How Germans experience life in Erdogan′s Turkey | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.12.2016
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How Germans experience life in Erdogan's Turkey

Some 50,000 Germans live as permanent residents in Turkey. They are currently witnessing the enormous political change in their chosen home - and aren't sure how to feel about it.

Doris Bierett greets all those who visit her on the Turkish Riviera with a cheerful "Merhaba" (hello) or "Iyi Günler" (have a nice day). The 73-year-old has spent eight years learning Turkish because she said she wants to be completely integrated into the society where she lives. Before retiring, the actress, singer and cabaretist traveled the world performing on board the cruise ship "MS Europa."

While at work she saw much of the world, but she said she deliberately chose to settle down in Turkey. After spending her holidays in Turkey for many years, she bought an apartment eight years ago in coastal town of Kas, which is around 200 kilometers (124 miles) south-west of Antalya.

"People here are tremendously hospitable and warm-hearted," she said, adding that she had not experienced such warmth in either France or Spain.

Approximately 10,000 Germans have moved to Turkish coastal towns to enjoy their retirement. But this allegedly paradisiacal life is changing.

Erdogan alters political climate

Türkei Präsident Tayyip Erdogan Rede in Istanbul (Reuters/Presidential Palace/Murat Cetinmuhurdar)

Erdogan blames US-based cleric Gulen for the failed coup

Around four years ago, Bierett noticed that a lot more women were wearing headscarves and that people were increasingly turning to traditional values. This didn't really bother Bierett. But then she saw how more and more members of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) were becoming noticeably more affluent. The place where Bierett was living, which 30 years ago was only accessible via donkey tracks, was equipped with modern infrastructure. This rapidly expanding prosperity strengthened Erdogan's power as he, according to observers, is particularly admired by ordinary people.

Since the failed coup against Erdogan in July, the many arrests that have taken place amid a crackdown on the opposition have affected people's openness, Bierett said.

"You can't talk about politics in Turkey," she said. "Everyone is afraid that they might say something that could be held against them. And I have noticed that I can't say anything either. It's very hard to deal with. I feel quite helpless."

Interested in politics, Bierett said she still has a number of questions about what is going on. But she doesn't ask them because she doesn't want to put her friends, several of whom are members of the police force, in an awkward situation. "They have sworn an oath to the state," she said.

Although the military and police in Kas are not going to be reinforced, there have been changes. One example is traffic patrols in which authorities thoroughly examine registration papers. The crackdown on those tied to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen has also been felt in Kas.

Türkei Ankara Verhaftung von Pro-Kurden-Demonstranten (Getty Images)

Tens of thousands have been detained since a failed coup attempt in July

"A German man, who I have known here for a long time, was married to a Turkish woman who had attended one of the Gulen schools," Bierett said. "Suddenly they both disappeared."

Another friend from Ankara was crying over the phone and very upset after people she knew had been put in jail, she added.

Rather than leaving the country, many who are fed up with political pressure in large cities, such as Istanbul or Ankara, attempt to find a house or apartment in a coastal town. Construction permits for coastal areas have increased. Both Turks and Germans are moving in.

"A lot of people are buying into the area," Bierett said.

But since the failed coup between 2,000 and 3,000 Germans have left the country, according to "The Bridge," an Istanbul-based organization that represents German interests across the country and facilitates cultural exchanges.

Some Germans, who were under suspicion for being too close to Gulen, were even arrested. But according to statements by the German consulate, they have since been released. Employees of many German companies operating in Turkey have been transferred back to Germany and German scientists at the Marmara University in Istanbul are uncertain and are trying not to jeopardize long-term and, until now, fruitful academic collaborations.

Retreat to the private sphere

Pensioner Doris Bierett is reflective. Those in Turkey who wanted to have anything to do with Europe have always been in the minority. She said many Turks have told her that they don't need Europe and are no longer interested in joining the European Union.

Doris Bierett (privat)

Bierett said people should come to Turkey and not be afraid

Bierett puts the situation in context: "I view recent developments across the globe with trepidation. Not only in Turkey. Things have gone off the rails everywhere. What can you do? Retreat to your tiny island and try to enjoy what's rest of your life?

As a former performer at Berlin's famous cabaret group "Die Wühlmäuse"(the voles), Bierett is well-versed in delivering caustic criticism. But these days she said she doesn't have the energy, or perhaps quite enough courage, to stand in opposition.

"There were some people here who got really involved, but who then had to take it all back because under the circumstances it would have lead to deportation," she said.

Bierett doesn't believe she would end up in jail if she got together with others and said something about what is going on, but, she adds, "our residency in Turkey would be quickly terminated."

She currently holds an "ikamet," which is a residence permit for two years. After that she will have to apply for an extension. In 2020, eight years after she was first registered in Turkey, she will have the right to stay permanently in the country.

Bierett is not critical of the system in Turkey. She prefers to focus on the Turkish people, whom she loves.

"For people here, it is a disaster that tourists have stopped coming." The Turks in coastal towns, such as Kas, have invested all their savings in shops and guest houses. "Now they're all on the verge of ruin." Bierett's recommendation is simple: "Come to Turkey! Don't be afraid."

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