German troops manning two Patriot batteries in Turkey face unexpected problems. The potential threat from Syrian missiles is not the main subject among soldiers - it is the conflict over conditions on the military base.
A casual stroll through the bazaar in jeans and a t-shirt, a browse through the postcard stands and jewellery shops, a portion of the ice cream that has made Kahramanmaras famous in all of Turkey - those are all pleasures for which the German soldiers stationed at a military base in the city rarely have the time. When they do, writes the local media, the locals marvel at the troops who have come to protect Turkey from any spill-over of the Syrian conflict. It is the first time that allied foreign troops have ever been stationed there.
But the deployment also has an unpleasant side. Currently, German and Turkish soldiers are embroiled in a dispute over the Bundeswehr's housing in the town's Gazi barracks. Hellmut Königshaus, Germany's parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, reports on filthy toilets, dog cadavers and Turkish officers who occasionally turn violent. His report to the German parliament earlier this week brought to light problems that have smoldered for some tme.
Perceived as problematic
The German commander Marcus Ellermann has the ever more delicate task of persuading his Turkish colleague to find a solution to the problems, especially now that the complaints have been made public. Ellermann told Deutsche Welle on the telephone from Kahramanmaras that there were "a few uncertainties" on the Turkish side.
It's certainly not an everyday occurrence that the Turkish General Staff in Ankara has become involved in issues of hygiene and the joint use of sports facilities. In a two-page press statement, the General Staff dismissed the German complaints as more or less unfounded, with the exception of reports that German soldiers at the Gazi base are not permitted to mount banners or signs from their home regions.
Ellermann said the entire incident has been "blown out of proportion." He said he has a good working relationship with his Turkish colleagues. Frank Sarach, the German contingent's press spokesman, told Deutsche Welle he gets along fine with the Turkish side. "There are a few misunderstandings, but that is natural," Sarach said.
Smoothing the waters
German military bureaucracy is partly to blame for the situation. In January, the Turkish hosts hastily prepared new housing for the German troops at the base. Everything was ready by February 22, 2013, but the soldiers have not been allowed to move to their new quarters because Ellermann is waiting for German inspectors to give the go-ahead. No wonder the Turkish side is annoyed, Ellermann said: the Turks hurried to renovate the barracks for the German troops and now they are forced to see how German regulations are slowing things down.
Ellermann has no sympathy, however, for Turkish denials that a German female military police officer was assaulted by a Turkish general. He says there's evidence to prove it. All the same, he said, he would prefer to settle the problem without public interference from Berlin and Ankara.
The Bundeswehr deployment in Turkey is complicated even without the most recent controversy. NATO missions have met with fierce opposition from left-wing and nationalist Turkish groups. Earlier this year in the southern port town of Iskenderun, Turkish nationalists attacked German soldiers recently arrived in Turkey to operate the Patriot batteries because they confused them with US troops. In Kahramanmaras, protesters burned a NATO flag.
Ellermann must now prepare for an escalation of the dispute about his troops' quarters. According to Turkish media reports, representatives from NATO headquarters in Brussels have even come to Kahramanmaras - this is, after all, an allied mission for a NATO member state. Although spokesman Sarach said the German toilet crisis was not the reason for the NATO visit, it is likely to take a while before everyday mission routine returns to the Turkish base.