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German media not giving full picture on Turkey

March 19, 2017

The German-Turkish relationship is in tatters. What we know about Turkey, about Erdogan and about the PKK comes from media reports. In a DW interview, Turkey scholar Caner Aver criticizes their limited perspectives.

Niederlande Demonstrationen für Erdogan in Rotterdam
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

Deutsche Welle: Would you say that German media see Turkey as a problem country, with an autocrat - Erdogan - as president and a suppression of Kurds?

Caner Aver: A large part of the German media reports with a deficit-oriented approach. While this is largely justified, there is often too little differentiation. Why? Because they are not sufficiently looking behind the scenes. Internal political problems, in particular, are not properly and sufficiently taken into consideration.

On which political and social problem areas do German media report competently and with distinction?

Few German media report on the actual role of the PKK, which has been classified as a terrorist organization in Germany as well as in the EU. So it is not only Turkish Germans or official Turkish policy calling the PKK a terrorist organization. There are, however, some examples of media institutions that address this, and some print media report very objectively.

Another example: Not all adult Turkish Germans are AKP voters. There is a broad opposition movement in Turkey and also among Turks living abroad. In German media, this is not always reported in a correct way or on a factual basis.  The media presentation of Turkey in the Middle East, in the context of Syria or Iraq, is better in that respect.

There are more objective reports, including reports that look at things in a more out-of-the-box way. But reporting is essentially very much mainstream - oriented towards the problems and working off slogans. Saying things like Turkey has long been an autocracy, if not already a dictatorship, that the country has drifted off in one direction, and such things.

Caner Aver vom Zentrum für Türkeistudien in Essen
Caner Aver, from the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in Essen, GermanyImage: Privat

Rarely has German media reported on Turkey in such an ongoing and critical manner. Does this worsen the German-Turkish relationship?

It has already been damaged. German-Turkish relations have actually been burdened since 2005 by the rejection of the EU accession request, by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy in France and by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They have slowly deteriorated. Due to the domestic developments in Turkey, the actions taken against protesters, and now hundreds of thousands of people dismissed from their jobs in Turkey, relations have truly reached a low point. Economic relations are still good, but there is a lot of mistrust. People have lost faith. And this also has a negative effect on portions of the Turkish-German populace.

When Turkish AKP politicians appear in Germany, we see TV footage of women wearing headscarves and men waving crescent flags. Who are the German Turks, sociologically speaking? The "simple people" they are often condescendingly portrayed to be?

No, the level of education of the Erdogan supporters cannot be pinned down so easily. There are also highly qualified people of the second and third generation in Germany among them who stand by Erdogan or the AKP and vote for them. It is more people who have identity and integration deficiencies, who do not feel at home here in Germany for various reasons. Especially in the conservative-religious milieus, people face the increasing challenge of justifying their religious practice.

The discussion about the role of Islam, its structural role in Germany, also leads some people here to reorient themselves towards Turkey, because they still do not feel comfortable here in Germany despite their very good integration efforts. In fact, only 10 percent of the German Turks are actually AKP voters. About half of those are naturalized and thus cannot actually vote in Turkey. But also among the Turkish nationals in Germany who were among the 1.4 million voters, only 40 percent took part in the last election, of which 60 percent voted for Erdogan. Thus it is not the majority, but the minority; and secondly, it is these people who cannot find an emotional homeland here in Germany on which Erdogan has had an identity-based influence for many years in order to give them an emotional homeland.

Is the identity problem of the German Turks correctly understood by the media?

No, not enough. Here one must clearly take up new aspects of transnationality, of "hyphen-nationalities," and also understand these as normality. People who live in migration contexts have in their hearts two homelands. The challenge immigrants face in choosing a country is and remains a problem. In globalized times or in immigration societies such one-dimensional orientations and identities are no longer valid - and this reality is given short shrift in the media as well as in the public discussion.

The German media is, therefore, only marginally competent in analyzing the problem?

Indeed you can say that. There definitely is considerable potential for improvement 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.

This interview was conducted by Volker Wagener.

Head shot of a man (Volker Wagener) with gray hair and a beard
Volker Wagener Writer for DW's Programs for Europe department