German-Turkish Relations

Gagged in Gaggenau

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s already difficult relations with Turkey are rapidly deteriorating after Ankara jailed Die Welt journalist Deniz Yücel. Decisions to ban campaign speeches by Turkish government officials in Germany could put the relations under severe strain.

  • Facts


    • There are around 3 million Turkish citizens living in Germany, of which 1.4 million are eligible to vote.
    • Turkish voters will decide on April 16 on a constitutional reform pushed by Mr. Erdogan’s party, the AKP, turning Turkey into a presidential republic with greatly enhanced powers for the president.
    • On Monday a court in Istanbul ordered that German-Turkish reporter Deniz Yücel be kept in jail pending his trial on charges of terrorism.
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Bekir Bozdag
Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, pictured addressing a crowd in Baden-Württemberg in 2013, is no longer welcome in Germany. Source: Marijan Murat/DPA

The mayor of Gaggenau has rescinded permission giving a Turkish political umbrella organization in Germany, known as UETD, the right to hold an election campaign event scheduled for Thursday evening.

The move effectively bans a highly controversial campaign appearance from Turkey’s justice minister in the small town, as voices mount demanding that Berlin prevent Turkish politicians from campaigning in the country.

Gaggenau, a town in Germany’s southwestern Baden-Württemberg state next to the French border, cited safety concerns as the reason for banning the planned event on short notice after it garnered a lot of attention in recent days.

Due to the amount of publicity given to the event well beyond the region, the city expects a large number visitors” for which parking space and access will be insufficient, the municipal authorities said on the town’s website.

“For these reasons, the city of Gaggenau has revoked the authorization to rent the festival hall to the UETD,” the official statement added.

Local authorities and Germany’s government came under pressure to ban the event after it became known Wednesday that Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was due to hold a speech in favor of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s controversial constitutional referendum set for April. Some had called on Berlin to deny Mr. Bozdag entry to Germany.

“Berlin needs to make it clear that in Germany nobody should be allowed to actively promote the establishment of a dictatorship.”

Bernd Riexinger, Chairman of the Left Party

Bernd Riexinger, the chairman of the Left Party, told Die Zeit, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, that President Erdogan “leads the [German] federal government by the nose,” and added that Mr. Bozdag wanted to campaign for Mr. Erdogan’s “fantasies of unlimited power.

“Berlin needs to make it clear that in Germany nobody should be allowed to actively promote the establishment of a dictatorship,” Mr. Riexinger added, calling on Baden-Württemberg’s state government to prevent the minister’s speech.

According to reports in German media, German officials were not aware of Mr. Bozdag’s planned appearance. The campaign rally was registered by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats as an “information event” without further details. The UETD, a Turkish umbrella organization present in various European countries, is a political lobby group aligned with President Erdogan’s party, the AKP.

The ruling AKP and Mr. Erdogan’s government are currently campaigning for a controversial constitutional reform that will considerably strengthen the powers of the Turkish president. Critics fear the reform, if successful, might usher in an autocratic regime. The vote will take place on April 18.

There are 1.4 million Turkish voters residing in Germany, a country where President Erdogan has held several campaign rallies before previous elections. Mr. Erdogan is expected to give a campaign speech in Germany towards the end of the month — a visit that has also been sharply criticized by many German politicians.

The timing of the justice minister Mr. Bozdag’s planned speech was especially controversial, after the near-unanimous condemnation in Germany of the detention last month of Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish journalist based in Istanbul. Officials all the way up to Chancellor Angela Merkel have called on the Turkish government to release the reporter whom Ankara accuses of terrorism.

On Monday a court in Istanbul ordered that Mr. Yücel, the Turkey correspondent of German daily Die Welt, be kept in jail pending his trial on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization and inciting the public.”

Mr. Bozdag has sought to play down the outrage the verdict has caused in Germany. “These are rulings by Turkey’s independent judiciary and not political verdicts,” said the minister. “Turkey is a democratic nation.”


Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author:

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