The protocol list of the Turkish president’s banquet in Berlin

The protocol list of the Turkish president’s banquet in Berlin

In the 1930s, Jewish scientists forced to abandon their universities by the Nazi regime were welcome in Turkey. Invited by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to help build a modern university system, few in Turkey and Germany today know about the legacy they left on Turkish academic life.

I personally knew in general terms about the contribution of German professors, but I was not exactly aware—my fault—that some of the iconic buildings in Ankara were the work of German architects. I learned about it thanks to this year’s desk calendar prepared by the German Embassy in Ankara.

The present day landscape in Ankara has nothing to do with the Ankara of the 1970s, so it might be difficult to imagine today how the huge ballroom of the Faculty of Language, History and Geography constructed by Bruno Taut would make such a huge impression on a child. Only few iconic buildings of the Turkish Republic’s early days are left in Ankara. The Turkish State Opera and Ballet building as well as the Sümerbank building were also constructed by German architects.

Saraçoğlu neighborhood, one of the very few residential areas in Ankara left outside of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) demolishment and construction frenzy, which is now sadly up for sale, is also the work of German architect Paul Bonatz.

The desk calendar, which carries “a German trace in Turkey” each week, could have served as an inspiration for the head of protocol at Bellevue Palace, the official residence of the president of Germany.

After all, the head of protocol must have been facing one of the most difficult missions in recent weeks, as the palace is preparing to host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the most controversial figures for the German public.

As it is a state visit, under normal circumstances, the guest list for the banquet should be representative of the historically complex and diverse web of the relationship between the two countries.

In addition to the shiny parts, there are dark sides of the relationship and the protocol department obviously has to avoid some scandalous choices.

Could Kurt Heilbronn, the son of a plant geneticist who founded the Istanbul Botanical Garden and was chased by the Nazis, be such a scandalous choice? Would he use the occasion to ask the Turkish authorities to transfer one of the oldest botanical gardens in Turkey to the Religious Affairs Directorate? The guest of honor might not like such questions.

In respect to the reciprocity principle, the protocol department would have to invite guests to represent Turkish traces in Germany. Academics and even journalists who fled present day Turkey for Germany would not be a wise idea. Plus, they have not spent enough time to leave a positive mark on Germany.

But that is not the case for Müfit Tarhan, who had to flee the 1980 military coup in Turkey as a member of the Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey (Devrimci Gençlik). The biotech company he founded with Aydoğan Cengiz has recently been the recipient of several awards.

Like the Tarhan-Cengiz duo, another name that may be less known by the public, like electrotechnician Dr. Buğra Turan, may also make it to the list. Turan received the North Rhine-Westphalian Innovation Award, one of the most distinguished German research prizes, for his works on storing solar energy. Would he perhaps tell the president what kind of an environment is needed for R&D?

Then again, the protocol department might want to opt for names known by millions. Mesut Özil? That might not be a good idea. Not that he has not played well in the last world cup, but the reaction of the German public to the picture he had taken with Erdoğan and his decision to resign from the national team has made him too controversial.

Staying away from possible controversies, they might prefer to remain on the safe side in making the protocol list. The representatives of Siemens, for instance, might be a safe bet. Siemens can play a major role if the two countries agree on a deal to modernize the Turkish rail system.

After all, this would also symbolize a continuation of their relations. Of the 52 pictures that represent German traces in Turkey on the calendar, at least five of them are on the Turkish railroad system.

From the Berlin-Baghdad railway in Ottoman times, to the modernization of the Turkish railway with China’s One Belt One Road Initiative in the background, inviting Siemens would definitely symbolize the intricate, historic and pragmatic web of the relationship between the two countries.