Turkey and Germany need to increase bandwidth

Turkey and Germany need to increase bandwidth

“How dare you consider vacationing in Turkey with my children?” said a wife to her husband in the back of a Berlin taxi. At least that’s what the driver—who was of Turkish origin—told me afterwards. This driver was anxious; eager to talk about what he and many others feel is a growing anxiety between the Turks and the Germans in that country. 

When I heard the German Foreign Minister issuing a safety warning to tourists traveling to Turkey and warning investors against doing business in the country on Thursday this week, I recalled my conversation earlier in the Berlin taxi. It was so much like the Gabriel Garcia Marquez plot in the “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” Everyone has been expecting some sort of a mishap in Turkish German relations this year.

You’d think that someone would have stepped in to prevent it, but that’s not how these things work anymore. Why is there this profound ineptitude on both sides? That’s what I would like to understand. 

There is something about populism here. Foreign policy is always domestic policy in Turkey. But this time it is so in Germany, too. Germany has its elections in September and Turkey bashing is in. The family feud at the back of the taxi only shows the depth of the problem, mind you. Turkey, on the other hand, has this existential angst due to the deepening crisis in Syrian and bashing all Westerners, including the Germans is one of the side effects of this. So, the Germans should not take it personally.

If you look at Kadir Has University’s foreign policy perception survey, Turks consider the U.S. as the number one threat. The Israelis, come second, followed by the EU as a whole. So, there is nothing personal when it comes to the Germans. Turks just don’t like anyone these days. Germany just comes up very often because we have stronger and longer-standing ties to that country than any other.

What I find interesting is the share of Turks finding both the U.S. and the EU as major threats to Turkey. Those are our NATO allies since 1952—the countries our entire geopolitical strategy relies on. In 2015, around 45 percent saw these two political entities as threats, whereas this year, that number has risen to 90 percent. How did this number almost double in two years?

Two factors are key here—first, the growing importance of and Western aid to the Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Syria and second, the coup attempt and the tolerance, if not acceptance, of Gülenist elements in the west. Our allies’ lukewarm condemnation of the failed coup attempt and disinterest in showing solidarity seem to have taken their toll. Yet, despite these negative feelings, 62 percent of Turks would like Turkey to remain a member of NATO. 

There is also a 49 percent, down from 54 percent in 2015, who would still like Turkey to become a member of the EU. Yet, there is profound distrust in this relationship. When asked how long it will take for Turkey to become a member of the EU, the share of participants responding with “never” has increased from 48 percent in 2015 to 81 percent in 2017. This sort of thing breaks my heart.

You may find similar arguments from the German side, too. There is a reason for President Erdoğan becoming a hate figure in Germany recently. Turkey has thrown caution to the wind and acted on emotion, rather than devising a long-term strategy in its relations with the West. 

Turkey and Germany are historically important partners. Thanks to generations of Turks moving to Germany, as well as vast German investments in Turkey, the two countries have unusually strong economic and social connections. The problem seems to be that there is little awareness of the value of these connections, and no way to process them in a meaningful way. That’s why communication failures in official channels lead to unnecessary tragedies. This should not beturned into a farcical chronicle of a murder foretold. The government in Turkey and Germany must increase their communication bandwidth to get relations back to normal.