Turkey’s Latest Spat with Germany

March 6, 2017

With three million Turks, Germany is home to more Turks than any other country. There are also fifteen thousand Germans who have settled in Turkey’s coastal regions. In 2015, before the fallout of the Syrian conflict dealt a crippling blow to Turkey’s tourism sector, over 5.5 million Germans visited Turkey. To put it briefly, the human bridge joining the two countries is huge. Moreover, Germany is Turkey’s leading trade partner and also the largest export market for Turkish products. Last but not least, Turkey and Germany are NATO allies and Germany remains the strongman of the European Union with a key role to play in Turkey’s accession process. This is not to say that Ankara and Berlin should agree on every problem that confronts them. However, in view of their converging broad interests, they should be able to show a capacity to contain and resolve their differences and avoid inflammatory language.

Among Muslim groups living Germany, Turks have gone further than others in integrating themselves with the society. They have represented moderation. Putting behind the difficulties of earlier years in their adopted country, they have accumulated experience and wealth. Their qualitative and quantitative participation in all walks of life including local politics has substantially improved. And, their remittances and entrepreneurship have made a significant contribution to Turkey’s economic development as well as to Germany’s welfare. For understandable reasons, it is unthinkable that Turkey’s attitude towards them can be indifference.

It is never easy to find solutions to problems involving different sets of values and identities especially when these have an international dimension. Such solutions require preferably a shared mental framework or at least agreement on the lowest common denominators. In the case of the German-Turkish relationship, the sheer size of the human bridge, if nothing else, leaves the two countries with no other option than achieving the highest standards of integration and thus setting an example for others to follow. Endeavors in this direction have been going on for decades but in view of the global economic crisis, the refugee challenge, the rise of populism and extreme-right parties they have gained even greater importance.

For decades, Turkish governments have put the emphasis on preserving the “national and moral values” of Turks living in Europe. Whether this was prompted by a groundless fear that someday they would become oblivious to their roots and their faith or together with that also by a desire to keep them attached to Turkey for political purposes is difficult to say.  Whatever the intention, the emphasis on “national and moral values” has not facilitated the integration process. Moreover, it has provided Europe’s extreme right with easily usable political material. The reality is that Turks living in Europe will neither forget their Turkish roots nor their faith. One should add, in all fairness, that their adopted country Germany has never entertained any illusions in this respect. If the peoples of Europe would ever be called to vote on Turkey’s accession to the European Union in a referendum, every German citizen of Turkish ethnic origin will surely support this. And that would be the ultimate proof of both successful integration and a lasting attachment to the country of origin.

At present, Turks living in a number of European countries including Germany are able to vote in Turkish elections at polling stations where they live. This came after years of negotiations because the adopted countries saw engagement in Turkey’s internal politics as an obstacle to integration. With time, they relented. But, difficulties persist.

Last week Turkish-German relations were strained over the arrest of a Die Welt correspondent in Turkey and the cancellation of two meetings in Germany which were to be addressed by Turkish ministers. (On April 16, Turkey is going to hold a constitutional referendum on the proposal for a presidential system.) Germany criticized the Turkish government for what it perceived as repression of the press and the Turkish government reacted by saying that the correspondent in question was a PKK terrorist. It also directed accusations at Germany for harboring terrorists and its lack of respect for democratic practices. These exchanges must have caused deep consternation at both ends of the German-Turkish human bridge and that in itself is a disturbing development. Hopefully, they don’t reflect an unbridgeable rift of chemistry between the two governments.

Thus, the only good news so far is that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will meet his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel in Berlin on Wednesday. Commenting on the current tension in an op-ed in Bild am Sonntag newspaper, the latter said that “the basis for friendship between our two countries must not be allowed to be destroyed”.  And, Turkey’s Minister of the Economy Nihat Zeybekçi reportedly stated in Cologne yesterday evening that the three million Turks in Germany were living in “a country that is our friend”.

Harboring terrorist organizations is a serious charge. Germany can either shrug off the accusation or provide the Turkish side with irrefutable proof that this is not the case. And if the Turkish government is not satisfied one way or the other, it can carry the matter officially to appropriate international organizations.

As for the cancellation of the referendum rallies, it is understandable that disallowing something that was previously agreed was an unpleasant surprise. Nonetheless, the Turkish government and the main opposition which has joined the government in calling for democracy in Germany, need to look at the problem with cool-headedness and also respond to the following theoretical question:

“Assuming that someday, if ever, Syria’s warring parties agree on their country’s political transition and the holding of elections, would the Turkish government welcome Syria’s political parties to carry their polarized politics into Turkey, allow them to hold rallies in Turkish cities and open polling stations for the three million Syrians who would still be here?”




About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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