Reading Erdogan In The Heart Of Germany’s Turkish Community

In Berlin's Kreuzberg district, home to many people of Turkish descent, opinions about Recep Tayyip Erdogan and last week's failed coup that tried to oust him range from shock to skepticism.

Kebab shop in Berlin's Kreuzberg district
Kebab shop in Berlin's Kreuzberg district
Tobias Heimbach

BERLIN â€" The TV in the Turkish Café was tuned to CNN Türk, which was broadcasting continuous images that caused the world to collectively hold its breath on the night of the failed coup in Turkey. The images of tanks on the bridge spanning the Bosphorus; soldiers in front of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara; angry supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gathered in public squares all around the country.

"Thank goodness it’s over," sighed Yaman Isa, a man in his mid 50s, as he stirred his tea. Isa has been living in Germany for 35 years but still has many relatives in Turkey. "I was shocked to the core when I heard of the attempted coup."

Surprise continues to be the predominant feeling among people of Turkish origin in Germany. But people here in the mostly Turkish district of Kreuzberg, in Berlin, also have varying opinions about the coup attempt.

When asked about the events, residents quickly launch into animated discussions. "The coup seems like a well-planned theater production to me," says Fatma Sönmez, a woman in her mid 30s.

Sönmez is sitting in a Turkish restaurant, having just carefully applied make-up â€" she does not wear a head scarf. "They gave up so quickly," she adds. "It couldn’t possibly have been real."

She doesn't doubt that Erdogan will seize the moment and attempt to expand his powers. The Turkish Supreme Court already issued arrest warrants for thousands of judges and soldiers who are supposedly linked to Fethullah Gülen, a preacher and Erdogan’s arch enemy.

A waiter joined the discussion, saying the whole thing seems pretty obvious to him. "All of this was organized by Gülen," he says. That is the official version as issued by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the AKP, and which many people in Kreuzberg believe to be true. But Gülen, who lives in exile in the United States, has denied any involvement.

Mixed reactions

A few hundred meters down the road from the restaurant is the club house of the Berlin section of the Federation of Democratic Idealist Turkish Associations. The Association is closely linked to Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party, the MHP. Pictures of the head of the party, Devlet Bahçeli, and the founder of the Turkish State, Kemal Atatürk, adorn the walls, along with the flags of both Turkey and Germany.

The chairman of the Association was also watching Turkish news. He openly admits to being a supporter of the extreme-right "Grey Wolves," a militant arm of the MHP. He disapproves of Erdogan and doesn’t believe that this was a real coup attempt.

"This wasn’t a real coup," he says. "I experienced two attempted coups myself. I was a small child in 1960, but I can remember the coup attempt of 1980 very well. Compared to that this was positively ridiculous." Like many others, he believes that this was an orchestrated, staged production.

The chairman was, nevertheless, worried about his relatives. He pulls his mobile phone out of his trouser pocket and plays a video someone supposedly sent him from Ankara. The video shows people running across a six-lane motorway. Around them are light trails left by bullets being shot in the dark from a large caliber automatic weapon. It's not clear if people were hit by any of the bullets.

Many Germans of Turkish descent, however, appear to support the president, as evidenced by the crowd of some 3,000 people that gathered, on the night of the coup, outside the Turkish embassy in Berlin. Yaman Isa, the man in the café, praises Erdogan for the impact his policies have had on the Turkish economy.

Now what?

The big question now is what happens next in Turkey. A cook at a fast-food stand voices what seems to be the opinion of many. "I am glad that it has quieted down again. If the coup had been successful, more and more people would have died." Like many, he hopes for a quick return to the status quo.

But a shop owner is of a different opinion. "The attempted coup will only strengthen Erdogan," he says. "It plays right into his hands because now he'll be able to annihilate his opponents and reshape the state to his liking. And he will definitely "cleanse" the military now." One of man's customers nods in agreement.

The two men have little love for the Turkish leader and, judging by the expressions on their faces, aren't optimistic about the future. "Erdogan is going to make sure now that that no one poses a threat to him," the shop owner predicts. "No one will try to overthrow Erdogan for as long as he lives."

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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