Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent suggestion that Germany should support setting up Turkish high schools across the country sparked indignant reactions ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s official visit to Turkey this week. The proposal thoroughly riled the Germans, and led to a heated debate that had very little to do with the actual issue. How else to explain why Germany runs schools all over the world and yet wants to dispute the right of the Turks to do the same here?
Yet Erdoğan’s move is paternalistic – he wants to signal that Turkey’s government also represents Turks living in Germany. Ankara is even in the process of setting up an official government authority for Turks living abroad.
As a Turkish German citizen, such arguments make me feel like the child from a broken home in the middle of a custody battle, with parents pulling at me from both sides. On the surface, everyone talks about the interests of the child, but in reality it’s all about the insults, the hurt feelings and the power struggles between the two parents.
The father is far away, but still wants a say, especially when it comes to educating the children. The children live with the mother, who sees the relationship with the father as her one big mistake in life. And because the children resemble the father a bit too much, she has slightly ambivalent feelings towards them.
What the two sides have in common is that they treat German Turks (or is it Turkish Germans?) as helpless and slightly backward charges unable to fend for themselves. The fatherly Erdoğan moans that the kids should not be given up to “the crime of assimilation,” while at the same time mothering Merkel warns in her weekly video messages that they should “learn the German language and abide by German law.”
This is all that Merkel has to say to her citizens with Turkish roots. It implies that Turkish Germans do not follow the nation’s laws in some way, while of course everyone else does.
Neither Mrs. Merkel nor Mr. Erdoğan have the slightest idea about the multifaceted reality faced by Turkish immigrants in Germany. To them, we are simply objects in their political machinations.
But it’s up to us to develop our own voice – whether it is in politics, in the media, or in the sciences. This is the only way we can free ourselves of the stifling parenthood on both sides.
Dear Mr. Erdoğan, you are not my prime minister. You presume to speak for me, but I can represent my own interests, and I can do it just as well in Turkish as I can in German, by the way. Dear Mrs. Merkel, I am a citizen of this nation, and not just an “integration problem.” It would be nice if Mum and Dad realised this.