Why do so many Turks look European

German-Turks: They choose their homeland, not Erdogan

Zurich Thousands of German-Turks come together in German arenas or city halls when the Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears there. In February 2014 there were 4,000, in May 2014 almost 16,000. And even if rather unknown government members like the Turkish Minister of Economic Affairs Nihat Zeybekci want to address their compatriots in a small hotel room in Cologne, supporters of the ruling party AKP flock to the rallies and wave Turkish flags.

A debate has arisen in Germany about whether the Turkish President and his ministers are even allowed to appear in Germany to promote a controversial constitutional amendment in their own country. Hardly any Turkish politician had long been interested in fellow citizens in the German diaspora. But that has changed under Erdogan: He successfully ensnares the Turks abroad in Europe. Approval for his policy is higher among Turks living in Germany than at home.

The reasons for this lie in the beginnings of Turkish immigration to Germany. As of 1961, due to the recruitment agreement with Turkey, around 900,000 people came to Germany whose labor was needed here. Many of them came from rear Anatolia. They brought their conservative and religiously oriented worldviews with them from the provinces to Germany. And while their old homeland was modernizing and old role models had long since been abandoned, the old traditions and world views lived on in the minds of the German-Turks.

Today a good three million people with a Turkish background live in the Federal Republic. 1.4 million of them are eligible to vote in their old homeland. Because the federal governments of the time assumed that the Turks only came to work and would soon go back, there was never a concept for integrating this large group of foreigners.

The consequences can be found in every social science study on the subject: People of Turkish origin in Germany are on average less well educated, are less paid and are more likely to be unemployed. Their risk of poverty is greater than that of Germans without a migration background, and the average net wage of a German-Turkish household is around a third lower. "The Germans had little hope in the Turks," said Detlef Pollack, Professor of Religious Sociology at the University of Münster, in an interview with the weekly newspaper "Das Parlament".

But even worse: Because of their social demarcation, they lacked the role models to rise, writes lawyer and columnist Mehmet Daimagüler in his 2011 book “No beautiful country in this time”. With regard to both their new and their old homeland, many German-Turks had the feeling that no one was interested in their advancement. According to a survey of people of Turkish origin in Germany, 90 percent of those questioned state that they are satisfied with their life in the Federal Republic. Nonetheless, Daimagüler's dismal conclusion was: "We will remain the Kanaks, no matter what we do."

Erdogan recognized this wound and knew how to divert the pain in his favor. In his speech in 2008 in the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, he warned against the national pride of Turks abroad. "Assimilation is a crime against humanity," he complained in front of around 16,000 followers. They cheered him.

"Do not sever your ties with Turkey"

A debate then began in Berlin about how much German-Turks should adapt to the local culture. This debate was in part strongly marked by resentment and reinforced the effect Erdogan wanted. He followed suit three years later: In Düsseldorf, Erdogan asked his compatriots to integrate. But he followed suit: he refused to fully adapt to German culture. "Our children have to learn German, but they have to learn Turkish first."

Erdogan's efforts to win over the Turks in Germany are bearing fruit. In the last parliamentary election in 2015, 60 percent of those eligible to vote in Germany voted for his AKP, more than one percentage point of the total election result for the ruling party. He and his ministers rarely talk about current election programs. In addition, they might not care about a domestic economic stimulus program or the change to the presidential system that is now being sought, because as Turks abroad they would not be affected.

In addition: Erdogan is actually the most successful politician in his country since the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk". Erdogan has won every election since 2002 and modernized numerous areas of the economy. He also liberalized the previously strictly secular state. Since Erdogan, female officials have been allowed to wear headscarves at work again, and recently even when they are soldiers. While this annoys many Turks in Turkey, the predominantly traditionalist-oriented immigrant class in Germany considers this a step long overdue. They are proud of their "rice", which means "leader" in Turkish.

There is another reason why the Turks are so receptive to Erdogan in the first place. In the same year that Erdogan performed in Düsseldorf, ex-Bundesbanker Thilo Sarrazin made a name for himself with his book “Germany abolishes itself”. He found allegedly genetic causes for the poor integration of many migrants in Germany. The resentment against Muslims, which had grown stronger after the attacks of September 11, 2001, had already caused frustration among many migrants.

The result: many people of Turkish origin are more interested in their old home than in their new home. They read Turkish newspapers, watch Turkish television and pray in mosques run by the Turkish religious authority Ditib. She confirms that Turks only play a role in the German media and in political Berlin when a headscarf ban is being debated.

In February 2014 Erdogan called out to his supporters in Berlin: “I want you to be proud to live in Germany, but I also want you to be proud of the Turkish flag.” They are children of a great country. “Do not sever your ties with Turkey. Above all, it prevents the younger generation from forgetting their faith and roots and becoming foreigners. "

When German Turks choose Erdogan, many simply choose a piece of home.

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