What will Turkey's failed coup mean for Turkish Germans?

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What will Turkey's failed coup mean for Turkish Germans?
Turks rally in support of Erdogan in Berlin. Photo: DPA

In Berlin, just as in Turkey, many supporters of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed his call to take to the streets in protest at the attempted military coup. What does that say about Germany's Turkish community?


As a faction of the army tried to take power in Turkey last Friday, thousands went out onto the streets opposing the putsch. Pro-Erdogan demonstrations took place not only in Turkish cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, but also in Berlin, Hamburg and Stuttgart.

In Berlin about 3,000 people gathered in front of the Turkish Embassy in the Tiergarten district in the early hours of last Saturday.

'If you are marginalized here, you look to Erdogan for strength'

Among them was Tahir Sözen. In the last two elections, he has voted for Erdogan's ruling AKP. As the rebels announced the takeover, he went to the embassy to protest.

Erol Özkaraca was not in Berlin that night. He was heading off on vacation to Istanbul, and arrived as soldiers in tanks blocked the bridges over the Bosphorus strait. He was stuck for hours at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

Tanks are seen blocking the bridge on Turkish television. Photo: DPA

A Berliner with Turkish roots, Özkaraca represents the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the city senate and is an avowed opponent of Erdogan’s policies.

The great support for the Ankara government among Germans of Turkish origin worried him. It showed that many immigrants, especially in deprived areas, felt as if they did not belong in Germany, he says.

In Özkaraca's opinion, Erdogan's authoritarian style speaks to the self-esteem of these people and he gives an impression of being a strong statesman who also takes care of Turkish nationals abroad.

"These people then think ‘he’s doing what’s right’ and ‘the others are all terrorists’,” says Özkaraca.

Erdogan supporter Sözen understands this phenomenon: "There are these young people who yearn for strength. And if they are marginalized here, you look to Erdogan for that strength."

'Majority of Turks are well integrated'

However, failed integration alone cannot account for the huge support for the AKP in Germany, political scientist Gülistan Gürbey of the Free University in Berlin explains. He believes that it reflects the political situation and polarization of society in Turkey.

"The fact is, when it comes to integration in education, training, employment, the majority of Turks in Germany are well integrated," says Gürbey.

And Sözen is one of them. He came to Berlin 42 years ago as a schoolchild. Today he represents the "Islamic Community Milli Gorus" (IGMG) in the Berlin Religious Forum, is involved in a citizens’ association and co-founded a community of tenants.

"I am interested in both Turkish and German politics - why should that be a contradiction?" asks Sözen. He hasn’t observed any division or radicalization among Berlin’s Turkish community, and says: "We [the Turkish community in Germany] have always been political.”

In Berlin, one demonstrator wore a scarf depicting Erdogan. Photo: DPA

He adds that the German public are being too simplistic in viewing opposition to the coup as a simple act of solidarity with Erdogan. "All four Turkish political parties have condemned the coup attempt," says Sözen. “The failure of the coup has brought democratic forces closer together.”

The German Senate does not consider the strong reaction of the Turkish Berliners to be a particular cause for concern.

"It has always been the case that current events and conflicts in Turkey have an effect on Berliners with Turkish roots," says the Turkish-born Senator for Integration, Dilek Kolat (SPD).

'Turks in Berlin are more concerned with park benches'

Her spokesperson added that she was often confronted in discussions with citizens with questions about Turkish politics.

"If the senator calmly responds to that, most of the time [the discussion] quickly returns to the park bench in front of their apartment door,” said the spokesperson.

Indeed, the 3,000 Berliners of Turkish origin who gathered in front of the Embassy quickly returned to their everyday lives.

The demonstrators in Berlin. Photo: DPA

When news of the failure of the coup reached the protest, the crowd peacefully dissolved. Since then there has not been much sign of protest in Berlin.

Kolat says she does not expect the Turkish community to "put our peaceful and non-violent coexistence in doubt".

For her, that would be out of the question.

"The Turkish community has lived here for 60 years now. The majority has never been carried away by violence," says the senator.

However, Özkaraca argues that no one can say what will happen now - the deciding factor will be how Erdogan acts.

Integration researcher Gürbey agrees. "If the situation in Turkey escalates, we will feel that escalation here,” she says. “We can take that as a given."


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