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Turkey takes aim at Berlin as arsonists target mosques

Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag. (REUTERS)
ANKARA: A spate of attacks on Turkish mosques and businesses in Germany has drawn a sharp rebuke from Turkey only days before a key EU-Turkish summit.
Turkey issued a stern warning to Germany’s ambassador to Ankara and sent a diplomatic note to Berlin on Monday after several Turkish mosques, a cultural center and a Turkish vegetable shop in Germany were targeted by arsonists last week.
“The German government and its security forces have primary responsibility for the safety of Turkish citizens and other Muslims living in Germany,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said.
About 3 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, including many ethnic Kurds.
The arson attacks have been blamed on Kurdish-led demonstrators in Germany who oppose Turkey’s military operation to drive out Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the northern Syrian region of Afrin.
The developing crisis comes ahead of a key EU-Turkey summit set for March 26 in Varna, Bulgaria, where EU leaders will meet Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, experts believe the dispute is unlikely to escalate to the same level as the bilateral confrontation that followed the failed coup in Turkey last year.
Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, told Arab News that it was in Berlin’s interest to prevent the Turkish conflict with Syrian Kurds spilling over on to German territory.
German politicians and civil rights groups condemned the attacks, which damaged Turkish places of worship. Security agencies are also on the alert for further attacks against Turkish facilities in cities such as Berlin and Stuttgart.
Despite calls from Ankara, Germany and the Czech Republic have refused to extradite Salih Muslim, the former co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
Muslim was arrested in Prague late last month. The Syrian Kurdish leader, who holds a resident’s permit in Finland, is on Turkey’s most-wanted terrorists’ list with a bounty of $1.05 million on his head. He has not filed for asylum in Germany.
“Ignoring Turkish calls for the arrest and extradition of Salih Muslim appears to be a consensus among European states as Swedish and Danish politicians have also refused to take action on behalf of Ankara,” Kirchner said.
“While this may add to Turkish frustration with its European partners because of the handling of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) on their territory, and could lead to a further erosion of trust in Europe among the wider Turkish public, it is unlikely that Ankara will take action against Germany or other EU member states,” she said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for closer dialogue between Turkey and the EU, praising Turkey’s efforts to welcome more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
“We cannot hide our differences, but communication channels should remain open. We are dependent on each other,” Merkel said in Berlin on Monday.
Both Ankara and Berlin have a vested interest in smoothing relations ahead of the EU-Turkey summit, said Kirchner.
“Although German policymakers do not favor Turkey’s military operations in Syria, the governing parties have not publicly spoken out against it,” she said.
The PKK has been outlawed in Germany since 1993, but it remains an active force with about 14,000 followers among the country’s Kurdish community.
Germany has banned the carrying of PKK symbols and flags during rallies, but holding symbols of other Kurdish groups — such as PYD and YPG, which are not considered terror organizations in Germany — is permitted.
“Setting fire to mosques is an overt act of terrorism and, in doing so, German supporters of PYD only reinforce Turkey’s accusations that PYD is a terrorist organization,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, said.
“This is an attack against Germany as much as against Turkey, and is taken lightly by neither German authorities nor German politicians.”
Paradoxically, the attacks could strengthen Germany’s resolve against PKK activities on its soil and contribute positively to Turkey-Germany relations, he said.