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.” (( ))

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.” (( )) Concomitantly, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced his support for the abolition of legal provisions allowing dual citizenship. (( )). 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. (( ))

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 (( )) – has been less explored by politicians and the media.

Yet when interviewed by the Forum am Freitag TV magazine (( )), 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. (( )) 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. (( ))

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. (( ))

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. (( )) 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. (( ))

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.

No obligations for the usage of coffins during Muslim funerals

December 11, 2013


The parliament of the State of Baden-Württemberg has agreed to abolish the obligation for coffins during funeral processes. More than 650.000 Muslims live in the State of Baden-Württemberg and were left uncertain, whether to return the bodies of their members to the countries of origin or to ask for a Muslim funeral. Also, there will be no need to prove the religious affiliation of Muslims. This was a controversial topic. Unlike many Christians, Muslims are not members of a formal recognized church. The fraction of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was concerned about the rise of Muslim funerals.


Die Welt:

Laschet Concerned About Imitators


In an interview with Die Welt, a national German newspaper, North Rhine-Westphalia’s former Integration Minister (2005 – 2010), Armin Laschet (CDU), has defended the freedom of speech in Germany and revealed his fear of similar attacks on German ground. According to Laschet, recent events in Norway and Breivik’s references to critiques of Islam must not lead to any taboos in talking about Islam or integration. It should be possible to criticize aspects or talk about certain deficits – yet, this should be done without creating and communicating horror scenarios (such as done by certain blogs; e.g. the blog “Politically Incorrect”). After his statements about the freedom of speech, Laschet also revealed that he was concerned about copy-cats, planning similar events in Germany.

German media roundup: Alert but not hysterical

18 November 2010

Conservative daily Die Welt complimented de Maizière’s reassuring conduct, which it said balanced the seriousness of the threat with the need to avoid panic. It was the very refusal to resort to hysteria that was the great strength of a democracy, the paper wrote.
“There are situations in which calm is actually a civic duty and has nothing to do with apathy. It is not a sign of carelessness but of strength if life goes on as normal in dangerous situations. In a democracy, heroism and the most normal daily routine go hand in hand.”
Centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that unlike his predecessors, de Maizière has been no “Federal Fearmongering Minister.” “For this reason his warning of an impending attack is so effective,” the paper said.
The threat of terrorism presents a Catch-22 for government leaders, who face criticism if they have failed to warn citizens in the event of an attack, or accusations of fearmongering when they do issue a warning. Given the situation, de Maizière’s approach was correct, “and there is no better answer,” the paper said.
It was appropriate for the minister to advise against hysteria and worry, because the danger of actually being the victim of a terrorist attack is smaller than any other security risk in Germany, the paper explained.
The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that every citizen needed to make a level-headed assessment of the threat. That meant being watchful but also getting on with life.
“The Interior Minister cannot please everyone. If he issues warnings too loudly and too often, people accuse him of being alarmist. If he is too cool and guarded, it is said, he is lulling people with the illusory comfort of safety,” it wrote.

German media roundup: Merkel’s convoluted immigration policy

18 October 2010

The German government announced plans on Monday for a raft of measures aimed at fostering integration of immigrants, two days after Merkel said multiculturalism had “completely failed.”

Merkel’s centre-right cabinet would adopt “concrete” new regulations governing immigration policy and residency permits, with a focus on German language courses and combating forced marriages, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Saxony’s Leipziger Volkszeitung also pointed out Merkel’s seeming hypocrisy on the issue of immigration.

“Islam is part of Germany, but multiculturalism isn’t, says Merkel while giddily clapping for the TV cameras when Mesut Özil scores goals for the German national football team,” wrote the paper, referring to the midfielder with Turkish roots.

“While the federal government attempts to hash out criteria for highly qualified immigrants, the flailing CSU boss Horst Seehofer fantasises about foreign cultures and stopping immigration while enjoying Merkel’s protection. But that will simply scare away qualified experts,” the paper opined.
But the right-wing daily Die Welt wrote that multiculturalism can’t be dead, because it never lived in the first place.

“No one has anything against immigrants who live and work here and want to fit in,” the paper wrote. “But many have something against immigrants who want to bring their own laws along. To immigrate doesn’t just mean accepting the traditions of the chosen country, but respecting them too.” Those who choose not to do so should “please stay away,” the paper said.

Leftist daily Die Tageszeitung said that the German abbreviation for multiculturalism, Multikulti, isn’t even used by the Green party as it once was, and has instead become a “puppet for conservative politicians to batter ritually when they crave applause.”

German troublemaker Sarrazin steps down

10 September 2010
Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin resigned late on Thursday after causing weeks of uproar with inflammatory comments on immigrants and Jews. “The Bundesbank board and its member Thilo Sarrazin are aware of their responsibilities to the institution of the Bundesbank,” the central bank said in a surprise statement posted on its website. “Given the public debate, the parties concerned are going, of mutual accord, to end their cooperation at the end of the month.”
The Frankfurt-based Bundesbank had previously requested that German President Christian Wulff fire Sarrazin because he had refused to go quietly. But on Thursday the bank said it had “withdrawn its request” and that the 65-year-old had asked Wulff to relieve him of his duties. The statement also thanked Sarrazin “for the work he has done.”
The furore followed the publication of a new book by Sarrazin, Deutschland schafft sich ab — Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country at jeopardy.” In the book, he says Europe’s top economy is being undermined, overwhelmed and made “more stupid” by poorly educated, fast-breeding, badly integrated and unproductive Muslim immigrants and their offspring. “If I want to hear the muezzin’s call to prayer, then I’ll go to the Orient,” he says in the book, saying that allowing in millions of “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s was a “gigantic error.”
As a consequence, the Sarrazin debate has put the immigration and integration issue back on top of the political and public agenda in Germany.

Die Welt (11/09, German)

Is is possible to criticize Islam? Summary of a heated debate in Germany

For a few weeks now, German media have been involved in a heated debate on whether it is possible to Islam and if so, in what way. While some argue for a strong distinction of Islam and Islamism (with only the latter calling for criticism), others hold Islam responsible also for its extremist forms and therefore claim it necessary to criticize the whole of Islam. The first, pro-Islamic position thinks of the other, pro-critique attitude as harshly intolerant, while in return they are accused of being apologetic of suppression and Islamic extremism. Mutual accusations and Nazi-comparisons add to the heat of the debate.

It started in early January 2010, possibly triggered by several events. First, the ongoing discussion on the impact of the Swiss minaret ban, later the attempted murder of caricaturist Kurt Westergaard, but in Germany also the reprint of Henryk Broder’s book “Hurra, wir kapitulieren” (Hooray, we surrender!). Broder, a prominent writer, journalist and very liberalist member of the pro-critique camp, claims that Muslims do not speak out against crimes committed in name of Islam and therefore tolerate and foster extremism. His deliberately provocative writings always stir an emotional debate and did not fail to do so this time.

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, feuilleton chief editor Claudius Seidl strongly argues for distinguishing Islam from Islamism, for not neglecting human rights violations by extreme Islamists, but at the same time recognising the racist potential that the criticism of Islam evidently bears. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung feuilleton, Thomas Steinfeld argues in a similar way against Broder and refers to the intolerant fighters on both sides as “hate preachers”. In the same paper, Wolfgang Benz had warned about right-wing Islam critics who employ the same methods as anti-Semitists in the 19th century. Another article on the pro-Islam side in the tageszeitung by Birgit Rommelspacher is wary of feminist critique that holds a whole religion or culture responsible for suppression, implying a proximity to right-wing and Nazi ideologies, until finally Necla Kelek appears in the debate.

A social scientist and feminist of Turkish background, Necla Kelek is a strong critic of Islam, which she sees as a patriarchal and authoritarian system. Having suffered from this during her childhood, she distanced herself from Islam, while still actively engaging in debates on the topic, also as a Muslim. Her article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a critical account of the criticism of Islam, strongly opposes the previous articles, calls for a criticism of Islam, which she does not regard equal to racism, and vehemently defends “Western values” and liberty as the ultimate resource for all people, including Muslims. Hamed Abdel-Samad claims in Die Welt that criticism of Islam is essential if Muslims are to be taken seriously and especially Muslims themselves must start this debate. Jens Jessen, feuilleton chief editor of Die ZEIT, sums up the main points by asking what was worse, trivialising Islamism or condemning Islam altogether? To what extent could Islam be equated with Islamism? Eventually Jessen calls for a true and analytic understanding of the Islamic religion while not being tolerant of intolerance. On Stefan Weidner provides a summary of the German debate of “Islamkritik” and looks at the role that Muslims play in it.

Germany under Qaeda terror threat

Ranking higher on the hit list of Al-Qaeda, Germany has become a prime target for them. Commanders of the terror group in Afghanistan and Pakistan have ordered terror attacks on the country, senior government officials said today. ”Germany is at the centre of Al-Qaeda’s attention and in their line of fire. The facts have changed since last year,” interior ministry spokesman Stefan Paris said confirming a press report. A state secretary in the interior ministry, August Hanning said that al-Qaeda leaders based in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan had ‘decided to carry out attacks in Germany.’ ”We are worried that we will not be able to foil every plot,” he added. Die Welt said Germany’s domestic intelligence agency and police had established that Germany’s six-year-old military mission in Afghanistan had prompted Al-Qaeda to move the country ‘much higher’ on its list of targets.

Merkel to Meet German Islamic Leaders

BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to have talks later this year with leaders of the country’s 3.3 million Muslims, a report said Wednesday. Merkel is due to invite the heads of 16 Islamic groups to the chancellery before parliament’s summer recess to boost dialogue after worldwide protests over cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, said the newspaper Die Welt. The move comes amid unprecedented calls by German teachers for the closure of a Berlin high school following massive disruptions by Arab and Turkish students.

German Paper Accused Of Insulting Islam

BERLIN – A Turkish lobby group said yesterday it has filed a criminal complaint against a German newspaper for printing a series of blasphemous Danish cartoons last month. It said the complaint was filed with prosecutors in the northern city of Cologne, charging the daily Die Welt with violating Germany’s criminal code by printing 12 cartoons despite global unrest sparked by their initial appearance in a Danish paper. While freedom of the Press is guaranteed by the German constitution, the country’s law forbids public insults against religious societies, beliefs and groups that support specific world views. It is not the point of a free Press to insult the religious sensibilities of nearly 3 million Muslims in Germany with provocations of this kind, Abdullah Emil, general secretary of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), said. Guenther Feld, a public prosecutor in Cologne, where the UETD is based, confirmed receiving the complaint and said he would study it. Even if the prosecutors decided to formally press charges, Feld told Reuters it was unclear whether it would be handled in Cologne or Hamburg, where the daily’s owner, German newspaper publisher Axel Springer, is based. Axel Springer’s spokeswoman, Silvie Rundel, said there were currently no official legal complaints, or complaints by the German media watchdog pending against Die Welt. On Wednesday, Denmark’s own public prosecutor decided not to press charges against a newspaper for allegedly violating Denmark’s blasphemy law by printing the 12 blasphemous drawings which triggered widespread Muslim anger. The cartoons, later reprinted in other countries, provoked protests among Muslims. At least 50 people were killed in protests in the Middle East and Asia, three Danish embassies were attacked and many Muslims boycotted Danish goods. Last month a German court convicted a businessman of insulting Islam. He was given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, and ordered to complete 300 hours of community service.