German and Turks still lack understanding on some sensitive issues

German and Turks still lack understanding on some sensitive issues

No doubt President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s state visit to Germany was one of the most difficult diplomatic trips the two sides’ officials have seen recently as it must have been challenging to agree on its various details. 

The format of several events, like the joint press meeting as well as the opening ceremony of a mosque in Cologne, must have led to intensive negotiations between the two sides. While there must have been many crises behind the scenes, the visit ended without a major diplomatic accident, which by itself is an important achievement especially for the two countries’ protocol teams.

While Erdoğan uses a cautious tone, he gives the message that the difficult period is now left behind and that relations will soon be back on track. The German side, on the other hand, underlines the message that relations are far from normalization. This rhetorical divide is normal, since Erdoğan needs to present the visit as a success and Germany needs to be careful due to its domestic public opinion, which is extremely hostile to the Turkish president.

What is important here is to see to what degree the two sides were able to bridge the gap in thorny issues. The statements made do not give much room for hope. In fact the two leaders, Erdoğan and Chancellor Angela Merkel, made it clear they have diverging views.

The fact that Germany and Turkey have different interpretations on the definition of “terror crimes,” and differ on the delimitation of fundamental rights like freedom of thought is not new. But the speech delivered by German President Frank Walter Steinmeier shows that certain sensitivities are still not grasped properly by the German side.

Steinmeier thanked Turkey to have opened its doors to “Jews and politically persecuted Germans in the years of the National Socialist dictatorship – including hundreds of persecuted scientists.”

He referred to that episode again towards the end of his speech and said: “Eighty years ago, Germans found refuge in Turkey – today, a worryingly large number of people from Turkey are seeking refuge here in Germany from the growing pressure on civil society.”

Indeed, journalists and academics who feel under threat for having expressed their dissenting voice had to leave Turkey and found refuge in Germany. But the members of an organization that is strongly believed by the Turkish society to have masterminded a coup attempt have also found refuge in Germany. The process of how to handle them might prove complicated as it was underlined by Merkel. The evidence that is being handed over to German authorities might not be up to European standards. Or membership alone in an organization that is not accepted as a terror organization by Germany might not be enough to extradite that person. But it is one thing to talk about the contradictions in the judicial approach, and another to put dissenting voices, and those who are suspected of directly or indirectly been implicated to overthrow a government in one basket.

When you don’t make this differentiation, than Steinmeier’s call that Turkey “return to the path of reconciliation two years after the trauma of the attempted coup,” will not only fall on deaf ears, if these are the ears of Erdoğan, it will be met by reaction. That in return would complicate a result-oriented dialogue on those people like Osman Kavala, who has been waiting for nearly a year to learn why he is being held in jail.

Similarly, Turkey’s criticism of xenophobia and Islamophobia in Germany is not new. Erdoğan has criticized Germany for preventing thousands of Turks living in Cologne from attending the opening of the mosque in the city. While right in his criticism (although one has to remember that it is not a smooth process for non-Muslims in Turkey to hold religious ceremonies in different holy places in Turkey), Erdoğan could have refrained from voicing it. First of all he should have given credit to Steinmeier who referred to the series of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) and added how they “make us ashamed to this day.”

Merkel, on the other hand, is politically paying a high cost for her immigration policy. At a time when her party and the coalition are threatened by the rise of the extreme right which exploits fears from “Islam,” having the opportunity to open a mosque in one of Germany’s biggest cities should have received more appreciation.