The Turkish Prime Minister's visit to Cologne was highly anticipated. While some observers warned of potential pitfalls, others hoped for a boost in German-Turkish relations.
Germany is certainly not unknown territory for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He feels partly responsible for the three million people of Turkish descent who call "Almanya" their home.
Turkey's mainstream and social media alike regularly report trends and developments in Germany, and neo-Nazi attacks against Turkish homes and institutions or anti-Erdogan demonstrations associated with last summer's Gezi protests elicit strong reactions from the Turkish public.
Not surprisingly, Erdogan‘s visit to Cologne on Saturday (24.05.2014) gives some observers the jitters. The pro-government Turkish daily Sabah, for example, warns of "pitfalls for Erdogan."
German institutions have come under fire for authorizing anti-Erdogan demonstrations during the visit, which the paper considers "an open invitation to provocation" - a view not shared by the more critical Turkish daily Hürriyet, which pointed out that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke out in favor of letting Erdogan go ahead with his appearance in Cologne.
Political scientist Hüseyin Yayman of Ankara's Gazi University is a member of the delegation accompanying Erdogan on his trip. He expects him to refrain from giving a "sharp and critical speech," and from responding to German media and politicians who have labeled him despotic. Yayman notes that "in Germany the three million Turks are hoping that German-Turkish relations will be improved," and concludes that Erdogan's message will focus on integration and bilateral cooperation instead.
Tit for tat - or an opportunity?
Fatma Yilmaz, EU expert at the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, holds a totally different view. She fears that Erdogan is transferring his presidential election campaign to Cologne, and it will only exacerbate tensions between Germany and Turkey. She won't even exclude the possiblity that Erdogan will respond in kind to the critical remarks about press freedom made by German President Joachim Gauck during his recent visit there to Turkey.
Relations between Ankara and Berlin have soured since then, notes Tunay Ince, head of the EU Application and Research Center in Turkey. Ince sees Erdogan's visit to Cologne as "a great chance" for repairing the damage. On the other hand, he recalls the main reason for the victory of Erdogan's AKP party at the polls 12 years ago - Turkish membership in the EU - if Turkey does not implement reforms with the required speed, it may be cut off from the EU altogether.
The Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD), whose ten-year-jubilee is the occasion for Erdogan's visit, will certainly not have a problem filling Cologne's Lanxess-Arena, the venue for his public appearance, with an audience of at least 15,000.
Several Turkish broadcasters are due to broadcast Erdogan's speech live and inform the Turkish public both before and after the much-anticipated event.