Friday, February 15, 2008


Friday, February 15, 2008
Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
By Gareth Jenkins
Erdogan was called by his critics a wolf in sheep's clothing. Now that clothing has come off, so that the world sees as he is. Nothing wrong in insisting that Turks should keep their heritage alive in Germany and elsewhere. The problem is while he is saying "assimilation is a crime against humanity", he is not admitting that Turkey has a strong policy of assimilating its minorities since 1923. While he is saying that genocide does not exist in the Turkish culture he is ignoring the genocidal policy against the Armenian population by the Young Turks rulers during 1915-1923. I find this a shame.
The recent angry exchanges between the Turkish and German governments over the integration of Turks living in Germany have highlighted the increasing vulnerability of Turkish policy to the personality of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On February 10, Erdogan told an audience of around 18,000 Turks in the German city of Cologne that they should resist attempts to assimilate them into German society but should remain faithful to their Turkish traditions (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Yeni Safak, Zaman, Sabah, February 11).

Erdogan had already clashed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the education of the Turks living in Germany. Approximately 2.5 million people of Turkish origin currently live in Germany, around one-third of whom have German citizenship. Erdogan insists that the priority of children of Turkish origin should be to learn Turkish, with German as a second language. He has called for an increase in the number of Turkish schools in Germany and even promised to send teachers from Turkey. In contrast, Merkel has called on all those living in Germany to prioritize learning German in order to facilitate their integration into German society and ensure their full access to public services and employment. She condemned Erdogan’s speech in Cologne and pointedly remarked: “We shall have to continue debating our understanding of integration issues with the Turkish prime minister” (Anatolian Agency, February 11).

Merkel’s statement triggered an angry response from Erdogan. On February 12, he told a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), “Assimilation is a crime against humanity. I may think differently from Merkel on this matter but I explicitly declare that nobody can dictate to the Turkish community to assimilate” (Hurriyet, February 13).

On February 13, Erdogan went one step further. “We may not agree with Mrs. Merkel on the subject of assimilation and integration. This is true. In any case, if I act according to what she thinks then I am not myself. Nor are we ourselves. We have no desire to be like them” (Milliyet, February 14).


Erdogan’s latest outburst will have done little to persuade the opponents of Turkish accession in the EU of the error of their ways. Indeed it will have further alienated the very country that Turkey needs most to convince. Relations with France, the other main opponent of Turkish accession, are currently extremely tense, not least over France’s recognition of the Armenian genocide. There appears little prospect of an imminent improvement. But the same could not have been said about Germany. Over the last 18 months, Merkel had reduced the references in her public speeches to her opposition to full Turkish membership. There was hope that the two countries could at least engage in a productive dialogue without being held hostage to public rhetoric. These hopes have now suffered a severe blow. Perhaps most bewilderingly, Erdogan’s outburst came just weeks after a number of Turkish officials, including Gul and Babacan, responded to criticism of the AKP’s reluctance to implement the reforms required for EU membership by promising that 2008 would be “the year of the EU.”

But even more bewildered will be the members of Turkey’s non-Turkish minorities, particularly by Erdogan’s declaration that “assimilation is a crime against humanity.” Over the years, particularly in the predominantly Kurdish southeast and the Laz-speaking northeast of Turkey, the Turkish authorities have changed the names of thousands of villages and hamlets and replaced them with Turkish names. Non-Turkish minorities still face restrictions on the use of their languages and even the names that they can call their children. Unlike in Germany, anyone who takes Turkish citizenship is almost automatically required to assume a new Turkish name. While Erdogan’s insistence on Turks in Germany being educated in their mother tongue is in marked contrast to his refusal to allow education in minority languages such as Kurdish inside Turkey.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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