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Erdogan article- Erdogan Persona Non Grata in Germany
From: Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Erdogan Persona Non Grata in Germany
By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
It was supposed to be another celebration of Turkish-German relations, but it turned out to be an embarrassment for leading representatives of both nations. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had been chosen to receive something called the “Steiger Award” along with numerous personalities from Europe, including a Swedish monarch and a former German president. The award has been presented every year since 2005 to outstanding individuals for their contributions in categories including charity, sports, music, and European relations. This year in the city of Bochum in the industrial Ruhr region, Queen Silvia won it for her work in charity, former German head of State Horst Köhler, for tolerance, and Erdogan was honored in the category “Europe.”
But it did not get that far. Once the news had broken that Erdogan had been selected, several organizations in Germany representing Turkish minorities mobilized to protest. Led by the Alevis, they organized a massive demonstration in Bochum for March 17, the day of the prize-giving ceremony. Among the 25,000 people who turned out were large numbers of Kurds and Armenians. The grounds on which these communities objected to the award for Erdogan were essentially the same: pointing to the refusal to acknowledge historical facts of massacres against minorities and to continuing policies of repression against them, the associations demanded the prize be withdrawn. The Alevis referenced the court decision to abandon the case regarding the 1993 massacre of Alevis, the Kurdish organizations cited persecution of Kurds, as well as of journalists who have addressed their issues, and the Armenians denounced his denial of the 1915 genocide and continuing persecution of Christians. Among those protesting were the Working Group for Recognition of Genocide (AGA), the Alevi Community in Germany (AABF), the Armenian Academic Association (AAV 1860), the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD), and the German Journalists Union (DJV). Well-known Turkish-German author Dogan Akhanli supported the initiative of the AGA. Other accusations raised included the refusal to recognize Cyprus, massive arrests and reported torture, and Erdogan’s hostility to integration of Turks in Germany.
Several German human rights groups lent their voices to the protest, arguing that Turkey has maintained a repressive policy against free speech, criminalizing journalists, and punishing them not only through jail sentences but also physical abuse, torture, and murder. The case of Hrant Dink is emblematic. Even a political official of the Christian Social Union party, Alexander Dobrindt, characterized the decision to award Erdogan as “tasteless” and “bizarre,” citing “insufficient press freedom” among other expressions of intolerance.
According to the Steiger Award’s website, the jury “honors personalities who are outstanding for their honesty, openness, tolerance, and humanity.” (1) In fact, “the term ‘Steiger’ comes from the coal mining industry and stands for the honesty and openness of the miners, known as ‘Steiger’ (pit foremen).” The wording of the group’s motivation for choosing the Turkish prime minister is telling. “For years,” it read, “His Excellency Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has endeavored to effect a democratic change in his country. In the current days, it is clear that Turkey has assumed as key role in the Near East. Turkey is thus of decisive strategic significance. The economic potential of Turkey and its function are not to be underestimated. Turkey has long since become an important partner for Germany and Europe.” As the Central Council of the Armenians in Germany (ZAD) declared, “We protest against Erdogan’s being awarded a prize which promotes tolerance and humanity and honors contributions to Europe’s growing together. The Turkish prime minister stands for the opposite in every point.” The Alevis called it a “slap in the face of all minorities in Turkey who are subjected to state-organized ‘intolerance and inhumanity’.” DJV Chairman Michael Konken charged: “Whoever harasses journalists and hinders critical reporting stands for neither humanity nor tolerance.”
Once it became clear that the calls for demonstrations would generate thousands of protestors in Bochum, one after another, the state politicians who had been slated to participate in the ceremony found other things to do. These included Minister President (Governor) Hannelore Kraft, who made known that she had other commitments in Berlin, and Justice Minister Thomas Kutschaty, who was to speak in Kraft’s place. Ecology Minister Johannes Remmel, slated to deliver a speech in Erdogan’s honor, also stayed away. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was then announced as the person who would step in to present Erdogan the prize.
The Steiger Award group scurried to control the damage. First, a statement appeared on their website clarifying that Erdogan “receives the award in representation of 50 years of German-Turkish friendship,” i.e. not as an individual but a representative of the Turkish people. Then the group said that, in the name of tolerance it would accept protest and added that, by the same token, Erdogan should have the right to “explain himself” when receiving the prize; surely he would use his thank-you speech to “clear up misunderstandings.” The statement went so far as to admit that “some criticism of the prime minister is justified,” but urged dialogue instead of calls for boycotting the event. Curiously, and in direct contradiction to the formal motivation for honoring Erdogan, the website carried a qualification saying, “The awarding is explicitly not an assessment of the domestic and foreign policy of the Turkish prime minister.” One wonders why, then, they had praised him by name for his democratization efforts and his strategic role in the region…. Again, the stress was on Erdogan as a “representative” of the Turkish people; again, the plea was for “critical dialogue” not boycotts. And, it concluded by reporting that “The numerous critical points of Kurdish representatives and also of the Central Council of Armenians have been taken note of in Ankara.”
The attempted damage control came too late. On the eve of the event, the Turkish prime minister cancelled his trip to Germany. The official reason was the crash of a Turkish helicopter in Afghanistan which had led to 17 deaths, 12 of them Turkish soldiers. The Steiger Award committee solved the problem first by announcing Erdogan would not receive the award after all, because he had cancelled his visit. Then it struck the category “Europe” from this year’s program. Gerhard Schröder consequently bowed out. And that was that.
Those who had mobilized against the award celebrated their victory. Azat Ordukhanyan, Chairman of the Council of Armenians in Germany, stated, “We have shown that with other associations we can be strong” and spoke of a “political signal.” Up to that point, he added, only the official voice of Ankara had been perceived as the voice of immigrants from Turkey.
It was not the first time Erdogan had raised a furor in Germany. Some of his earlier visits were accompanied by controversy, especially in 2011 when he participated in ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the German agreement with Turkey regulating the status of guest workers. Speaking in public, Erdogan railed against the “assimilation” of his compatriots, dubbing it a “crime against humanity” comparable to anti-Semitism. What was acceptable, he said, was “integration,” meaning that Turks in Germany should learn the national language, but only on a voluntary basis; “whoever declares German language competence to be the most important condition [for immigrants] is violating human rights.” Furthermore, he specified that the German authorities should coordinate integration with government officials in Turkey.
On the one hand, this was seen as interference with Germany’s integration policy – in a country where there are 3 million people of Turkish background, a third of them German citizens. On the other, it appeared to be in strident contradiction with his own “assimilation” policy, which discriminates against minorities. Whereas Erdogan insisted that Turkish as a mother tongue should be privileged and Turkish language schools and universities should be established in Germany, his government would not demand the same for Kurds, Armenians and other minorities at home.
1. See the Steiger Award website: for details. The founder of the Steiger Award is Sascha Hellen, a journalist and media consultant, from Hellen Medien Projekte GmbH. There is no information given to identify who the members of the jury are and how they deliberate.

Muriel Mirak-Weissbach is the author of Through the Wall of Fire: Armenia – Iraq – Palestine: From Wrath to Reconciliation, 2009. She can be reached at and

Date: 23 Mar 2012, 01:04:54 PM
Subject: Erdogan article

Dear Editor,

Please find atatched a short article on the visit of Tayyip Erdogan to
germany, which did not take place...

Best regards,
Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
To: Mirror Spectator <>

Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

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