Arrests of German citizens prompt downgrading of German-Turkish relations

At least since the July 2016 coup attempt, German-Turkish relations have taken a severe hit.

Recurring bones of contention have included the German army’s NATO presence at the Turkish Incirlik air base. German troops, who are part of the anti-IS coalition, are now being transferred to Jordan after a series of diplomatic rows over visits of German parliamentarians to the base.

Conversely, the visits of Turkish politicians – particularly in the run-up to the country’s controversial constitutional referendum in April 2016 – have unsettled the German political elite.

Arrests of German citizens in Turkey

Yet the perhaps most divisive issue has been the arrests of German citizens in Turkey, caught up in the post-coup repression. As of May 31, 2017, 44 Germans were held in Turkish detention. Many of them were dual citizens of Germany and Turkey, meaning that they had no legal claim to be supported by the German Embassy.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/deutsche-in-tuerkei-inhaftiert-101.html ))

In 2017, there have been a number of high profile arrests that have made particular headlines: Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, correspondent of the Die Welt newspaper, was arrested in February; German journalist and translator Meşale Tolu, in April. And on July 5, human rights activist Peter Steudtner was arrested in Istanbul.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-deutscher-menschenrechtler-peter-steudtner-muss-in-haft-a-1158364.html ))

Swift changes to the German-Turkish relationship

The case of Steudtner has led to a major shift in German-Turkish relations. After having merely expressed ‘deep concern’ at developments in Turkey before, this time Berlin was surprisingly swift to react.

The German Foreign Office tightened its travel alerts for visitors to Turkey; a move that could potentially harm Turkey’s tourism-dependent economy. Further measures include the potential freezing of trade credit insurance offered to German companies exporting to Turkey. What is more, all German arms exports to Turkey – on paper an important NATO ally – are also halted.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/tuerkei-deutschland-121.html ))

Domestic ramifications

In the case of Germany, troubles in external relations with Turkey of course risk causing major domestic repercussions, thanks to Germany’s roughly three million inhabitants of Turkish descent. In the past months, the political loyalty of Germans with a Turkish background has come repeatedly into focus, particularly in the context of the Turkish constitutional referendum.

German Turks have reacted with dismay to the renewed bout of antagonism. They perceive themselves to be the first victims of the diplomatic tensions. Many also asserted that they did not feel represented by any German political party or force in this context.(( http://dtj-online.de/deutsch-tuerken-die-leidtragenden-der-deutsch-tuerkischen-konflikte-86452 ))

Letter to German Turks

Against this backdrop, the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addressed German Turks in a letter published in the country’s leading tabloid, Bild. Gabriel stressed that the German government “has always worked for good relations with Turkey, because we know that a good relationship between Germany and Turkey is important to you.”

Recent arrests were forcing the government to act in order to protect its citizens, Gabriel asserted. Yet he stressed that this should not be seen as an assault on German Turks:

“Nothing of this is directed against the people living in Turkey and our fellow citizens with Turkish roots in Germany. For no matter how difficult political relations between Germany and Turkey are – this much remains obvious to us: you […] belong to us – whether with or without a German passport.”(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/sigmar-gabriel/liebe-tuerkische-mitbuerger-52625202.bild.html ))

An attempt at inclusivity

Gabriel’s statement was striking in the clarity of its commitment to inclusiveness. For months, media discourses had been strongly marked by an implicit perception that German Turks were quintessentially ‘other’, and that ‘they’ did precisely not belong to ‘us’.

Overall, the Foreign Minister’s intervention was well-received among the general public.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-07/deutsch-tuerkei-gabriel-erdogan-deutschtuerken-beziehungen )) Some pointed out, however, that it was left to the Foreign Minister to write this letter – a fact that seemed to point to the ways in which men and women of Turkish descent are still considered ‘foreign’ in Germany today.(( http://www.taz.de/!5428909/ ))

Nevertheless, the letter appeared to spark a kind of bandwagoning effect, as other politicians also called for a measured approach towards Turkey and Turkish citizens. Leading confidant of Angela Merkel and Head of the Chancellery Peter Altmaier (CDU) stressed that Turkey remained “one of the most democratic countries” in the Middle East. “And by that”, he added, “I don’t mean Mr. Erdogan but rather the country and Turkish society as a whole.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/konflikt-berlin-ankara-peter-altmaier-warnt-vor-pauschalen-verurteilungen-der-tuerkei/20095232.html ))

Increased polarisation

The impact of Gabriel’s statement remains to be seen. By now, German Turks are exposed to fundamentally opposing narratives of the events of the recent months and years. While the overwhelming majority of German and European news outlets continue to focus on Turkey’s descent into repression, the Turkish viewpoint is still dominated by a sense of persecution and a martyrology called forth by last year’s coup attempt.

Against the backdrop of these competing narratives and visions, the decision where to ‘belong’ is becoming a more and more categorical question facing many German Turks, pitting a group of ‘us’ (however defined) against an inimical ‘them’.

Regional elections in Germany deliver further gains to the AfD, weakening Merkel

A year of electoral defeats

Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party has suffered a set of electoral setbacks in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin; losses widely blamed by her detractors on her stance in the ongoing migration crisis in Europe. These renewed drubbings at the ballot box come after crushing defeats in elections in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg – the CDU’s former stronghold – earlier this year.

In Merkel’s home region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the CDU was pushed into third place, behind the Social Democrats and the surging right-wing populist AfD. Since re-unification, the north-eastern state has gone through more than two decades of de-industrialisation and population decline, although economic and demographic indicators have stabilised during recent years. In spite of the state’s extremely low proportion of immigrants and Muslims, the twin fears of migration and Islamisation dominated large parts of the electoral campaign. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/wahl-mecklenburg-vorpommern-afd-zweitstaerkste-kraft-spd-gewinnt-a-1110844.html ))

The subsequent Berlin state elections did not deliver a better result for Merkel’s party, with the CDU obtaining its lowest-ever vote share in a Berlin ballot. Neither did the AfD’s showing as strong as in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Nevertheless, Merkel’s inner-party rivals have been quick to lay the blame for the renewed debacle at her feet. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/berlin-wahl-spd-bleibt-staerkste-kraft-afd-zweistellig-a-1112823.html ))

Merkel changing course ahead of federal elections

While Merkel had for a long time stood by her initial mantra ‘Wir schaffen das’ (‘We can do it’) when talking about the evolving migration challenge, recent months had already brought a gradual shift in her position; perhaps most notably in the form of the EU-Turkey migration deal which she helped broker, as well as through harsher immigration legislation at home. In the aftermath of this string of electoral losses, Merkel has now explicitly abandoned her trademark phrase, commenting that ‘Wir schaffen das’ had become an “empty formula” that has only served to unnecessarily “provoke” many listeners; a provocation that had never been her intention – or so Merkel asserted in a press conference. (( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/merkel-1377.html ))

One year ahead of Germany’s federal elections, Merkel’s national approval ratings have dropped to the lowest level in five years, and the majority of voters do not want her to run again for office. Yet at the same time, Merkel’s rivals within her own party as well as the presumptive Social Democratic contender for the Chancellery, Sigmar Gabriel, remain equally unpopular, so that so far no clear challenger has emerged.  ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/deutschlandtrend-617.html ))

 

Paris Attacks: 10,000 troops deployed as France hunts for accomplices

Following the deadly attack at Charlie Hebdo and hostage-taking at a kosher market in Paris, the government is deploying 10,000 troops throughout France and sending 5,000 police to protect Jewish sites. Authorities continue to search for the accomplices to both attacks. Prime Minister Manuel Valls believes that the gunman who killed a policewoman and four other people after taking a customers in a kosher store hostage had an accomplice. He stated that “the threat is still present” after the attacks and that “the work on these attacks, on these terrorist and barbaric acts continues…because we consider that there are most probably some possible accomplices.”

Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian affirmed that troops would guard any sensitive locations. Following a national security crisis meeting he stated: “We have decided…to mobilize 10,000 men to protect sensitive sites throughout the country starting tomorrow [Tuesday] evening. This is the first time our troops have mobilized to such an extent on our own soil. The threats remain and we have to protect ourselves from them. It is an internal operation that will mobilize almost as many men as we have in our overseas operations.”

In response to the public’s fear seven hundred police officers are guarding 717 Jewish schools throughout the country. There are already 4,100 gendarmes deployed.

It is not known how many accomplices French authorities are searching for, but it is believed that Coulibaly’s partner Hayat Boumeddienne has fled to Syria. The security meeting was held after the video of Coulibaly declaring his allegiance to ISIL was released on the Internet. In the video Coulibaly states that he collaborated with the Kouachi brothers.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that he would travel to Paris for talks on countering violent extremism. His statement followed criticism of the Obama administration for not sending anyone to attend the rally that drew between 1.5 and 2 million people. Marchers carried pencils, pens and placards that read “Nous sommes la République” and “Je suis Muslim.” The march was led by the victims’ families and a group of 50 world leaders including President Hollande, Angela Merkel and Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.

Reactions to developments in Egypt from around the world

Reactions on Friday around the world to developments in Egypt following clashes in which hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured:

 

EUROPEAN UNION

 

European leaders spoke Friday about the need for a coordinated EU response to the violence in Egypt and agreed there should be a meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers next week. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an end to violence and a resumption of dialogue in Egypt. The German government statement said Merkel told Hollande that Germany, one of Egypt’s biggest trading partners, would “re-evaluate” its relations with Cairo in light of this week’s bloodshed. Hollande also discussed the violence with Italian Premier Enrico Letta and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah voiced support for Egypt’s military-backed interim government, saying the kingdom stands by the country in its fight against “terrorism and strife” — an apparent reference to deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement. In a televised statement, Abdullah called for honest people and intellectuals “to stand firmly against all those who try to shake the stability of a country that has always led the Arab and Islamic worlds.”

 

TURKEY

Turkish officials kept up their criticism of the military government’s crackdown, with President Abdullah Gul saying that “all that happened in Egypt is a shame for Islam and the Arab world.” Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors for consultations late Thursday as their relationship worsened.

 

TUNISIA

About 1,500 people flooded the main avenue in central Tunis, many of them pouring out of the capital’s most important mosque. They gathered in a large square in front of the municipal theater, shouting support for the Egyptian people, especially supporters of Morsi, and condemning the Egyptian military and the U.S. The hour-long protest was peaceful.

 

In Little Egypt, Echoes From Home

Little Egypt, NYC: Reaction to recent events in Egypt.

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel dismisses the idea of segregated sports education for Muslim boys and girls

April 6

 

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) dismissed the idea of gender segregation. Her government spokesman Streiter described the segregation of Muslim boys and girls as “the absolute wrong signal for the integration policy of Germany”.

 

Before, Peer Steinbrück the chancellor candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) refused a clear statement; neither denying nor welcoming gender segregation.

Integration through Sports – A young multicultural German team

June 8

 

“Multi-culti” is a vital aspect of the German national team, which is going to compete with 15 other nations for the 2012European football championship in Poland and Ukraine. The selection of seven players with a “migration background” by Head coach Joachim Löw is a living example for successful integration.

 

In earlier statements, Federal chancellor Angela Merkel had declared multiculturalism as a failed concept for German society. Nevertheless, the presence of players such as Mesud Özil, Lukas Podolski, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira und Ilkay Gündoğan, shows that players with different backgrounds to be able to integrate in a successful German team. Head coach Löw defended his players when the media questioned the identification feeling of some players, who would refuse to sing the German national anthem. In fact, these players have proven their belonging feeling in previous matches and if other German players like Cacao, who is a religious Christian, would celebrate their goals in praying to Jesus, the first player to congratulate and hug them would be the Muslim Mesud Özil.

Chancellor Merkel and the Debate on integration

May 14

 

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has publicly expressed support for the view that Islam is integral part of German society. Doing so, she openly disagreed with opinions voiced in the last months by the Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and the head of political Union parties CDU/CSU in the parliament, Volker Kauder (CDU). In front of the pupils of a Berlin school, chancellor Merkel talked about the significant presence of Muslims in German society and their belonging to it. Muslims are part of today’s environment, and many of them are German citizens, Merkel declared. Thus, Islam becomes a part of society, too. Many things known today in Germany have been transported through Islam.

 

This is the first time after the pro Islam speech of former German president Christian Wulff (CDU) in 2010, that chancellor Merkel speaks in favor of Islam as an integral part of Germany. Minister of Interior Friedrich had repeatedly disagreed with recognizing Islam as a part of Germany, emphasizing the Christian-Jewish occidental culture of Germany.

Youth Integration Summit 2012

April 17

 

The Youth Integration Summit 2012 has started this week in Berlin. Since 2010 young people from every part of Germany are invited to attend this annual initiative. Among the participants there are a great number of young migrants of different backgrounds. Participants are expected to discuss aspects such as “Education and Integration”, “Civic Engagement and Integration”, “Media and Integration” and “Inter-generational Conflicts” in different workshops. In her opening speech, Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed integration as a responsibility for the whole society.

 

However, there is a degree of criticism around the initiative. Representatives of the opposition Green party have criticized the Youth Integration Summit as an insubstantial event, which gathers engaged youths without concrete aims and leaves them with a little more than a family picture for the gallery.

Interior Minister Friedrich Reignites Islam Debate

4 March 2011

Germany’s new Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich reignited a bitter debate over Islam this week after he said the religion did not “belong” in the country, prompting a call on Friday for him to give up charge of the government’s Islam conference.

During his first public appearance as interior minister on Thursday, Friedrich responded to questions by reporters about the shooting of two US airmen in Frankfurt by an alleged Islamist with an inflammatory statement. He said Muslims living in Germany were part of society, “but that Islam belongs in Germany is something that has no historical foundation.”

On Friday, Free Democrat (FDP) and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger criticized her new fellow cabinet member and member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). Meanwhile a chorus of opposition politicians lambasted Friedrich, among them centre-left Social Democrat Dieter Wiefelspütz who characterized his statement as “rubbish.”

German Media Roundup: Frankfurt’s Lone Terrorist

4 March 2011

What caused a young man in Frankfurt to turn to radical Islam and kill two US airmen? Newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Friday try to make sense of a senseless act.

A top German lawmaker called Friday for the expulsion of “hate preachers” in the wake of the shooting.

“Religious freedom does not mean the freedom to do anything you like,” Wolfgang Bosbach, the parliamentary interior policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), told the regional daily the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

Meanwhile, the head of the German Police Union, Rainer Wendt, called for 2,000 additional staff to monitor extremist websites.

“Only via a massively increased police presence on the internet can the emergence of hate preachers or messages from Islamists be discovered in time,” he told the paper. “If it is technically possible, internet sites from the Islamist scene must be blocked.”

The Leipziger Volkszeitung said the shooting had changed the quality of the threat of Islamist terrorism.

“The security authorities could not hinder an Islamist attack in Germany that cost human lives,” the regional daily wrote. “However, it wasn’t al-Qaida or another terrorist organisation behind it, but rather someone acting alone. Of course, there will never be complete protection from disturbed attackers, but there must be consequences in light of this new kind of perpetrator. Otherwise there’s only helplessness.” (…)