Turks living in Germany voted for incumbent Erdogan more often in Turkey’s presidential elections than Turks in Turkey. The reason lies in the social structure of the electorate.
ntv.de: Turkish citizens living in Germany mostly voted for incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the first round of the Turkish presidential elections – a politician whose reputation in Germany is not very good. Is that a sign of poor integration?
Haci-Halil Uslucan: I think this direct reference would be a misunderstanding. This election result only indirectly has something to do with integration issues, more with the social structure of those entitled to vote. In the old guest worker recruiting countries, such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium, the number of AKP voters is generally very high. In countries such as the USA, Great Britain, New Zealand or Australia, however, the values for Erdogan are around 20 percent, sometimes even lower. This is because Turkish citizens in these countries are more likely to be recruited from the educated, academic classes.
In other words, milieus that vote for AKP or Erdogan less frequently in Turkey.
Exactly. In the 1960s, people came to Germany from rural regions of Turkey, who were more conservative, less educated and more religious. Later generations have often retained these attitudes. I would therefore say that recruiting location is the key variable, not so much a lack of integration. But of course a voting decision can also have an indirect connection with integration experiences. Above all, people who do not have the feeling of belonging here, who may have experienced exclusion, could be inclined to reflect this interest back to Turkey, which is becoming increasingly interested in them, in elections by voting for Erdogan and the AKP.
What do you mean that Turkey is becoming more and more interested in Turks abroad?
In principle, the AKP has a mobilization advantage over other parties abroad. If only because of the 900 Ditib mosques and the more than 300 Islamist Milli Görüs mosques. People there may not be explicitly told to vote for the AKP. But when it is preached how severely religion is threatened in a secular world, then it is clear what is at stake. Especially since the Ditib is the extended arm of the Turkish religious authority. At the same time, the Turkish government is embracing Turks abroad by establishing a Ministry for Turks Abroad, by improving the consulates, and by changing the staff in the consulates.
To what extent has the staff in the consulates changed?
Representatives of the Kemalist elite used to sit there and looked down on Turkish Muslims abroad. Today, consular workers have a similar profile to the people who go there. These are aspects that people perceive and that play a role in the voting decision.
And the increasing political repression in Turkey?
Turkish voters in Germany are hardly directly affected by this. This also applies to the inflation and economic decline in Turkey – which perhaps explains why Erdogan and the AKP have done better in Germany than in Turkey itself. Erdogan suggests to Turks abroad that they are part of a great nation. In Germany, on the other hand, you don’t get that much of the misery of everyday life in Turkey.
According to an overview of the Turkish newspaper “Yeni Shafak” there are big differences in voting behavior between the cities in Germany. In Essen, for example, the AKP got 77 percent, in Berlin just under 49 percent. Why is that?
There are indeed major regional differences, and we conducted a study on this ourselves in 2017/2018. Here, too, we saw that people of Turkish origin in Berlin were the most skeptical in their attitude towards the AKP. The Turkish community in Berlin is very heterogeneous – artists and creative people from Turkey who have the opportunity to come to Germany are more likely to go to Berlin than to other German cities.
But why is food at the other end of the list?
It’s not about the city of Essen, but the catchment area of the consulate general there, for example Duisburg, Bochum, Bottrop and Gelsenkirchen – classic Ruhr area. Two thirds of the people of Turkish origin here have their roots in the provinces of Zonguldak and Trabzon on the Black Sea, also traditional mining regions. In a way, the people from there came from mining to mining. The city of Zonguldak is actually not that big, but its visibility in the Ruhr area is very high due to the many Zonguldak clubs. In these clubs, the old religious and conservative attitudes are preserved.
There are around 1.5 million Turkish voters in Germany. Is it known how many of them also have German citizenship?
There are a total of 2.83 million Turkish citizens in Germany, of whom 299,000 also have German citizenship. If you subtract the minors who are not entitled to vote, there are almost 200,000 voters who have both German and Turkish citizenship.
Why do so many Turks in Germany actually hold on to Turkish citizenship?
We also conducted a study on the question of what obstacles to naturalization are. The first generation still has strong emotional ties to Turkey. Three quarters of them still have ties to relatives in Turkey. For them, Turkey is not a vacation destination, but a country with a high emotional significance. They would probably accept German citizenship, but so far they would have had to give up their Turkish citizenship. That was a big hurdle for many. If multiple citizenship is now permitted, it can be assumed that more people of Turkish origin will opt for German citizenship.
Do you see that as an advantage?
Yes, because naturalization usually goes hand in hand with a stronger identification with Germany. In this respect, the promotion of naturalization is also an important aspect in order to involve people in local political processes. This then also influences the view of Turkish politics: among those who only have Turkish citizenship, the proportion of AKP voters was 15 percentage points higher than in the group with both citizenships.
Hubertus Volmer spoke to Haci-Halil Uslucan