German-Turkish war of words escalates

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

:: Ahead of Germany’s general election on Sept. 24, the war of words between Ankara and Berlin is escalating.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, as well as the Green Party, as “enemies of Turkey.”

Erdogan urged Germany’s 1 million ethnic Turks who will vote to reject these parties. “This is a struggle of honor for all my citizens living in Germany. They should be taught a lesson,” he said.

The call was criticized by Germany’s ruling politicians. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the “unprecedented” call undermined German sovereignty.

Erdogan hit back on Aug. 19, when he said Gabriel must “know his limits.” Erdogan said: “He is trying to teach us a lesson. What is your background in politics? How old are you?”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who criticized Turkey days ago for jailing dissident journalists and activists, reacted via a Twitter statement by her chief spokesman Steffen Seibert: “On President Erdogan’s recent statements: We expect foreign governments not to intervene in our internal affairs.”

Merkel committed to prevent the launch of customs union modernization negotiations with Turkey.

Germany recently withdrew its troops from a military base in southern Turkey and relocated them to Jordan, after Ankara refused to permit German lawmakers to visit the forces there.

The major trade partners and NATO members have been at odds since Berlin refused to allow Turkish politicians to campaign in Germany for Turkey’s constitutional referendum in April.

In reaction, Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AKP) accused Germany of employing “Nazi practices.”

There are 10 Germans, either journalists or activists, in detention in Turkey — another point of contention.

Talip Kucukcan, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and an AKP lawmaker, said Turkish-German relations have a long and deep-rooted history.

“I believe that rationality and realism will shape the future of relations between Turkey and Germany,” he told Arab News.

“The volume of economic relations, the presence of a large Turkish diaspora, and strategic partnership over migration and security will come to the fore and drive Turkish-German relations.”

The worst scenario, Kucukcan said, is pressure by Berlin on German companies operating in Turkey to limit their investments.

“But this might backfire due to global competition for Turkish markets, so I believe that the leaders of Turkey and Germany won’t allow a lose-lose policy,” he said, adding that the business world and the Turkish diaspora may play a constructive mediation role.

Kucukcan said Ankara will never accept Germany as a partner as long as it is a safe haven for members of terrorist organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement, which is believed to have been behind last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director at the German Marshall Fund of the US, said both countries have grievances and think the other side will back down, but both may be wrong.

“Germany is apparently inspired by Russia’s success in changing Turkey’s policy in Syria through economic pressure, and thinks that economic pressure is the only language the Turkish government understands,” Unluhisarcikli told Arab News.

Germany is Turkey’s largest economic and trade partner, and has significant investments in Turkey with about 7,000 German companies.

The crisis has reduced the number of German tourists in Turkey, traditionally among the largest groups of visitors.

Ankara sees Berlin’s stance “as a tactic against the populist right during the upcoming parliamentary election, and wishfully thinks Merkel will soften her position after the election,” Unluhisarcikli said.

But while both Turkey and Germany stand to lose from the crisis, they can afford to maintain their positions for much longer than either anticipates, he added.

“Turkey changed its policy toward Syria not only because of Russian economic pressure, but also because the policy was no longer in sync with the reality on the ground, so it’s not true that Ankara will back down every time it faces economic pressure,” said Unluhisarcikli.

“Merkel’s position reflects a growing dislike of the Turkish government among Germans and throughout Europe, which isn’t expected to change after the elections in Germany.”

Unluhisarcikli said all grievances on both sides can be addressed, and what is needed is increased diplomacy and fewer public statements by German and Turkish politicians.

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