Turks protest coup attempt in Istanbul, Ankara... and Berlin

When parts of the military tried to seize power in Turkey on Friday, thousands took to the streets in protest in Ankara, Istanbul... and Berlin.

Some 3,000 people gathered overnight Saturday in front of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin's central Tiergarten district.

About 5 per cent of the German capital's 3.6 million residents have the Turkish passport or a Turkish migration background, according to the city's statistics office.

Tahir Soezen was one of the people who showed up to protest. In the last two general elections he voted for Erdogan's ruling AKP party, and when the military announced its take-over of power, he went to protest at the Embassy.

Erol Oezkaraca was not there that night. He was on his way to Istanbul for his holidays when soldiers in tanks blocked the bridge across the Bosporus strait, which divides Istanbul.

For hours he was stuck at Istanbul's Sabiha Goekcen airport. Like many of his compatriots and descendants of Turkish families, the ethnic Turk lives in the Berlin district of Neukoelln. He is also a lawmaker in the Berlin city parliament. Oezkaraca is a vocal opponent of the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He is worried by the substantial support for the government in Ankara among Germans with Turkish roots.

Many immigrants in Germany, especially those in social hotspots, don't feel part of German society, he says. Erdogan's authoritarian style is a comfort to them, Oezkaraca says.

"These people think 'He is doing the right thing' and 'All the others are terrorists'," he explains.

Protester Soezen agrees. "There are those young people yearning for power. When they're outcasts here, they look for that power in Erdogan."

However, failed integration on its own cannot explain the great support for the AKP among Turkish Germans, says political scientist Guelistan Guerbey of Berlin's Free University.

Erdogan's party has a broad social base in Germany, she says, and this social base reflects what is going on in Turkey, where society is highly polarized.

"It's a fact that the majority [of Turks in Germany] are well integrated as far as education, training and work are concerned," says Guerbey.

Soezen belongs to that majority. He arrived in Berlin as a school-aged child 42 years ago. Today, he represents the Islamic Community Milli Goerues, ICMG, in Berlin's religious forum, where people of different faiths come together to promote inter-religious dialogue. He is also a member of a civic association and the co-founder of a tenants' association.

Sections of the ICMG are considered part of the Milli Goerues movement, which is under observation by the German domestic intelligence agency. According to the authorities, the ICMG however now sees itself mainly as a "religious service provider."

"I'm interested in both Turkish and German politics. Why should this be a contradiction?" Soezen wonders.

He is not aware of a split or even a radicalization of the Turkish community in Berlin. "We have always been political," he insists.

The German public is wrong in seeing resistance to the coup in Turkey exclusively as a show of support for Erdogan, he says.

"All four parties have denounced the attempted coup," Soezen says. The failure of the coup had brought the democratic forces in Turkey closer together again.

Berlin's city government does not see any particular cause for concern.

"It has always been the case that current events and conflicts in Turkey have affected Berliners with Turkish roots," says the city's Integration Senator Dilek Kolat, who herself was born in Turkey.

Her spokesman adds that Berlin citizens often ask her about Turkish politics.

"When the senator addresses those issues at length the conversation usually returns to the park bench outside your house pretty quickly."

For the 3,000 Turkish Berliners who gathered in front of the Embassy life soon returned to normal. When they heard that the coup had failed, they dispersed peacefully.

Since then, Berlin has not seen much by way of protests. Kolat expects that the Turkish community "is not going to challenge our peaceful and non-violent coexistence" in the future.

Soezen has no doubt about that. "The Turkish community has been here for 60 years. The majority has never been drawn to violence."

Oezkaraca, meanwhile, is not so sure.

Nobody is able to say what is going to happen next, he says. It all depends on Erdogan now.

Political scientist Guerbey agrees: "If the situation in Turkey escalates, we will feel this escalation here too. That's for sure."

Last update: Thu, 21/07/2016 - 15:19
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