As tensions rise in Turkey, they spill over into Germany
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.