Pro-Erdogan Rally

A Great Leap Backwards

Anhänger des türkischen Staatspräsidenten Erdogan warten am 31.07.2016 in Köln (Nordrhein-Westfalen) auf den Beginn der Kundgebung. Mehrere Tausend Deutschtürken werden zu einer Pro-Erdogan-Demonstration in Köln erwartet. Foto: Henning Kaiser/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Pro-Erdogan protestors in Cologne on Sunday.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    By demanding the death penalty, the pro-Erdogan protestors in Cologne have set back the integration of ethnic Turks in German society by decades, the author says.

  • Facts


    • Sunday’s demonstration was staged to protest the recent coup attempt in Turkey.
    • More than 9,000 soldiers tried to overthrow the Turkish government on July 15, but large crowds of civilians thwarted the attempt.
    • Around 3 million ethnic Turks live in Germany.
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The Turkish sentence “Idam isteriz!” isn’t just short and catchy. The alliteration also lends itself to chanting at a major event like the one in Cologne last Sunday. The phrase, which is translated as “We want the death penalty,” was chanted by a few hundred, or perhaps even a few thousand ethnic Turks at the demonstration.

It is doubtful whether these people realized how much damage they did with those words. It is clear, however, how much damage the organizers have done. They have set back the integration of more than 3 million ethnic Turks in Germany by years.

The trigger for the demonstration was the attempted coup in Turkey over two weeks ago. More than 250 people died when about 9,000 soldiers attempted to overthrow the government on the night of July 15. The coup was thwarted when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets within a few hours and blocked the tanks.

There is no question that people are allowed to demonstrate in Germany, no matter who they are and what their cause is. We are regularly forced to put up with supporters of Pegida, an anti-immigration moveemnt, waving their flags on the square in front of the Semperoper in Dresden. No one questions their right to demonstrate.

It is also understandable that Turks living in Germany wish to express their solidarity with their fellow Turks, some of whom witnessed soldiers involved in the coup shooting at civilians from the air, executing individual counter-protesters and attacking the parliament and other government buildings. That was precisely why thousands took to the streets in Germany on the evening of the attempted coup and protested peacefully.

The rally in Cologne damages the relationship between the two countries and, in particular, the highly fragile reputation of the Turkish community in Germany.

As irritating as it seems, the demonstration on Sunday was also a success, at least at first glance. A number of groups were involved in organizing the event, including some that would normally describe themselves as critical of Erdogan. In addition, law enforcement officials say that there was no rioting at the main event.

The problem is that the organizers nonetheless overlook the damage they have done. Instead of talking about how those who immigrated decades ago can be effectively integrated into society and the job market, and can be prevented from sliding into a parallel society, we now are forced to turn our attention, once again, to the question of whether ethnic Turks living in Germany are even familiar with the country’s Basic Law. It’s a pointless debate that has been reignited by nothing else but the major demonstration in Cologne.

The situation is already complex enough. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is exploiting his victory over the putschists for his political gain – and not just domestically. From a perceived position of strength, he is demanding that Washington extradite a suspected mastermind of the coup. Visa-free travel in the European Union is also at the top of the agenda once again. This is a perfect example of realpolitik, whether or not it suits the West.

But the rally in Cologne damages the relationship between the two countries and, in particular, the highly fragile reputation of the Turkish community in Germany. And this has all occurred after the seemingly unending dispute over visa exemptions for Turks and the erosion of German-Turkish relations following the German parliament’s resolution on the Armenian genocide.

The main initiator of the protest was the Union of European-Turkish Democrats, headquartered in Cologne. The organization is aligned with the ruling AKP Party in Turkey and regularly draws attention with its controversial large demonstrations in Germany. Mr. Erdogan has made personal appearances at some of these events.

But the organization is never involved with integration work, even though there are plenty of potential issues to address. Here are a few: The debate over mandatory language courses; the debate over Islamic instruction; the question of cooperation between German and Turkish authorities in fighting terror; and coming to terms with the NSU murders, in which primarily Turks were killed.

Instead, the self-appointed lobbyists of the “Turkish community” in Germany encouraged a few hundred ethnic Turks on Sunday to loudly call for the reintroduction of the death penalty. As a consequence, we are now talking about integrating these people, a conversation we shouldn’t have to have.

Notwithstanding the coup in Turkey, the organizers of the demo, mainly the UETD, have accepted that ethnic Turks and Germans will become more alienated from one another. We don’t need this. The organizers of the Cologne demonstration can be blamed for the recent statements by German politicians who are saying that Turks who don’t behave should go back to Turkey. Those statements have done no one any good.


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