Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Berlin eyes Erdogan

Ahead of a prospective visit of Turkey’s Erdogan to Berlin, intense negotiations are underway to iron out remaining sore points between Ankara and the German state, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid


Berlin eyes Erdogan
Berlin eyes Erdogan

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived in Ankara yesterday, Wednesday, for talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and other senior Turkish officials. His schedule includes a visit to the German High School located near the famous Galata Tower in Istanbul. In Turkey, the press has billed Maas’s arrival as the beginning of a series of exchanges between senior officials from the two countries that will culminate in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Berlin on 28 and 29 September. In Germany, that forthcoming visit has already sparked heated controversy which is certain to continue well after it concludes.

If the Erdogan government and its press currently strike an upbeat note on the thaw in Turkish-German relations, for which they have received encouragement from Chancellor Angela Merkel who has remarked on the “improvement”, the bilateral climate remains fraught. While Berlin has lifted the sanctions it had imposed against Ankara against the backdrop of sweeping purges and arrests that the Erdogan government set into motion following the “coup attempt” two years ago, just last week the German federal government officially cut funding for the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB). The country’s largest Islamic umbrella group, based in Cologne, was founded as a branch of the Turkish government’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, which is known to be close to Erdogan. The DITIB, called by critics “the arm of the Turkish state” in Germany, has been at the centre of numerous controversies in Germany related to incitement to hatred and surveillance of Turks in Germany. Large segments of German public opinion from across the political spectrum feel that state funding of this organisation should have been cut long ago.

Sevim Dagdelen, a member of the Bundestag of Anatolian origin, is of this opinion. “The federal government and the federal states must stop cooperation at all levels with Erdogan’s outpost in Germany. It must be examined whether the preferential tax treatment of the association can be further justified. DITIB is not charitable organisation, but a danger to the public,” she said in a statement to the press, adding that she wondered how that funding, which comes out of the pockets of Turkish taxpayers, could have continued after the scandal of imams caught spying in Germany on behalf of the Turkish government. In 2017, imams affiliated with DITIB came under investigation in Germany for allegedly spying on Turks in Germany suspected of being affiliated with the Gulen Movement, which Erdogan blames for the attempted coup in 2016. According to information that has come to light, the clerics’ activities are believed to have extended to gathering intelligence on all possible opposition to Erdogan in the run up to the constitutional referendum paving the way for Turkey’s conversion from a parliamentary to a presidential system, tailored to Erdogan’s authoritarian ambitions.

Also last week, authorities in Wiesbaden removed a four-metre high gold coloured statue of Erdogan that had mysteriously appeared in the city’s German Unity Square. After public outcry against the “glorification of a repressive dictator” local officials had the statue taken down. Around that time, the lawyer of Deniz Yucel, the Die Welt journalist of Turkish origin who had spent nearly a year in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison on the charge of “spreading terrorist propaganda”, announced that his client would sue the Turkish government to claim compensation for his “unlawful detention”.

Germany’s foreign minister arrived in Turkey yesterday with a long list of demands that Ankara needs to meet in order to normalise relations. Above all, it must release several German citizens who are still wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey. On the margins of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Vienna on Friday, Maas insisted that a solution to these cases has to be found. He said that Germany had made it very clear to Ankara that the ongoing detention of the seven Germans who had been arrested for political reasons was “incomprehensible”.

The Berliner Zeitung has suggested that Erdogan, in his forthcoming visit, will demand a quid pro quo for the release of the Germans languishing in Turkish jails on trumped up charges: the handover of Turkish asylum seekers who fled to Germany after the “failed coup” in 2016. According to the newspaper, Berlin will refuse to negotiate over the release of its detained citizens.

The elaborate arrangements and protocols for the Turkish leader’s forthcoming visit have also stirred controversy. Cem Ozdemir, the former co-chair of the German Green Party, also of Turkish origin, said that Erdogan “is no normal president in a democratic society” and that he has transformed his Turkey into a country characterised by “censorship, despotism, nepotism and autocracy” and should be received as such in any visit to Germany. He added, in a statement to the German press, that the German government should “make it clear that any attempt to build Turkish nationalist-fundamentalist parallel structures here will not be tolerated”.

Alice Weidel, parliamentary group leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), believes that Erdogan’s forthcoming visit should not take place at all. “There is not the slightest reason to invite Erdogan to Germany after his brazen instrumentalisation of the footballer Mesut Özil who resigned from the national team and after the hate campaign which Erdogan and his clique waged in Germany in the wake of the Özil debate,” she said. “The government must certainly not allow Erdogan to hold another propaganda show in Berlin [which would] incite citizens with Turkish backgrounds and residents of our country against Germany and German society,” she added, alluding to Erdogan’s speech, in Cologne, in which he called assimilation a “crime” and called on Turks in Germany to act as his fifth column in Germany in order to influence the German government rather than to adopt German values and respect the rule of law. She concluded: “Erdogan should stay home.”

Another outraged critic of the five-star reception awaiting Erdogan in Berlin is former finance minister Oskar Lafontaine who insisted that “the federal government must stop supplying Erdogan with weapons” and stressed that Merkel “has to make it clear that she cannot support a path towards an Islamist dictatorship in whatever form”. Referring to the agreement with Turkey to keep migrants and refugees away from European doorsteps, he stressed: “German Chancellor Angela Merkel has engaged Erdogan as a bouncer and is now a prisoner of her own policies.”

So, a bumpy road still lies ahead for that controversial state visit. Regardless of the diplomatic niceties, Maas is unlikely to leave Ankara without pressing for some concrete answers to Berlin’s demands. His Turkish counterpart, for his part, will have to urge his boss to show some uncustomary flexibility in order to revive an element of trust in that strained relationship, or else forfeit the magnificent military parade that awaits him in Berlin.

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