German parties fret about Turkish voters

Cansel Kiziltepe, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the upcoming federal election, campaigns in Berlin, Germany, in this Sept.2 photo. (Reuters)
Updated 13 September 2017
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German parties fret about Turkish voters

BERLIN: Nihan Sen’s grandmother came to Germany in the 1960s but still speaks no German. By contrast, Nihan herself is a star of German youth culture, with 783,000 followers for her YouTube channel. Yet she acknowledges: “I really do like a bit of Turkish television.”
She is not alone. Turkish broadcasters have an 84 percent market share among Germany’s 3 million people of Turkish background, and 40 percent of them watch no German television at all, according to market researcher Data4U.
As a captive audience of television broadcast from Ankara, Germany’s Turkish citizens are caught in a tug-of-war for their loyalty ahead of a German national election on Sept. 24.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has called on German voters of Turkish background to reject Germany’s mainstream political parties, saying they are “unfriendly to Turkey.”
The parties worry that Erdogan has more access to Turkish-speaking German voters than they do.
Green Party co-leader Cem Ozdemir, the most prominent German politician of Turkish descent, has called for Germany’s public media to start broadcasting a Turkish channel for the benefit of Turks, both in Germany and in Turkey.
“We need a German-Turkish broadcaster,” he told the Rheinische Post newspaper in March. “For years we’ve neglected to help people from Turkey find a new political homeland, also politically, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that.”
Traditionally, Turks in Germany have voted mainly for the Social Democrats or the Greens, the main center-left parties, which are known for being friendly to immigrants. But Erdogan has repeatedly urged them instead to reject both those parties, as well as Merkel’s ruling conservatives.
“The majority, because they only watch Turkish TV, are informed very one-sidedly,” said Joachim Schulte, head of Data 4U, which specializes in polling Germany’s Turks. Schulte believes Erdogan’s call could sway 300,000 votes — a quarter of the Germans of Turkish descent who are eligible to vote.
For now, voters of Turkish descent who turn away from the Social Democrats and Greens have few other choices. Schulte said those who become disaffected are more likely to stay home than back rival parties. But that could still affect the outcome in an election that is likely to be hard fought for every vote.
A change in Germany’s citizenship law in 2000 means the number of ethnic Turks with the right to vote has nearly doubled over the past decade, increasing their importance as a bloc. Polls show most Turks in Germany backed Erdogan when voting as expatriates in Turkish elections.
For Erdogan, having influence over voters in Germany provides a chance to settle scores with German politicians he sees as enemies, while burnishing his credentials at home as a defender of Turks everywhere.
Germany’s mainstream parties have been outspoken critics of Turkey’s crackdown since a failed coup last year, in which thousands of Turks have been jailed, including around a dozen who hold German citizenship. Turkey also demands that Germany hand over asylum seekers it accuses of involvement in the coup.
For the Social Democrats and Greens, losing the Turkish vote poses a real risk: even a small swing could weaken them in potential talks with the conservatives about setting up a government after the vote.
In recent weeks, a new party, the Alliance of German Democrats, led by ethnic Turks, has campaigned with a poster of Erdogan. “Friends of Turkey,” it reads. “Stand with them!“
So far the new party is polling below one percent nationally and fielding candidates only in North Rhine-Westphalia, the big Western state home to more than a fifth of Germany’s population. The national prospects for a minority ethnic party may be limited in a country with a 5 percent threshold to win seats, but a party appealing directly to Turks could undermine the bigger parties.
“Our poster was a quote from Erdogan: He was criticizing German politics and saying we should vote for parties that are our friends,” said party spokesman Ertan Toker. “Unlike the other German parties that are always negative about Erdogan, we are not. We saw this as him encouraging us to vote.”
Among the causes the new party has taken up: Making it easier for ethnic Turks in Germany, most of whom still don’t have the right to vote, to gain it. That struck a chord for Rascha, a 17-year-old Turkish girl in Duisburg, North Rhine-Westphalia.
“I was born here and I still don’t have a German passport,” she said. “The process for getting one is long and bureaucratic. There’s a new party that wants to give all permanent residents voting rights.”
Turkish community leaders from the big political parties say Erdogan’s interventions into German politics are undoing decades of work on promoting integration.
“The political climate is poisoned by this,” said Cansel Kiziltepe, Social Democrat parliamentary candidate in Berlin’s multi-ethnic Kreuzberg district, where the Social Democrats, Greens and conservatives are all fielding candidates with Turkish roots. “President Erdogan has torn down what we have built up over decades.”
“We get threats, e-mails as ethnic Turkish lawmakers saying we aren’t sufficiently loyal as ‘Turks’,” Kiziltepe said. “But I am a German politician and I do politics for Germany and for all people who live here.”
Timur Husein of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union was categorical about his loyalties: “I am German, only German,” said the son of a Turkish father and a Croatian mother.
For YouTube personality Nihan, who confessed her passion for Turkish TV during an interview with Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, the worry was that some Turks would end up alienated from wider German society.
“What can we do to stop parallel societies from emerging?” she asked Schulz.
Schulz was reassuring. “It’s not bad, or even hard, to have two identities. Why should you deny your roots?”


Syria police deploy in south Damascus after Daesh defeat

Updated 22 May 2018
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Syria police deploy in south Damascus after Daesh defeat

DAMASCUS: Syrian police deployed across devastated districts in southern Damascus on Tuesday, according to state media, a day after the government captured the area from the Daesh group.
The government on Monday seized the Yarmuk Palestinian camp and adjacent neighborhoods of Tadamun and Hajjar Al-Aswad, putting Damascus fully under its control for the first time since 2012.
On Tuesday, police units entered Yarmuk and Hajjar Al-Aswad and planted the two-star Syrian flag there, state television reported.
It broadcast images of security forces atop a pockmarked multi-story building in Yarmuk where they had hung the national flag.
They had also plastered pictures of President Bashar Assad and his predecessor and father Hafez.
Other police officers gathered in the ravaged streets below and fired in the air in celebration.
“The police are present round-the-clock,” said one officer interviewed on the state broadcaster.
“Special units are deployed across the camp to help any civilians and protect their belongings,” he said.
It also showed footage from Hajjar Al-Aswad of a convoy of police cars and motorcycles making its way through dusty streets lined with crumbling buildings.
There were no civilians in sight.
Yarmuk, Hajjar Al-Aswad and the nearby district of Tadamun all lie in a southern pocket of Damascus that had escaped regime control for several years.
The government began losing its grip on parts of the capital in 2012, just one year after the conflict in Syria erupted.
But it has made a comeback this year, with Assad using a mix of military pressure and evacuation deals to flush rebels and militants out of Damascus and its outskirts.
His troops and allied Palestinian fighters turned their sights on Yarmuk and the other Daesh-held parts of the capital last month.
Daesh overran Yarmuk in 2015, but the massive Palestinian camp had already been ravaged by years of rebel infighting and government attacks.
Syria’s army announced it had seized Yarmuk from Daesh on Monday.
Several sources, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a military source close to Damascus, said the capture came after a negotiated withdrawal of Daesh fighters. The government has denied such a deal.