March 17th, 2017

Germany and its Turkish residents: Erdogan’s referendum

Germany has many Muslim residents, the majority of whom are of Turkish origin and citizenship. This article is a must-read if you want to understand what’s happening in Turkey right now and how it affects Germany:

The evening’s events exposed the deep divisions in Turkish society that have been created by the constitutional referendum campaign. President Erdogan is seeking to tighten his grip on power by making himself head of government in addition to his current role as head of state. But it is by no means clear that he will get his way. Which is why he is also doing all he can to secure the vote of Turkish citizens living overseas, thus making the conflict over Turkey’s future into a German conflict as well — one which is becoming a threat, and deepening rifts within German society as well.

On the one hand, the Turkish community is perhaps more divided than it has ever been in the 50 years since Turks began coming to Germany as guest workers. On the other, German skepticism of their Turkish neighbors has grown of late. How is it possible, they wonder, that so many young people who grew up here venerate a man who is seeking to erode those democratic values of which Germans are so proud? Conversely, many of those with Turkish roots wonder why Germans still see them as Muslim aliens, even if they are cosmopolitan, successful and perfectly integrated. Why are the group’s achievements so rarely highlighted?

We certainly have our problems with immigration and immigrants, and questions of citizenship and assimilation. Birthright citizenship is another bone of contention. But this article illustrates the problems inherent in having an immigration policy that favors the importantion of workers from other countries that differ greatly in terms of culture, and in not having birthright citizenship. It creates a huge group of people within their new country who have daul allegiance (or even primary allegiance to another country), and offers an even greater incentive for them to fail to assimilate:

Around 3 million people with Turkish roots live in the country. If they have a problem, Germany does too. Every political tremor in Turkey triggers aftershocks in Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart. When the Turkish military launches a putsch to topple Erdogan, tens of thousands of people in Germany likewise sit glued to their televisions out of concern for Turkey’s future…

The atmosphere, particularly on the radical fringes of the two camps, is becoming more hostile to the point that German security officials have now become concerned that the conflict could erupt in violence in Germany as well. “The fault lines between the various camps in Turkey are mirrored in Germany,” says Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. There is, in short, a part of Germany that is deeply affected by Erdogan.

You might say the solution is obvious: don’t import so many people from a country such as Turkey in the first place. If you do, be aware of the minefield of cultural conflicts you will be entering. But it’s too late for that for Germany (and if our federal courts have anything to say about it, it may be too late for us as well).


Many AKP [Erdogan] supporters, though, have a different understanding of democracy — despite their integration in Germany and lessons on politics and civics in school. If the majority of a population decides to place its faith in a single party and a single head of state, then other countries simply have to accept that, many believe. The lessons of German history — the reflex most Germans have to think back to 1933 when hearing such arguments — are not as deeply rooted among all of those with Turkish roots. They view the separation of powers as largely unnecessary because they believe that Erdogan’s patriotism will lead him to act in Turkey’s best interests. Plus, those in Germany who watch pro-government broadcasters from Turkey have difficulty separating the propaganda from reality. Because they live in Germany, they have little experience with the more ominous elements of Erdogan’s rule.

I would say that lack of historical knowledge, as well as ignorance about the importance of separation of powers (and of equality of the branches of government), is not limited to Germany or its immigrants. I observe something similar as a general trend in this country, particularly among the young.

17 Responses to “Germany and its Turkish residents: Erdogan’s referendum”

  1. J.J. Says:

    Ataturk created a secular nation-state in Turkey in 1923. 94 years later Erdogan is trying to undo all that Ataturk accomplished. Do none of the Turk expats in Germany know anything about their history? 50 years ago when many of the Turks began moving to Germany they left what was then a secular nation with many Western values. Have they forgotten? Do they not know what has transpired in Turkey in the last 25 years? Of the drift back toward becoming an Islamic state? Of Erdogan’s Islamic leanings and his seeming desire to become the caliph?

    It seems like people everywhere, not just in the U.S., have forgotten the past and have no standards by which to judge what is happening right now. It is to weep.

  2. neo-neocon Says:


    My guess is that the answer is no, they don’t know. Or if they know, they don’t understand. Or if they understand, they don’t care.

    This post (which I put up a few minutes before I saw your comment) somewhat dovetails with your observations.

  3. expat Says:

    There are so many factors involved in this that I will only mention them briefly. One is that both the Germans and the Turks who came here thought they would be returning. There was no demand on Germans to interact and no demand on the Turks to leave their enclaves and give up their lifestyles. They raised their children as they were raised with father calling all the shots and sons forced to marry the cousin chosen for him. Girls didn’t count. They watched Turkish TV via satellite dishes and school wasn’t too important.

    Turks who lived in smaller communities did interact more and assimilate more. But there was also a difference among the Turks themselves. Those from around Istanbul had benefited from Attaturk’s secularization, but those from Anatolia had remained more attached to tribal customs and lifestyles, even if they didn’t build mosques here. It is primarily these who responded to the Islamization from imported Turkish Imams and to the news reports about Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, etc. The older ones just listened. The younger ones were caught between two worlds. And the Germans saw little of this till after 9/11.

    And, of course, as in the US, you had the do-gooder lefties who opposed vehemently any who tried to even discuss the matter, like Wolfgang Schauble,a leading member of Merkel’s CDU. Compounding all this was the idea of bringing Turkey into the EU, which would have meant unrestricted movement within a few years. Again, it was the CDU which put the brakes on this. Erdogan came to Germany a few years ago and told Turks here not to assimilate.

    All of these problems were exacerbated by the Syrian situation. There were so many refugees (and migrants from elsewhere in MENA) in and traveling through Turkey that Erdogan could open the gates whenever he wanted, and he still can. Merkel is in a bind between the do-gooders and the refugees.

    A large part of the problem is that so many people think that the rest of the world will be just like them if they create a utopia in the West, with women’s rights, gay rights and trannie bathroom rules. We have so many people in the West who are totally unaware of their own culture that they cannot see how deeply embedded other cultures are in people. Unfortunately, these are the people with the biggest megaphones.

  4. expat Says:

    My OT for today: I watched both the Trump/Merkel presser and the round table on apprenticeships and vocational training with both American and German participants. The latter really impressed me. We have a lot to learn from one another, and I’m really glad that Trump is addressing the issue.

    There is one thing I didn’t hear mentioned but it explains a lot about Germany’s industrial success. There are many smallish family owned manufacturing companies in Germany. The family heirs find their inheritance taxes reduced for every year that they maintain operations in the same location. This means that the kids get hands-on training in the business and keep their connections to local areas. Compare this to the US, where successful people send their kids to the Ivies so they can find mates who will land them in a coastal enclave. I’d love to see Charles Murray get into this aspect of Belmont.

  5. neo-neocon Says:


    I figured you’d be able to shed some light on it.

  6. J.J. Says:

    Expat, thanks for the insights. Really nice to have someone who knows the country and culture the way you do.

    I especially liked this gem: “We have so many people in the West who are totally unaware of their own culture that they cannot see how deeply embedded other cultures are in people.”

    I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many countries. When traveling in Europe we always tried to go off the beaten tourist track and rub shoulders with locals. We learned in Switzerland and the Dolomites of Italy about how the culture and customs could change just by going over a mountain pass or hiking into a nearby valley. Such experiences help a lot when evaluating human relations – especially with respect to diplomacy and immigration.

    During the run up to the Iraq War, I kept citing Turkey as what Iraq could become, if Saddam was deposed. At the time I was not very knowledgeable about the Muslim world and its ancient customs, culture, and tribalism. I recently watched an interview with the man who debriefed Saddam Hussein after we captured him. Saddam kept telling him that the U.S would never be able to govern or set up a government that would work in Iraq because we didn’t understand the culture. We should have listened to Saddam.

    Thanks also for the OT comment. Good stuff.

  7. neo-neocon Says:


    Saddam’s comments were also self-serving. In fact, the government in Iraq wasn’t working all the badly when Obama abandoned them to the wolves.

  8. Frog Says:

    That would be the Shia wolves from eastern Iraq, Neo, linked by proximity and faith [sic] to Iran, who were empowered to rule the Sunnis of Baghdad and northern Iraq, the land now being fought over to reclaim it from ISIS (also Sunni).
    Eastern Iraq has oil. Sunni Iraq has none. Iran will rule eastern Iraq in time.

  9. Yancey Ward Says:

    I am just waiting for Erdogan to release all the refugees into the Balkans.

  10. SLR Says:

    yes; the left in Germany is very similar to ours. Separation of powers is a paper thin sham that they’ll set aside when it suits them.

  11. miklos000rosza Says:

    It’s funny, but when I was much younger I read a biography of Ataturk and admired him greatly as a result. This made me trust that the subsequent regimes in Turkey would usually get it right.

    But I didn’t think too much about Turkey beyond Istanbul. It’s been sad to see Erdogan trying to turn the country around.

    Ataturk is one of a few historical figures whom I admired to the point of to some extent having a “cult of personality” on their behalf. Others in this gang include Shaka Zulu. Leon Trotsky, and Georges-Jacques Danton. Imperfect personalities, but my response was irrational. I loved Trotsky when I was in high school but never felt anything in common with the Trotskyists who still exist.

  12. J.J. Says:

    neo: “In fact, the government in Iraq wasn’t working all the badly when Obama abandoned them to the wolves.”

    It wasn’t working all that badly because we had many State Department minders hovering over the Iraqi leaders pushing them to do the right thing. As well as soldiers ready to crush any rise of terror. (The jihadis left Iraq and went to eastern Syria to regroup. Our soldiers in Iraq could not have prevented that.) Anyone who was actually in Baghdad could have told Obama that without minders the Iraqis would revert back to sectarianism, and that at least 25 years or more of close coaching might create a stable government. No guarantees of course. If Turkey can backslide from secularization that turned it into a westernized society back toward Islamicism, isn’t that a pretty good indicator of how deep the cultural roots go and how hard it is to change a culture? Especially one based on religious beliefs that take a fatalistic view of the world. Had we stayed engaged for twenty-five years, we might have had a stable Iraq for some period of time. Until they began drifting back toward Islamicism. The question is, “How long would American citizens be willing to pay to keep soldiers and diplomats in Iraq with shaky guarantees of results?”

    Obama would not accept that our involvement would lead to a more stable Iraq because he’s always been convinced that most of the world’s problems are created by the actions of the U.S. In his mind our presence in Iraq was a bad thing. With that mindset he could not wait to bug out.

    In1992, when the USSR collapsed, many believed that the concept of free market democracy had won the day. Some pundits were projecting that free market democracy would soon be sweeping the world. In fact Thomas Barnett’s book, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” was based on that idea. At that time I was a believer in that concept. Unfortunately, reality has intruded on that rosy scenario. In fact, it is beginning to appear to me that the free market democracies are going to have to fight harder just to maintain the status quo. Anti-democratic forces are gathering strength both at home and abroad.

  13. neo-neocon Says:


    Those issues have been aired very fully on this blog in the past. I’m in a hurry don’t have time to find the links, but the idea is that we always needed to understand that we’d have to have a presence in Iraq for a long time, as we did post-WWII in Germany and Japan, and in Korea post Korean War. It could have been done with a fairly small presence that would have paid off, big time, and I think Americans would have supported that presence.

  14. Rufus Firefly Says:

    Thanks neo-neocon and expat.
    Expat, didn’t many also build mosques in Germany?

    I’ve been recently surprised by my wife’s relations in Germany openly admitting there are grave problems with Islamists in their country. They had previously always been very insistent that their nation’s policies were superior to America’s and would never entertain the idea that there could be problems. Also, they viewed Islam as morally equivalent to Christianity and were happy to see church attendance dwindle.

  15. AesopFan Says:

    neo’s reply to J.J. ‘s excellent comment is spot on.
    We still have a massive presence (perceptively and/or physically) in Germany, Japan, and Korea. Physically with troops and materiel, of course; but perceptively through our at-one-time pronounced ideological commitment to individual liberty and rule of law.
    If we withdrew physically in the same way we have ideologically (which we have done by putting the anti-US Leftists in power), how long would it be before those three countries reverted to their own cultural pasts?

  16. Yann Says:

    even if they are cosmopolitan, successful and perfectly integrated. Why are the group’s achievements so rarely highlighted?

    A very good friend of mine, a German woman, grew up in a medium size city in Germany.

    A few years ago, she used to have a “girls day” with her girlfriends, just going out by themselves to chat and gossip, and well, all those things.

    They used to go out the Friday. They had to change to the Thursday, even when they worked the following day.

    Why? Because Friday night the Turkish were in the center. They used to talk to my friend’s group, and when they said they were not interested in meet other people but having their own time, the reaction, quite often, was calling them whores and similar stuff.

    And that was a few years ago, guys who grew up in Germany, before the recent waves, which seem to be the worse ones.

    You can ask her what she thinks about the Turkish integration.

  17. expat Says:

    I think most Turks kept quiet before, but since Islamism has begun to rear its head, more are speaking up. I don’t remember seeing many mosques before. I have heard of little storefront mosques in Turkish neighborhoods. I can’t really say how many new mosques are or were being built, and I don’t know whether these would be financed by locals who have become more prosperous or whether money is coming from other countries.
    And, of course, learning about Mohammed Atta and the Hamburg group has certainly made more Germans aware of what is happening here.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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