As the German Bundestag approved last week the draft legislation which defines the 1915 incidents as "genocide," relations between Turkey and Germany continue to be tense. Daily Sabah spoke with Mustafa Yeneroğlu, the chairman of parliament's Human Rights Investigation Committee, who has resided in Germany for a lengthy period of time and follows German politics closely. Talking about the timing of the draft and the future of Turkish-German relations, Yeneroğlu stated that anti-Turkish postures continue to be the bread and butter of far-right and racist parties in Europe. Yeneroğlu also noted that there are serious and legitimate concerns for the well-being of the Turkish community in Germany, as the draft may exacerbate social marginalization and pave the way for assaults against Turks. Expressing that the rise of far-right politics in Europe is a threat against existent liberal social order in Europe, Yeneroğlu claimed that the basis of anti-Turkish postures is Turkey's demand for an equal footing in relations with Europe.
DS: In your opinion, why was this draft put in action now in the German Bundestag? What is your take on the timing?
As you may know, this draft bill was also proposed last year; however, the German government then rejected the proposal by the Green party. The government at that time had justified the rejection by stating that the Bundestag could not pass judgment on this issue, as no international court decisions had been made regarding the incidents of 1915. In February, Cem Özdemir, the co-chair of the Greens, reiterated this draft, yet the German government had demanded the postponement of the draft, as it might have negative effects on relations between Germany and Turkey, especially before an EU-Turkey Summit on March 7. An agreement between the Greens and the Christian Democrats postponed the draft to June.
Their main reasoning was that they would first overcome the problematic issue of refugees with Turkey, and then pass the draft once the political agenda was normalized. However, this didn't happen. The talks about refugees are still continuing. While Germany was preoccupied with such trifling matters as the draft, they disregarded Turkey's exceptional efforts, sincerity and humanitarian stance, while also disrespecting Turkey with double-standards and insincerity. Those who are demanding Turkey clear its conscience by abiding to the repercussions of this draft bill, should look at themselves, as they are those who only talk about the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Syrian people, but never act, in order to maintain their comfortable position.
Meanwhile, the German Bundestag isn't even able to face its own dark past. During the Herero revolts, 100,000 people were killed by German soldiers issued clear instructions to kill every male Herero. This massacre has been proposed to be described as genocide, yet the ruling party has stood distant from this proposal. A draft bill proposed by the Left Party was rejected by the Bundestag, as the coalition parties outright rejected the proposal, while the Greens abstained, and all of this happened just a couple of weeks ago. The German courts have considered even the Holocaust crimes as mass murder, not genocide.
DS: You have said that this draft was previously discussed last year, but was rejected. In your opinion, what has changed since then?
This is the same question I am also asking. Nothing has changed. There haven't been any decisions made by international courts. On the contrary, the European Court of Human Rights last year questioned the authority of parliaments to pass judgment on historical incidents such as this. Disregarding this, Germany's decision, which builds itself upon anti-Turkish postures, has called in question their sincerity regarding Turkish-German relations.
DS: How can the passing into law of this draft be explained?
In recent months, there has been significant pressure on Merkel. It was presented as if Merkel was surrendering to Turkey regarding the refugee issue, which in turn put pressure on Merkel. Realities about Turkey, especially regarding human rights, freedom of press and the war against terrorist organizations, are distorted, and anti-Turkish postures are continuously being nurtured.
However, beside these, the said draft is the work of people who are disturbed by Turkey's war against terrorist organizations, and they are trying to corner Turkey. Even though Merkel was subjected to such pressure, she could have stood tall. Thus I believe Merkel's attitude regarding this draft bill is tragic.
DS: How will this affect Turkish-German relations?
Unfortunately, groups which desire the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Germany are numerous and powerful in Germany. We have in particular observed the hostile attitude of Cem Özdemir towards Turkey becoming more stressed, as he openly is in league with the PKK terrorist organization, has advocated for the PKK's legitimacy, and works with the Left Party to remove the ban against PKK activity in Germany. With the increasing anti-Turkish postures, the current situation is being supported by Social Democratic Party and Christian Democrats, as they expect Turkey to be taught a lesson.
I can only hope that Turkish-German relations do not suffer any permanent damage, as we have a long-lasting partnership with Germany. Moreover, we have more than 3 million Turkish citizens in Germany who bridge relations. Similarly, there are approximately 100,000 German citizens in Turkey. Beside these, there are more than a thousand cooperation agreements between Turkey and Germany, especially regarding trade relations, culture and education. I believe that these should not be disregarded. It is inconceivable that Germany is supporting these hostile postures, especially when we have such advanced relations with them. This is why I am saddened by the decision of the Bundestag.
DS: What effects will these developments have on Turks living in Germany?
Turks in Germany are already subject to marginalization, discrimination and racist attacks. There were approximately 100 assaults on mosques alone in Germany in 2015, while there are at least three attacks daily on refugees. Moreover, the case concerning the killing spree of the terrorist Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) is yet to be solved. Among the victims, there were eight Turks. I can easily say that the courts are not acting against the intelligence units which are connected with this case, nor the institutionalized racism.
In addition, the racist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has showed a significant rise over a short period of time. They were exceptionally successful in the elections held in three states of Germany last March, and recent polls suggest that they have the support of 13 to 14 percent of voters. Therefore we have legitimate concerns about the Turkish community's well-being in Germany, as there has been a rise in right-wing populist politics, which may exacerbate social exclusion and racist crimes against the community. We call for the German government to address racial discrimination with more sincere and decisive acts.
DS: As you have said, far-right movements are on the rise in Germany and across Europe. It is possible that this will also be reflected in the next European Parliament elections. How would you comment on the future of relations between Turkey and an increasingly racist Europe?
Firstly, I would like to state that anti-Turkish postures are the bread and butter of all far-right and racist parties in Europe, and this is how they can create an identity for themselves. We can say that the draft bill about the incidents of 1915 will empower the far-right movement in Germany. This law will pave the way for more anti-Turkish propaganda, while also allowing the far-right movement to nurture their hatred.
It is obvious that the current situation in Europe is troubling for Turkey, as there is a 14 percent support for far-right movements in Germany, 38 percent in Austria and over 30 percent in France. Moreover in the Netherlands, the racist and Islamophobe Geert Wilders has support over 30 percent, and similar inclinations exist in the U.K. and Denmark. This situation will call in question European values, which are always put in front of Turkey as an obstacle. It should also be said that the current situation is a threat to the liberal social order in Europe.
Therefore, the following periods will see Europe's very existence, unity and values under attack. Relations with Turkey should be improved and pluralism should be advocated. Multiculturalism and religious pluralism should be perceived as a treasure, and this pluralist understanding must be integrated into the society. However, developments indicate a completely contrary situation. With great sadness, I observe that European countries will isolate themselves, and with this isolation there will be a concerning process, during which human rights infractions will increase.
DS: Along with anti-Turkish postures, there have also been insults against President Erdoğan. How do you evaluate these developments?
These are due to Turkey's desire to be on an equal footing with Germany and EU. Europe has approached Turkey with a Eurocentric and orientalist manner for more than 200 years. Yet as Turkey gains economic and political stability, we can observe that they are having trouble with admitting Turkey on an equal level. The disturbance and discomfort caused by a Turkey wanting equal terms is reflected towards President Erdoğan as a person. They have issues with Turkey being represented by Erdoğan. We observe that insults without reservation against Turkey and Erdoğan. I believe that European people with common sense will have a lot to question about themselves.
This attitude and double standard is not only about Germany, but also regards current events in France. The hostile attitude towards President Erdoğan cannot be seen towards France or its president. The Gezi Park protests were covered extensively by European media outlets with live coverage and daily headlines in newspapers, as they were trying to transform them into a popular uprising, a revolution. When we compare the Gezi Park protests with events transpiring in France, we see that the Gezi Park protests were a process started with a small group of people, who were later supported by terrorist organizations. However in France, hundreds of thousands of people are already on the streets, while the security forces have used excessive power and have arrested more than a thousand people. I believe that many people started to understand reality, even though European media outlets have outright disregarded the protests in France. One of my friends in Germany, who believed in the sincerity and authenticity of European support for the Gezi Park protests, said that their whole world has turned upside down, as they have seen the double standard of European media. Disregarding the protests in France also demonstrates that they were insincere in their support of the Gezi Park protests.
DS: The visa exemption negotiations between Turkey and EU are at an impasse due to the EU's demand that Turkey limit the definition of terrorism. Technical committees will try to reach a compromise during June. Turkey has stated that it will not limit the definition of terrorism. Is it possible to reach a compromise?
First of all, the basis for the visa exemption is the agreement regarding refugees. While Turkey has fulfilled every commitment, the EU has not fulfilled their own commitments. By May, it was expected that 20,000 people would be sent from Greece to Turkey; however, less than 400 people were sent. Similarly, there were quotas expressed in tens of thousands of refugees, yet European countries only accepted 170-180 people. Moreover, EU promised €3 billion in aid to Turkey; however, less than 10 percent of this amount was received. In addition, according to the 1963 Ankara Agreement, visa exemption is mentioned as a means to integrate the European community with Turkish society. Therefore, the visa exemption is a commitment of the EU. Yet in disregard of this agreement, they have provided visa exemption to countries such as the UAE, Panama and Paraguay, while they have put forward many conditions for Turkey. Turkey has fulfilled 70 out of 72 conditions. Yet the EU created an artificial expectation that Turkey should also make its anti-terror laws compatible with EU norms.
Firstly, these conditions don't have any effect on turning this artificial expectation into reality. Secondly, the EU does not have a common definition of terrorism. Thirdly, there are different applications of law in various European countries. For example, in Germany, any person who is sympathetic to a terrorist organization's mission or method can be penalized for supporting terrorism. They support Turkey's war against terror only verbally, never by actions. Contradictorily, they have allowed the PKK terrorist organization to recruit militants and propagate their propaganda. In recent days, I have talked about a terrorist organization which existed in Germany between the years 1974-78. The Red Army Faction (RAF) slaughtered 34 people. Unfortunately, this number is almost the weekly casualties in Turkey from terrorism. During that time, the state was almost in a rage. Many policies about fighting terrorism were legalized by the German parliament. The press was conditioned not to publish any news that security forces viewed as dangerous, and almost all of them obeyed. Their anti-terror laws were revised.
DS: In the previous weeks, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra'ad described the infringement news coming from the southeast as "concerning" and has called for an independent investigation. How do you evaluate this statement?
In an area where there is a fight against terrorists, a curfew can be regarded as an infringement of human rights, even though you are trying to protect civilians. However, we do not find this kind of biased statements right, disregarding the fact that there is a terrorist organization which is planting mines and digging ditches, which is also supported politically by certain parties. We do not have any concern that our security forces are acting with properly. It is not possible for a state to protect the basic rights of its citizens, if it cannot guarantee the public security. Therefore, the top priority of a state is to secure the public space. For this reason, fighting terror until the end is essential to protect the basic rights of our citizens. European countries should regard our fight against terror while keeping these facts in mind. Lastly, it is completely inconceivable to not observe that Turkey is making exemplary efforts to balance between freedom and security.