The reality of the Turkish diaspora in Germany

Published 27.08.2017 22:43

A famous and well-known Turkish children's song talks about a distant village, where we do not go, which we do not see, but still it belongs to us. The same song goes for a house, a sympathetic song probably composed to give children a better take on the idea of "motherland." The song has been severely criticized many times for depicting idyllic scenery of some poorer regions of Turkey, which we do not see, where we do not go, but still belongs to us. This song simply summarizes our approach to the "Euroturks" of Germany.

Back in 1963, the first train full of Turkish "gastarbeiter" left the Istanbul European main train station, Sirkeci, to bring these laborers to Germany. These were the times of "reconstruction" in Europe. West Germany, as we were used to call the Federal Republic, was not really in need of workforce because almost every German trapped in the East Germany (German Democratic Republic) was using the safe passage possibilities in Berlin, divided between four, then two occupational zones, to migrate toward the West.

The construction of the Berlin Wall back in 1962 put an end to this migrant flow, by rendering the frontier between the two Germanys totally waterproof. The wall remained the symbol of the bipolar world and the Cold War. Its disappearance has also been the death knell of the Soviet type socialist system.

However, what has gone largely unnoticed was the fact that for the first time, a sizeable Turkish diaspora was formed in Western Europe and was poised to stay and establish a livelihood there. Between 1963 and 1973, a huge wave of legal migration from remote Anatolian villages as well as from big metropolitan areas like Istanbul and Ankara emerged. More than a half a million workers were sent mainly to Germany, but also to France, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Very few went to Sweden. Not only was this practically the whole "qualified" workforce available in Turkey, but nothing was done to help their stay and integration. The latter for a simple reason: integration was not at all sought nor foreseen.

No study, to the best of my knowledge, has been carried out regarding the potential loss of Turkish industry and development for having lost their qualified workforce so abruptly.

A majority of the first wave of migrants came back to Turkey after decades of labor in Germany, but a sizeable minority stayed there. Their children were raised there. Despite the fact that legal migration was stopped in all European countries after the first Oil Shock (1973-1974), the flow from Turkey to Germany continued almost steadily, through the reunification of families. It was customary to get married to a groom or bride from Turkey, mostly from the family's region of origin.

Turkey, back in the 1970's, was totally unable to extend any helping hand to its citizens abroad, let alone to form a coherent policy concerning their education or inclusion into German society. German governments for decades refused to acknowledge that the gästarbeiter were not poised to leave, but would stay there and form a permanent community within the German society.

For years, the savings of the Turkish workers have been dilapidated through ill-conceived and ill-implemented projects, essentially in the hands of "worker companies," which fared only a little better than felicity pyramids. Due to the absence of adequate educational systems, the second generation of migrants encountered immense trouble in their professional lives.

However, especially starting from the 1990s, the diaspora and Turkish society rediscovered each other. New cultural and economic ties have been established. Most of the professional footballers today playing in Turkish leagues are of German formation. Universities collaborate with each other through German academicians of Turkish origin.

There is one thing that did not change though: The way Turks of Turkey see the migrant communities abroad. They are almost considered the "soldiers" of the Turkish Republic. Whenever any of them has a different attitude, it creates a genuine outcry and the people or the institution is immediately ostracized.

I remember a working meeting, some 20 years ago, when a very high representative of Turkish Foreign Affairs told us that he would write a report to the government with a brilliant idea: Threatening the German government to withdraw all the Turkish origin citizens from Germany overnight and make the German industry come to a halt. This was not a joke, I cannot divulge the names because it was a serious and private meeting, but I believe our appreciation did not fundamentally change since. The "Euroturks" love Turkey, for the most part, but they have other personal priorities in the country they live in. A good idea would be to start respecting their priorities instead of our own.

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