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Tired Nazi jibes bring German-Turkish relations to new low

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Tired Nazi jibes bring German-Turkish relations to new low
Demonstrators in Cologne. Photo: DPA
16:34 CEST+02:00
No European country is more important in relations with Turkey than Germany - home to the world's largest Turkish diaspora - but in Turkish media Germany is currently being demonized.

Whenever there is tension in relations between Ankara and Berlin, Turkish news editors love to fall back on the well-worn cliche of the Third Reich.

A day after German authorities prohibited Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan from speaking to tens of thousands of his supporters in Cologne via video link, the reaction was the same.

On Monday, Aksam newspaper went with a headline in all caps that read “Heil Merkel.” Next to it was a picture of the Chancellor sporting a Hitler moustache and raising her right arm in a Nazi salute.

The publication is one of those which studiously toe the line of Erdogan's AKP party. Another is Yeni Akit, which went with the even more shrill “Germany is not our friend, it's our enemy” as its Monday headline.

Against this backdrop, the Turkish foreign ministry's bland statements of business as usual seem farcical.

Germany is still “one of our most important partners” it is claimed on their website. “Germany enjoys a traditionally high level of respect” another section reads, continuing that “there exists a trusting and constructive cooperation, even on controversial questions.”

What is true in this statement is that there are controversial issues - although even that sounds like a laughable understatement.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu threatened on Monday to cancel a controversial deal on refugees that Turkey signed with the EU in March if the EU didn't offer Turkish citizens visa-free travel into Europe.

That he chose to make this statement to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is not likely to be a coincidence - Ankara knows full well that Merkel was the main architect of the pact along with former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who had subsequently been forced out if his post.

Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel reacted angrily later on Monday saying "under no circumstance will Germany, or Europe, let itself be blackmailed."

Another weight on the taut string of bilateral relations is the decision of German parliamentarians to pass a resolution recognizing the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16 as genocide.

When the resolution was put to a vote on June 2nd, Turkish media also did not hold back with the Nazi comparisons. The Turkish government meanwhile has completely ignored Germany's ambassador ever since.

Crossed lines

The dispute over the demonstration in Cologne has shown just how low relations have sunk.

One statement in particular in the build up to the Cologne rally made it clear just how bad things have become.

The Cologne chief of police said that he had successfully managed to prevent Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu from attending the event in person.

“I made sure that the foreign minister wouldn't come,” he said, talking about the highest diplomat of a NATO ally.

The way Ankara saw it, demonstrators wanted to show solidarity with democracy in Turkey after the military tried and failed to take power on July 15th.

But German authorities worried that in the heated situation, a speech by Erdogan could cause outbreaks of violence. This is despite the fact that there is no historical precedent for this - Erdogan has spoken to supporters several times in Germany - nor had anyone called for violence. Indeed the situation remained peaceful.

The German fears arose most likely from a failure to properly analyse the situation in Turkey, with a tendency to draw parallels between Erdogan and Hitler - or North Korea's leadership - all too prevalent.

While thousands of Erdogan supporters gather in Istanbul's Taksim Square on a nightly basis to “guard democracy”, they aren't marauding hoards in the fashion of the Nazi SA on the hunt for people who think differently to them.

The long lines in front of the hot dog stands - where food is handed out for free - point to the real reason so many people are there. And the fact that public transport has also been free since the putsch attempt has also made mobilization easier.

The fact that a personality cult has grown around Erdogan, whose face is omnipresent in Taksim Square, may be unsettling to a Western eye, but it is far from unusual in Turkey.

Founder of the modern state Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is revered by conservatives like a saint, while supporters of the banned Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) also plaster photos of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan on walls.

Looking back at previous events in Germany in the not too distant past, it becomes clear just how much tensions between Ankara and Berlin have risen, especially given how German officials do not seem to react in the same way to PKK sympathizers.

About five years ago in Cologne, a Kurdish street festival took place with the consent of the authorities. From the number of PKK flags - an organization on the German terror list - it was clear where the sympathies of many who attended that day lay.

And officials also gave the green light to the headline speaker - PKK commander Murat Karayilan who was talking live to the crowd via video link.

By Can Merey/DPA

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