FRANKFURT (Reuters)–Turkey’s most widely read author–Yasar Kemal–received a prestigious German literary award on Sunday and issued an impassioned plea for an end to the Kurdish conflict.
Left-wing German writer Guenter Grass paid tribute to Kemal’s works in a controversial speech at the ceremony–drawing the ire of the German government by accusing Germans of racism.
Kemal–73–who describes himself as a Turk of Kurdish origin–urged Europeans to do their utmost to end fighting between Turkish troops and Kurds that has claimed about 20,000 lives.
"An incredibly dirty–cruel and senseless war has gone on for 12 years and there is no end to it in sight. Turkey is deeply wounded by this war," Kemal told the audience in St Pauls Church in Frankfurt.
Labor Minister Norbert Bluem and the speaker of the German parliament–Rita Suessmuth–were among the dignitaries at the ceremony.
Kemal–author of the internationally acclaimed novel "Memed My Hawk," received this year’s peace prize of the German Book Trade in recognition of his literary commitment to the struggle to improve human rights in his homeland–the organizers said.
He accused Germans earlier this week of treating the 2.5 million Turks living in Germany – the country’s largest ethnic minority – like third-class citizens and said they should know better after the experiences of the Nazi dictatorship.
Grass–whose novel "The Tin Drum" was adapted into a 1979 Oscar-winning film–went a step further by accusing the government of keeping 4,000 innocent refugees from Turkey–Algeria and Nigeria interned in deportation camps to satisfy Germans’ "closet racism."
"The latent hatred of foreigners in Germany is supported by the interior minister’s (Manfred Kanther’s) policy of deporting refugees. Does this not find an echo among the ran’s of extreme right-wing thugs?" Grass said.
Government spokesman Peter Hausmann issued the swift riposte. "Germany is not a xenophobic country. We take in far more civil war refugees than any other country in the world," he said.
Both Hausmann and a top official in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats–Peter Hintze–criticized Grass personally–saying he had "plumbed an all-time intellectual trough."
Before Grass delivered his acerbic tirade against Germany’s asylum policy–Kohl also paid tribute to Kemal.
"Your commitment to a peaceful–tolerant and successful end to division in Turkey merits much respect and great appreciation," he said.
Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel added that giving the award to Kemal was "well-earned recognition for a man who fits the description of the thought behind the peace award in an exemplary fashion."