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Germany

Caner Aver: Germany's Turks see criticism of Turkey as one-sided

Can Dündar did not deliver award remarks for the pianist, Fazil Say. Caner Aver explains the background.

Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of Turkey's daily, "Cumhuriyet," lives in exile in Germany after a Turkish court sentenced him to nearly six years in prison for his newspaper's report on Turkey's weapon deliveries to Islamist fighters in Syria. On Saturday, he was slated to deliver remarks for pianist Fazil Say, who was awarded the International Beethoven Prize for Human Rights, Peace, Freedom, Poverty Reduction and Inclusion. But following massive protests on social media, Dündar and the Bonn Beethoven Academy, the award grantee, agreed he would not make his speech. Caner Aver, an expert on Turkey-EU relations, spoke with DW's Kerstin Knipp.

DW: Mr. Aver, Can Dündar did not speak at Fazil Say's award ceremony, partly due to vehement protests online. How do you view the decision?

Berlin Joachim Gauck empfängt Can Dundar (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schreiber)

Journalist Can Dündar now lives in exile in Germany

Caner Aver: Such a reaction was to be expected due to political polarization in Turkey. The pair, Can Dündar and Fazil Say, has been vilified for years, as opponents, by conservative-religious circles for their outspoken criticism of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Their political position has them marked as traitors and international stature only further sharpens the mood against them. We have seen this polarization going on for years, including among Turkish nationals living abroad. Turkey has been facing massive problems from within and without for years: Terrorism from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) and the so-called Islamic State, as well as problems with followers of Fethullah Gülen, who is blamed for the attempted coup on July 15, 2016. Turkey is distancing itself from democratic principles, reducing separation of powers, and socially and systematically marginalizing ideological opponents. Meanwhile, it faces the massive challenge of dealing with refugees created by civil war in neighboring Syria.

Altogether, the country's security, social stability and territorial integrity is under threat. This explains why voices of opposition, given the declared state of emergency, are increasingly and more easily being accused of treason.

Fazil Say Pianist Türkei Deutschland (picture-alliance / Sven Simon)

Pianist Fazil Say

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he was still prime minister, gave speeches to supporters in Cologne in both 2008 and 2014. Since then there has been growing concern about the undue influence of Turkish politics over Turks living in Germany. What do you make of this concern?

The influence of Turkish politics has been on the rise across all political parties, not just the AKP, since the 2000s. This has partly to do with questions of identity and belonging within the Turkish community in Germany. At the same time, EU membership talks have stalled due to the negative stance of Germany and France. Ankara started viewing Turks abroad as a constituency and lobby group, whom the AKP courted and has used for both its domestic and foreign affairs agendas. Rising tensions between Germany and Turkey pushed conservative-religious Turks, in particular, closer to Turkey and the president, whom they feel represent their interests.

How closely intertwined are conservative Turkish associations to Turkey?

The associations and their members are subject to German law. Structurally they are with Turkey, the exception being the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB). Several associations view themselves as lobbying groups abroad for their parties and increasingly look after the security and territorial interests of their native country. They feel that Germany does not show sufficient empathy with regard to terrorism, and are critical of Germany's positions on refugees and the attempted coup. From their perspective, the external view of what is happening inside Turkey is skewed. An exchange between associations and political parties in Germany and Turkey has been going on for decades, however the political influence that exists in local associations does not necessarily work against integration.

Caner Aver (Zentrum für Türkeistudien und Integrationsforschung)

Caner Aver, from the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in Essen, Germany

Where does the Turkish community in Germany stand overall? How do liberal voices confront conservative ones?

The ideological rifts in Turkey are reflected in Turks in Germany, and they are getting deeper. Particularly since the failed coup, any criticism of the president, who is de facto leading the country singlehandedly, is seen as treason. The media have been similarly stifled. The AKP is squarely in control with the support of its sole ally, the conservative Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Politically active Turks in Germany have fallen in line accordingly. Forums for open debate have dwindled. Political discourse is dominated by AKP supporters and opponents are accused of treason.

What should a culture of open discussion look like? How has this been achieved in Germany, and how has it not been?

The view among Turks in Germany, including AKP opponents, is that Germany and the West have a double standard when it comes to Turkey. Particularly striking here were the pro-democracy demonstrations against the coup on July 31, 2016, in Cologne. Some Turks in Germany were concerned the demonstrations would prompt questions of the community's loyalty and willingness to integrate, although free expression is the fundamental right of all German citizens. At the same time, there was criticism of the lack of debate about PKK-aligned organizations and supporters, although the PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Germany. Turks in Germany see little compassion for their place between a rock and a hard place – expected to remain linked to both countries – and take this to be a credibility crisis of institutions, politics and the media. That said, there is an absence of open political discourse for a large part of the Turkish community in Germany, which is dominated by partisan perspective and populist sentiment, and dissenting opinions are few and far between. There is a lot of catching up to do here.

Caner Aver specializes in political geography at the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in Essen, Germany. The foundation focuses on transnationalism and the Turkey-EU relationship.