The old question of loyalty: German Turks and their relationship to Erdogan

 

A charged political atmosphere

On July 31st, 2016, up to 40,000 people, most of them German Turks, congregated on the banks of the river Rhine in Cologne to show their support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the country’s failed coup. German media and politicians presented the rally in an overwhelmingly negative light. This is perhaps not surprising, given the fact that the came at the highpoint of months of diplomatic rows between Berlin and Ankara – including, but not limited to, renewed dispute surrounding the German government’s position on the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government’s refusal to let German parliamentarians visit German soldiers fighting ISIS from Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase, President Erdogan’s defamation lawsuits against a German comedian, as well as the lukewarm German reaction to July’s putsch attempt.

Whilst the scenes of rioting and violence conjured up prior to the rally did not materialise in the end, the spectre of large crowds waving Turkish flags nevertheless sent shockwaves throughout the German political scene. Subsequent weeks witnessed growing calls that German Turks be more active in displaying their loyalty to Germany. Conservative Die Welt newspaper chastised them for remaining silent in the face of Islamist terrorism while loudly supporting Erdogan. This, the paper argued, “raises questions about the attachment of large swathes of the Turkish community to our federal republican democracy.” ((https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article157395025/Tuerken-in-Deutschland-muessen-ihre-Loyalitaet-klaeren.html ))

Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to pick up on this view when she asserted in mid-August that “we expect from all those with Turkish origins who have been living for a long time in Germany to develop a high degree of loyalty to our country.” ((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/angela-merkel-deutsch-tuerken-loyalitaet-deutschland )) Concomitantly, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced his support for the abolition of legal provisions allowing dual citizenship. ((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/innere-sicherheit-thomas-de-maiziere-doppelte-staatsbuergerschaft-abschaffung )). On a more polemical note, young CDU hopeful Jens Spahn encouraged all those with too much of an interest in Turkish domestic politics to return to their country of origin. ((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157406464/CDU-verurteilt-tuerkische-Aufmaersche-Erdogan-empoert.html ))

Sources of support for Erdogan

Amidst all this furore, the question why large numbers of German Turks remain extremely supportive of Erdogan – the AKP received close to 60 per cent of the Turkish German vote in last November’s elections ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerken-in-deutschland-waehlten-erdogan-partei-akp-a-1060661.html )) – has been less explored by politicians and the media.

Yet when interviewed by the Forum am Freitag TV magazine ((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz?setTime=83.633#/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz )), Seyran Ateş, Turkish-born publicist and outspoken critic of the Erdogan administration, deemed the continued support for Erdogan among German Turks to be eminently comprehensible: after Turkish emigrants had for a long time been viewed as convenient suppliers of migrants’ remittances at best and as national traitors at worst, Erdogan has been the first Turkish leader openly welcoming German Turks as full-fledged citizens and members of the Turkish nation. At the same time, economic growth and rehabilitation of religiosity have enabled Erdogan’s mostly lower and middle class supporters in Germany to look upon their country of origin with pride.

Long-standing issues of social acceptance

These feelings were echoed by Bilgili Üretmen, a blogger and fervent Erdogan supporter born and raised in Germany. ((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz?setTime=83.633#/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz )) He cited economic and social development, greater stability, and the ability to be more open in one’s religious practices as Erdogan’s main achievements. Commenting on Merkel’s call that Turkish citizens be more outspoken in their allegiance to Germany, he asserted that “loyalty is not a one way street” and that Merkel’s demand was “absurd”.

Üretmen stressed that in his view German Turks had contributed a lot to German society for decades; yet that German politics towards Turks and Turkey had remained antagonistic. Moreover, he bemoaned a lack of social acceptance, noting that in Germany “everything that is foreign is seen as a problem”, as well as the fact that German Turks are still predominantly perceived as “toilet-cleaning headscarf-wearing women” rather than as a diverse and successful community.

As Euro-Islam has reported in the past, Üretmen’s comments are illustrative of broader trends and perceptions among Germany’s Turkish population, with shortcomings in terms of social inclusion and of thorny questions of religious acceptance being frequently-cited concerns. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/ ))

The search for the moral high ground

A little more than a month after the pro-Erdogan demonstration, Cologne came full circle when 30,000 Kurds used the same spot by the Rhine to criticise the AKP government and demand the liberation of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Although the PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the EU and forbidden in Germany, the rally elicited only scant public and political attention. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-09/koeln-kurden-abdullah-oecalan-demonstration-kundgebung ))

The fact that such a degree of toleration was extended quite nonchalantly to the pro-PKK rally was promptly picked up upon by AKP supporters. Perhaps not unreasonably, they interpreted this as a sign of German double standards. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ )) Yet their claim to be recognised as the pristine defenders of democracy loses its moral clarity when taking into account not just the course of events in post-putsch Turkey but also developments in Germany: Turkish German partisans of Erdogan have themselves engaged in aggressive and at times violent actions against Kurdish and Gülenist dissident individuals and institutions; actions that appear to have been condoned or perhaps even coordinated by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) – the very same organisation that also organised the pro-Erdogan rally in late July. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ ))

German Turks as well as German politicians thus gradually come to realise that in the complex struggle between rival Turkish political forces and factions, it is increasingly difficult to maintain neutrality. At the same time, siding with any single one of these forces – be they the AKP, the Gülen movement, or the Kurds – comes with enormous strings attached, since no single player ticks all the boxes of democratic accountability and openness.

Taking sides thus involves a high price – a price that German politicians have not been willing to pay. Instead, they have been flip-flopping between condemning and courting Erdogan: while depicting him as a neo-Ottoman dictator, they have nevertheless signed the EU-Turkey deal on refugees; while lambasting the AKP government for its lacklustre response to ISIS, they have nevertheless refrained from pulling out German soldiers from Incirlik; and while they passed a parliamentary resolution determining that the killing of Armenians amounted to genocide, the Merkel government promptly distanced itself from this position. After so much vacillating of their own, German politicians should perhaps refrain from asking for declarations of unconditional loyalty from their Turkish German citizens.

Tensions between supporters of Erdoğan and partisans of Gülen on the rise in Germany

Strong support for Erdoğan among German Turks

In the aftermath of the attempted putsch in Turkey, Erdoğan’s critics are increasingly feeling the heat. While Erdoğan has proceeded to purge the military, the judiciary, and the educational sector under the state of emergency provisions, those presumed to be opponents of the ruling AKP government have been faced with the ire of Erdoğan’s supporters not just within Turkey but also within the large Turkish community in Germany.

There are more than 2.7 million people with at least one Turkish parent in the country; more than 1.5 million of them hold Turkish citizenship.((https://ergebnisse.zensus2011.de/#dynTable:statUnit=PERSON;absRel=ANZAHL;ags=00,02,01,13,03,05,09,14,16,08,15,12,11,10,07,06,04;agsAxis=X;yAxis=MHGLAND_HLND)) Among this community, Erdoğan’s base is strong: in the November 2015 Turkish elections, 59.7 per cent of German Turks who went to the ballot box gave their vote to the party of current Turkish president – compared to the 49.5 per cent the AKP received in Turkey itself.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerken-in-deutschland-waehlten-erdogan-partei-akp-a-1060661.html))

Hatred on social media and beyond

Since the failed coup attempt, those affiliated with the Gülen movement and its associated institutions, as well as Kurdish and Alevi individuals, have complained about growing animosities. The Federal Criminal Police Office has observed a massive increase in hostilities towards members of the Gülen movement online and in social networks.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/deutschland-hetzen-drohen-denunzieren-1.3088817))

Apparently, many German Turks received notifications on social media encouraging them to name and denounce members of the Gülen movement by calling a newly created Turkish government hotline. The originator of these notifications is supposed to have been the AKP-linked Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD).((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2)) Other sources dispute the existence of such a hotline.

Similarly, in a mosque run by DITIB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs and still the largest and most financially strong Muslim association in Germany, flyers reading “Out with the traitors of the fatherland” have reportedly been put up.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2)) Pictures of this flyer, as well as of signs posted in Turkish shops asking Gülenists to stay out have been published by the yellow press.((http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/militaer-putsch-tuerkei/boese-hetze-gegen-tuerken-in-deutschland-46878454.bild.html))

Attacks on Gülenist schools and institutions

However, assaults have not remained confined to the online or the purely verbal realm. In several German cities, buildings of educational institutions that are part of the Gülen movement have been defaced or damaged. In Stuttgart, a school that organises its curriculum in accordance with Gülenist thought is receiving increased police protection after numerous threats were made.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2))

Video material has appeared online showing an attack by an angry crowd on a youth club in the city of Gelsenkirchen in North-Rhine Westphalia. Windows were smashed and significant damage was caused in the incident. The youth club is part of Gülen’s hizmet movement.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/gelsenkirchen-erdogan-anhaenger-greifen-jugendclub-an-video-1690598.html))

The Gülenist online journal ‘Deutsch-Türkisches Journal’ has consequently complained of a “pogrom mood also in Germany”.((http://dtj-online.de/tuerkische-pogromstimmung-auch-in-deutschland-wir-werden-in-eurem-blut-baden-77556)) The chairman of the Gülen-linked ‘Foundation Dialogue and Education’, Ercan Karakoyun, has reiterated these accusations in interviews.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/guelen-bewegung-in-deutschland-erdogan-hat-einen.694.de.html?dram:article_id=360824, http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.angriffe-auf-guelen-bewegung-der-kampf-ist-in-deutschland-angekommen.1f291dbf-9e09-43e4-ab28-f135cc1af219.html))

DITIB’s reaction

DITIB spokesperson Ayse Aydin denied the allegation that DITIB was participating in a government-orchestrated witch hunt on Gülen sympathisers: “We are are Muslim religious community and we do not reject anyone who wishes to pray in a mosque”, Aydin asserted.  Similarly, the UETD ostentatiously sought to dissociate itself from violence and hatred against Gülenists, implying that the UETD name and logo had been misused on social media.((http://www.dw.com/de/erdogan-gegen-g%C3%BClen-auch-in-deutschland/a-19415216))

Going further, however, a DITIB press release noted that “our mosques are not places of provocation or agitation. If necessary, mosque leaders may, in accordance with the statutes, limit but also prohibit activities in the mosques that go beyond prayer – right up until a ban to enter. This serves the protection of the spiritual atmosphere, of the sacred space and of community peace.” Needless to say, the vagueness of this statement also allows for the banning of (suspected) Gülenists from DITIB mosques, if they are deemed to disturb sacred space and community peace.

Just like the Gülen movement, DITIB went on to criticise the media for its allegedly “widely spread and enduringly tendentious reporting that does not even spare kids’ programmes”.((http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=530&lang=de)) Irrespective of the question of tendentiousness, it is indeed true that many German media outlets and public voices have grown critical enough of Erdoğan so as to hold a certain degree of sympathy towards the hizmet movement – a movement that not long ago they would have regarded with a much greater degree of suspicion.

Enduring political faultlines between German Muslim associations

Events in Turkey have also revealed anew the faultlines between German Muslim associations. The three largest predominantly Turkish associations -DITIB((http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=528&lang=de)), as well as the Sufi-tinged VIKZ((http://www.vikz.de/index.php/pressemitteilungen/items/putschversuch-in-der-tuerkei-gescheitert.html)) and the Islamist-leaning IGMG((https://www.igmg.org/uneingeschraenkte-solidaritaet-mit-dem-tuerkischen-volk-und-der-tuerkei/)) – all lauded the Turkish people for helping defeat the coup by defying the military’s orders. These associations’ press releases present the failure of the putsch as a victory for democracy.

Conversely, the Turkish Alevi community in Germany (AABF) criticised DITIB, VIKZ, and IGMG for simply siding with Erdoğan against the putschists. The Alevi association’s press release demanded genuine democratisation in Turkey and deemed neither Erdoğan nor military rule to be desirable. ((http://alevi.com/de/?p=8555))

The only peak association that is not dominated by Turkish Muslims and Turkish questions, the ZMD, strove to take a pointedly neutral stance and to sharpen its profile by doing so: ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek announced that “from the position of German Muslims we will continue to advocate for democracy in Turkey […] and not let us get entangled in turf battles.”((http://www.zentralrat.de/27788.php))

To a certain extent such ostentatious neutrality is an easier choice for the ZMD, since it is less embroiled in the Turkish political scene. Yet it is also part and parcel of the ZMD’s and especially Mazyek’s quest to present his persona and organisation as the politically preferable and most reliable voice in the Muslim spectrum.

On Erdogan’s election campaign in Austria

June 29, 2014

Several articles on the Austrian national public service broadcaster (ORF) are concerned with the Turkish prime ministers “non-official” election campaign in Austria. According to Turkish newspapers and political scientists, Erdogan is going to run for the upcoming presidential elections on August 10, 2014. In Austria, Germany and France Erdogan is “fishing” for potential voters.

French Turks voice their opinion on anti-state protests in Turkey

12.06.2013

Zaman France

The government-critical Taksim protest movement that has rocked much of Turkey in the last two weeks has led to an intensified focus of Western media, including French news outlets, on Turkey’s rising urban dissident movement. France is after Germany the home to one of the globe’s largest Turkish and Kurdish diasporas with around 500.000 people residing there. The reaction of both diaspora communities in regards to the Taksim protest movement has widely been left uncovered by most Western media reports. Zaman France went to meet a number of French of Turkish origin in order to understand their viewpoints on the protests.

Of those interviewed and later published, virtually everyone had a critical opinion on the protestors and their right as well as motivation to protest. Many of the young French of Turkish origin consider the AKP to be the legitimate and democratic voice of the people, thus holding the right to make decisions that might eventually be opposed by ‘marginal groups’ for the greater good of the nation. For many diasporic Turks it seems that the AKP’s global economic success and renewed sense of national pride that has evolved out of it provides justification for even some authoritarian decisions of the state.

Fethullah got his hands on Germany

“Alliance for Peace and Fairness” launched as “the first Muslim party” in Germany is said to have ties with AKP and Gülen community. Yesterday, Zaman newspaper published a news article titled “Muslims founded a Party in Germany” to herald the emergence of a new political party named “Alliance for Peace and Fairness” which will be on the ballot for the upcoming elections in North Rhein Westphalia, Germany. Fethullah Gülen community and AKP’s organizations in Germany are said to stand behind the Party. Starting out three years ago with the formation named “Muslim Council” in Bonn to embrace the other Muslim groups together with Turks, “Muslim Party” as Zaman calls it, was consequently restructured as a Party and is now headed by Chairman Haluk Yıldız.

Haluk Yıldız spoke about the formation as follows: “First of all, we brought the Muslims together. We had talks with the Municipality for a Muslim cemetery. We will obtain the result soon. There are plans for two mosques. Permission for one of them has already been received. Talks continue for the other one. We are involved in the problems at the schools. We have handled headscarf issue and participation of Muslim students in school trips and swimming lessons. We have formed a team of 6 for this purpose. We have appointed two lawyers. Since we are an institution, the municipality and the school administration takes us into consideration. This way it became easier to solve the problems.”

According to what Yıldız said, there was a discussion within Muslim Arabs in the city “as to whether voting in the elections is permissible according to Islam or not”, but, the formation which is believed to have relationship with Gülen Community interfered in the discussion. Yıldız says this: We have convinced Imams. They gave a fatwa and Arab countries also supported the idea of a Party.”

An independent formation? New formation, of course, doesn’t say that it has an organic relationship with any one of the groups in Turkey. But, Gülen community and AKP support to the group is plainly discussed in Germany. For instance, German journalist Gudrun Eussner is of the opinion that “The word justice in the name of the Party refers to AKP. In addition to this, expressions like, “No to assimilation and discrimination’ show a parallelism with the speech Prime Minister Erdoğan had made in Cologne last year.” The news published two days ago with the signature of Ulrike Hummel in Deutsche Welle says that “Alliance for Peace and Fairness” has 50 members at the moment. Considering their forming a special team of six and appointing two lawyers to follow up a very specific issue like participation of Muslim students in school trips and swimming lessons, according to what Chairman Haluk Yıldız said in the interview he gave to Zaman, it ‘s not quiet convincing to say such an organized group has 50 members only.