German-Turkish Row Intensifies


By Edmond Y. Azadian

There is a morbid historic bond between Turkey and Germany. The first has Armenian blood on its hands and the second Jewish blood. In addition, Turkey received help during its killing spree from Germany, which later took the lessons to heart and enacted its own horrific crimes. There are no two other nations that have the same symbiotic relationship or distinction in the eyes of history.

Germany has faced its past and looked its victims in the eye and apologized and made restitutions. Yet, Germans remain very sensitive about their past.

Today Germany is Europe’s engine in terms of politics and economy. All that remains for Turkey to do is to emulate its erstwhile ally, which means coming clean about the Armenian Genocide, and making restitutions.

Although Turkey is vying to join the European Union, it has thus far refused to let go of its feudal past. Rather than embracing European values, its leaders are trying to make an impact on Europe by activating their massive diaspora there. Unfortunately, European countries, including Germany, have been demonstrating tolerance and prioritizing temporary issues, such as NATO membership, above the looming dangers for Europe.

The recent backlash and resentment of this power play are sweeping Europe and may backfire in a major way. They are fueling anti-immigrant hostility across the continent, from Austria to Holland, France and Hungary.

The recent row between Germany and Turkey heralds what is in store for Europe. It looks like the adage that beggars cannot be choosers does not apply to Turkey and its leaders, who have become so arrogant as to bully their neighbors and the Europeans.

In addition to the ongoing feud between Berlin and Ankara, Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was threatening Greeks in Cyprus to pack up and leave “because Cyprus belongs to Turks.” Turks have been in Cyprus only since the 15th century as colonizing non-native citizens, while the Greeks have been inhabiting the island for millennia.

Who and what is fueling Turkey’s audacity to conduct itself in that manner — NATO? The European Union? The Islamic Conference? ISIS? Or all of the above in concert?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has planned to hold a referendum on April 16 to adopt a new constitution tailor-made to hand him the position of absolute monarch of Turkey. Hitler had burned the German parliament and cast the blame on his enemies in order to seem his nation’s savior. Erdogan has been emulating Hitler by concocting a fake coup to consolidate his absolute power. Yet, he is accusing the current German leadership of acting as Nazis.

There are three million Turks living in Germany. That is the largest contingent of Turks outside Turkey. Successive Turkish governments have used their Turkish brethren in Germany to make inroads in Europe. For several decades, those Turks have lived and behaved as Turks, not Germans. They have their own schools, mosques, and cultural centers. Germany tolerates and accommodates them to perpetuate their Turkish lifestyle in the heart of Europe. The majority of Turks living in Germany still hold Turkish citizenship. There are 1.4 million Turks in Germany who are eligible to vote in the forthcoming constitutional change referendum in their home country. Turks in general are apprehensive about giving a “yes” vote to the referendum which may embolden a president who is already out of control. Therefore, Erdogan’s AKP party, which is spearheading the yes vote, is vitally interested in winning over Turkish voters in Germany.  Turkey was planning to send its Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag and Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekci to speak at rallies in Germany. However, those rallies have been canceled in Cologne and Gaggenau, infuriating Turkey’s Fuhrer, Erdogan, who has accused German leaders of practices “not different from the Nazi practices of the past.”

Knowing well German vulnerabilities, Erdogan hit where it hurt the most. Further escalating his rhetoric, he announced at a rally, “If I want to, I will come to Germany. If you don’t let me in or if you don’t let me speak, I will make the whole world rise up.”

German leaders have been playing it cool and have not responded in kind. Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a typical report, has announced that the federal government has not placed a ban, and has passed on the responsibility to local authorities. Her deputy, Julia Klocher, made the following statement: “[Erdogan has been] reacting like a defiant child who cannot have his way. Nazi comparisons are a new highpoint of intemperance. It is simply outrageous.”

Erdogan has been accusing German leaders of violating the Turkish government’s freedom of speech, never mind that he himself has jailed hundreds of journalists, trampling on their rights to speak. Right at this moment, there is a bone of contention between the two governments over the fate of journalist Deniz Yucel, whom Erdogan has jailed. Yucel has dual citizenship and is a reporter for Die Welt newspaper in Germany. The Berlin government has been asking for his immediate release, while Ankara has accused him of being a German agent, collaborator of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). All Yucel had done was to criticize Erdogan’s heavy-handed policies.

The reason why German leaders have been soft-peddling their reaction was revealed in one of the statements by Justice Minister Heiko Maas: “We have to take care that we don’t let ourselves be provoked.”

Maas also warned against diplomatic steps or banning Erdogan from visiting Germany, claiming that such a move would “play into the hand of Putin, which no one wants.”

On the  one hand, Erdogan is using Germany’s inglorious past to push his point, and on the other hand, he is threatening to turn to Russia, which scares the hell out of European leaders.

In addition to all these tactics to intimidate German leaders into acquiescence, Erdogan is on record to have encouraged his compatriots in Germany to “protect their culture, religion and identity, declaring that “assimilation is a crime against humanity.”

Turkey has been living with that crime since Atatürk established the modern Republic of Turkey. Most significantly, Erdogan himself has been committing that crime against minorities. Recently, many hidden Armenians have come out of obscurity, seeking their identity. With Erdogan’s recent repressions, many went back into hiding and others were punished.

Erdogan’s bullying has also angered other European leaders. Last week, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern called for an EU-wide ban on Turkish referendum campaigning, while the Netherland criticized a planned Turkish rally in Rotterdam but refused to call for a ban.

Armenians have suffered enough at the hands of the Turks to realize how impossible it is to live with the Turks. While Erdogan is restricting human rights and freedom of speech at home, in the meantime, he is turning the tables on the Europeans on the issue of democracy. In the face of Turkey’s bullying, the Europeans believe that playing by the rules is enough.

History teaches that only behaving like Turks against the Turks can win this long-standing historic battle.