Satire Affair Turkish-Germans Caught Between Two Nations

An insulting poem about Turkish President Erdogan by German comedian Jan Böhmermann has set off widespread anger among German-Turkish people. But why is the community so attached to the Turkish president?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

By Serdar Somuncu

For days now, angry Turkish nationalists and supporters of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been bombarding me with hate mail and posting on my Facebook wall. The reason: my appearance on "Anne Will," a German political talk show, during which I supposedly attacked Erdogan and defended the controversial and insulting poem by satirist Jan Böhmermann that sparked an international incident over the last few weeks.

My argumentation was in no way anti-Turkish, and I clearly expressed my reservations about the way the poem intentionally transgressed boundaries. Nonetheless, I have been accused, mostly in Turkish, of justifying its insults. I have been told that I am a traitor to my fatherland, that I sold Turkish honor to the German devil and that I sold myself out for my career.

These reactions are nothing new to me. I am familiar with them from my stage performances. But I too am surprised at how much fresh anger has emerged out of a debate about satire and art that has already been conducted countless times. Would there have been the same strong reactions if the subject had been the president of another country?

Clearly, this is mostly about the honor of Turkish people living in Germany. They have long felt persecuted by German degradation and arrogance. They feel humiliated and betrayed. And they don't believe in the good intentions of German politicians when they talk about integration and leading culture.

The German-Turkish population's tendency to separate itself has become stronger since the 1990s arson attacks, including those that took place in the northern German town of Mölln and western German town of Solingen. Then came the string of murders committed by the National Socialist Underground between 2000 and 2006, in which eight people of Turkish background died. As a result of the long period of political indecisiveness that followed, as well as the hesitant proceedings of the German justice system, Turks' doubts about whether they can ever feel at home in Germany have become a near-certainty. Germans and Turks will never become friends, they are step-siblings.

The true father of the Turks, including those who live in Germany, is President Erdogan. For many of them, he is the savior of a new and self-confident Turkish nation that no longer takes the world's abuse. Turks in Germany believe that you can't depend on the Germans, and if there is anybody who truly looks after our interests, it's our President Erdogan.

If you want to understand why Erdogan so successfully fulfills the longing for a reinvigorated greater Turkish state inspired by the Ottoman Empire, you need to consider the historical background. For years, Turkey was run by elitist circles made up of spiritual and ethical followers of Kemalism. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk turned the structures of Turkey on their heads while taking away the central pillar of its continued independent development. The former superpower became a Europe-oriented republic. The affairs of the state were separated from religion. Since the beginning of his rise, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been obsessed with the idea of replacing the hegemony of post-Atatürk republican Turkey with a seemingly libertarian-Muslim social order.

Suspicion of a Self-Confident Turkey

Internally, Erdogan is driven by a vindictiveness that seems to have built up during his months in prison and which he is now taking out on the people he thinks were complicit in Turkey's unwavering Kemalist politics. As a result, his opponents consider him a dictator while he still sees himself as a dissident.

But Erdogan has also stabilized Turkey. The economy is booming, its social systems are functional. Turkey is no longer on the threshold of the developing world, rather it is oriented towards Europe, and thus finally to take seriously. It is balm for the maltreated soul of a chronically sick nation.

Germans view this newly self-confident Turkey with suspicion. Have the German-Turks taken up residence in the middle of German society, or are they sectarian lone wolves who are merely using German hospitality to pursue their own interests? The recurring accusation that Turks are unwilling to integrate and take refuge in parallel societies only confirms the German-Turks' divergent position. As long as a polemicized debate about the subject continues to sell well and the books of Thilo Sarrazin, a boistrous opponent of multiculturalism, remain bestsellers, a rapprochement between German-Turks and their German identity will remain difficult.

The Turks have lost their trust in Germany -- and the Germans theirs in Turkey. German-Turks are balancing between their two identities as they would on a tightrope. Only when Germany understands that Turks are a part of their society will the willingness of the Turks to decide for one side or the other become greater. Only when people are no longer asking which conditions Turkey still needs to fulfill to be recognized as a full-fledged part of Europe, will the willingness of German-Turks to cut the rope on which they are balancing -- and to decide for the side that is doing the most for them -- become greater.

Serdar Somuncu , 47, is a cabaret performer, writer and director. He was born in Istanbul and grew up in the Rhineland.


Discuss this issue with other readers!
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Page 1 04/23/2016
1. So Welcome Because?
Erdogan is welcome support for German Turks because he wants what they want, a Caliphate! And the Western leaders are sleepwalking into helping him, while he counts his money and laughs!
johan_stavers 04/23/2016
2. wrong
A lot of Turks in Europe are not at all 'torn'. They call Erdogan 'My president', their loyalty is ethnic, whether multicultural humanitarian utopians like it or not.
michael_ah_oleary 04/25/2016
3. Turkish Politicians
Politicians have always been the grist for the mill as regards poetry, literature, comedy, satire, etc in Europe. The politician who cannot take it on the chin as regards satire should not be in the political business. If Turkey is to participate in Europe on any level - it will need to change it's perspective as regards political comment, satire, etc. Politicians are not some cotton wool protected species. They are available in every country in the world and the majority are thick skinned - Turkey needs to grow a few thick skinned ones as well.
roy_brown 04/27/2016
4. Turkey in Europe
There is a cloud hanging over German-Turkish relations that won't go away until it is resolved. Germany accepted its guilt over the genocide of the Jews and now stands proudly among the liberal egalitarian democracies of the West. It is unthinkable that Turkey will be welcome in the EU until it accepts its guilt over the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago.
German Abroad 05/01/2016
5. Misguided Thinking
Very interesting article and a possible explanation for German-Turks misguided associations. I left Germany 22 years ago and have been an immigrant and guest worker in several countries, including: North America, Middle East (several countries), southern Europe , Central and South Eastern Asia as well as China. In every single country, except the western ones, were we asked to adhere to their rule of laws, integrate into their societies and accept some of the going-ons, which Westerners can not and would not accept in their own countries. Germany relied on the help of Turkish people to rebuild the country and turn it into an economic powerhouse. That however does not excuse the Turkish population from failing to integrate at a basic level, i.e. German language skills etc. Further, the second and third generation of those original guest workers are German citizens and as such should behave that way. They have not only profited from a life safe of possible persecution and political unrest, but made a good living and got free education, all the way to University level. Therefore, the question should not be, what Germany can do for them, but what they can do for Germany. Of course, this is not only restricted to Germans of Turkish descent, but to all people with a leaning towards entitlement. I can not reconcile, why German Turks would feel any ties to Turkey. If they do, moving is always an option, though I would suggest that then 99% would return to Germany after a short time in Turkey. Erdogan is becoming to be a regressive dictator and Turkey, as it stands today, could never be a member of Europe. I would also like to point out, that I personally know several Germans, who happen to be of Turkish descent, but are Germans to the core.
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