As Germany heads toward the federal elections on Sept. 24, German politicians have fueled up anti-Turkey rhetoric with the aim to win potential votes. The Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) is an institution that aims to establish a strong Turkish diaspora and therefore Germany, where almost half of the Turkish diaspora lives, is under the focus of the YTB. The head of the YTB, Mehmet Köse pointed out anti-Turkish, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaigns in the recent elections in Western European countries and warned that discrimination and hate discourse are becoming increasingly popular.
According to Köse, all of these are concerning and disconcerting developments for diversity, multiculturalism and global peace, and he stressed that a similar atmosphere is predominant in Germany, where half of the Turkish diaspora lives. Köse believes that discriminatory and exclusionary discourses pave the way for violence by exacerbating the situation on the streets. Köse also emphasized that while there is a rise in the number of racist and anti-Islamic crimes, most of these crimes in Germany are dismissed during the investigation phase, thus, the perpetrators are not being prosecuted.
Daily Sabah: As you know, Germany is to have an election soon. In terms of Turks living in Germany, what will this election bring?
Mehmet Köse: The federal elections will take place on Sept. 24. Firstly, I wish a peaceful and secure election. I hope these elections will yield beneficial results for the Turkish community of Germany and of course for German people and for our region.
However, looking at the recent elections in Western countries, political discourse, party programs and the policies afterwards, I have to say that our hopes are nothing but naive. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant discourse in the U.S. elections, anti-Turkish, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaign during the U.K. elections and Brexit, discrimination and hate discourse in the Netherlands elections, racist parties in Switzerland and Austria becoming increasingly popular […] All of these are concerning and disconcerting developments for diversity, multiculturalism and global peace. A similar atmosphere being predominant in Germany where half of the Turkish diaspora lives, makes us think twice.
DS: Will this political discourse be limited with the campaign period only? Or are we going to see the impact on the programs and policies after the election?
M.K.: Unfortunately, it could be seen that this won't be limited just to the elections. The deprecating, exclusionary and discriminatory discourse of Thilo Sarrazin, who was one of the administrators of the German Central Bank eight to 10 years ago, had led to his resignation. However, now this very discourse is in the parties' election programs. The cohabitation of various cultures can only be achieved when the state legally and administratively takes their religious and cultural rights under protection. Party programs are seemingly limiting certain civic, religious and cultural rights concerning the Turkish community and the Muslim population in Germany. In a global world, it's far from being understandable to have demands such as trying to singularize identity, only allowing citizens of certain countries to have dual citizenship and having blood relation as the main criteria for nationality law in party programs. Previously, the Muslim community being deprived of their religious rights and having to fight to be accepted as a public entity as well as having to fight for their basic rights at courts were being criticized. Now, the party programs of the ruling parties clearly suggest a limitation of religious rights, a reformation of Islam according to so called German and European vision, an isolation of Turkish and Muslim congregations as a security threat.
What truly concerns us is that some approaches once considered marginal become prevalent in the media, politics and academy, expanding their sociological base and attempts to make it a state policy by the efforts to submit these to public's discretion.
DS: Do these anti-Turkish and anti-immigrant discourse used in election campaigns and by the media have any reflection on the street? Is it possible to estimate the social cost of anti-Islam and anti-Turkish discourses?
Being sensitive and sensible about the discourse is important in both the media and politics. Even though it doesn't call for violence, these discriminatory and exclusionary discourses pave the way for violence by exacerbating the situation on the streets. Both the media and politicians should act accordingly with a conscious, sensibility and responsibility. Unfortunately, as long as there is a focus on "new precautions" against the Turkish and immigrant communities and limitations that are to be imposed on them in political party programs and election discourses of parties along with the heated discussion about Turkey, it makes it feel like the main issue of Germany are Turks and Turkey. Beside the media's discourse that encourages anti-Islamic tendencies, central and leftist parties using similar discriminatory and anti-Turkey discourses in their election campaigns are not only strengthening extreme right-wing movements like Pegida, but also allows the banality of evil. Especially the discussions about Turkey during the election campaign converged the already existing anti-Muslim sentiments with anti-Turkey sentiments. This situation makes the 3.5 million Turkish community in Germany as the primary target of extreme right-wing discourses and actions.
DS: Do you believe the media is exacerbating the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments of politics and the public?
The media is tasked with informing the public. Traditionally, the German media is effective in shaping the political and public perception of Germany. Since the late 1970s when the Turkish community, immigrants and Muslims in Germany were deemed a threat to Germany's future, we have been seeing that the media has been using this discourse systematically. Unfortunately, the discourse of the German media serves to exacerbate existing divisions and hate crimes. Turks and Muslims are stereotypically shown as problematic people who are isolated, and have criminal tendencies. The media is constantly fueling these notions; it's creating fissures within the society by saying "us" and "them.. A news piece in Der Spiegel in the early 1990s defined the second and third generation Turkish youth as the "ticking bombs of slums." News about Turks in Der Spiegel between the years 1996-1998 even became an academic research. It was revealed that the word "Turk" was associated with violence and crime 29 times, while 17 times with cultural differences and eight times with derogatory remarks. Today is not any different; it's possible to see headlines like "A Turk was involved in a fight" or "Turks caused trouble again" in the German media. These kinds of news enable alienation and discrimination. Therefore, it's quite possible to assert that the discourse of the media is exacerbating hate crimes. It's not a coincidence that racist attacks in Germany have been on the rise since the second half of the 1970s.
DS: You're talking about increasing racist attacks. Do these discourses translate into violence? If so, how dangerous is the situation?
The attacks on Muslims and mosques have been on the rise in the last couple of years. According to the Federal Offices for the Protection of Constitution and Police (Verfassungsschutzbehörden) data published by the government, 392 attacks against Muslims and mosques took place in the first half of 2017. Beside the attacks on mosques, Muslims, especially covered women, are facing insults, hate speeches, threats and physical assaults in everyday life. At least 18 people were injured as a result of these attacks within the last six months. Most of the perpetrators couldn't be identified, therefore, these crimes are going unpunished. In this respect, it is obvious that the German Police Department has to work more effectively to identify and find the perpetrators. However, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg, since most of the victims don't report the crimes to the police, the number of attacks in the statistics are much lower than the real number of attacks.
Attacks against Muslims and mosques are analyzed as a separate statistic - as crimes against Islam - by the Federal Offices for the Protection of Constitution and Police since 2017. It is expected that the investigation and prosecution phases of these crimes will become more transparent and create an awareness in society because of this statistic. The muslim community in Germany has been demanding this categorization for years.
While there is a rise in the number of racist and anti-Islamic crimes, we see that most of these crimes are dismissed during the investigation phase, thus, the perpetrators aren't being prosecuted. This situation has been heavily criticized by associations that support the victims of racist attacks. The [National Socialist Underground] NSU case could be viewed as a perfect example in terms of German judiciary's approach toward racism.
DS: It is definitely the time to talk about the NSU murders and the trial. Do you believe that the murders of this extreme right-wing organization have been completely solved? Moreover, do you believe that the judicial process is being managed in a way to prevent and deter further attacks and murders?
The NSU killed eight Turks, one Greek and one German police officer between the years 2000-2007. These murders committed by this organization with Nazi tendencies were uncovered later on. During the investigations of these murders, immigrants were accused of the crime. The media had named these series of crimes "Döner Murders" and completely shut off other possibilities.
Firstly, the NSU trials are a test of sincerity for Germany. Moreover, it is a test for all the institutions in Germany in terms of their approaches to racism, anti-Islamic notions, human rights and terrorist organizations. This isn't only a series of murders motivated by racism. We have to also talk about institutionalized racism. The public is now aware of the close relations between the German intelligence agency and the NSU.
During the investigation and prosecution period of the NSU trial, the destruction of hundreds of files and evidence, finding informants at the crime scene, the decision to render certain files confidential for 120 years and information about the murders not being shared with the security forces prevented this trial from reaching a just conclusion. The 120-year confidentiality decided by the intelligence agency only brought more questions, while disconcerting the public. Moreover, while the usual period of confidentiality is between 30-60 years, granting the NSU-related documents 120-year confidentiality means preventing the case from being solved for many more generations.
It's not acceptable to reduce the institutionalized racism that was uncovered during the NSU murder trials to an organization with three members and individual case. All communities in Germany expect the prevention of institutionalized racism at all levels and the punishment of the perpetrators who were motivated by racist and anti-Islam sentiments. Besides the two murderers who committed suicide and the aggravated life sentence Beate Zschäpeis will receive, it does not relieve the public.
DS: You are the head of an institution that is responsible for Turkey's programs and policies toward the Turkish diaspora. Criticisms about Turkey's policies toward its citizens abroad have increased in the last few years. How do you evaluate this situation?
M.K.: Thank you, this is an important question. Human mobility is not a new concept; it has existed throughout time. However, it has intensified in the last couple of centuries. According to U.N. data, today more than 250 million people live in a country that isn't their birthplace. If we add the number of second and third generation of immigrants, this figure might reach a billion people. We are not even talking about minorities or diasporas that were created as a result of a shift in borders. In such a situation, we have to see the reality that almost every country has different cultural and ethnic groups living within their borders and diasporas living abroad, which are seen as an element of the host country.
Every country creates policies toward those nationals who live abroad, whether they are citizens or not. In short, almost all countries have their own diaspora policies. This is also true for Germany; there are around 1.5 million German nationals in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics. There are around 50 million people of German origin only in the U.S. In this respect, the representatives of the most prominent 29 German diaspora NGOs had a meeting with Chancellor Merkel last year. During the meeting, the diaspora representatives talked about many subjects including the German language and education in German. Similarly, the Federal Government's National Minority Director had said that the German language was a part of the identity of German minorities living in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics at a conference that took place three to four years ago. Moreover, German government promised 3.6 million euros for the German minority in Romania in April 2017. The German minority in Romania is around 60,000. Furthermore, the Romanian president is from that German minority.
I'm not criticizing Germany's policies toward Germans abroad or people of German descent. All of these policies that range from political representation to the protection of religious rights, cultural identity and language are natural. Turkey is basically pursuing the same policies. Today, more than 130 countries allow their diaspora to cast votes, while 14 countries consider it an electoral district, allowing its diaspora for representation in their parliaments. For instance, France dedicates 12 senate and 11 parliament seats for citizens abroad, while Italy dedicates 12 parliament and six senate seats for its citizens abroad. German and French schools operate abroad with a billion euro budgets as part of the policies for language and culture. Similarly, many Western countries support the construction of hundreds of churches abroad as part of the policies for the conservation of religious identity.
In this respect, Turkey might be criticized for not developing more programs for its diaspora and dedicating more funds to them. However, it's not possible to criticize Turkey for trying to conserve the language, religious and cultural identity of its diaspora in Germany. Therefore, the progress report published in July by the European Parliament accusing Turkey of systematically using its Turkish diasporas in EU member countries for its own interests and pressuring the Turkish diaspora is nothing but an attempt to disconnect Turkey from its diaspora. This is unacceptable. International law, European charters and the Turkey-EU Association Agreement grant this right to the homeland of diasporas.
DS: Returning to elections in Germany, it seems that the elections might affect the application of Turkey's policies toward its diaspora. Similarly, the elections will determine the future of the Turkish and Muslim communities in Germany.
M.K.: Definitely. In this respect, we could say that the upcoming elections are crucial. I hope that the result will contribute to the understanding of cohabitation in a world where mobility is on the rise.
Today, immigration policies followed by any state can easily affect another country or the whole world. It is possible to discuss this issue which has such a weight and is human-oriented in a way that it would result in more cooperation among the international community. Indeed, we cannot disregard the cultural, economic and diplomatic contributions of immigrants to our country. Relations between countries that are established through diasporas are more lasting. Moreover, these relations allow better mutual understanding and sharing. There are countless examples of this. In this respect, immigrants are the junction of the world and protecting their multiple identities is for the benefit of all humanity.