Turkish PM Erdoğan slams German media, calls for ‘integration’ but ‘no assimilation’ in Cologne
Selçuk Şenyüz - Cologne
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has addressed some 20,000 supporters in a sports hall in Cologne in the run-up to the presidential elections on May 24, while around 80,000 protested him elsewhere in the German city.
Erdoğan slammed a section of the German media, as well as his political opponents in Turkey, while saying “no to assimilation” like he did in 2008, but also stressed the importance of “integration” and learning German.
Here are the updates from Erdoğan's speech, which started with a 2.5-hour delay and ended at 20.50 (Istanbul time), as they were posted here live:
20.49: Before concluding his speech, Erdoğan saluted the crowd with the Rabia gesture, which was created by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt following the coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Reinterpreting the political gesture in a new context, Erdoğan explained that four fingers symbolize "One nation, one flag, one homeland, one state." The Turkish PM then recited the lyrics of his favorite song with the crowd, "We walked this road together..."
20.46: "You know that there are some demonstrations outside," Erdoğan said, while the crowd booed. "They are our citizens, too. We will go back to our homes cool-headedly without letting any provocation happen. We will not provide ground for slander campaigns. The incidents here are for provocation, like the incidents in Turkey were," Erdoğan added.
20.43: Erdoğan called the audience to register for the upcoming presidential elections, explaining the procedure in detail. "We didn't announce our candidate yet. Our consultations, our studies continue. God willing, we will announce our presidential candidate as soon as possible," Erdoğan said. He also expressed his wish that Turks in Europe will vote in European Parliament elections.
20.39: "I kindly ask you to learn German and make your children learn it very well. If you live in another country, learn its language. Protect your mother tongue and preserve your cultural links to your homeland, but don't live like a foreigner in Germany," Erdoğan said.
20.36: "The problems of European politics can be solved with Turkey, not by abusing Turkey," Erdoğan said, stressing that "a Europe without Turkey" is not sustainable, as Ankara can function as an "antidote" to "racism and racist murders" in Europe.
20.34: Turkish PM Erdoğan criticizes EU countries over their inaction after human rights violations in Bangladesh and post-coup Egypt.
20.29: "Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is mortal. Like any living being, he will taste death when it is time, neither too early nor too late. The Turkish Republic, however, will continue on its blessed way, reaching its targets," he said in words reminiscent of those of modern Turkey's father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who had said: "One day my mortal body will turn to dust, but the Turkish Republic will stand forever."
20.24: "Those who look at us with arrogance in Turkey and those abroad has now a dirty alliance. They're trying to weaken Turkey and dominate the nation again with their slandering, their perception operations," Erdoğan said, criticizing those who call him "dictator" and repeating the Turkish government's stance on press freedoms in Turkey. (Click here to read more about the issue)
20.14: "I would like to repeat here what I told to those monuments of arrogance in Turkey to the ones abroad: Today's Turkey is not that old Turkey," Erdoğan said, quoting figures to make his point that the Turkish economy is in better shape. "Turkey is proud of you," the crowd chanted.
20.11: Erdoğan condemned the December 17 graft probe, widely believed to be led by Gülenists, as "a coup attempt in disguise of a corruption investigation."
20.10: Turkish PM Erdoğan labelled the Gezi protests as "an attack on national unity," claiming that the AKP formed the "greenest, the most environmentalist government" in the history of Turkey.
20.09: After referring to more recent attempts of political involvement by the military, Erdoğan said: "We implemented the national will by ensuring our brother Abdullah Gül was elected President."
20.05: "For decades, our identities, our values, our beliefs have been insulted," Erdoğan said, before commemorating former Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who was executed following the 1960 military coup.
19.55: "We will keep supporting the integration of the Turkish community in Germany. Unfortunately, some media organizations [in Germany] misunderstood it. You never never make difficulties regarding the integration. But if we're talking about assimilation, no! We can never make concessions on our language, our religion, our culture. I repeat here what I had said before," Erdoğan said as the audience applauded wildly. Similar remarks by Erdoğan had created controversy in 2008. (Click here to read more about the 2008 controversy)
19.50: Reminding that two people were killed during the protests against the Soma mining disaster, Turkish PM Erdoğan said: "What could our police do against all these terror acts? These are illegal terror organizations. You watched how they beat our police chief." (Click here to read more about the incident)
19.43: Erdoğan says a part of the media in both countries work "in coordination" to undermine the Turkish government. He also claimed that the attacks in the German media might be related to the upcoming European Parliament elections.
19.42: "One of the headlines in a presumptuous [German] magazine was meaningful. [The reporter] was sending me to hell. Apparently, he knows the way to hell," Turkish PM Erdoğan said, referring to Der Spiegel's controversial headline. (Click here to read more about the incident)
19:40: "A part of the media here [in Germany], unfortunately, has insulted me for their own interests, following the Soma disaster," Turkish PM Erdoğan said, as the crowd booed again.
19.39: Several people in the crowd booed when Erdoğan mentioned Angela Merkel's name as he said that he had a phone conversation the German Chancellor after the Soma mining disaster. The crowd didn't repeat it after Erdoğan mentioned Merkel's name for a second time.
19.38: "If we believe in democracy, if we respect the elections, then we should respect the decision of the Turkish people," Erdoğan said.
19.37: "You jumped during Gezi and sat down. You jumped again on Dec. 17, Dec. 25 and sat down. My nation gave you the lecture on March 30 [local elections]," he added.
19.36: "We see that there are reflections here and some groups and media outlets are trying to benefit from the pain of Soma by insulting Turkey’s prime minister. It is meaningful that they were coordinated with some media outlets in Turkey," Erdoğan said.
19.35: Turkish PM Erdoğan has thanked Turks in Germany for their support during the Soma mining disaster that killed 301 last week. "Outlawed organizations did not feel sorry for the Soma disaster. Accompanied by main opposition lawmakers, they did illegal protests and two people died. One of the victim’s sister said ‘He would not have been killed if you did not stage these protests,'" he said. (Click here to read more about the deadly protests)
Earlier in the day:
The prime minister was met in Cologne by Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler, Sports Minister Akif Çağatay Kılıç, Turkish Ambassador to Berlin Hüseyin Avni Karslıoğlu, Cologne Consul General Hüseyin Emre Engin and Dusseldorf Consul General Alaattin Temür.
The event was organized by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), which condemned the "biased attitude, which is not in line with German hospitality," over Erdoğan's visit.
While some 20,000 supporters of Erdoğan gathered in front of the Lanxess Arena hours before his speech, some 80,000 demonstrators protested the visit in eight locations throughout the city.
More than 6,000 police officers are on duty in Cologne May 24 to prevent any tension between Erdoğan supporters and the demonstrators at the protest, organized by the Federation of Alevi Communities in Germany (AABF).
Erdoğan had pledged not to take a step back on his decision to visit Cologne in the run-up to the presidential elections in August despite calls otherwise.
“Some say ‘Well, my honorable Prime Minister, it would be good if you don’t go to Germany. Do not go.’ No offense, but we will go,” Erdoğan said May 23, speaking about himself in the third person.
For the first time ever, Turkish citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote in the two-round presidential elections in August, including in Germany, where most of the 5 million Turks abroad live. The August election will be the first direct vote for the post.
“If we are making politics in this country, if we are the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey and if I have 3 million citizens there, then we go there,” he said, addressing an expanded meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) provincial chairs.
Critics worry that Erdoğan could use his appearance to give a campaign speech for the presidential election. He has not yet said whether he will run for the Turkish presidency, but he is widely expected to do so.
Those who have exploited the loss of 301 workers in the country’s most disastrous coal mine accident on May 13 are now trying to make provocations ahead of the visit to Germany, Erdoğan said, referring to clashes between police and protesters in Istanbul which erupted on May 22 and led to the loss of at least two people.
The same “circles” have been trying to provoke certain sects, Erdoğan said, in an unveiled reference to the Alevi community. The latest clashes took place in the Okmeydanı neighborhood when a group of up to 15 people protested the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who passed away in March after nine months in a coma after sustaining a head wound during an anti-government protest in Okmeydanı. A 30-year-old Alevi man was shot dead by a stray bullet while attending a funeral at the local cemevi on May 22. The majority of the neighborhood’s residents are Alevi, like Elvan.
Won't ‘remain silent’
Erdoğan promised not to remain silent in the face of such efforts. Germany’s Alevi community – which is widely seen to be a moderate form of Islam and constitutes upward of a quarter of Turkey’s 76 million citizens – has called for an anti-Erdoğan demonstration on the day for Cologne, accusing him of seeking “polarization.” Around 100,000 people are expected for the anti-Erdoğan rally.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a newspaper interview, called on Erdoğan to be restrained in his speech in Cologne.
“He’s often made such appearances in Germany. I assume he knows how sensitive this event is, especially this time, and that he will act responsibly,” Merkel said in an interview published in the German newspaper Saarbruecker Zeitung on May 23.
“I’m counting on the fact that he’ll make this [appearance] on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity,” Merkel said in the May 22 edition of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.
Erdoğan spoke by phone with Merkel later on May 22 about the Cologne visit, but mainly to discuss the Ukraine crisis, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.
Hours after Erdoğan’s speech, speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Erlan Abdildayev, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu ruled out possibility of any crisis between Germany and Turkey.
Lauding positive messages during Erdoğan’s call to Merkel, Davutoğlu said it was German authorities’ responsibility to prevent any provocation against the prime minister of Turkey.
“Above all, if there is an anti-Islam demonstration, then it would have a racist basis. In our opinion, any demonstration which is against a religion, no matter where it is held, is in line with neither European values nor universal values. Anti-Semitic or Islamophobic stances have always been condemned in the world,” Davutoğlu said, noting that such demonstration would also be in violation of German laws.