German film puts spotlight on Turkish migrants’ place in today’s Germany

Rabiye Kurnaz and director Andreas Dresen arrive at the red carpet for the screening of the movie ‘Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush’ at the 72nd Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 12, 2022. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

February 13, 2022

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) – A film about a German-Turkish mother’s quest to free her son from Guantanamo prison poses questions about Germany’s attitude towards millions of Turkish migrants who have made the country their home even if many are not citizens.

German director Andreas Dresen’s film, “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush”, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday, explores Turkish migrants’ place and identity in today’s Germany.

“I think we have to ask ourselves: How do we treat our children, the children who are born here, regardless of their nationality?,” Dresen told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of Turks migrated to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s in response to invitations from West Germany which needed labour to power its post-war industrial boom.

There is now a Turkish community of more than three million in the country but more than half still do not hold German citizenship.

Based on actual events, Dresen’s film tells the story of “Rabiye”, the mother of Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish man born and raised in Germany, who was held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002 for almost five years without charges.

With patience, determination and a committed German lawyer, Rabiye campaigned for her son’s freedom. Between trips to Ankara and Washington and appeals to German, U.S. and Turkish authorities, and a lawsuit against then U.S. President George W. Bush, the mother of three wins her battle and gets her boy back.

Rabiye is portrayed as an ordinary woman, whose sentences mix German and Turkish words, but whose belief in her son’s innocence proved stronger than German bureaucracy and U.S. politics.

“We had the idea to tell her story, because we held the view that is good to know that the so called ‘ordinary people’ can defend themselves against the great powers of the world,” Dresen said during a news conference on Saturday.

German-Turkish actor Meltem Kaptan, who plays Rabiye, had long conversations with Murat Kurnaz’s mother.

“It was important to me to play the two aspects; this sadness and this vulnerability she feels,” Kaptan said. “But on the other hand, this brilliant and great personality who can make everybody laugh.”

The film also sheds light on the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison that was set up to house foreign terrorism suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

The film is among those competing for the Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear, to be awarded next Wednesday.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Swantje Stein; Editing by Jane Merriman)

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