50 years for Germany's Turkish community

4th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Aylin Selcuk may be the granddaughter of a Turkish immigrant, and a Muslim to boot, but she only really began to feel different from other Germans after a certain central banker spoke out.

"This whole debate is awful. It has taken us back years, we thought we'd got past this," Selcuk, 21, told AFP. "It has pitted the weak against the strong, creating a rift in society."


This year marks half a century since a landmark accord with Turkey saw large numbers of "guest workers" from Turkey come to West Germany to help in the country's post-war economic boom.


Their presence has never been a big issue, but over the past year it has suddenly become so, due in large part to Thilo Sarrazin, a central banker who attacked Germany's record on multiculturalism.


"If I want to hear the muezzin's call to prayer, then I'll go to the Orient," he said in his book, "Germany Does Itself In". Allowing in millions of immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s was a "gigantic error", he adds.

German's Turkish Community


He said that Germany's 16 million people with an "immigration background," including some four million Muslims, most of whom are of Turkish origin, were making Europe's biggest economy "more stupid."


The banker, who made the cover of the influential Spiegel weekly with the headline "People's Hero", also told a newspaper that "all Jews share a certain gene", while Basques share another.


Many immigrants made huge sacrifices in upping sticks and moving thousands of miles away to Germany.


"I left my six-month-old son with one grandmother and my 18-month-old girl with the other grandmother -- for seven years," Nimet Erisen, 63, who came to Germany in 1973, told AFP.


"That was not easy."


Large numbers stayed, laying the foundations for the world's largest Turkish diaspora, numbering today around 2.5 million, Germany's biggest ethnic minority, and changing the face of the country's towns and cities.


"I wanted to go back to Turkey after four or five years. But then the children went to school, and more than 35 years later I am still here," Erisen said.


Mainstream politicians have distanced themselves from Sarrazin, who has become what Germans call "salonunfaehig" -- literally, unsuitable for the drawing room -- and who has been sacked from the Bundesbank.


Humboldt University in Berlin even took the trouble of publishing an exhaustive study that destroyed all of Sarrazin's main claims using data compiled by respected institutions around the country.


But that has not stopped him getting considerable sympathy from Bild, Germany's mass-circulation daily, which has praised Sarrazin's "plain speaking."


His book has also flown off the shelves to top best-seller lists, and the controversy raised fears -- unfounded, so far -- that a charismatic populist, like anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, could win considerable support.


A majority of Germans (55 percent) believe the country's million Muslims are an economic burden, one poll showed, costing "considerably more socially and financially than they produce economically."


It doesn't help that apart from notable exceptions like Cem Ozdemir, co-head of the Green party, and Real Madrid and Germany football star Mesut Ozil, very few public figures in Germany are of Turkish origin.


"Joe-Six-Pack has only understood that Muslims basically have less education, that they are ripping off the state, that they are bad for society and that they should go back home," Aylin Selcuk said.


The debate has forced senior politicians to address the issue.


Chancellor Angela Merkel declared efforts in Germany to create a harmonious multiculturalist society a "failure", while the new interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich declared that Islam "does not belong to Germany."


Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, helped to stir things up by using a speech in Dusseldorf in February to insist that the children of Turkish immigrants should learn Turkish before German.


Erdogan caused a similar storm in nearby Cologne in 2008 when he called assimilation, which he defined as a person being "forced" to abandon their culture, a "crime against humanity."


"We don't have an ethnic problem, we have a social problem," Meltem Baskaya, a social scientist of Turkish origin, told AFP.


"The positive things are not reflected enough in the media. Aylin is not the only one. She is not the only success story in the third generation. There are thousands and thousands like her, but they are not shown."


"My grandfather couldn't read or write when he came to Germany in 1968," said Selcuk, who has set up DeuKische Generation, a group aimed at fostering better understanding of people of Turkish origin.


"Me, I'm studying to become a dentist."


AFP/ Simon Sturdee/ Expatica


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