Turkish, German leaders join in mutual pledges for minorities
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 10/19/2010 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN
Turkey’s president said Tuesday he was also the leader of the country’s non-Muslim communities during a visit by Germany's president to Turkey.
Turkey’s president said Tuesday he was also the leader of the country’s non-Muslim communities in remarks that followed the visiting German leader’s earlier comments that “Islam is now a part of Germany.”
“We have non-Muslim citizens, we have Christian and Jewish citizens. I am also their president,” President Abdullah Gül told a joint news conference with his German counterpart, Christian Wulff, whose five-day trip to Turkey is the first official visit in 10 years despite the strong economic and social ties between the two countries.
Wulff, was elected president in June and chose Turkey as one of his first international visits since coming to power, stirred up controversy in Germany when he said this month that Islam was part of Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who earlier preferred to stay out of the ongoing debate on how to integrate approximately 4 million Muslims into German society, was quick to seize upon the president’s remark and said last weekend that multiculturalism in Germany had failed.
After Wulff’s comments, the Turkish president was asked similarly whether Christianity was part of Turkey.
Gül said he read and appreciated Wulff’s comments, hailing it as a “realist” analysis.
“He is their [Muslims’] president as well who show loyalty. There are successful athletes, politicians and businessmen. There is nothing odd here,” said Gül. “I can make a similar comment. We have non-Muslim citizens, we have Christian and Jewish citizens. I am also their president. There is no discrimination. We respect our citizens’ religion and identity. I don’t believe there is a problem here.”
Wulff’s visit comes amid increasing integration debates in Germany. A recent survey revealed that xenophobic attitudes were on the rise in German society reaching out to the heart of the middle class. The debate was furthered when a former member of the German Central Bank, Thilo Sarrazin, said foreigners, especially Muslims, were coming to Germany to take advantage of the German welfare system.
Wulff, however, has adopted a less inflammatory attitude toward integration.
“All of us should fight against abuse of religion,” the German president said, while confessing that “none of us has sufficient knowledge about the three big religions.”
Wulff said he shared successful integration models with Gül, telling him about Germany’s minister of Turkish origin, Aygül Özkan.
“Seeing her success has encouraged Turkish-descent citizens and they think they are being taken seriously. I am also their president,” said Wulff.
Gül warned that increasing numbers migrating to Germany should not cause the country to pursue a strict visa policy, which would not accord well with a modern state understanding.
The Turkish president confessed, however, that neither Turkey nor Germany could help immigrants’ integration.
“If we do a realistic analysis, we cannot put the whole blame on [Turkish] immigrants who moved to Germany’s big cities without seeing Anatolia or Istanbul and Ankara. Neither you nor us could play the leadership role.”
Wulff repeated the German government’s well-known attitude toward Turkish-EU negotiations, saying that the process was “open-ended” but made clear that the principle of “pacta sunt servanda” (Latin for “agreements must be kept”) should be observed.
Merkel and her conservative Christian Democratic Union oppose Turkey’s EU membership bid and her party supports “privileged partnership” for Ankara, a proposal that falls short of full membership and is strongly rejected by Turkey. Wulff said Turkey’s negotiations should proceed fairly.
[HH] Wulff addresses Parliament
Germany’s president later addressed the Turkish legislature, becoming the first German president ever to do so and delivered important messages on religious, cultural, social and foreign policy areas.
On Turkish-German ties, Wulff said the Turkish-German relationship had further intensified in the wake of World War II, adding that his country was Turkey’s one of the most important trading partners.
He said many German companies were operating in Turkey and contributing to Turkey’s economic dynamism.
Wulff said his country had closely monitored the Sept. 12 referendum of Turkish government-led changes to the Constitution. He praised the changes, saying they brought Turkey closer to Europe.
On the Cyprus dispute, the president said: “As Parliament, you are frequently dealing with the Cyprus problem. This problem, this knot should be untied.” He added that the resolution of the decade-long impasse would bring stability to the eastern Mediterranean.
Touching on Turkish-Armenian normalization, Wulff said, “our support is with you” for the normalization of the troubled relationship between Turkey and Armenia. He encouraged an “open border” in the common future with Armenia, which he said would contribute to stability in the Caucasus.
Referring to the relations with Israel, Wulff said Germany favored a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel and also emphasized that Turkey has a role to play in peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “Turkey is a respected country in the region. Both Germans and Turks should make a constructive contribution.”
Wulff also said there were concerns as to whether Iran’s nuclear program was peaceful. “We, in Europe, don’t want the start of nuclear armament.”
The president said German citizens of Turkish descent were a part of Germany. He added he was president of all including Turkish-Germans, urging them to actively participate in German society.
He also warned, however, that some immigrants were resorting to extremism while others were unfairly receiving state aid. Moreover, crime rates among some immigrants are higher, he said.
“We can reach a successful integration through an open dialogue. Nobody has to give up on their cultural identity but they have to adhere to German society’s rules,” he said, urging immigrants to learn German.
On Islam and democracy, he said Turkey could prove that Islam did not contradict democracy.
“A Turkey that pursues an active policy in the East and is a bridge between East and West is a gain for Europe,” Wulff said, adding that Germany was supporting Turkey’s EU process, a path opened by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
And on the religious freedom in Turkey, Wulff said Christians living in Islamic countries should enjoy the same rights with Muslims living in Europe. He said they should be able to raise their own clergymen and have their own churches, implicitly urging Turkey to open Halki seminary.
“Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey,” he said, emphasizing that religious freedom, among European values, was very important.