Amid bit­ter feud, Er­do­gan weighs in on Ger­man elec­tion

Manila Times - - OPINION - AFP

BER­LIN: In the run-up to Ger­many’s Septem­ber 24 elec­tion, vot­ers in the city of Cologne were sur­prised to see Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan look down at them from cam­paign posters.

To be sure, Er­do­gan is not try­ing to take the job of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, with whom he is en­gaged in a rag­ing war of words.

Rather, Er­do­gan’s face is meant to pro­mote the tiny “Al­liance of Ger­man Democrats” (ADD) party, which is cam­paign­ing in Cologne, a bas­tion of the three mil­lion-strong Turk­ish com­mu­nity.

The posters of­fer a clue to which al­ter­na­tives Er­do­gan had in mind when he urged Ger­man Turks last month to vote against Merkel’s con­ser­va­tives and other “en­e­mies” of Turkey.

He ac­cused her Chris­tian Democrats, the So­cial Democrats (SPD) and Greens of play­ing a game of “the more you beat up Turkey, the more votes you get” and said that op­pos­ing them was “a strug­gle of honor”.

The di­rect bal­lot-box im­pact is ex­pected to be neg­li­gi­ble, given that only around one mil­lion of Ger­many’s 61 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers have Turk­ish roots, and that two-thirds of th­ese tend to vote SPD.

Nonethe­less, Ger­many fears that Er­do­gan is sow­ing dis­cord among Turk­ish ex­pa­tri­ates and re­open­ing old wounds from the Turk­ish “guest worker” ex­pe­ri­ence of the 1960s and 1970s.

For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mar Gabriel and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heiko Maas re­cently warned that Er­do­gan is spread­ing “pro­pa­ganda” through state me­dia, po­lit­i­cal groups and Ankara-con­trolled mosques, spell­ing “a threat to the demo­cratic cul­ture of Ger­many”.

And the chief of do­mes­tic se­cu­rity ser­vice BfV, Hans-Ge­org Maassen, has warned that Turkey’s MIT se­cret ser­vice has been ac­tive in Ger­many, surveilling and in­tim­i­dat­ing Er­do­gan crit­ics.

‘Tainted blood’

The largest Turk­ish com­mu­nity abroad has pro­duced stars in Ger­man cin­ema, pol­i­tics and sports, but it still broadly lags the rest of so­ci­ety in in­come, cre­at­ing some lin­ger­ing re­sent­ment.

For many Mus­lims, a sense of alien­ation has been fu­eled by a rise in far-right hate speech and at­tacks since a string of ji­hadist at­tacks in Europe.

Alexan­der Gauland of the an­tiIs­lam Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) party sparked out­rage re­cently when he said Ger­many’s in­te­gra­tion com­mis­sioner Ay­dan Ozoguz should be “dis­posed of in Ana­to­lia”.

Er­do­gan has for years ral­lied eth­nic Turks in Ger­many, about one mil­lion of whom can vote in their an­ces­tral home­land. Around 60 per­cent of th­ese have backed his Is­lamic-rooted AKP party.

In 2008 Er­do­gan caused a storm in Cologne when he called the “as­sim­i­la­tion” of new­com­ers a “crime against hu­man­ity”.

He again stoked the Turk­ish pride there in a 2014 event, while out­side pro­test­ers waved ban­ners that read “cor­rup­tion, sharia, sul­tanate—Er­do­gan, you’re not a demo­crat”.

Ten­sions rose sharply when Ger­many’s par­lia­ment last year voted to de­clare the Ot­toman-era killings of Ar­me­ni­ans a geno­cide, and Er­do­gan ac­cused Turk­ish-Ger­man MPs of hav­ing “tainted blood”.

Ties fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rated af­ter Turkey’s failed 2016 coup and sub­se­quent mass crack­down that has left tens of thou­sands be­hind bars, in­clud­ing a dozen Ger­mans or dual cit­i­zens.

Er­do­gan has mean­while ac­cused Ger­many of shel­ter­ing fol­low­ers of US-based cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, whom he blames for the coup at­tempt.

‘Democ­racy les­sons’

“A deep chasm is run­ning through Turkey, and also through the Turk­ishGer­man com­mu­nity,” said Yunus Ulu­soy, 53, of the Cen­ter for Turkey Stud­ies and In­te­gra­tion Re­search.

“The Turk­ish po­lit­i­cal land­scape has al­ways been di­vided— be­tween left and right, sec­u­lar and re­li­gious, Kurds and na­tion­al­ists. What’s new is the in­ten­sity of the divi­sion, and the fo­cus on a sin­gle per­son, Er­do­gan.”

A Ber­lin don­erke­bab shop worker, asked about Er­do­gan, spat out an ex­ple­tive, then looked over his shoul­der at an­other guest sit­ting a few ta­bles away and quickly added that he didn’t re­ally know much about pol­i­tics.

Baklava shop worker Di­lara Yil­maz more char­i­ta­bly said Er­do­gan had “put Turkey in a good po­si­tion in the world ... the roads are bet­ter, ev­ery­thing is bet­ter now in Turkey. I see it when I go back.”

Ulu­soy said the mes­sage that “Er­do­gan is build­ing a strong Turkey can res­onate, es­pe­cially when com­bined with the ex­pe­ri­ence of mi­gra­tion, of ex­clu­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion that some Turk­ish-Ger­mans have.

“Er­do­gan says: no mat­ter where you are, what cit­i­zen­ship you hold, if you feel you be­long to Ana­to­lia, to Turkey, then you are my brothers and my sis­ters.”

De­spite the ten­sions, Bekir Yil­maz, Ber­lin’s Turk­ish com­mu­nity leader, took a re­laxed view and said that Ger­man Turks “are who and what they vote for”.

In a sim­i­lar vein, Ger­many’s Turk­ish com­mu­nity leader Gokay So­fuoglu said “we don’t need les­sons in democ­racy” and that Er­do­gan should end his “pa­ter­nal­is­tic at­ti­tude to­ward Turks in Ger­many”.

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