German-Turkish relations have worsened since July 15 coup and Erdogan rally ban
Escalating problems between lawmakers could threaten EU-Turkish migrant treaty
Meanwhile Turks in Germany struggle to feel accepted by wider society
Despite temperatures far too cold for mid-summer and persistent pouring rain, tens of thousands of Turkish protesters in Cologne were in a frenzy. A sea of red and white flags and signs supporting their president washed over the streets while the crowd burst into song. The chorus has only three words:
“RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN! RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN!”
Chanting with conviction, the pride etched proudly on their faces, Turks in Germany were displaying their loyalty after the failed coup attempt while also booing German authorities’ ban on Erdogan speaking to the gathering via videolink.
The world’s largest Turkish diaspora can be found in Germany – where about three million people with Turkish ethnicity now reside. A third of Germany’s Turkish community live in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (where Cologne is located).
Relations between Germany and Turkey are now almost as stormy as the weather on the day of the protest. Some of the rhetoric coming out of Berlin is sharply critical; many Germans deem Turkey’s actions a heavy-handed response in the wake of the military uprising.
The situation got worse on Monday after Turkey summoned Germany’s charge d’affaires in Ankara to its Foreign Ministry to express outrage at Erdogan’s ban from addressing the anti-coup rally, state-run news agency Anadolu reported.
Many German politicians believe President Erdogan is turning into an increasingly autocratic ruler. One media outlet has even labeled him “The Sultan from the Bosphorus” and lambastes the purges in the aftermath of the failed coup.
This latest row couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. Back in March, Turkey and the European Union reached a deal to handle the mass movement of migrants across the Mediterranean. But some German lawmakers believe Turkey is using the refugee crisis – and the migration route through its territory – to blackmail the EU into political concessions, citing the ongoing proposal for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU’s Schengen area.
Ankara, for its part, believes that Germany is too soft on groups like the PKK – a Kurdish separatist group that Turkey has been battling for decades. The collective feeling among Turks is that the European Union is essentially leaving Turkey alone in dealing with the refugee crisis. It doesn’t help deteriorating ties that EU leaders do not see eye to eye with Turkey when it comes to the bloody civil war in Syria.
In the past months, Erdogan has launched legal action against a German comedian for writing and then reciting on TV a scathing poem against the Turkish leader. (These lawsuits have since been dropped.) This weekend, Turkish lawmakers accused Germany’s constitutional court of infringing upon Turks’ rights to free speech in Germany after authorities banned Erdogan from addressing the rally. Turkey’s EU Minister and chief negotiator, Omer Celik, said on Twitter that the decision was “against democratic values.”
The court made its decision after Cologne police voiced concerns over security. German politicians fired back saying Turkey should worry about its own free speech track record before it criticizes other nations.
The problem with picking sides
In light of the growing strains, many in Germany are pressuring the ethnic Turkish population living here to declare where their loyalties lie – with Germany or with Turkey?
The answer to that question is not easy. I went to high school only a few blocks from where the pro-Erdogan demonstration in Cologne was held, in Koeln-Deutz. Many of my friends were Turks and identity was never a simple subject for them.
Some of the three million-strong community carry Turkish passports but many more are second or third generation immigrants who were born in Germany and hold German citizenship. But no matter how long ago their families settled here, and even with German citizenship, many struggle to feel accepted by German society as a whole.