German Turks split on referendum, Erdoğan’s critique of Europe

In Turkey, voting for the country’s crucial constitutional referendum will take place on April 16, 2017. President Erdoğan is hoping for a resounding Evet (Yes) vote in order to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and to enhance the powers of his office. In Germany, 1.4 million German Turks holding a Turkish passport were already able to vote between March 27 and April 9 in consulates and 13 polling stations around the country.

German Turks as a critical constituency

As opinion polls in Turkey have tightened, German Turks have become a crucial factor in the election, potentially able to tip the scales either way. Consequently, AKP politicians have spent considerable energy on trying to mobilise Turkish voters in Germany in favour of the presidential system.

The German government and local administrations proceeded to prohibit several campaign speeches by Turkish ministers. None of these events had diplomatic consequences as severe as the Netherlands’ expulsion of the Turkish Minister for Family Affairs shortly before the Dutch election.(( )) Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership has not openly accused German authorities of fascist practices and of seeking to weaken Turkey by preventing a Yes-vote in the referendum.

Belated organisation of the No campaign

Compared to the Evet camp, their Hayır (No) opponents, have tended to organise late in Germany. Fears of potential repercussions of an open anti-Erdoğan stance appear to have played a role in this.

In recent weeks, German media have reported on extensive intelligence and spying operations of the Turkish secret service, MİT. The agency has a strong presence in Germany with reportedly 400 full-time employees. Observers noted MİT’s attempt to spread a “climate of fear” among Turkish dissidents in Germany – Kurds, Gülenists, Kemalists, and leftists alike.(( ))

At first sight, the German Turkish vote appears Erdoğan’s vote to lose: In 2015’s parliamentary elections, 60 per cent of German Turks opted for the AKP. However, less than 50 per cent of those eligible to vote actually cast a ballot, leaving a considerable marge of uncertainty over the actual allegiances of the community.(( ))

A loyalty questioned

Against the backdrop of this uncertainty, the outcome of the referendum among German Turks seems just as unforeseeable as the overall referendum result. What is certain, however, is that the Turks and people of Turkish heritage living in Germany have been placed in a real bind. As relations between Berlin and Ankara have soured, their loyalty to Germany has been questioned time and again.

What is more, on the conservative side of the political spectrum there have been repeated attempts to roll back dual citizenship provisions, with the aim of forcing German Turks to choose between their allegiance to Turkey or to Germany.

Europe and Germany as the villain

With the Turkish President – the strongman and thus the very embodiment of the Turkish nation to many of his supporters – receiving unprecedented opprobrium in much of mainstream German political and media discourses, some German Turks have shifted to a more pro-Erdoğan position.

Many young attendees at a loyalist rally led by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu evoked feelings of indignation at what they perceived to be a humiliation of Turkey in the German press. More generally, many of them asserted that the restrictions placed on Turkish politicians’ speeches showed that Germany was not a true democracy and that freedom of speech was systematically limited to their detriment.(( ))

This line is also held by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), a pro-AKP lobbying organisation active in Turkish communities across Europe. Its chairman Zafer Sırakaya asserted that “at the moment in Germany freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly only apply to the opponents of the constitutional reform”.(( ))

Taking a stand against dictatorship in Turkey

Conversely, the largest ethnically Turkish association in Germany, Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (TGD), has become a vocal critic of Erdoğan since 2013 and openly supports the No campaign.(( )). The association, together with a number of German Turkish politicians, also published a manifesto calling for a No vote and declaring solidarity with oppressed groups in Turkey.(( ))

These sentiments are echoed in the statements of many of those German Turks willing to speak about their objections to the presidential system and Erdoğan’s quest for power to the media (although some only do so on condition of anonymity).(( ))

Feridun Zaimoğlu, writer and public intellectual captured an oft-voiced argument when he stated that “as a Turk or German Turk one cannot benefit from freedom in Germany and then vote for the unfreedom of Turkey. Whoever does that is a coward. And sick.”(( ))

A community divided

Yet the sentiment perhaps most widely expressed by German Turks is a sentiment of regret. They perceive the diplomatic rows as a threat to their position in Germany. The stance on President Erdoğan and his constitutional referendum has become to many a choice between Turkey and Germany.

This choice also divides friends and family, with close family members breaking off contact or insulting each other as ‘traitors’.(( )) How these divisions could be healed in the future is anybody’s guess.

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.((;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.((

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.((

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).(( 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.(( 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.((

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.((

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.((

The Gülenist online journal ‘Deutsch-Türkisches Journal’ has consequently complained of a “pogrom mood also in Germany”.(( The chairman of the Gülen-linked ‘Foundation Dialogue and Education’, Ercan Karakoyun, has reiterated these accusations in interviews.((,

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.((

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”.(( 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((, as well as the Sufi-tinged VIKZ(( and the Islamist-leaning IGMG(( – 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. ((

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.”((

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.

Interview with Kenan Kolat”: We Need an Open Debate about Institutional Racism”

The failure of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency to halt the activities of a neo-Nazi terror cell and recent revelations about the destruction of key files have led to accusations of institutional racism. Kenan Kolat, the head of the Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (the Turkish Community in Germany), an advocacy group representing the interests of Turkish people in Germany, says faith in the country’s security organs has hit rock bottom. Samira Sammer spoke to him.


Anti-Islam Events in Berlin


The far-right political groups „Pro Deutschland“ (pro Germany) and „Freiheit“ (freedom) are planning two anti-Islam events in Berlin. Pro Deutschland is planning on holding what they call an „Anti-Islamicisation Congress“ at the end of August. They expect around 1000 participants, amongst others members of the Belgian right-wing Vlaams Belang and the Austrian FPÖ. As the highlight of the event, Pro Deutschland has organized a demonstration, moving from Berlin’s „Potsdamer Platz“ to the „Brandenburger Tor“. The political party „Freiheit“ is planning an Anti-Islam event scheduled only a week later. They invited various speakers, amongst others the Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders. Various associations and parties have already announced their protest against these events. In particular in light of recent events in Norway, they consider such plans to be a crude provocation.

New Book on the History of Germany’s Islamist Scene


In his book “Eine Moschee in Deutschland” (A mosque in Germany), which is based on research conducted for a TV documentary on the rise of political Islam in the West, historian Stefan Meinig offers an analysis of the emergence of political Islam in Germany. Meinig traces the rise of Islamist networks in Germany back to the Nazi period and reconstructs their development through the Cold War until the 9/11 attacks in the US. One of Meinig’s claims is that the Islamist scene in Germany was systematically nurtured by intelligence services, starting with Soviet Muslims who were recruited by the Nazis to fight alongside the Germans against the Russians. According to Meinig’s research, after 1945, German officials encouraged former Soviet Muslims to support German interests and prevented them from collaborating with the Americans; they also helped founding the first Muslim association in Germany in 1953. While Meinig claims that major threads of political Islam in Germany then came together in a mosque in Munich, which also has strong connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, reviewers have criticized that these claims seem a bit far-fetched at times. Nevertheless, the book offers a comprehensive overview of the development of Islamist networks in Germany.

Yearbook published on Islamophobia in German-speaking countries

The Austrian publisher Studienverlag has published a yearbook of research on Islamophobia in the German-speaking countries (Jahrbuch für Islamophobieforschung 2010: Deutschland, Österreich, Schweiz). It is an introduction to the academic use of the term “Islamophobia” and includes recent empirical examples such as the courtroom murder of Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini or the Swiss minaret ban. Further case studies derive from the fields of media, politics, law, discrimination in everyday life and theoretic reflections.

Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland (MJD) / Muslim Youth in Germany

The youth organisation Muslimische Jugend in Deutschland (MJD)/Muslim Youth in Germany was founded in 1994 and has gained popularity in recent year especially among the very religious of young Muslims. The organisation has local groups (so called Lokalkreise) in many German cities. On average, the around 900 registered members are well educated and between 13 and 30 years old, but the organisation explicitly addresses all Muslims regardless of nationality and background. On their website, the MJD describe themselves as “multicultural”, “Islamic” and “hip”.

Each year, around 1,000 young Muslims participate in the annual meeting, which offers a wide range of activities: A rap workshop, origami class and Quran reading as well as debates with representatives from Greenpeace (in 2008) or with a member of the Central Council of Jews (in 2009).

The MJD is under observation of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, who accuse it of having personal and organisational links to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Germany and Europe. For this reason, the Ministry of Family Affairs and Youth cut their funding towards the MJD in 2003. In the past years, the Muslim youth organisation has tried to regain the confidence for example by incorporating non-Islamic civil actors such as for interreligious dialogue.

But discussion on the organisation’s youth work continues. Indeed, the MJD reaches out to a young and religious audience that does not feel represented by conventional youth work and neither by the classic mosque communities. But their positions touch upon moderately Islamist views: Many of the MJD’s events are gender segregated and religious commands are usually interpreted in the narrow framework of traditional Islamic scholars. Critics therefore accuse the MJD of uniformity and question whether the organisation helps to integrate young Muslims into the German society or whether it actually prevents this.

Austria: Islam As A High-School Subject

VIENNA – Experts believe that Islamic religious education in state schools could be the way to the better integration of Muslims. Now students can even take Islam as a high-school degree subject. Critical thinking and social issues like women’s and human rights, social responsibility, the compatibility of Islamic, Austrian and European identities are parts of the curriculum, which also aims to dispel the prejudices and ignorance of non-Muslim students and teachers. Can this be a model for Germany? {(continued in German)} Islamischer Religionsunterricht an _ffentlichen Schulen k_nnte ein Weg zur besseren Integration von Muslimen sein, so Experten. In _sterreich gibt es das seit mehr als 20 Jahren. Hier k_nnen die Sch_ler sogar Abitur im Fach “Islam” machen. Ein Modell f_r Deutschland? Der 18-j_hrige Ishak _r_n ist geborener Wiener, Sohn t_rkischer Eltern. Er hat gerade Abitur gemacht, oder “Matura”, wie es in _sterreich hei_t, auch im Fach islamische Religion. Das ist f_r viele auch nach mehr als zwei Jahrzehnten immer noch etwas Besonderes, hat Ishak festgestellt, weil so viele Lehrer aus Neugierde dabei waren. “Normalerweise sind die Lehrer an unserer Schule nicht gewohnt, dass jemand im islamischen Religionsunterricht maturiert”, erz_hlt Ishak. “Das kommt eigentlich sehr selten vor. Normalerweise hat zum Beispiel der Vorsitzende bei unserer Matura nie Fragen gestellt, oder die Frau Direktor. Nur beim islamischen Religionsunterricht gibt es wirklich so ein Eigeninteresse auch der Lehrer.” Aufr_umen mit Vorurteilen – auch bei den Lehrern Ishak hat dann Fragen beantwortet zu Menschenrechten im Islam, zu Sozialabgaben, die Muslimen abgefordert werden: Eine muslimische Mitsch_lerin hat _ber die Zwangsehe gesprochen, die sie genau wie Ishak unislamisch findet. Frauen werden auch nicht vom Islam unterdr_ckt, meint Ishak, sondern von M_nnern, die den Islam vorschieben. Er habe mit einigen Vorurteilen aufger_umt bei den neugierigen Lehrern, berichtet er. “Und da, glaube ich, haben sie dann gesehen, dass der Islam eigentlich nicht so eine Religion ist, wie sie das vorher geh_rt haben oder wie sie sich das vorher vorgestellt haben.” Die Note “Sehr gut” bekam Ishak daf_r von seiner Lehrerin, G_lmihiri Aytac. Sie machte Ende der 80er Jahre selbst Abitur im Fach Islamische Religion – als einer der ersten Jahrg_nge. Sie tr_gt ein elegantes seidenes Tuch um den Kopf, auch im Unterricht. “Nat_rlich”, sagt sie, “ich bin sogar verpflichtet dazu. Als Religionslehrerin muss ich irgendwie auch die Ideale der Religion f_r mich selber leben.” Kopftuchverbote wie in Deutschland seien reine Machtdemonstrationen des Staates, findet die Lehrerin. Der Islam zwinge Frauen weder ein Kopftuch zu tragen noch es zu lassen. Sie unterrichtet an ganz normalen staatlichen Schulen, nachmittags kommen die muslimischen Sch_ler in den regul_ren islamischen Religionsunterricht. Anerkennung schon zu Kaisers Zeiten Schon zu Kaisers Zeiten wurde der Islam als offizielle Religion staatlich in _sterreich anerkannt, heute vertritt die islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft in _sterreich ganz offiziell die Interessen der Muslime und legt Lehrinhalte fest, die dann an _ffentlichen Schulen vermittelt werden. “In meinem Klassenzimmer kann der Direktor jeder Zeit reinkommen und den Unterricht mitverfolgen”, sagt die Lehrerin. “Die T_r steht offen, es kann jeder mith_ren. Wir vermitteln den offiziell von der islamischen Glaubensgemeinschaft abgesegneten Islam.” Kritisches Denken und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung Im Unterricht sollen die Lehrer nach diesen Richtlinien Wert legen auf “eigenes kritisches Denken” der Sch_ler, auf “gesellschaftliche Verantwortung”, auf Friedenserziehung und darauf, dass sich der Islam selbstverst_ndlich mit einer europ_ischen und _sterreichischen Identit_t verbinden lasse. Genau das sei auch eine Funktion des Religionsunterrichts, sagt Lehrerin Aytac: “Ich halte es f_r sehr bedeutend, sehr wichtig, weil die Kinder dort irgendwie auch ein St_ck Pers_nlichkeit und Identit_t wiederfinden, im Normunterricht. Das, finde ich, ist sehr bedeutend, weil dann sehen sie, ich bin akzeptiert, ich bin ein Teil dieser Gesellschaft, und ich kann sogar meine Religion im Unterricht finden.” Ishak m_chte nach seinem _sterreichischen Wehrdienst _sterreichisches Recht studieren. Er f_hle sich aber immer noch als T_rke, sagt der geb_rtige Wiener, weil ihn die meisten _sterreicher so s_hen. Alkohol hat er nicht mal nach seiner Abiturfeier getrunken. Terrorismus, Fundamentalismus, Schleierzwang, Steinigungen und K_rperstrafen, die es in manchen muslimisch gepr_gten L_ndern gibt, h_lt er f_r unislamisch. Empfehlung f_r Deutschland Ishak pr_sentiert sich als kritischer, demokratisch gesinnter Mitteleurop_er muslimischen Glaubens. Dazu hat ihn wohl auch der Religionsunterricht in der Schule gemacht. “Wir h_ren ja auch, dass es Imame gibt, die zum Beispiel zum Dschihad aufrufen und solche Sachen und das, glaube ich, kann in einem Religionsunterricht in der Schule nicht passieren.” Islamischen Religionsunterricht an ganz normalen Schulen, das empfiehlt Ishak auch f_r Deutschland.