German MP Cem Özdemir: Erdoğan should look to IMF for help, not Berlin

Cem Özdemir is one of the most prominent politicians in Germany of Turkish descent. A former leader of the Greens, Özdemir is an outspoken critic of Turkey’s human rights record.

Ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Germany this week, Özdemir answered Ahval’s questions on Turkey’s relations with Germany.

How do you evaluate Erdogan’s visit to Germany when gross human rights abuses are happening in Turkey?

“It is important to keep talking. You cannot always choose your international counterparts and, sometimes, democratic governments need to talk with the Putins, Orbans, Trumps and with the Erdoğans of the world. However, I expect the German government to use Erdogan’s visit to stress that Turkey has to respect democratic rules and human rights. Freedom of speech and freedom of press must be ensured. It is absolutely intolerable that people in Turkey still get arrested without substantial accusations, sometimes staying imprisoned for months. The dramatic economic situation in Turkey may have led to Ankara being more open to listening to our arguments. There is no doubt that Ankara is trying to recuperate the relationship with the EU, and in particular to Germany.

As a German politician personally attacked by Erdoğan, what impact will this visit have on Turks living in Germany?

“For a long time we can observe that Erdogan's policy of permanent escalation and polarisation has a negative impact on integration in countries where people of Turkish descent live. Erdogan’s visit is certainly not going to improve the situation.  Some of the people we are talking about live in Germany for three or four generations. They have German citizenship, work and live in the country. Of course, they are Germans. Of course, they are part of our country. The Erdoğan regime has to stop treating them as they were some kind of fifth column.”

Germany was the first country to help Erdoğan when the economy started to crumble and without attaching any conditions for improving democracy. Do you find this approach correct?

“Friends help friends. Especially, when a friend finds himself in a situation that was not caused by himself. However, Erdogan’s case is different. He and his politics caused the economic crisis. He is fully responsible, even so he keeps trying to blame foreign countries for the economic decline in Turkey making use of conspiracy theories. If Erdoğan wants to get help, I strongly recommend he address the International Monetary Fund, not Brussels, not Berlin. As long as Erdogan’s irresponsible behaviour keeps scaring off international investors, the situation is not going to improve.”

How concerned are you about the latest far-right demonstrations in Germany?

“In Chemnitz, a young man was murdered and two of his friends were seriously injured ... The suspected perpetrator, presumably a refugee, has fled. Understandably, this makes people angry. However, the reaction of the right-wing party AfD and of other fanatics has little to do with the incident and peoples’ grief, but with pure racism. I was in Chemnitz at the place where the citizen was murdered and offered my condolences. I attended a rally against right-wing extremism and visited a Jewish restaurant in Chemnitz that was attacked by Neo-Nazis. We must ensure that people know that whoever is attacked and threatened, we will stand by his side, no matter what nationality or religion. Furthermore, the culprits must be punished with the full force of the law.”

Is Germany still hostage to Turkey for the refugee deal?

“In these days migration and flight from war zones challenge almost all countries and this does not only affect Germany. One country on its own is not going to be able to master the challenge alone and that’s why it is right to seek international collaboration. It is the right approach to help not only Turkey, but also Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq taking care of refugees. Above all, we must do everything we can to end the war in Syria and provide security for the people there. Syria needs a future without the mass murderer Assad.

“Our assistance to Turkey, however, should by no means lead to a dependence on Ankara, nor make us refrain from legitimate criticism.”