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German-Turkish Spat A Windfall For Erdogan’s Yes Campaign


While Turks enjoy freedoms and civil liberties in Germany to the fullest extent, they support a leader back at home that imprisons tens of thousands of people for not displaying sufficient loyalty to his government.

With a referendum approaching in April, most of these Turks will vote to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, making him the most powerful figure since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder. For them, Mr. Erdogan’s rise is synonymous to a stronger Turkey that stands up to European nations.

Politicians like Cem Ozdemir and soccer star Mesut Ozil are the most famous Turks in Germany, but most of the 3 million Turks in Germany are conservative and blue-collar workers, just like the family Mr. Erdogan came from.

At least 40,000 people showed up in a pro-Erdogan solidarity rally in Cologne last year, illustrating the strength of Mr. Erdogan’s electorate in Germany. At least half of Turks in Germany are Turkish citizens, making them the 4th largest electoral district. In a race that is too tight to call, it is not surprising that Turkish leaders are betting on their strongholds in Europe to win the referendum. In 2015, more than 60 percent of Turks voted for the party Mr. Erdogan founded.

It is now much harder for German politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to stand up to Mr. Erdogan because of pressure from sizeable Turkish minority. German media has made it a pastime to criticize Mr. Erdogan and his fans in Germany are fed up with it.

The escalating tensions between Turkey and Germany also put Mrs. Merkel between rock and a hard place. Only in the past month, the relations were badly hit due to raids on houses of Turkish imams suspecting of spying for Turkey and the arrest of German reporter Deniz Yucel. 

Maya Angelou once said “people will forget what you did or said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” With Mr. Erdogan, perhaps for the first time since they came to Germany as guest workers in 1960s and 70s, Turks feel dignified, empowered and proud. Turkey is no longer a backward country “begging outside the gates of Europe” but an economic powerhouse with an assertive foreign policy.

Turks in Germany are known as gastarbeiter or guest workers. Because many politicians in Germany viewed them as temporary workers, little was done to make sure that they are integrated into the society. Decades-long policies forced Turks to live in ghettos, putting them in a vicious cycle of poverty and hence creating divided loyalties among them.

Germany’s treatment of Turkish politicians — canceling their campaign speeches — is only reinforcing the idea that Germany is viewing Turks as second-class citizens. Germany’s refusal to allow Mr. Erdogan speak at a rally through a video call and preventing 3 speeches by two Turkish ministers is a windfall for them. Turkish politicians now vow to hold rallies in Germany no matter what, whipping up nationalist sentiments among the Turkish minority in Germany. This will come in handy when Turks will go to vote in April referendum.


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