“I understand very well that you are against assimilation. One cannot expect you to assimilate,” Erdogan told the crowd. He said, “Assimilation is a crime against humanity.”
The Prime Minister, however, spoke of the importance of integration. Erdogen told his audience that it is important to learn German, but that the Turkish language should not be disregarded. He highlighted the importance of education and that Turks in Europe should become more engaged in society, as well as aim to become more influential in politics. Taking the US as an example of a society where immigrant groups have always had substantial influence, Erdogan said that the five million Turks living in Europe should “be a constitutional element and not just guests.”
“For over 40 years, Turks have contributed to economic development in Germany,” Edogan said. He also said that the Turkish language should be preserved and underlined the peaceful nature of Turks living abroad.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with hate. We have absolutely nothing to with enmity, conflict and violence,” he told the crowd.
Concerning domestic politics, Erdogan talked about measures he took to improve economic and political affairs in Turkey, and praised the abolition of the headscarf ban at universities.
In addition, he talked about Turkey’s claim to full EU membership, saying “there are a few countries that want to prevent our entry into the EU. Turkey has no alternative aside from full membership.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has suggested that Turkey become a privileged partner of the EU rather than a member.
“Turkey will not go along with that scenario,” said Erdagen.
Several hundred opponents of Erdogan, including Kurds and left-leaning Turks, gathered on a street across from the Cologne-Arena. Critics of the speech highlighted Erdogan’s suggestion to send Turkish teachers to Germany to instruct Turks living in Germany, and warned of heightened Islamic influence in Germany. One protester carried a sign “the Cathedral will not become a Hagia Sophia,” in reference to the ancient Byzantine Church that was turned into a mosque in 1453, when Constantinople, now Istanbul, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.