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Dangerous Polarization Among Turks Living Abroad

According to an article published by Deutsche Welle, domestic political conflicts in Turkey are being reflected among Turks living in Germany. Experts, politicians, and representatives of the immigrant community who spoke to DW Turkish expressed concern that these conflicts could lead to polarization in the Turkish German community.

Dr. Bernd Lietke, a German security expert, said the recent developments are worrying, explaining, “In Germany, divisions are sharpening and camps are forming. AKP supporters are on one side, CHP supporters are the other, and Kurds are on yet another. We have also seen that this polarization can result in incidents of physical violence.”

 Dr. Liedtke, who served on the police force in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, which has a large ethnic Turkish population, began academic research on assimilation and security topics after retirement. He called attention to the fact that the recent polarization has spread beyond cafes, workplaces and even streets and is now affecting everyone, including families.

The German expert gave an example to illustrate his observations of the current climate, “A mother who wanted to give a birthday party for her child had to speak with and try to smooth over relations between her husband’s AKP-supporting family and her own CHP-supporting relatives to prevent a fight from breaking out.”

Occasions that might have been reasons for many to leave differences aside and come together for a wedding or to share the pain of a funeral do not provide sufficient opportunity to leave political polarization aside. This situation, which has taken the attention of German experts, has also caused concern among migrant community groups in Germany.]

The President of the European Turkish Islamic Union (ATIB) İhsan Öner expressed his concerns about the ongoing tensions, “It is sad but true. We cannot ignore the dimensions the conflict has reached. Unfortunately, we hear about these kinds of tensions in schools even between our own children.”


Suggesting that the tone of Turkish politics has led to the deepening of polarization in Turkish society in Germany, Oner said, “If rhetoric is taken to extreme points, it becomes an opportunity for polarization. Politicians have as much a role as the Turkish media in this problem.”

[Oner points out that simultaneously fighting against both increasing xenophobia and islamophobia as well as the mutual recriminations and accusations in the community birthed by polarization based in Turkish politics limits the space for democratic debate, “The Turkish trends also unfortunately have this type of approach: you are either an Erdoganist or a Feto supporter or this-ist or that-ist…. Both in Turkey and here, things are very black or white. Tolerance [“multicolor rule”] is in tatters. In fact, the existence of both the ruling party as well as that of the opposition are non-negotiable, essential to democracy,” he said.

“Sensible people need to be sensitive about bringing the things going on in Turkey to Germany,” said Oner, emphasizing that the responsibility for lowering tensions falls on Turkish politicians: “Polarization is heading to a very dangerous situation. Getting in front of this depends on the political disagreements in Turkey being dealt with in a blanaced way. I believe that Turkey’s politics needs to be brought to a higher level.”]

Particularly in the run up to the Turkish Constitutional referendum, the German federal government is concerned that political polarization will rise and be reflected in Germany. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel is expected to raise this issue during her planned visit to Ankara this week.

[In the last few months, the tensions in Germany have led to occasional street fights between radical groups, violent demonstrations, and several attacks targeting mosque associations have been carried out. Several branches of the European Turkish Democrats Union (UETD) have been attacked with rocks and molotov cocktails.

Concern in the Alevi community

The President of the Alevi Society of Berlin, Halit Büyükgöl, said that this month the door of a djemevi[1] in the state of Baden-Württemberg was marked with an X in red paint and with insults and threats in Turkish. He explained that these were worrying developments.

[Buyukgol, who mentioned his disappointment that developments in Turkey would be reflected so negatively in Germany in this way, said: “However many thousands of miles away from the land of our birth we may be, developments there, positive or negative, affect us here. Our hearts beat in our homelands; tragedies there sadden us. There are people, individuals and groups, here who have not seen the benefits of democracies. But whether you are Kurdish, Turkish, Circassian, whether you are Alevi or Sunni, our common reality is that we are migrants in Germany. But we can never come together to discuss this.”

NGO’s attempts at dialogue

Even as the polarization in Germany makes it difficult for many migrant organizations to come together, the Berlin-Brandenburg Turkish Society (TBB) has been attempting to continue its search for common solutions and ways to lower the tension.

Ayse Demir, the TBB President, emphasizes the important role civil society organizations have to play in this regard, “For example, after the Ankara and Suruc bombings, we and some other organizations put out a common statement emphasizing that the only solution is a peaceful solution and calling on people to “not turn to violence, to be calm, to discuss things calmly.” We will repeat this call as necessary because it is our duty as civil society organizations.”

Demir expressed her hope that after some time this tension will be left behind, “Ultimately, whichever ethnic or religious group we belong to or political view we subscribe to, we are minorities in Germany and we experience the same problems. We need to unite behind the goal of finding a solution to our common problems. I am hopeful that after some time we will unite on common ground.]

When tensions in Germany flare between opposing groups from time to time,Turkish origin politicians work to lower those tensions. One such politicians, Hakan Taş, a Berlin State Parliament MP from the Left Party, says it is not that easy. Tas, who says he has been looking, thus far without success, for people from different viewpoints to bring together, said: “In addition, the government in Turkey engages in some provocative activities. There are allegations that nearly 6 thousand people have been deputized or sent abroad on behalf of Turkish intelligence agencies. Numbers and rumors like this are frightening.”

Are young people more radical?

Politicians, migrant representatives, and experts agree that mistakes in German assimilation policies and discrimination toward migrants have played a role in creating a situation in which Turks in Germany would be this affected by tension in Turkish politics.

Some experts suggest that during this most recent period of increasing polarization, youth with migrant roots have also become more radicalized. Left party MP Tas, who does not agree with these assessments, sees the root of the problem in Turkey: “Every second in Turkey human rights are being violated, tens of people are being illegally detained, people and organizations are being declared terrorists at the whim of the President. However radical AKP supporters and MHP supporters in Turkey are, European Turks are equally radical. In any case they are very radical in Turkey, which is perhaps where the problem lies.”

“We should talk instead of turning our backs”

According to German security expert Dr. Liedtke, the polarization of young people in particular takes place on the margins. Dr. Liedtke argues that exclusion and discrimination are large factors in this, saying, “There is no easy way to approach this difficult problem caused by misguided assimilation policies; it is necessary to be patient.”

Dr. Liedtke, who says that dialogue with Turkish society in Germany must be strengthened, explained, “We must talk with Turkish society rather than turning our backs, we must always talk more intensely and more deeply, we must try to understand each other better. Now people who live here must be made to feel that they are a part of Germany, we must show them the respect and acceptance they deserve.”]

Merton Lisztfrick from DW


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