STUTTGART — Such are the consequences of a long-distance relationship. Two-thirds of Germans of Turkish descent voted in favor of a reform of the Turkish constitution to give more powers to the presidency. That support helped lead to victory President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man who does not shy away from drawing Nazi comparisons. What on earth is going on here?
Ruhan Karakul says her grandfather, just before he died, warned her about Erdogan's intentions: "This man is insatiable, he will drive our country to ruin and destruction," Karakul recalls her grandpa saying.
The 33-year-old lawyer from Mannheim, indeed, runs squarely against Erdogan's image of what a woman should be: sure of herself, wearing fashionably ripped jeans. She holds the voluntary chair of the Baden-Württemberg Alevis, a religious group that campaigned against the constitutional reforms proposed by President Erdogan. It was all in vain. Here on Stuttgart, 66% of Turks in Germany voted in favor of the constitutional changes in Turkey.
How could two-thirds of Turkish people living in Germany support a man who compares the current German state to the Third Reich? This will have palpable consequences for German citizens of Turkish descent — a community already considerably divided.
About half of the three million people of Turkish descent living in Germany were eligible to vote, but only half of those eligible voted. Kurdish and Alevi communities, among the driving forces behind the "No" campaign, found it very difficult to motivate their supporters to vote. Many felt intimidated by Erdogan; others were simply disillusioned with Turkish politics. But the impression this gave lingers, namely that Germans of Turkish descent helped a leader who imprisons political opponents.
So did Germany fall for Erdogan's provocations? Imran Ayata, a well-known activist and manager of an advertising company based in Berlin, says that "Erdogan's campaign was utterly successful" in Germany. The German media's angry protests against Erdogan's Nazi comparisons actually aided Erdogan's cause.
Ayata said the German government should not fall for Erdogan's baiting any longer, and instead challenge him personally to avoid demonizing the German-Turkish community in the process; in other words, provide a path for Erdogan's supporters into German society and fight against discrimination and racism.
Muhterem Aras, German-Turkish president of the Baden-Wurttemberg state parliament, says she was "shocked" by the election results, seeing as no other state in Germany has a higher proportion of migrants and has been praised as the poster child of integration. Yet, nowhere else did more people vote for the extension of Erdogan's presidential powers than in her southwest state.
Parliamentary democracy in Turkey simply doesn't work.
The results are likely to rekindle debate regarding the dual citizenship that many Germans of Turkish descent hold. But Aras says the focus should instead be on current integration policies: no more Turkish imams preaching in German mosques; meanwhile, the German government should finally take on the responsibility of providing language as well as religious lessons rather than shifting responsibility to the Turkish community. "That may have been the most comfortable solution," says Aras "But the price we pay for this in the long run is simply too high."
That price can be measured in both division and a feeling of voicelessness. Many of Erdogan's supporters are thought to be found among the 50% of Germans of Turkish descent who say they feel treated like second-class citizens, according to recent surveys.
But there are exceptions to the rule: young, successful Germans of Turkish descent who also support Erdogan. Yahya Kiliçaslan, 32, from Esslingen, a small city near Stuttgart, is one of those. Kiliçaslan likens Erdogan's victory to the unspoken popularity of TV soap operas. "No one wants to admit to watching it but the ratings always turn out to be high," he said.
Voting in Stuttgart — Photo: Lino Mirgeler/DPAZUMA
Many of Erdogan's supporters do not dare to speak out because they feel threatened by the media's reaction, fearing their words may be twisted. Kiliçaslan cites an example: In an earlier interview, he said that parliamentary democracy in Turkey simply doesn't work, that the people feel that they need to be able to clearly assign responsibility, which is why they support the expansion of presidential power. But the media twisted his words, saying that he himself finds democracy unsuitable.
Kiliçaslan also believes the German media helped drive voters into Erdogan's arms. Still, he stresses that he did not agree with Erdogan's Nazi comparisons. Like many other Turks in Germany, Kiliçaslan says that most of all he is simply happy that the referendum is over and done with. There were, it seems, few winners in Germany after voting was finished in Turkey.