By Janna Ehrhardt
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s state visit to Germany at the end of September has been a much-discussed topic in the media over the course of the last week. It was the Turkish president’s first formal visit to the country, which is home to more than three million people with Turkish roots. The stated reason for his visit was the opening of one of Europe’s largest mosque, located in Cologne. He also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, all harboring a mutual intention to repair German-Turkish relations that have suffered in recent years.
During the three-day stay there was a permanent presence of simmering tensions, despite both countries being aware of their similar interests which were made clear at a press conference on September 29th. Merkel emphasised the importance of the two allies having positive international relations in the NATO conference, specifically collaborating to approach migration and the refugee crisis. Erdogan expressed similar interests, and touched upon the states striving for stronger economic relations also. “We want to completely leave behind all the problems and to create a warm environment between Turkey and Germany — just like it used to be”, he stated.
However, there are clear dissensions between the countries regarding press freedom and the rule of law; Merkel described these as “deep-seated differences”, and insisted on Erdogan releasing several political prisoners held in Turkey including five German citizens. Prior to Erdogan’s visit though, a list was sent from Ankara to Berlin with 69 wanted people, and Ankara claims the extradition of journalist Can Dundan, former chief editor of Cumhuriyet, a government-critical Turkish newspaper. Meanwhile, it is said that the list was extended to 136 absconders.
Erdogan’s visit aroused critical response among citizens as well as politicians. Many German opposition politicians did not attend the state banquet on Friday night as a symbol of protest. The same day, approximately 100,000 citizens demonstrated in Berlin, protesting the president’s visit out of belief that he is too oppressive towards ethical and religious minorities. A poster held by a Kurdish woman standing near the Brandenburg Gate read: “Erdogan you’re not a leader, you’re a dictator.”
Furthermore, the necessity of Erdogan dedicating the mosque has been questioned in the aftermath. The mosque is central to one of Germany’s largest Islamic organizations, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, or DITIB. For a long time, DITIB claimed to be an independent institution despite being financed by the Turkish government. The opening by Erdogan was a way for the Turkish president to present himself as a political and religious authority in Germany.
The next encounter of the heads of states is just around the corner, as at the press conference Merkel announced a four-way meeting in October between Turkey, France and Russia. Talks of Syria are expected to dominate the conference, and in particular the rebel stronghold Idlib.