by Veli Sirin
August 2, 2011 at 4:00 am
Of the many signs that point to the growing influence among Turks and
Kurds living in Germany of the Justice and Development Party [AKP], which
represents an “updated” Islamist ideology, the worst aspect of it is
that it will likely go unopposed.
The June 2011 election victory in Turkey by AKP, headed by Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, provoked debate in both Western and Muslim countries, but few
commentators have analyzed the impact of AKP’s third triumph at the polls on
Germans of Turkish and Kurdish origin or heritage – the main Turkish immigrant
community in the West, with as many as four million members, or five percent of
Germany’s total census.
Turkish residents of Germany have the right to vote in Turkish
elections. According to the leading organization representing the Sunni Muslim
majority among them, the Türkische Gemeinde Deutschlands (Turkish Community of
Germany or TGD), 63 percent of German Turks participating in the vote cast
ballots for AKP and Erdogan. Kenan Kolat, federal chair of TGD, told media that
the pro-AKP result among German Turkish voters in the Turkish poll was a
“legitimate representation of Turkish opinion.”
AKP gained support among German Turks because of the European economic
crisis. The discontent of German Turks is considerable; this leads to a greater
appeal for AKP. At the same time, rising prosperity in Turkey has produced an
unusual trend according to which, since 2005, the number of Turks repatriating
from Germany exceeds the number of Turks emigrating to Germany.
But Erdogan has been criticized because of the failure of Turkey under
his leadership to gain accession to the European Union, as well as for AKP’s
Islamist ideology. TGD’s Kolat emphasized that Erdogan is committed to EU
Members of the Alevi Muslim minority – influenced by Shia, spiritual
Sufi, and pre-Islamic shamanic traditions – and other moderate Turks and Kurds
living in Germany are afraid of AKP, which seeks to recruit Turkish community
leaders abroad. In 2010, AKP invited German Turks active in political life to
visit Turkey. Its message to 1,500 people who accepted the offer was clear:
Turks living outside their native country should accept citizenship in their
new place of residence, and become politically active, but should refuse
cultural integration, according to prime minister Erdogan, speaking at a
banquet for the participants. The AKP leader went on to condemn dual
citizenship as an offense against human rights.
The AKP government’s vision of German Turkish political representation
was articulated in publicity for the tour and banquet by German Turkish
leaders, which was supervised by current Turkish state minister for labor and
social security Faruk Celik, who referred to the Germans as “our honorable
representatives” and to Erdogan as “our prime minister.” Celik
has also caused controversy by referring to Christians as
The involvement of Turkish-born political and religious representatives
from Germany in this effort added to sharp criticism directed at AKP. Alevi
community leader Ali Ertan Toprak, who participated in the visit and banquet,
said “this was quite clearly a lobbying event for the Turkish
authorities.” He said he was startled at how openly the Turkish regime
argued that German Turks should represent Turkish state interests.
“Opponents of Turkish membership in the EU, from among the German
Christian Democrats, would have found a lot of material for their
arguments,” according to Toprak.
The parliamentary representative and international relations
spokesperson for the Left party (Die Linke – mainly ex-Communists) in the
German Bundestag, Sevim Dagdelen, referred to a “hidden foreign
policy” pursued by Ankara. “I would not want any part of it,”
she said. “I consider it unfortunate and doubtful that any German
politician would participate in it.”
The election and the well-publicized tour were just two items
demonstrating expanded AKP activity among German Turks. Another is the functioning
of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (Diyanet Isleri Turk-Islam
Birligi or DITIB), the extraterritorial Turkish Sunni authority in Germany.
Operating from Köln-Ehrenfeld, DITIB is an umbrella organization for religious,
social, and cultural activities based in the Turkish mosques in Germany. DITIB
is managed, controlled, and supervised by Diyanet, the State Islamic
Administration of the Republic of Turkey, based in Ankara, and, indirectly, by
the office of the Turkish prime minister.
DITIB claims to be the largest member organization for immigrants in
Germany, and was a founding participant in the establishment of the
Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (Koordinationsrat der Muslime or
KRM) in 2007.
In the past, DITIB was viewed as neutral; concerned only with religious
activities. But DITIB has come under criticism among German Turks. Lale Akgun,
a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has warned that “AKP tries to use
DITIB to influence Turkish Germans.”
As evidence Akgun pointed to guidance issued by Diyanet in Turkey for
“good and exemplary Muslim women.” The text, which has since been
removed from the internet, included recommendations against women travelling
alone, among other restrictions on women’s rights.
There is a danger that “Diyanet will use its moral influence on
people in Turkey as well as through DITIB in Germany, to attempt to wipe out
modern norms and customs that for a long time now have prevailed in daily life
in Turkey,” according to Akgun.
DITIB has been consistently criticised by Armenian groups and Alevis.
Many civil disputes have been recorded because of DITIB attempts to co-opt the
Meanwhile, the Turkish community in Germany also features an extreme
right-wing nationalist movement, the Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar). Discussion of
radical right politics in the country typically focuses on anti-immigrant
sentiment and ignores hateful ideology present within the immigrant
The Grey Wolves dream of a vast, revived Turkish empire, and have been
present for decades in Germany, originally in the former West Germany. İn 2008
the Constitutional Protection Agency in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen
estimated the number of members of the Grey Wolves in Germany at 7,000. But
this total does not include the movement’s many sympathizers.
The Grey Wolves base their ideology on the doctrine of
“Turanism,” which seeks to establish Turkish rule from the Balkans
through Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia to Chinese-occupied Turkestan
Ottoman-era Turanians believed in a mythical empire of Turan as the
cradle of the Turkish race. Under the secular government established after the
first world war, Turkey adopted a posture of neutrality in foreign policy, and
the Turanian fantasy diminished.
The founders of the Grey Wolves belonged to the radical rightist
National Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi or MHP) created by army
colonel Alparslan Turkes and modelled, with a paramilitary structure, on the
German Nazi Storm Troops.
The enemies of the MHP include such ethnic minorities as Kurds,
Armenians, and Greeks, as well as religious minorities including the Alevis,
Jews, and Christians, plus the Freemasons. The last movement is a frequent
target of Turkish conspiratorialism because of its historical involvement in
the dissolution of the Ottoman state.
The Grey Wolves see themselves as “idealist” Turks under
surveillance in Europe. The Nordrhein-Westfalen authorities accuse the
organisation of “contributing to the establishment of a parallel society
in Europe” and labels it “an obstacle to integration of the
In June 2009, Ali H. Yildiz, a Köln-based board member of the German
Turkish Forum (Deutsch-Türkischen Forum or DTF), a branch of the Christian
Democratic Union, left office in protest against the failure of DTF to more
clearly dissociate itself from the Grey Wolves.
The problem has already reached a point where Turkish nationalist
rhetoric in German schools gains a widening number of followers, establishing a
climate of fear among students. The German media focus on Islamic extremists
and neglect the menace of the Grey Wolves, but they represent equal problems
and neither should be ignored.