Turkish town to replace Mesut Özil’s German team photo with one alongside Erdoğan
“We are removing this photo and we will put up his photo with our President Erdoğan,” Devrek Mayor Mustafa Semerci told Demirören News Agency on July 23.
Devrek is a district of the northern Turkish province of Zonguldak, which is famous for its hand-made wooden walking sticks.
The town had renamed its main avenue after Mesut Özil following his successes in Germany. A large placard with Özil’s photo was also put up to show the avenue’s new name.
Özil’s family hails from Hışıroğlu, a village in the district, which was visited by the football star in 2011 when he was playing for Real Madrid.
“We are proud of Mesut’s decision to retire from the German national team. We love him so much as the people of this village. We support him,” the village head Abdurrahman Yanaz said.
Serdar Öztürk, another village local who said he played football with Özil when they were still children, told the agency that the 29-year-old star has been victimized in Germany.
“Criticism against him was unfair. He had played an important role when Germany won the World Cup in 2014,” Öztürk said.
Özil, who has Turkish roots but was born in Germany, had been under fire since posing for a photograph with Erdoğan in May.
“It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” the Arsenal midfielder said in a statement on social media channels on July 22.
“I congratulate Mesut Özil, who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism,” Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül wrote on Twitter.
A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ulrike Demmer, said that the German leader "values Mesut Ozil highly."
She said he had "made a decision that has to be respected," while insisting that "Germany is an open country in which people with immigrant backgrounds are very welcome."
While Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu made a phone call with Özil following his decision, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas cautioned against reading too much into the case.
"I don’t think that the case of a multi-millionaire living and working in Britain says much about integration in Germany," he told reporters in Berlin.
"And in any case, the truth is on the pitch. The fact that the Germans were knocked out of the World Cup has little to do Mr. Özil having his picture taken with Erdoğan," he added. "I think everyone involved in this case should reflect. I see few people who in my perception have behaved more or less right in this case."