Turkey’s new diaspora policy: Leverage or obstacle for Turkey’s EU membership cause?

Turkey’s new diaspora policy: Leverage or obstacle for Turkey’s EU membership cause?

In recent years, Turkish politicians have intervened increasingly in political and social matters concerning Turks in Germany. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited Germany several times to give speeches condemning assimilation as a “crime against humanity,” while calling on Turks to maintain their relationships to Turkey and Turkish culture, and to work in the interests of Turkey.

Erdoğan’s speeches, as well as other high-ranking Turkish politicians’ criticisms, have caused frictions in German-Turkish relations.

Ankara’s interest in Turkish migrants in Germany is part of its diaspora policy: A strategy of establishing or maintaining permanent, institutionalized relationships with the Turkish diaspora in Europe, specifically in Germany. Naming the Turkish community in Germany and elsewhere in Europe as a diaspora is a clear break with the perception of Turkish people as “guest workers” who are only there temporarily.

Ankara aims to mobilize the Turkish diaspora for its political aspirations, such as Turkey’s EU membership. The diaspora is intended to be a mouthpiece for the interests of the Turkish government.

It is for this purpose that the government encourages Turks to be well integrated in Germany, because only then can they be involved in institutions such as political parties and associations, acting as lobbyists for Turkey. Ankara is of the opinion that a poorly integrated community could have unfavorable effects on Turkey’s EU membership, producing a poor image of Turkey among the majority of German society.

From Ankara‘s point of view, globalization is forcing Turkey to reposition itself in the web of international relations and make use of the potential of Turkish migrants scattered across the world. Therefore, Turkey will continue to focus its attention on the Turkish diaspora, especially in Germany.

Why then is it often so difficult in Germany to make a balanced assessment of the Turkish government’s interest in Germany’s Turkish migrants? First, it is due to skepticism of many German decision-makers toward the transnational connection of Germany’s Turks, which is regarded as an obstacle to their integration. Secondly, there are widespread concerns about an “externally-controlled penetration” of the Turkish diaspora by the Turkish government. Thirdly, in its judgement of “diaspora” and “diaspora policy” in general, numerous German decision makers are influenced by the specter of a “fifth column” or a “Trojan horse.” Consequently, they are losing sight of the integrative aspects of the diaspora as a way of life and the diaspora policy.

Turkish diaspora policy also attracts criticism because over time it has become less inclusive and less willing or able to integrate migrant associations with critical attitudes. Furthermore, following the wave of Gezi protests in Turkey in 2013, many Turkish migrants associations lost interest in diaspora activities. Because of its conservative social values, Ankara’s diaspora policy is therefore in danger of reinforcing cultural fragmentation within the diaspora in Germany. This fragmentation clearly limits the government’s attempts to intervene and control. Turkish diaspora policy and the rhetoric accompanying it are unable to appeal to the diaspora in Germany with its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.

Therefore, Ankara should accept the autonomy of diaspora organizations, recognize the cultural and political diversity of the Turkish diaspora and continue supporting the structural integration, social integration, political integration, and naturalization of Turks in Germany. Then, the Turkish diaspora policy will be able to function as leverage for Turkey’s EU membership cause. Otherwise, if the government continues to support a cultural-ethnic oriented national identity (Muslim Nationalism, Muslim Turkishness) or conservative social ethics, it will end up as an obstacle: Reinforcing anti-Turkey attitudes and even creating conflicts between the Turkish diaspora and its host-countries.