SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Caliskan, you graduated from the German School in Istanbul and have translated Brecht poems into Turkish. What did you think when you first heard about the fire in Ludwigshafen?
Kerem Caliskan: I thought: "Oh my God, have they started another fire?" I wasnt able to sleep the whole night. Of course, the fire could have been caused by a short circuit, a gas canister explosion or an accident. But then there is the statement by the two girls who say they saw someone lighting the fire. If it was arson, then we assume that the German police will investigate it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why have relations between the Turks and Germans deteriorated so much?
Caliskan: Along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to keep Turkey out of Europe. This discrimination is the main reason for the turbulence and conflicts between the Turks and the Germans. Unfortunately, Mrs. Merkel is sticking to this policy in order to secure the votes of Germany's conservative voters.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And Turkish Germans in Hamburg and Munich also feel affected by this?
Caliskan: Of course! This makes them permanent "foreigners." Since the 1960s, the Turkish immigrants have contributed to the development and then the reunification of Germany. But now they are not included amongst the "civilized Europeans," and they are excluded. That insults them deeply, and the right-wing radicals exploit this.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Turkish media have been blamed for wanting to see a racist motive behind the fire. Have they exaggerated matters?
Caliskan: No one is hoping that it was arson. We already printed the two little girls' statement in Hürriyet on the day of the fire. They had already said in the hospital that they saw someone start the fire. All we are saying is this: There is a strong possibility that it was arson. But we have never written that neo-Nazis were behind it. We have informed our readers about the neo-Nazi organizations in and around Ludwigshafen. The Turkish club house that was on the ground floor of the building had previously been used by extreme right-wingers, and two years ago a Molotov cocktail was thrown in there. We will continue to report on the investigation into the case. (Note: The Turkish club house formerly housed a popular right-wing pub.) SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you respond to the charge that the Turkish media in Germany are not particularly interested in promoting integration and have played a negative role in the Ludwigshafen case?
Caliskan: The Turkish media are doing their best to ensure that a successful, well educated and respectable generation of Turks grows up in Germany.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is integration succeeding or failing?
Caliskan: Hand on my heart. What did the Turks here look like 40 years ago? They couldnt speak a word of German, they didnt even know the way to the nearest corner shop. Their adventure in adjusting to Europe is one of the biggest integration adventures of the 20th century. At first they were sent to live in "homes for Turks," and today their grandchildren are entering the highest echelons of business and politics. The Turks here have succeeded under the most difficult of circumstances. They deserve respect.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visit Ludwigshafen on Thursday? Does he want to ingratiate himself with the Turks living abroad, the majority of whom voted for him in 2007?
Caliskan: The Turks here feel completely abandoned at the moment. Erdogan knows that. He is due to open the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. It was really his duty to visit Ludwigshafen before that. If he had not done so, he would have been severely criticized. So he came.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Germans and the Turks complain about each other's media. What do you think of the German reporting on Ludwigshafen?
Caliskan: The German media dont like to report on the strengthening of the extreme right movement. I will give you an example. On Wednesday Feb. 6, the neo-Nazis in Munich held a meeting. I sent a reporter there. They threatened the Jews and demanded that foreigners be thrown out of Germany. There wasnt one word about it in the big newspapers. A second example. The decision to send four Turkish specialists to Ludwigshafen was criticized by the majority of the media. That is wrong. The Turkish government is giving its citizens abroad moral support.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does Hürriyet see itself as the mouthpiece for the Turks in Germany?
Caliskan: The Turkish-Germans still dont have an efficient lobbying organization. So Hürriyet is almost single-handedly fulfilling this role. It has tried to do so for 40 years
SPIEGEL ONLINE: during which it has had a volunteer reporter in almost every village in Germany. In this way, you can keep a finger on the pulse of the Turks. In what state are their spirits at the moment?
Caliskan: Not good at all! The increasing xenophobia and this latest fire have made them unbelievably nervous. They feel threatened when they go to work and when they say goodbye to their children as they set off for school. They tell us this in the hundreds of e-mails we get every day. They are particularly annoyed with politicians who try to attract votes at their expense.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: This backfired in the case of Roland Koch. What should the politicians and the media, in fact everyone, do in order to improve the deeply damaged relationship?
Caliskan: The CDU should reflect on their policy of keeping Turkey out of the EU. We want a large and secure Europe that Turkey belongs to, too. The Turks in Germany could make an important contribution to that. Germany is getting older and with an education offensive it would be possible to turn the young Turks who were born and brought up here into qualified workers who would contribute to pensions. The Turks want nothing more than to belong here fully.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What would be the first step in that direction?
Caliskan: To make Goethe's "East-West Divan" compulsory reading in schools!
Interview conducted by Dilek Zaptcioglu.