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Why Turks in Germany vote for Erdoğan

On 14 May, over 60 million eligible voters were called to vote in Turkey’s presidential election. About 1.5 million of them live in Germany and have done so for several generations. In the run-off election on 28 May between incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, 67% of Turks living in Germany voted for Erdoğan. In Germany, this result shocked many people.

After a period of economic boom and modernisation under Erdoğan, the country has now been suffering from hyperinflation and rising unemployment among the young population for years. Critics also complain that the rule of law has suffered massively in recent years due to state reforms as well as censorship and arrests of opposition members. The earthquake in February and the catastrophic way in which it was dealt with raised questions of corruption. Nevertheless, Erdoğan continues to enjoy great popularity among Turks living in Germany. Why?

Much of what is happening politically today has its origins in the history of guest workers in Germany. Since the 1960s, millions of Turks emigrated to Germany to work there, initially for a limited period of time. However, they quickly got used to the prosperity and freedom they enjoyed in this country and settled down. This caused problems because integration of Turks was never planned or wanted. The relationship of the hosts to their guests was correspondingly cool, and they lived as diaspora communities in their own neighbourhoods, even put into separate classes in schools.

Sixty years later, many Turks are now the third and fourth generation to live in Germany. They speak German, have German university degrees and share German values. However, they are often ambivalent about political issues that affect their homeland. In this country they enjoy freedom and prosperity, while in their home country, where they often spend no more than four weeks a year, they vote for oppression and a lack of prospects.  Although there are many explanations for this, almost all come down to the sense of belonging that was lacking for German Turks for generations.

Erdoğan has recognised that Turks in Germany have a problematic relationship with their adopted homeland and were treated like second-class citizens there for a long time. Even second and third generation Turks in Germany continued to live as outsiders and not Germans. In Turkey, it was the other way around. There they were called Almancı, a derogatory term used by people in Turkey towards those of Turkish origin living in Germany, usually referring to their accent that is caught between German and Turkish as well as the development of a culture and social values that are neither Turkish nor German. However, since 2008, these Turks living abroad have been allowed to vote in elections and thus experience inclusion. This made them feel like “fully-fledged” Turks in a foreign land, feeding into the feeling of belonging that was offered by the Erdoğan government.

However, this electoral reform did not happen out of pure charity. Erdoğan knows very well that a large part of the Turks living abroad emigrated from poor and rural regions. These were often conservative and religious people that retained this imprint and passed it on to their children and grandchildren. It is very common that political views are “inherited” and persist over generations, particularly when living in a foreign land unable to experience first-hand the mishandlings or oppression of the government back home. With his conservative and religiously influenced policies, Erdoğan can tap into precisely these voters and be sure of their votes.

Even though the younger generations are not necessarily conservative or religious like their parents, a reason for their voting is embedded in Erdoğan’s behaviour in the international arena that gave Turkey a status of a ‘lonely’ yet strong and powerful country that stands up against the West. A hard power country that disobeys the West and acts freely in the benefit of Turks only. This image was pushed especially in the light of Turkeys accession negotiations with the EU. Thus, the feeling of nationalism Erdoğan created for the youth living in Western countries, whom felt pushed around or looked down upon, played a big role in their sympathy and support for him. Hence why his election victory was celebrated in many major German cities like a World Cup victory, a win of the awakening Turks against the West who wanted Erdoğan gone, as if were.

Nevertheless, the close overall result shows Erdoğan losing support at home with 52%. Voter turnout was traditionally very high at 87%. Whether he could claim another term in office after the current one is questionable. However, Turks living in Germany would most certainly vote for him again.

Celia Miray Yeşil
Emre Uzuner

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