Turkey’s European diaspora polarised by protests at home

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Thousands of Turks have marched in several European cities to protest the violent crackdown on demonstrators in Istanbul and other cities, and against what they see as an ongoing Islamisation of their country. But some reports say some Turks living abroad see the protests as “foreign-inspired”.

Thousands of people marched in cities around Germany on Sunday in solidarity with protestors in Turkey, the German agency DPA reported. Germany's Turkish community has around 2.5 million members (see background).

>> Read: Istanbul park sit-in turns into furious anti-government protest

In Frankfurt, some 3,500 people demonstrated peacefully, while in Berlin, about 600 people gathered outside the Turkish Embassy to express solidarity with the protestors in Turkey. In Essen, a protest by several hundred people led to clashes provoked by youth who waved banners of the leader of the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Police intervened with pepper spray and night sticks, while protestors attacked police with glass bottles and sticks, police said. Police detained nine persons who face charges of disturbing the peace and resistance to authority.

Around 300 people gathered in Amsterdam, Euronews reported. They sang the Turkish national anthem and chanted words of support.

In Bulgaria, a country with strong historical ties to its Turkish neighbour, 300 Turkish students protested against the violence of the authorities, raising banners in Bulgarian reading: “No to police terror” and “We don’t want a dictator prime minister”.

Turkish students spoke on Bulgarian TV expressing concern over what they see as the growing Islamic influence of their country and said they wanted to live in a Western-style democracy, not in a “dictatorship”. Many Turkish students expressed the wish to return home to join the protests.

Diaspora divided

However, there are also signs that the Turkish diaspora is divided over the protests, with the less educated supporting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and its Justice and Development Party (AKP) party.

Hassan, a Turkish national employed in the cleaning staff of Brussels office buildings, told EURACTIV that the protests were inspired by “Zionists”, because Erdo?an had refused to collaborate with Israel.

Erdo?an, who is on official visit to Morocco, blamed “terrorism” and “extremist elements” for the protests and blasted Twitter and other social media for spreading “rumours and lies”.

Part of the Turkish diaspora appears receptive to Erdo?an’s rhetoric. The AKP leader has considered the Turkish diaspora in Europe as his electoral powerbase, as many Turks living abroad vote in Turkish elections. The German weekly Der Spiegel quoted Erdo?an as saying at a campaign rally for Turks in Germany in 2011: “I am here to represent your interests. You are my family, and you are my siblings.”

In Britain, the BBC quoted Nezin Fehmi, the editor of a Turkish-language newspaper, as saying that the British Turkish community was divided over the protests.

Those who support Erdo?an’s AKP party “don't say anything – silence means support for what AKP is doing,” Fehmi says.

An estimated 500,000 people of Turkish origin live in the UK, according to the Home Office. But many of them are Turkish Cypriots.

Germany's Turkish community has around 2.5 million members. In the 1960s, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France asked Turkey to provide a labour force for their booming employment markets. A flow of hundreds of thousands of Turkish 'guest workers' followed.

However, following the economic stagnation of 1967, Western countries stopped issuing work permits. Following the 1973 oil crisis, they declared that they had abolished immigration for employment purposes. At present Turks need a visa to be able to come to the EU countries.

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