Failed Integration: Turkish Voters in Germany Back Erdoğan Power Grab

Failed Integration: Turkish Voters in Germany Back Erdoğan Power Grab

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, Emine, acknowledge supporters following the results of a nationwide referendum.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Turkey’s constitutional referendum was about much more than just the constitution.

On April 16, Turks voted on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s request to reform the constitution—and give the presidency almost dictatorial power. This is deeply concerning, not just to democratic Turks, but to Germans. A large number of Turks live in Germany, and Erdoğan’s support among Turks living in Germany was stronger than it was among Turks who live in Turkey.

President Erdoğan did his best to swing the mood in Turkey to his favor. His government suppressed negative comments in the Turkish press, arrested journalists, and put down protests. Still, only 51 percent of Turks living in Turkey voted in favor of the constitutional changes. In Germany, it was different. Turks in Germany had access to the free press, heard about the German journalist who was arrested and detained by the Turkish government since mid-February, and were well informed of the dangers of the proposed constitutional changes. Most importantly, they were free to vote without fears.

Yet on Sunday, 63 percent of all Turkish voters in Germany voted for the changes. The German media was puzzled. How can free citizens living in a democracy support the rise of a dictatorship in their home country? Spiegel Online reported:

As painful as it is to write this, one cannot support an autocratic system, capital punishment, the arrest of critical journalists, and the jailing of the political opposition and then turn around and complain that you are not accepted in Germany as a German. That’s unacceptable. It shows that integration in Germany has failed—and that it isn’t just the Germans who are to blame for that.

About 3.5 million Turks live in Germany, by far the largest group of foreign-born and foreign-descended people in the country. About 1.5 million of them hold Turkish passports, making them eligible to vote in Turkey’s constitutional referendum. For them, this was not only a referendum for constitutional changes in Turkey, but much more—a vote for which they support more: German values or President Erdoğan. They voted Erdoğan.

Christian Lindner, chairman of the Free Democratic Party in Germany, sees Turkey heading toward an Islamic presidential dictatorship. Regarding the issue of how Turks in Germany voted in the referendum, he said (Trumpet translation):

Those who live in a liberal country like Germany, who decided to vote to abolish or restrict freedom in Turkey, have obviously not accepted our values. It is the irony of history, when I see it right, the referendum has not found a majority in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, Turkey as a whole. There was only a narrow majority. At all of the 13 polling stations in Germany, Erdoğan had the majority—these are warning signals.

Spiegel Online reported that many voted in favor of Erdoğan because they believed they were being mistreated in Germany. Turks who have spent many years living there and many who were even born there still feel as though they are foreigners and resent not being fully accepted in German society. They voted out of frustration not for Erdoğan but against Germany.

Their vote, however, will not make their situation better. Despite talk about successful immigration, the majority decided to reject German values. This is a boost to those who have criticized Germany’s integration policy. Those who are hostile toward immigrants now have what they view as further justification.

Now a new debate in Germany has sparked: Since Turks living in Germany don’t see themselves as Germans, should they be granted dual citizenship?

The Turkish referendum not only gave more power to Erdoğan, it also proved that Turks living in Germany are inspired by Erdoğan’s boldness to stand up against European politicians, and it proved to Germany that millions of immigrants are not loyal to Germany. Foreigners already hear some Germans shouting: “We don’t want you here! Go back to where you came from!” But it’s going to get worse. This is heading toward a clash of civilizations.