Turkish Foreign Minister on Neo-Nazi Murders 'Prejudice Is More Dangerous than Any Racist Terrorist'

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently came to Germany to meet with the families of those murdered by the neo-Nazi terror cell. In a SPIEGEL interview, he sharply criticized German investigators, who suspected the victims were involved in criminal activities, and warned of an upsurge in racism as a result of the economic crisis.

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SPIEGEL: Mr. Davutoglu, you spent five days in Germany and met with the families of all the victims of the neo-Nazi murder series. What did the family members tell you?

Davutoglu: I already knew beforehand that this wouldn't be an easy trip, but frankly I had no idea how deeply distressed the families were about the way these murders were investigated. It revealed a mentality that troubled me very much.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Davutoglu: Let's start with the first family I met, the family of greengrocer Süleyman Tasköprü, who was murdered in Hamburg in 2001. His father told me that when he arrived at the crime scene, Süleyman was still alive, and he held his son in his arms as he died. Immediately afterward, he was taken in for questioning -- and interrogated as a suspect. When he told me that, I thought it must surely be an isolated incident.

SPIEGEL: And it wasn't?

Davutoglu: No, similar things happened in almost all of the cases. In the attack in Kassel as well, the victim's father was at the crime scene, an Internet café, after the murder. He saw his son and asked the neighbors for help. But while the neighbors were taking care of his son's body, the father was brought to the police station and interrogated for nine hours. Nine hours! We all know that family members suffering this kind of trauma need support, they need to be with their families, they need to be able to share their pain with others.

SPIEGEL: Did you describe these details to the German politicians you met with over the past days?

Davutoglu: Yes, I told this to President (Christian) Wulff, and I'm grateful to Chancellor (Angela) Merkel, Interior Minister (Hans-Peter) Friedrich and my German counterpart, (Foreign Minister) Guido Westerwelle, for their response and their determination to help the families. But I believe such positive declarations alone are not enough.

SPIEGEL: What are you asking for instead?

Davutoglu: The case of Abdurrahim Özüdogru, a tailor murdered in Nuremberg in 2001, provides an example of what it's all about. His daughter was 12 years old at the time, and she was summoned to the police station to give DNA samples a total of 10 times. The girl, now a woman, told me, Mr. Minister, I went to school here, I speak German like a German, as it happens I'm even blonde. What else am I supposed to do to integrate into German society? How could anyone think I had anything to do with my father's murder? In the end, Germany's integration debate has always been about what the Turkish people here still need to do (to integrate into society). These cases show that both sides need to work on integration.

SPIEGEL: German authorities attribute the delay in solving this series of murders to the fact that the murderers never publicly confessed to their crimes. The German media, SPIEGEL included, were likewise following other leads. Did you yourself, or did Turkish diplomats or Turkish authorities, ever suspect far-right terrorists might be behind these murders?

Davutoglu: No, the German government has jurisdiction over these cases. Turkey's intelligence service can't get involved at all. What happened here are crimes that go against all German and European values. The victim in Kassel even happened to be a German citizen, incidentally. The murderers' intention wasn't to create propaganda but to spread fear among Turks. They wanted Turks to leave the country.

SPIEGEL: After your conversations over the last few days, would you say they succeeded?

Davutoglu: If the prevailing opinion in this country is really that Turks are such a barbaric people that they simply murder each other just like that, and that they habitually do so over a döner business or a drug deal, then that is a prejudice more dangerous than any racist terrorist. You can do something about a terrorist, you can fight a terror cell. But fighting this sort of prejudice is far more difficult. When five people died in an arson attack in Solingen in 1993, there was a great deal of solidarity (with the Turkish community). But I think we failed at that point, unfortunately, to openly address all the issues we should have.

SPIEGEL: Is Germany a xenophobic country?

Davutoglu: I wouldn't say that. One German I talked to pointed out that the individuals accused of these murders come from a region of the country where they have hardly any contact with foreigners. I believe that Germans who interact with Turks on a daily basis are not nearly as affected by these prejudices.

SPIEGEL: But your criticism is directed not only at the accused murderers, but also at the police and the one-sided nature of their investigation.

Davutoglu: That's true. Why did the investigators never take into serious consideration that these could be terrorist attacks? I'm not a criminologist, but I've now met all eight of the Turkish families and none of them gives the impression of being involved in criminal dealings. More than that, in fact, so far as I know none of the victims had any sort of criminal record. The investigators must have asked themselves how that fitted together.

SPIEGEL: What impression are you taking back with you to Turkey?

Davutoglu: I see in my travels that Europe is undergoing a serious economic crisis. Unemployment in Europe is high, and may continue to rise. It's common in such crises for those who feel themselves to be the original inhabitants of a country to blame others, usually immigrants, for their plight. Such phases often give rise to xenophobia, which would not necessarily be directed only at Turks; it might affect black Africans, Pakistanis or Algerians. Europe experienced a serious economic crisis in 1929 as well. But Europe today is far more culturally diverse than it was then. If the current economic crisis impacts this continent as forcefully as it did then, the danger is considerable. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but I am really very concerned. Politicians must be prepared in case this happens.

Interview conducted by Bernhard Zand

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