Mourning and anger after the fire: Residents of Ludwigshafen have placed flowers and candles on the fence sealing the scene of the blaze, which left nine Turkish people dead.Foto: DDP
Nine people died in an apartment building fire in the western German city of Ludwigshafen on Sunday, but the investigation into the causes of the blaze has not led to any conclusions yet.
Nevertheless, the Turkish press is already convinced that it was a racially motivated attack. Wednesday's issue of the tabloid Aksam ran a cover story titled "Nazi Panic in Germany." The pro-government dailyYeni Safak wrote: "It's Solingen all over again." And even Sabah, a Turkish news agency, seemed convinced that the fire must have been the work of neo-Nazis. For Sabah, graffiti found near the site of the blaze that called for all "dirty Turks" to be killed was evidence enough.
The Turkish press quoted witnesses to support these claims, including two young Turkish girls who said they saw a suspicious-looking man in the building's hallway shortly before the fire.
Family members of the victims told the Turkish daily Zaman that the Kaplan family had been threatened by young German neo-Nazis shortly after moving into the corner apartment building in Ludwigshafen. The public prosecutor's office in the nearby town of Frankenthal told SPIEGEL ONLINE that it is investigating the possibility of a neo-Nazi connection. Meanwhile, Maria Böhmer, the federal government's integration commissioner and a member of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has reported that Turkish adolescents attacked a German fireman. The man, who was involved in the rescue effort on Sunday, was assaulted later that night.
A Deep Feeling of Distrust
Despite the German authority's intensive investigation of the fire, a deep feeling of mistrust has taken hold in Turkey: against the German police, which the Turks say refuses to acknowledge the possible neo-Nazi connection, and against German politicians for, as Ankara claims, not taking Turkish fears of neo-Nazi arsonists seriously enough.
Ayhan Kaya, a sociologist at Bilgi University in Istanbul, is not surprised by the reactions of many Turks. Kaya, who specializes in immigration studies, believes that Germans of Turkish heritage have been under attack for some time. The election campaign in the state of Hesse, with its xenophobic undertones, was pursued with great interest in Turkey. According to Kaya, "there was open incitement against foreigners" in Hesse. The fear among many Germans of headscarf-wearing fundamentalists and of violent youth gangs, as well as the widespread opposition to EU membership for Turkey combine, says Kaya, to form a dangerous mix.
"We don't want another Solingen," said Kaya, referring to an infamous tragedy in the western German town of Solingen, where in 1993 two Turkish women and three young girls were killed in a house fire set by an arsonist.
"Can anyone fault the Turks for believing that this is another Solingen?" Kaya asks, although he is reluctant to assign the blame for the tragic fire in Ludwigshafen to neo-Nazis without sufficient evidence.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has announced that it plans to get involved in the case. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent State Minister Mustafa Said Yazicioglu, responsible for Turks living abroad, to Ludwigshafen on Tuesday. Yazicioglu was accompanied by a team of Turkish detectives and fire experts, although German authorities have limited their activities in Ludwigshafen. "They are permitted to ask questions, but not to interrogate," said a spokeswoman of Germany's Interior Ministry.
"We Don't Want another Solingen"
Erdogan, who will attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy this weekend, plans to visit the site of the fire on Thursday. "We don't want another Solingen," the prime minister told Turkish newspapers. We hope fervently that this incident was not motivated by xenophobia."
A memorial service will be held no later than next week in Gaziantep, the town in southeastern Turkey where the victims' families come from. Asim Güzelbey, the mayor of Gaziantep, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that German officials want to complete their forensic investigation before the bodies can be flown to Turkey, which is unlikely to happen until Sunday. The residents of his town, says Güzelbey, are deeply moved by the suffering of their fellow Turks, and yet they harbor no hatred of Germans. On the contrary, he insists: "We don't know if it was an accident or an attack," says Güzelbey. "All we know is that the German is not a society of arsonists. They are friends of Turkey."
German politicians of Turkish descent have called on the media not to draw overly hasty conclusions. Bülent Arslan, a CDU politician from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, believes that the position taken by the Turkish media is dangerous. The representatives of Turkish associations in Germany, he adds, are also playing up the incident. According to Arslan, it is very important to prevent the situation from escalating even further. "When people start asking themselves which country is worse, Turkey or Germany, and when these sorts of issues become the center of attention, the psychological consequences will be devastating," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Meanwhile, the telephone has been ringing off the hook in the office of Cem Özdemir, a Green Party politician, as the Turkish media inundate him with questions. He says that he has held back until now and that he expects the same kind of restraint from his "German colleagues of German descent." According to Özdemir, all sides should exercise greater caution. Politicians should not try to second-guess the investigators or rule out any possibilities as long as the investigations are still underway. The current confusion, says Özdemir, underscores the considerable amount of mistrust on both sides, as well as revealing the poor quality of government-level communication between Germany and Turkey -- and between German politicians and the Turkish community.
"Our Only Comfort Is the Huge Outpouring of Sympathy"
"What we need now is a politician who, as a friend of the Turkish community, can inspire confidence," Özdemir told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He is convinced that the government's integration commissioner, Maria Böhmer, isn't the right person for the job and that she is unpopular and has little sway among Turkish-Germans.
Lale Akgün, a Social Democratic member of parliament, is suspicious about Turkish politicians' motives for taking up the issue of the Ludwigshafen fire. It is one thing, says Akgün, for Turkish specialists to come to Germany because they can contribute significantly to the investigation. "But that's not the reason. Instead, one has the sense that Big Brother has arrived to look out for Turks, so that bad things don't happen to them in Germany." This, according to Akgün, is harmful to the goal of integration. He also believes that the German public is already very sensitized to radical right-wing activities.
When Kenan Kolat, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), visited Ludwigshafen and met with the family members of the victims and other building residents, he said that they were surprisingly levelheaded and that they were not quick to pass judgment. According to Kolat, the local Turkish community greatly values the work of the German authorities and believes that the city's mayor has been very supportive.
"Our only comfort in this situation is that there has been such a huge outpouring of sympathy from Germans," Kolat told SPIEGEL ONLINE.