One of the leaders of the Turkish expatriate community in Germany, Gökay Sofuoğlu, spoke to EURACTIV Germany in the aftermath of the failed coup in his homeland about the impact of Ankara’s domestic policy on Turks living abroad.
A trained social worker, Gökay Sofuoğlu has chaired the Turkish Community Organisation for German Turks and Turks living in Germany since 2014.
After the numerous arrests and forced resignations at the weekend, is Turkey descending into a one-man undemocratic state?
If you look at what is going on in Turkey, then that is unfortunately the situation looming on the horizon. Turkey can’t keep going down the path of becoming more a more a country of the Middle East. We want a democratic Turkey, which respects human rights and prioritises democracy.
In response to Erdoğan’s manoeuvring to reinstate the death penalty, Berlin just announced that bringing back capital punishment would mean an end to Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. Visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens is now also probably on ice. Is this the right way to show strength on the part of the EU?
This behaviour shows the double standards of the EU. It pretends to have been offering Turkey EU membership before the coup attempt, now it threatens the country again with it. The EU has not been honest with Turkey of late and that has led to many people in Turkey losing trust in it.
Can threats and pressure work against Erdoğan, or are they only going to strengthen his position?
It is a boon to him, because Erdoğan likes to build up the concept of an enemy. He thrives when criticism comes his way from Europe. He spins this as paternalism and foreign control, which plays well with the people.
Not just in Istanbul and Ankara, but in a few big German cities too, thousands took to the streets to protest against the undemocratic coup attempt. Why are there so many Erdoğan loyalists in Germany?
That is easy to explain. Erdoğan has maintained very close links with Turkish expats in Germany over the past few years. In 2014, he attended an event in front of tens of thousands of people in Cologne. In addition, members of the ruling AKP party come to Germany and make their presence felt there. The same cannot be said about the other parties.
So why do thousands of Turks spontaneously march against an undemocratic coup, but not against the undemocratic actions of Ankara, like the detention of thousands of political opponents?
Unfortunately, many people see Erdoğan as the only way of guaranteeing stability in Turkey. As this is not the case for other politicians, they’ll swallow whatever he feeds them.
How is the mood among Turks living in Germany? Are there concerns about the situation at home, where many are returning for their summer holidays?
There’s no general answer to that. Some have changed their travel plans, others are showing defiance and saying they’ll go back anyway.
Will the situation in Turkey have consequences for the community in Germany?
I already fear so. It is unfortunate that Turkish domestic policy has a one-to-one effect on Turks that live in Germany. This means Turks in Germany have to deal more and more with the domestic politics of their homeland and the German public start to feel this more and more. One of the good things to come out of the weekend’s events was that all the parties were unanimous in decrying the coup, even the Kurdish HDP. It’s a first in Turkish history and is a good opportunity for a more open political dialogue.