Violinist attempts to build new life in Germany after leaving Turkey

Turkey's failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, wrecked the lives of thousands of people. Some 250 people were killed on the night of the putsch and hundreds of thousands have been jailed or fired from their jobs in ongoing purges against the Islamist Gülen movement the government blames for the coup and other opponents of the ruling party.

Thousands have left the country to avoid arrest. Violin player Ahmet Tirgil is one of them. Tirgil started to play the violin when he enrolled at Marmara University in 2000 where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He continued playing the violin under Olexander Samolyenko, the chief violinist at Istanbul State Opera and Ballet. But the turning point of his life was moving to the eastern Anatolian city of Tunceli to make music with two Kurdish brothers, Metin and Kemal Kahraman. He started living in Tunceli in 2010, performing violin in concerts with the Kurdish brothers and also working as a music teacher until he was suspended from his job government decree in 2017.

From the first day he moved to Tunceli, he dreamed of organising an international music festival there. He bought a small property and founded a music workshop there.

"It was not just an ordinary music workshop. I wanted to make a difference in the name of the arts. There were several cultural and art festivals in Dersim (the Kurdish name for Tunceli), but they were more political rather than festivals which have culture as the focus ... I was already working on organising an international festival there," Tirgil said.

But following the coup attempt, Tirgil said he knew he would be dismissed when he heard 12,000 members of the teachers’ union were about to be fired. After the peace process between the government and armed Kurdish militants broke down in 2015, members of the union, Eğitim-Sen, went on a strike to protest the military operations and called for an end to the conflict.

After the coup the following year, authorities began investigations into members of Eğitim-Sen and questioned Tirgil. Tirgil said he had just followed the union's decision.

"I did not kill anybody or did anything illegal. I just went on a strike," he said.

Under these circumstances, he decided to go to Berlin. He said, as soon as he arrived in Germany, he said he had received a text message saying he had been dismissed from his job.

"I breathed a great sigh of relief when I got that text message," he said. "Thank God, I left the country immediately after the investigation."

But just two days later, he said he had received another message saying he had been given his job back.

"It is ridiculous. First, you dismiss me and label me a terrorist. Later, you call me back without any investigation. What changed? If I am a terrorist, how can you re-employ a terrorist? If I am not, how do you label a person as a terrorist so easily?" Tirgil asked.

Tirgil took the risk to return to Turkey. He also wanted to see his wife and son living in Tunceli. But he realised another investigation into him was already underway and authorities seized his passport.

"As a result of the investigation, I faced disciplinary action that prevented me from being promoted. The union advised me to object to the decision. But I did not, because objection would lead the investigation to continue. The state of emergency was in effect since the coup attempt and I was in danger. I just wanted to get my passport back to leave the country."

As soon as he could get his passport back, Tirgil went to Berlin with his wife and son. Tirgil began teaching music again and the family has been building a new life.

"I didn't come here for an adventure. I made projects, I invested in Turkey. I loved Dersim a lot. But, I think Turkey will see darker days in the near future. I left the country for my son. What is happening there is against human rights, no matter who experiences it; leftists, Islamists or Gülenists. This should be ended," Tirgil said.

Nowadays, Tirgil has a tight schedule in Germany. He continues to perform violin with Metin and Kemal Kahraman and other musicians he met in Berlin. He has performed on Germany's second-biggest opera stage, Deutsche Oper with Babylon Orchestra and is preparing for another concert. He has joined the Blaue Stunde Klezmer Band and plays with German musicians Birgit Lorenz and Matthias Hackmann.

Tirgil's biggest dream is to teach in Germany's prestigious music academies and is focused on learning German to achieve his goal.

Tirgil said a lack of respect for human rights across Turkey was only what had been experienced by the country’s Kurdish minority for years.

"Turkey has never been a democratic country when human rights and the rule of law principle are taken into consideration. Some say Turkey began to become an anti-democratic country when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidated power. Democracy was ignored before the AKP, too. But mostly Kurdish people experienced the lack of democracy," Tirgil stressed.