First Published: 2017-09-13

German parties worry over Erdogan access to Turkish diaspora
40 percent of German-Turks watch exclusively Turkish television which Erdogan uses as means to urge them against continuing trend of voting for German centre-left parties.
Middle East Online

"We need a German-Turkish broadcaster," warns Green Party co-leader

BERLIN - Nihan Sen's grandmother came to Germany in the 1960s but still speaks no German. By contrast, Nihan herself is a star of German youth culture, with 783,000 followers for her YouTube channel. Yet she acknowledges: "I really do like a bit of Turkish television." She is not alone. Turkish broadcasters have an 84 percent market share among Germany's three million people of Turkish background, and 40 percent of them watch no German television at all, according to market researcher Data4U.

As a captive audience of television broadcast from Ankara, Germany's Turkish citizens are caught in a tug-of-war for their loyalty ahead of a German national election on Sept. 24.

Turkey's president, Tayyip Erdogan, has called on German voters of Turkish background to reject Germany's mainstream political parties, saying they are "unfriendly to Turkey".

The parties worry that Erdogan has more access to Turkish-speaking German voters than they do.

Green Party co-leader Cem Ozdemir, the most prominent German politician of Turkish descent, has called for Germany's public media to start broadcasting a Turkish channel for the benefit of Turks, both in Germany and in Turkey.

"We need a German-Turkish broadcaster," he told the Rheinische Post newspaper in March. "For years we've neglected to help people from Turkey find a new political homeland, also politically, and now we're seeing the fruits of that." Traditionally, Turks in Germany have voted mainly for the Social Democrats or the Greens, the main centre-left parties, which are known for being friendly to immigrants. But Erdogan has repeatedly urged them instead to reject both those parties, as well as Merkel's ruling conservatives.

"The majority, because they only watch Turkish TV, are informed very one-sidedly," said Joachim Schulte, head of Data 4U, which specialises in polling Germany's Turks. Schulte believes Erdogan's call could sway 300,000 votes -- a quarter of the Germans of Turkish descent who are eligible to vote.

For now, voters of Turkish descent who turn away from the Social Democrats and Greens have few other choices. Schulte said those who become disaffected are more likely to stay home than back rival parties. But that could still affect the outcome in an election that is likely to be hard fought for every vote.

A change in Germany's citizenship law in 2000 means the number of ethnic Turks with the right to vote has nearly doubled over the past decade, increasing their importance as a bloc. Polls show most Turks in Germany backed Erdogan when voting as expatriates in Turkish elections.

For Erdogan, having influence over voters in Germany provides a chance to settle scores with German politicians he sees as enemies, while burnishing his credentials at home as a defender of Turks everywhere.

"STAND WITH THEM!" Germany's mainstream parties have been outspoken critics of Turkey's crackdown since a failed coup last year, in which thousands of Turks have been jailed, including around a dozen who hold German citizenship. Turkey also demands that Germany hand over asylum seekers it accuses of involvement in the coup.

For the Social Democrats and Greens, losing the Turkish vote poses a real risk: even a small swing could weaken them in potential talks with the conservatives about setting up a government after the vote.

In recent weeks, a new party, the Alliance of German Democrats, led by ethnic Turks, has campaigned with a poster of Erdogan. "Friends of Turkey," it reads. "Stand with them!" So far the new party is polling below one percent nationally and fielding candidates only in North Rhine-Westphalia, the big Western state home to more than a fifth of Germany's population. The national prospects for a minority ethnic party may be limited in a country with a 5 percent threshold to win seats, but a party appealing directly to Turks could undermine the bigger parties.

"Our poster was a quote from Erdogan: he was criticising German politics and saying we should vote for parties that are our friends," said party spokesman Ertan Toker. "Unlike the other German parties that are always negative about Erdogan, we are not. We saw this as him encouraging us to vote." Among the causes the new party has taken up: making it easier for ethnic Turks in Germany, most of whom still don't have the right to vote, to gain it. That struck a chord for Rascha, a 17-year-old Turkish girl in Duisburg, North Rhine-Westphalia.

"I was born here and I still don't have a German passport," she said. "The process for getting one is long and bureaucratic. There's a new party that wants to give all permanent residents voting rights." Turkish community leaders from the big political parties say Erdogan's interventions into German politics are undoing decades of work on promoting integration.

"The political climate is poisoned by this," said Cansel Kiziltepe, Social Democrat parliamentary candidate in Berlin's multi-ethnic Kreuzberg district, where the Social Democrats, Greens and conservatives are all fielding candidates with Turkish roots. "President Erdogan has torn down what we have built up over decades." "We get threats, e-mails as ethnic Turkish lawmakers saying we aren't sufficiently loyal as 'Turks'," Kiziltepe said. "But I am a German politician and I do politics for Germany and for all people who live here." Timur Husein of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union was categorical about his loyalties: "I am German, only German," said the son of a Turkish father and a Croatian mother.

For YouTube personality Nihan, who confessed her passion for Turkish TV during an interview with Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, the worry was that some Turks would end up alienated from wider German society.

"What can we do to stop parallel societies from emerging?" she asked Schulz.

Schulz was reassuring. "It's not bad, or even hard, to have two identities. Why should you deny your roots?"


Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting