that I imagined using this format to retrace the life of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There were already many biographies about him. But this format made it possible to achieve something new, documented and never seen in Turkey. The research work was already largely done, we just had to adapt what we had.
How would you describe your book?
It’s about seeing how a poor, passionate young man became a dictator. Knowing all this helps to understand the logic behind political Islam in this kind of society. It is also about similar strategies, such as those of Vladimir Putin or Viktor Orban, and understanding how these leaders seized power using democracy. We must act on this subject, look at the rise of the far right, of populism in France or even in Germany. It’s not a fantasy. Erdogan uses the passions and fears of the people but also religion to convince them. We have to fight against that, that’s the main message of the book.
How did you come up with the idea of working with Mohamed Anwar?
We met in Berlin. And we quickly hit it off because of our similar backgrounds as journalists. Mohamed Anwar, who is also a cartoonist, was imprisoned and forced into exile. We decided to work together. We were able to carry out a real investigation together, which was essential for the success of this project.
You are more used to making documentaries, or investigations. How was writing a comic different?
There are advantages and disadvantages. It’s like writing a screenplay for a movie, everything has to be planned, each scene, you have to pay attention to the unfolding of events, alternating dramatic and epic elements, to keep the reader in suspense. The shape brings more freedom. But it’s not a film where the difficulty lies in achieving exactly what you want. I had a lot of fun working on this book, despite an unclear subject.
Is this book only focused on Erdogan, or does it raise deeper questions about Turkish society?
Despite my exile, Turkey remains my country. I was born there and built most of my life there. And Erdogan destroyed both. But beyond these affects, this man is a perfect example to talk about populism, political Islam and dictatorship. I wanted to depict the cogs used to get him to power, and especially how he stayed there. Not to mention international relations. The United States and Europe tried to use Erdogan for their own interests. In the end, they helped him shape his image and his power, while the Turkish people found themselves on the losing end in this relationship between the West and Erdogan.
In the end, it is also a question of showing how leaders use their popularity and use democracy to destroy this same democracy. This is the main message of the work. Because these heads of state think in terms of strategy, plan their actions and think about the way in which they progressively limit freedom of expression while using the latter as a tool. With this book, the aim is to reflect on the Russian and Hungarian cases and on the lessons to be drawn from them.
Have the Turks been able to read your book?
Unfortunately, no one has yet been able to read or browse it in the country because of hidden but very real censorship. There is an unofficial ban on my works, which are systematically blocked at the border. But it is impossible to stop ideas and books. That’s why we are considering sending copies to the Turks, via backdoor means, by posting PDFs online. The book is already translated into Turkish, German and French. We are currently working on English and Arabic versions.
The comic strip ends in 2001. Have you planned a sequel?
We are currently working on the second volume. We hope that Erdogan is no longer in power when he comes out. The many economic problems that the Turks are experiencing have reduced its popularity. The polls confirm a possible defeat. But like Hungary with the triumphant victory of Viktor Orban, this type of leader always succeeds in flattering the population.