Chancellor Angela Merkel is now eleven days into her fourth term in office with some power shifts in the German Parliament. Her center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, experienced a nine percent decline in votes; the main opposition, Martin Schulz's Social Democratic Party, experienced their worst result since the Second World War; and for the first time in post-war Germany, a far-right party (the AfD) emerged as the third most powerful political force in the country. Experts argue sub-national forces, particularly the Turkish-German diaspora, may have caused ripple effects throughout the German political landscape that influenced these results.
"We don't yet know the details of the Turkish diasporic vote in the German elections," said Dr. Myria Georgiou, a professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics who specializes in the ways in which migration and diaspora are politically, culturally and morally constituted in the context of mediation. "However, the Turkish vote has attracted significant attention, not only because in parts of the country it is numerically significant, but also because this particular moment in German-Turkish relations might have led to swings in this community's voting decisions."
The Turkish population in Germany constitutes the country's largest ethnic minority group, and is the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey. Turkish immigration to Germany is fairly recent. The "Economic Miracle" (Wirtschaftswunder) that West Germany experienced in the early 1960s resulted in a labor crisis, that caused the German government to officiate a labor recruitment agreement with the Turkish government on October 30th, 1961 that welcomed a huge working-class population from Turkey as guest workers (Gastarbeiter).
The Turkish population in Germany significant increased as a result of family reunification rights granted to these guest workers in 1974, allowing many workers who had migrated to Germany for short-term labor and wages to bring their families into the country. Subsequently, Turkey saw an increase in violence in the late 1970s and early 1908s, causing the Turkish-German population to double as more and more workers and their families came to the country in hopes of building a better life for themselves and their children.
In the summer of 2016, there was an attempted coup d'etat in Turkey. From then on, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, increased his authoritarian measures, accelerating the imprisonment of journalists and critics of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which resulted in many European leaders wondering if they should speak up or remain silent. The argument for the latter stems from the power Erdogan currently holds in terms of the Syrian refugee situation: Turkey currently hosts between two and three million Syrian refugees, and Erdogan continues to use the warning of mass migration as leverage against European leaders.
However, during televised debates in early September, Merkel stated that she "would seek an end to Turkey's membership talks with the European Union." This led to harsh responses from Erdogan and the Turkish government, who have in recent months targeted German Turks within their political campaigns. For example, back in August, Erdogan openly called upon the Turkish diaspora in Germany to rally against Chancellor Angela Merkel, labelling her coalition "enemies of Turkey."
According to Valerie Marouche, a German Political Communication graduate from the London School of Economics, Turkish German voters favor more left-leaning parties, not Merkel's. However, left-wing parties have also been critical of Erdogan and his supporters.
In July, former SPD leader and current Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, and current SPD leader Martin Schulz, were openly voicing "scathing criticism" of the Turkish President.
"In the TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, Schulz unexpectedly broke with previous party lines and demanded that Germany and the EU cut off negotiations for a Turkish EU membership," adds Marouche. "The issue here is that even the Turkish diaspora disapproving of Erdogan could feel alienated by this statement, as it breaks Turkey's final ties to the EU and leaves the secular Turks without any support."
Betül Kilci, a third-generation Turkish German, believes that the lack of dialogue and constant negative depiction of Turkey in the German media served Erdogan's political interests. She states that Erdogan frequently stressed that Turkish people in Germany were being mistreated and disrespected, and thinks that Turkish Germans found solace in this.
"I wouldn't generalize and say that all Turkish people in Germany think this way, but sometimes during the campaign, I almost wished that a German politician would speak out against racism and the far right, or discuss the needs of the Turkish diaspora, rather than constantly bringing the focus onto Erdogan's authoritarianism," says Kilci.
The effectiveness of Erdogan's so-called 'propaganda machine' was demonstrated in the Turkish constitutional referendum in April, with 63% in favor of Erdogan's proposal with a 49% turnout. However, it is important to note that Turkish Germans who can vote in Turkey and Turkish Germans who can vote in Germany are two mutually exclusive groups.
"You often read in the media that Turkish Germans are very supportive of Erdogan, and that they listen to what he has to say about Europe and its politics," says Kilci. "However, in the recent election, I think Erdogan supporters in Germany seriously considered not voting at all, due to not feeling well-represented by any of the political parties."
According to Georgiou, this ambivalent sense of belonging is common in diasporas that are often caught between political agendas between their country of origin and their country of settlement. Georgiou believes the German election was a testing ground for the Turkish diaspora to see how well the project of integration had worked for them in the country.
"While identification ambivalence is a permanent condition of diaspora, there is also an external factor that defines its sense of belonging and loyalty to a state: if diasporas feel marginalized or experience segregation in the country of settlement, they are more likely to lack a strong attachment to the project of the nation where they live," Georgiou said.
Whether or not these conflicts caused a change in the votes casted by German Turks is still uncertain.
"I think that Erdogan's statements on not voting for the SPD, CDU, Green Party, or Left Party has certainly had an impact,"Kilci said, "I'm not sure in which way. Probably in not voting at all, or voting for very small parties."