Germany’s Börsenverein and PEN Demand Protection for Kurdish Cultural Property

In News by Porter Anderson

Germany’s publishers and PEN Center Germany demand ‘the release of the rare and valuable cultural assets of the Kurdish community’ confiscated by authorities.

In Neuss, the city in which Mezopotamien Verlag and its associated music production company were banned in Germany. The Erprath Mill on the Erft River dates to the 13th century. Image, November 21, 2021 – Getty iStockphoto: We-Ge

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Börsenverein: ‘Confiscated Cultural Property’
The Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, today (February 2) has joined with PEN Center Germany in calling for the release of “several truckloads of books, sound carriers, and musical instruments” that the two agencies say were confiscated from a publishing house and an associated music company in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Neuss.

The publishing house, Mezopotamien Verlag, is described in 2019 news reports as publishing books on the Kurdish liberation struggle. ANFNews, the news agency of Kurdistan, reported on March 11, 2018, that German police raided the offices of the publishing house and a sister company, Mir Multimedia GmbH, removing books, recording studio equipment, CDs, and more.

“Cultural property must not be destroyed or made inaccessible,” is the core message being delivered to the interior ministry.

Associated Press Berlin would confirm on February 12, 2019, that both companies, Mezopotamien Verlag und Vertrieb GmbH and the MIR Multimedia GmbH, were banned by the German interior minister Horst Seehofer “because they support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.”

In its report, the AP quoted Horst saying, “It’s necessary to push back the PKK, because they continue to be active in Germany despite being banned,” and that he asserted the two groups used their revenues solely to support the PKK. In response, the Kurdish organization NAV-DEM responded saying that Germany was adopting efforts of the Turkish state to “erase Turkish identity and culture.”

On Monday (January 31), the Börsenverein’s news medium Börsenblatt reported that Germany’s federal court seated in Leipzig on January 26 affirmed the legality of the interior ministry’s ban on the publisher and music production company. While the two companies had argued that they were not part of the PKK in a lawsuit, the Leipzig court dismissed the suit, its decision, finding that “The plaintiffs are integrated into the structures of the PKK. According to the identifiable evidence, they are closely intertwined with the PKK in organizational and financial terms, but also in terms of personnel, so that, based on the overall picture of the actual circumstances, they are to be regarded as its sub-organizations.”

As the Börsenverein says today, its concern is for as many as 50,000 pieces of property, which were removed in the dissolution of the companies in Nuess. These reportedly included elements of a Kurdish music archive, “which does not exist in Turkey and is considered unique worldwide,” the Börsenverein writes.

The collection, which was assembled in Neuss on a voluntary basis over the years, could not have been created in Turkey due to the suppression of the Kurdish language and culture there,” according to the joint statement today from PEN Germany and the Börsenverein. Their position, in other words, is that the companies in Nuess were involved in Kurdish-culture preservation and promotion, and that elements of the confiscated property are of irreplaceable value. They maintain that the confiscation was an overreach on the part of the authorities.

As early as 2019,” the Börsenverein writes, “the German PEN Center and the German Book Trade Association (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels) questioned the proportionality of this confiscation and called for a quick and transparent procedure.

“The measure was not justified by the ban on individual books or pieces of music. Rather, it took place as part of the confiscation of the association’s assets. A number of important titles from Mezopotamien Verlag were then able to appear again thanks to a solidarity campaign by German, Swiss, and Austrian publishers, including books by the imprisoned PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan.

Once the banning process has been completed, it remains unclear what will happen to the confiscated cultural property,” the text of today’s call for action continues.

“In response to a request in the Bundestag in June 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior promised ‘appropriate treatment'” of the confiscated articles. “According to this, a decision on the use of the association’s assets is to be made after the prohibition order has become final.”

PEN and the Börsenverein “are demanding the release of the rare and valuable cultural assets of the Kurdish community. They should be freely accessible to Kurds and cultural-studies research in a suitable institution.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the German book market is here, more on Europe is here, and more on the work of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.