Old fault­lines

As ten­sions rise in Turkey, they spill over into Ger­many

The Ukrainian Week - - NEIGHBOURS -

The arm of Turkey’s pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, “must not reach into Ger­many”, says Cem Ozdemir, one of 11 mem­bers of Ger­many’s par­lia­ment with Turk­ish roots. Yet Turk­ish pol­i­tics have erupted onto the streets of Ger­many. On July 31st al­most 40,000 peo­ple gath­ered at a pro-Er­do­gan rally in Cologne or­gan­ised by an in­ter­na­tional lobby for Mr. Er­do­gan’s Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment party. The demon­stra­tion hinted at the scale of sup­port for Mr. Er­do­gan—and the dif­fi­culty Ger­man politi­cians will face when speak­ing out against him.

About 3m peo­ple of Turk­ish de­scent live in Ger­many. Half of them re­tain Turk­ish citizenship, mak­ing Ger­many in ef­fect Turkey’s fourth-largest elec­toral dis­trict. Of the roughly 570,000 Ger­man Turks who voted in 2015, 60% chose Mr. Er­do­gan’s party, giv­ing him a higher share in Ger­many than at home. Some 2,000 of the coun­try’s 3,000 mosques are Turk­ish, and 900 of those are fi­nanced by DITIB, an arm of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, which sends the imams from Turkey. Other po­lit­i­cal groups are present too, in­clud­ing the move­ment founded by the ex­iled Is­lamist cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr. Er­do­gan blames for the at­tempted coup in Turkey on July 15th. (Mr. Gulen de­nies this.)

Re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries have been de­te­ri­o­rat­ing for months. Since the Ger­man par­lia­ment voted in June to call the Turk­ish mas­sacre of Ar­me­ni­ans a cen­tury ago a “geno­cide”, Mr. Er­do­gan has given Ger­many’s am­bas­sador in Ankara the cold shoul­der. He has ha­rassed mem­bers of the Bun­destag with Turk­ish roots such as Mr. Ozdemir. And he has barred all Ger­man par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from vis­it­ing their troops sta­tioned in Turkey (as part of a NATO force fight­ing Is­lamic State). This may lead to Ger­many with­draw­ing.

But since the coup at­tempt three weeks ago things have got much worse. Mr. Er­do­gan’s Ger­man sup­port­ers have be­come more vo­cal. Sev­eral Gulen sup­port­ers have had death threats. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment is de­mand­ing the ex­tra­di­tion of many of them. Win­fried Kretschmann, pre­mier of Baden-Würt­tem­berg in the south-west, says the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has asked his state to close schools con­sid­ered to have ties to the Gulen move­ment, re­quests that he thinks out­ra­geous.

This could not come at a trick­ier time for An­gela Merkel, Ger­many’s chan­cel­lor. In March she ne­go­ti­ated a deal whereby Turkey promised to stop refugees from cross­ing the Aegean Sea in re­turn for money, visa-free travel for Turks in the Euro­pean Union and new talks about the (very re­mote) pos­si­bil­ity of Turkey join­ing the EU. But progress has slowed as Turkey still does not meet all of the con­di­tions for visa-free travel. Turk­ish politi­cians are threat­en­ing to scup­per the whole deal.

Many Ger­man politi­cians now doubt the loy­alty of their coun­try’s largest mi­nor­ity. “Cit­i­zens have to pledge al­le­giance to the state in which they live,” de­mands Volker Kauder, the ma­jor­ity whip in the Bun­destag. But many Turks blame Ger­man pol­i­tics. For decades af­ter Turkey started send­ing “guest work­ers” to man Ger­man fac­to­ries, politi­cians main­tained the fiction that these Turks would one day go home, do­ing noth­ing to in­te­grate them. Their di­vided loy­al­ties to­day are the blow­back of that bad pol­icy.

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