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Europe

Turkey's Leader Visits Berlin's "Little Istanbul"

Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan lobbied for his country’s EU admission in Berlin on Friday. He did so in the city’s Turkish neighborhood, but his visit provoked a mixed reaction on the streets.

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Erdogan, left, shaking hands in Kreuzberg.

Turkish-German business leaders had invited Erdogan for breakfast at a penthouse apartment overlooking Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, but the Turkish leader didn’t get to eat much as the room was too packed with people to get food to him.

Instead, he listened to Germans talking about the integration of Turkish people as well as Turkey’s plans to join the EU and awaited his turn to speak.

“Turkey has already decided in favor of the EU,” Erdogan then said, adding that about 75 percent of his countrymen were supportive of the plan. “We hope that by December we can set a date to commence admission talks.”

Erdogan in Berlin Kreuzberg mit Klaus Wowereit

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, left, and Erdogan talk during the breakfast meeting.

Referring to a recent debate in Germany about Turkey’s cultural differences that would prevent EU membership, Erdogan admitted the road to EU admission would not be a smooth one.

“Of course there are problems sometimes,” he said, adding that he saw the union as a compromise of cultures. “But they also exist among current EU members. You can only solve them through negotiations and we are convinced that we can do this.”

Ankara has been struggling with reforms meant to fulfill EU criteria agreed upon in a summit in Copenhagen in Dec. 2002. Brussels has now offered to grant an audience to Turkey at the end of 2004 to decide whether the bloc should open negotiations for possible EU membership.

Solving the Cyprus issue

Erdogan added that Turkey would work on the issue of a possible reunification of Cyprus. Should this not happen before May 1, only the Greek part of the Mediterranean island will become one of 10 new EU member states on that date.

“The Turkish side will take the necessary steps and we will definitely show our good will,” he said. “But this good will has to come from both sides.”

Some of those present said they saw Erdogan’s visit to Kreuzberg as a positive sign. No Turkish premier had ever visited the neighborhood, also known as “Little Istanbul” because of its large Turkish population.

“It’s an appreciation of the Turkish minority in Germany,” said Kenan Kolat, the vice president of the Turkish Community in Germany, an organization which has about 200,000 members.

Bahattin Kaya, president of an association of Turkish-German business people in Berlin and Brandenburg, agreed that Erdogan’s visit showed that he took the Turkish community in Germany seriously.

“But the people of Kreuzberg didn’t get to see much of him,” Kaya said. “He should walk around and visit a market.”

Demonstration in Berlin gegen Besuch von Erdogan

Police officers arrest a left-wing demonstrator, who protested against Erdogan's visit in Kreuzberg.

Erdogan did manage to cram a brief hand-shaking session on the street into his schedule, however, some left-wing Turks protested against his visit (photo). And at a nearby outdoor market, many didn’t even know that Turkey’s head of government had been around.

Mixed feelings on the street

“I’ve been living in Berlin for 30 years, this is my home,” said Tanis Gülr, who sells fruit and vegetables. She added that she didn’t care much for politics.

A few stalls down, 25-year-old Hakan Ünsal expressed his disappointment that Erdogan hadn’t stopped by. “We’re happy he’s here,” he said, wearing a Turkish flag baseball cap. “But we would have been even happier if he’d come here.”

Mukadder Lusin Göktas, who was visiting her husband’s jewelry store, saw things differently. “I’m not happy with him because he does nothing for the Turks in Germany,” the 45-year-old said, adding that she often has to wait in line at the Turkish consulate for hours to take care of paperwork.

Göktas, who has lived in Germany for 25 years and is now a German citizen, also didn’t think much of Erdogan’s plans to bring Turkey into the EU.

“It’s already bad enough here,” she said, adding that she’s unemployed and that her husband’s store will have to close because of bad business. “There’s 70 million people (in Turkey) and they all want to get away from there.”

That’s not a typical standpoint, however, according to Andreas Goldberg, the executive director of the Center for Studies on Turkey at Duisburg-Essen university. “Many Turks will take a delay of EU admission talks as a collective insult,” he said, adding that such a move could also have consequences on relations between Turks and Germans here.

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