Germany has threatened to ban any further public appearances in Germany by Turkish ministers, after senior Turkish government figures repeated comparisons between German politicians and Nazis.
“I said that Nazi comparisons from Turkey had to stop, and I meant it – no ifs or buts,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint appearance with the Japanese prime minister in Hanover this morning.
“Unfortunately these comparisons have not stopped,” Ms. Merkel said. “We will not permit the ends to justify the means, or the breaking of all taboos.”
In Berlin, the German government’s deputy press secretary said that it was within Turkey’s power to “moderate their rhetoric to avoid lasting damage being done to relations.”
Ms. Merkel confirmed that the German government had communicated to the Turkish authorities, via a “verbal note,” that appearances by Turkish politicians in Germany could only take place “on the basis of constitutional principles. Otherwise, the German government reserves the right to take all necessary measures, including a reexamination of permissions granted by this note.”
The chancellor was reacting to direct comparisons made at the weekend by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he accused Ms. Merkel of personally using Nazi tactics in connection with bans on Turkish ministerial appearances.
“We put up with a lot of things when criticism is made in this form. But we are not defenseless, we are not stupid, and we are not naïve.”
A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry, Martin Schäfer, said: “If they have overstepped the mark, they’ve overstepped the mark, and there will be a reaction from the German government.”
Mr. Schäfer said the German government deliberately had not responded in kind to the Turkish statements, since it did not want to “be taken in by Mr. Erdogan.” In addition, Berlin wanted to be in a position to continue dialogue with Turkey after the constitutional referendum on April 16, he said.
“We put up with a lot of things, when criticism is made in this form. But we are not defenseless, we are not stupid, and we are not naïve,” said Mr. Schäfer.
Turks go to the polls April 16 to vote on constitutional reforms that would expand the powers of the president. Controversially, in recent weeks Turkish politicians have appeared at mass rallies in a number of European countries, attempting to win support for Mr. Erdogan’s referendum among diaspora Turks.
The German government’s commissioner for integration, Aydan Özuguz, said that Turkey’s government appeared to be terrified of losing the referendum. “It is the only explanation for the increasingly wild attacks on Germany,” the commissioner told the Rheinische Post, a German newspaper.
A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said continued refusal to give German consular officials access to detainees, including the imprisoned German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, was “bitterly regrettable and disappointing.”
The spokesperson demanded that Mr. Yücel be given a fair and legal trial which takes the importance of press freedom into full account, adding that the case was “clearly a burden on German-Turkish relations.”
Mr. Erdogan has accused Mr. Yücel of espionage and working for the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. According to the German government, the Turkish prime minister promised Ms. Merkel at the beginning of March that consular officials would be given access to Mr. Yücel, but this has not yet been forthcoming.
Tensions between Turkey and Germany increased over the weekend when a mass rally was held in the German city of Frankfurt in support of the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Demonstrators carried flags and banners backing the PKK, which is banned by Turkey and listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.
Mr. Gabriel’s spokesperson said responsibility for policing the demonstration fell to the local police and the government of the state of Hesse. Frankfurt police say they made video of demonstrators carrying unlawful material, and this has been passed to state prosecutors.
There was also anger in Turkey at the publication this weekend of an interview with Bruno Kahlmade, the most senior German foreign intelligence official, in Der Spiegel, a prominent German news magazine. In the piece, Mr. Kahlmade said he was not convinced that the religious leader Fethullah Gülen was responsible for last summer’s attempted coup in Turkey, as argued by Mr. Erdogan and his supporters.
Brian Hanrahan is an editor with Handelsblatt Global.