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Neo-Nazi revelations hit Cologne's Little Istanbul

November 18, 2011

Seven years have passed since a bomb attack rocked an immigrant neighborhood in Cologne. Originally thought to have been caused by Turks or Kurds, the attack has now been traced to a militant neo-Nazi cell.

Cologne's Keupstraße
Mülheim's Keupstrasse is home to many Turkish businessesImage: DW

There is a sense of relief among the residents of Cologne's Mülheim district these days, paradoxical as it may be, that has come from recent revelations that a militant neo-Nazi cell was behind unchecked attacks around Germany over the last decade.

The group, National Socialist Underground, whose name is an explicit reference to the racist ideology behind Hitler's Third Reich, has claimed responsibility for a bomb attack that took place here in 2004, on one of Mülheim's - and Cologne's - most Turkish streets, the Keupstrasse.

Here, in Little Istanbul, as the street has come to be known to residents, the news that a right-wing extremist group was behind the attack, though itself alarming, has proven once and for all that it wasn't perpetrated by Turks, as originally believed by German authorities.

False accusations

Öznur Özkocacık
Özkocacik says she is still shaken by the bomb attackImage: DW

On June 9, 2004 a nail bomb was detonated in front of the Kuaför Özcan hair salon, injuring 22 people and sending shock waves through Keupstrasse and all of Mühlheim. Öznur Özkocacik, now 23, still vividly remembers the scene.

"You could see people lying on the ground and screaming. You could hear them crying," she said. "At first there were rumors that Kurds were behind the attack, because they had had a run-in with the hair salon. But afterwards it became clear to us that that just wasn't true."

Despite residents' claims that it was a xenophobic attack, authorities concentrated their investigations on Turkish suspects. First they thought the Kurdish terror organization, the Turkish Workers' Party (PKK), was behind the attack. Then investigators blamed the Turkish mafia.

Several local residents, included the hairdresser Özcan Yildirim, were interrogated for days, as Yakup Arslan, who owns a jewelry shop near the site of the attack, told Deutsche Welle.

"Police thought he was with the mafia, or with the PKK," he said. "But now we know for sure that the attacks were carried out by someone else. And we, the people who live and work here, are happy to be rid of this guilt."

Sancak Topal
Topal complains of a two-tiered society in GermanyImage: DW

'They don't care'

But not all of the people who live and work in Mühlheim are so delighted about the 2004 bombing now being "cleared up." Bahri Kayakiran, who works at another of the jewelry shops on Keupstrasse, is still outraged that German authorities took so long to get to the bottom of the attack.

"Two years after the bombing, when the authorities still had absolutely no information, many people here thought they were simply covering it up," he said. Kayakiran said authorities, and even local politicians, used the bomb attack to label Mülheim's Turkish district as a "criminal milieu."

"We've been living and working here for years. We've never seen any such 'milieu'. They just want to avoid any responsibility for this area and forget us," he said.

"Why has it taken so long [to find out who was responsible for the bombing]?" asked Sancak Topal, a local translator. "Because German authorities don't care, that's why. They just want the foreigners to leave. That is the truth. If Germany really wanted to find such murderers and assassins, they would do it immediately. But they don't care, and they didn't put forth any effort."

This week, German politicians apologized for the first time for mistakes made in conjunction with such investigations, with Social Democrat chairman Sigmar Gabriel even visiting Keupstrasse to convey his "disgust and shame" at what happened.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Friday after an emergency summit of state and federal ministers in Berlin that the government officially apologized for "all the people who have made mistakes - whoever they are and wherever they are."

'Real problems remain unsolved'

Scene of 2004 explosion in Cologne
The individuals responsible for the bombing remain unknownImage: AP

Back on Keupstrasse, with its myriad shops and restaurants reminiscent of Turkey, daily business has long since returned to normal. But although the people here speak more Turkish than German and discuss events transpiring in Ankara rather than those in Berlin, they still want to be treated like everyone else in Germany.

They are well aware that the journalists and even politicians that have been here to offer words of apology and reconciliation will soon disappear. Then they will return to being forgotten.

"Nobody wants to feel like an instrument," said one shop owner, wishing to remain anonymous. "The journalists and politicians will come and go, but the real problems remain unsolved. I object to this."

He and residents like him will continue to demand justice and equality from the German government. Seven years after the bombing in Keupstrasse, it's now finally clear that Turkish residents weren't responsible. But it's also still unclear who exactly was.

Author: Başak Özay / glb
Editor: Martin Kuebler