What is behind Erdogan’s fascination with many German Turks?

In Türkiye, it will be difficult for Erdogan, but in Germany he will win. What is the reason for its popularity among German Turks?

On May 14, not only Turks in Turkey, but also Turkish citizens around the world will choose their next president and their new parliament. Likewise in Germany, where the largest Turkish diaspora lives. In the last migration report – and that was five years ago – the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) counted about 2.8 million people with Turkish immigrant backgrounds.

About half of them still hold Turkish citizenship. From April 27 to May 9, voters can cast their ballots in 14 Turkish diplomatic missions in Germany. Consul General Turhan Kaya told DW that he could not provide any details about the election process because the approval process with German authorities was ongoing.

Turkey’s elections are seen as quite open: this time, the old ruler, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may lose. His rival is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a politician from the secular Kemalist Republican People’s Party, which is supported by a broad spectrum of politics and society.

Erdogan’s strong base in Germany

But in the vote in Germany, Erdogan and his AKP party can count on a clear victory.

Metin Sirin has lived in Cologne for 43 years. He worked at Ford plants for four decades and was an active trade unionist. Sirin has voted for Erdogan before and wants to do so again this time, as he told DW: “In the past 20 years, my sympathies are with the AKP.”


People of Turkish descent in Germany disproportionately vote for Erdogan. This is the reality,” explains Yunus Ulusoy of the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (ZfTI) at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In the 2017 constitutional referendum, some 63 percent of Turks in Germany voted in favor of Erdogan’s plan, while in Turkey his success was just under 51. Percent.The successful referendum transformed Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.In the 2018 presidential election, 64.8 percent of the German-Turkish vote went to Erdogan, who received much less approval in Turkey with 52.6 percent of the vote.

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And, by the way, the trend abroad is not the same as in Germany everywhere. For example, in 2018 Erdogan received only 17 percent of all votes in the United States, 21 percent in the United Kingdom, 35 percent in Iran and 29 percent in Qatar.

German-Turkish elections split

In Germany, the electoral behavior of the Turks has drawn some criticism. Among other things, German Turks have been accused of inconsistency: how can one vote for the Social Democrats or the Greens in this country, but in Turkey for the conservative Islamic Justice and Development Party?

For Metin Sirin, this is a very rational voting decision, even a sign of how open Germany’s conservative Turkish voters are to change and how little fanatical they are: “People naturally vote for the party that represents their interests. You have to see it positively.”

Political observers have a similar view. “Of course, as a foreigner, you also look to see which party is close to you. Previously, the question was: CDU or SPD? At that time, the Turks were mainly workers and the Social Democratic Party, with its international orientation, was also closer to the conservative Turks than the Union Party Conservative Christian Democrat”, analyzes researcher in the field of integration, Ulusoy.

Türkiye charm

The first Turks to come to Germany were mostly residents of conservative rural Anatolia. When people migrate, they develop the values ​​they bring with them. Their conservative religious attitudes have been preserved again, especially in the diaspora,” Ulusoy explains.

An important factor in AKP voter Sirin’s decision is Turkey’s development under Erdogan’s leadership. In areas as diverse as health, transportation and defense, the development of his homeland makes him very happy. He compares Turkey today to Germany back then: “When we came here, we were fascinated by Germany. The authorities, the hospitals, the highways were really great. We always regretted that we couldn’t see anything similar in Turkey. However, over the past 20 years, we’ve seen Our hospitals and highways are up to world standards.”

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Serene explains that consular services and rights for Turks living abroad have also improved significantly during Erdogan’s era. This means a lot to Turks living abroad. For example, he mentions military service, for which he could “buy himself free.” “This is a great achievement that the AKP should thank for. That is why they have my support.” Since 2014, Turks have also been able to vote in Turkish diplomatic missions abroad, which was not previously possible.

Demonization versus belonging

Ulusoy criticizes that many Germans did not even try to understand the decision to vote for the conservative Turks. One can judge this voting behavior “ideologically or scandalously”, but also try to understand the motives of voters.

In addition, the German public is focused on the Turks, notes the integration researcher. Are there only German Turks who vote in their homeland? of course not. Italians living abroad also have the right to vote. A populist right-wing government has come to power in Italy and no one knows how Italians voted in Germany. Nobody was interested in it.”

Erdoğan appears to be filling a gap left open by the German state: “After 60 years, politicians still find it difficult to clearly identify these people and say to them: ‘You belong to this country, regardless of whether you co-founded BioNTech or perhaps started some business. Riot when young people on New Year’s Eve. Even if you have sinned, you are with us. But this is exactly what Erdogan says: “No matter where you are, no matter what nationality you are, you belong to us.”

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Sociologist d. Sabrina Meyer sees it the same. “Erdogan found it easy to appeal to sections of people of Turkish descent who yearn to be appreciated because of their Turkishness,” the University of Bamberg professor told DW. Due to federal government policy, Turkish Germans “could not develop a sense of belonging to the German community”. Dr. Meyer points out that the naturalization of people of Turkish descent has not been streamlined for a long time, unlike other immigrant groups such as Russian Germans.

Voting behavior and challenge

“Factors like this mean that young people from the third generation in particular vote for Erdogan out of defiance,” says Ulusoy. Metin Sirin, AKP voter in Cologne, confirms this: “In recent years, conservatives have been excluded from German political parties because of Erdogan. This is a very sad development. This exclusion triggered a natural reaction. At some point, people started to support Erdogan for this Exact reason.”

Regardless of the outcome of the elections on May 14, Sirin from Cologne is using his right to vote and the fact that he is politically represented: “Although I’ve lived in Germany for 43 years, I’m not even allowed to vote in local elections here. It’s an exclusion and it makes me sad.” But Turkey gives us the right to vote. I am proud that I can have a say in something for our citizens.”

Author: Burak Onveren

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