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»Turkey should respect the diversity and autonomy of the diaspora in Germany«

The SWP study »The New Turkish Diaspora Policy« by Yaşar Aydın has recently been published. In this interview he explains what lies behind this term, what aims Turkey is pursuing with the policy and the problems that exist in implementing it.

Point of View, 23.10.2014 Research Areas

The SWP Research Paper »The New Turkish Diaspora Policy« by Yasar Aydin has recently been published. In this interview he explains what lies behind this term, what aims Turkey is pursuing with the policy and the problems that exist in implementing it.

In your recent study you have written about the Turkish diaspora policy. What is behind this expression?

Yasar Aydin: With its diaspora policy, Turkey is pursuing a strategy of establishing or maintaining permanent, institutionalised relationships with the European diaspora of people from Turkey. The diaspora in Germany is understood here to mean a community that has settled here permanently. This is in contradiction to the former perception of people originating from Turkey as guest workers who are only here temporarily.

What aims is the Turkish government pursuing with its diaspora policy?

Turkey wishes to mobilise the diaspora for its political aims, for example Turkish membership of the EU. The diaspora is intended to be a mouthpiece for the interests of the Turkish government. In order to achieve this, Turkey encourages the community of people from Turkey to be well integrated in Germany, because only then can it get involved in institutions such as parties and associations and thus act as a lobbyist for Turkey. A poorly integrated community, by contrast, could have unfavourable effects from this point of view, firstly because it would not be politically involved and secondly because it would produce a poor image of Turkey among the majority in German society.

In this context how should we regard warnings made to people originating from Turkey in Germany by the former prime minister of Turkey, now state president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not to become assimilated?

By assimilation Erdogan means complete adoption of a German identity, or conversely the abandonment of a Turkish identity. This arises from the view that only those who feel culturally attached to Turkey can act in its interests. It is about being well integrated but also preserving Turkish culture.

What is the role of religion here?

For Erdogan and Turkish conservatives as a whole, religion is very important, and one of the most significant parts of Turkish identity. For the majority of Turkish people, a Turk who is not a Muslim is almost inconceivable. Accordingly, religion plays a big part in conservative rhetoric, which is also addressed to the diaspora.

How many people in Germany with origins in Turkey does this rhetoric appeal to?

A majority of people from Turkey, about 60 per cent, shares Erdogan’s conservative social values. But it does not appeal at all to the remainder, approximately 40 per cent, who have a secular orientation, or are religiously moderate Alevi or Kurds.

How specific are the contacts of Turkey to the diaspora?

In Turkey there is an Office for Turks Abroad and Related Communities, which regularly issues invitations to diaspora associations. Originally it was more inclusive, and Kurdish or Alevi associations were also invited. Over time the policy has become less inclusive, and associations that have a critical attitude no longer feel welcome. Furthermore, following the wave of protests in Turkey last year, many associations have lost interest in diaspora activities.

Are the associations becoming disengaged?

Many of them are. This applies to secular organisations such as the Türkische Gemeinde (Turkish Community), which expresses the criticism that Turkey has not disclosed which specific aims it is pursuing with its diaspora policy. It also regards the term diaspora as unfortunate, as this sounds as if control from Turkey is involved. But it is also apparent that the conservative camp is distancing itself from diaspora activities, for example in the case of Millî Görüs, which fears losing its autonomy. The Alevi associations for their part stay away from diaspora meetings because criticism is not welcome there and thus no dialogue is possible. Indeed, the communication of Turkey with the diaspora is a one-way street. The interests of Turkish associations in Germany are hardly considered.

What opportunities does the diaspora policy present from the German point of view?

In general it is understandable that Turkey, with five million people living outside their country of origin, carries out a diaspora policy. And in principle such a diaspora policy could help the Turkish community to take on the role of a bridge between German and Turkish society. I see it as a great opportunity that representatives of the Turkish government, when they make speeches in Germany, appeal to people originating from Turkey to become integrated, to take advantage of educational opportunities, to be upwardly mobile in society and to get involved politically. To do this necessitates opening up to values such as democracy, plurality and the rule of law, and contributes to integration.

Clearly there are no longer many people from Turkey who are listening to the Turkish government in this matter.

That is true. The problem is the poor implementation of diaspora policy, which leads to rejection by the community of people from Turkey due to its conservative and in part highly exaggerated rhetoric and a non-existent willingness to conduct a dialogue. And among the majority in German society, too, it increasingly generates an attitude unfavourable to Turkey. The figures for acceptance of Turkish membership of the EU or dual nationality are falling.

Where do you see a need for German foreign policy to be active?

In discussions with the Turkish government, Germany should make it clear that it is now necessary to respect the diversity and autonomy of the Turkish diaspora and associations in Germany and to permit dialogue. At the same time it should also be made clear that Germany accepts that most people from Turkey in Germany wish to maintain their relationships to their country of origin. A binational identity should explicitly be appreciated.

Dr Yasar Aydin was Mercator IPC Fellow in the EU external relations research group until the end of September 2014. He teaches at the HafenCity Universität Hamburg.

The interview was conducted by Candida Splett from the Online Editorial Team.