Political Backlash

Erdogan’s Fury Unleashed

epa05327148 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference at the end of the World Humanitarian Summit at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, 24 May 2016. World leaders met for two days in Istanbul for an inaugurational summit on common humanity and to prevent and reduce human suffering. EPA/SEDAT SUNA +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at German Turkish lawmakers

When German parliamentarians passed a resolution on June 2 declaring the 1915 massacre of a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, they reckoned with a stern response from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who denies the claim.

But the backlash appears to be more than they expected.

Mr. Erdogan has lashed out at the parliamentarians, especially those with Turkish roots, claiming “their blood is impure” and demanding blood tests. He has defamed them as mouthpieces of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, calling them “the long arm of the separatist terrorists placed in Germany.”

His rage has brought death threats to several of the lawmakers, including German Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir, one of the initiators of the resolution. And it has prompted a sharp response from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Associating “individual members of parliament with terrorism is utterly incomprehensible to us.”

Sterffen Seibert, Spokesman for Chancelor Angela Merkel

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters on Monday that associating “individual members of parliament with terrorism is utterly incomprehensible to us.” He added that the German parliament, the Bundestag, “reached a sovereign decision that must be respected” and that the chancellor had given this message to the Turkish president.

The vote in German parliament added to Ms. Merkel’s ongoing struggle to maintain a fragile working relationship with the Turkish leader to stem the flow of refugees and migrants seeking a safer, better life in Europe.

Under intense political pressure to reduce the number of refugees seeking asylum in Germany, Ms. Merkel pushed for a deal between the European Union and Turkey in March to stop refugees from Syria and other conflict-hit regions of the Middle East entering the European Union from Turkish territory.

The agreement has significantly reduced the number of refugees making the dangerous sea-crossing from Turkey to Greek islands. But there have been increasing doubts over how long it will hold because friction between the E.U. and Turkey has been mounting in recent months.

Mr. Özdemir has received death threats via Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, and is now under increased police protection. The defiant party leader told reporters on Monday that the German parliament isn’t dependent on which “authoritarian ruler” it needs to make happy and which it doesn’t.

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 02: Cem Oezdemir, co-head of the German Greens party and himself of Turkish descent, speaks during discussions at the Bundestag prior to its passage of a resolution to recognize the 1915-1916 Armenian genocide on June 2, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. According to media reports on June 6, 2016, Oezdemir has received numerous death threats from people suspected to be ultra right-wing Turkish nationalists for his support of the resolution and he is now under police protection. The Turkish government has opposed any labeling of the Armenian deaths as genocide and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has lashed out at Germany and particularly against the Bundestag members of Turkish descent who supported the resolution. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Cem Özdemir, co-head of the German Greens. Source: Getty Images

 

The lawmaker likes to describe himself as an “Anatolian Swabian.”  His parents moved to Germany from Turkey in the 1960s and he was born in the town of Urach in the region of Swabia in southwestern Germany, in 1965.

Ten other German parliamentarians with a Turkish background are also on Mr. Erdogan’s radar.

“I am seriously worried,” Özcan Mutlu, a Green parliamentarian, told public broadcaster ARD. “I’ve never experienced this type of an attack.”

Mr. Erdogan has reacted angrily to growing criticism abroad that he has become increasingly authoritarian and intolerant, and to E.U. demands for reforms in return for granting Turkish citizens visa-free travel.

Germany, he said over the weekend in a speech, was “the last country” entitled to pass a resolution on genocide. Turkey’s history was “not a history of massacres but a history of mercy and compassion — that’s the difference between us.”

Turkish state prosecutors have opened nearly 2,000 cases against people for insulting Mr. Erdogan since 2014. The defendants include cartoonists, academics, journalists and even schoolchildren.

To make matters worse, a German comedian, Jan Böhmermann,  recited a poem on television in March insulting Mr. Erdogan, prompting the Turkish leader to ask German authorities to prosecute him under a law against insulting foreign leaders.

Ms. Merkel has been treading a fine line between keeping relations intact and being accused in Germany of pandering to an autocrat. She was criticized for allowing German prosecutors to look into charges against Mr. Böhmermann, and she stayed away from last Thursday’s vote on Armenia, as did Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“I thought people had stopped being defined by their blood in 1945.”

Gökay Sofuoglu, eader of the Turkish Community in Germany

The leader of the Turkish Community in Germany, Gökay Sofuoglu, called Mr. Erdogan’s demand for blood tests “detestable.”

He said: “I thought people had stopped being defined by their blood in 1945.” The Turkish community in Germany numbers some 3.5 million people.

The row over the resolution led to Turkey recalling its ambassador to Germany last Thursday.

On Friday, there was an upset at a celebration at a German-Turkish school in Istanbul when the German consul-general, Georg Birgelen, was prevented by the headmaster, Hikmet Konar, from holding a speech, and left the event early. Mr. Komar said he had been acting on the instructions of the education ministry.

 

Gerd Höhler is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Athens. John Blau is a senior editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: hoehler@handelsblatt.com and blau@handelsblatt.com

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