Turkey election: Voters in Germany head to polls

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02:23 mins.
07.06.2018

Polls open for Turks in Germany

Voting for Turkish voters abroad is underway. But as a visit to the polling station at Berlin's Turkish consulate found, opinion on the future of Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is divided.

By 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, a large queue had already formed at the Turkish Consulate in Berlin. Until June 19, some 60,000 voters in the German capital are expected to pass through the consulate gates to cast their ballots in Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Concerns over manipulation prompted tightened security, with media and voters all undergoing a "routine" pat down before entering the grounds. Inside, security guards, decked out in suits and aviators, paroled the row of portacabins.

Read more: Turkey's upcoming election raises concern in Germany

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DW News | 07.06.2018

Turkish parties compete for expat vote in Germany

One of the first voters to successfully navigate security was Ezgi Dikdun. The 31-year-old consultant moved to Berlin from Izmir 18 months ago "because of the unrest, the terror, the bombings."

"I didn’t feel like I was represented as a progressive Turkish woman. I thought Germany would give me that chance," she said.

Asked where she’ll be marking her cross on the ballot paper, she said: "I'm voting for hope, for change. Maybe that tells you something about who I'll vote for."

Ezgi Dikdun, 31, told DW that she's voting "for hope; for change."

Another voter who preferred not to give his name said he voted for jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.

"I voted for him because says he wants to bring us together and bring democracy to Turkey," the 24-year-old said.

Like Ezgi, the IT student said violence forced him to leave his home in Surici, the old town of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.

"We couldn’t live there anymore. Everyday there were bombs. There was so much pressure and the police were everywhere," he said.

This 24-year-old voted for jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas

Fragile relations

With Turkey having detained a number of German citizens in a crackdown following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, relations between Ankara and Berlin are fractious. The elections, which in Turkey will take place on June 24, are being closely observed by Berlin.

"A mood of intimidation has spread among citizens of Turkish origin in Germany in recent years," Gokay Akbulut, German lawmaker with the opposition Left Party, told DW.

A total of 1.4 million Turkish nationals living in Germany are eligible to vote, but "many no longer dare to express their political views openly because they fear that this could create problems for relatives in Turkey," said Akbulut.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

The Böhmermann affair

March 31, 2016: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed charges against German comedian and satirist Jan Böhmermann over his "defamatory poem" about the Turkish leader. German prosecutors eventually dropped the charges on October 4, 2016, but the case sparked a diplomatic row between Berlin and Ankara.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

German lawmakers pass resolution to recognize 1915 Armenian Genocide

June 2, 2016: The resolution passed almost unanimously. In response, Turkey recalled its ambassador in Berlin and Germany's Turkish community held protests in several German cities. Turkey had repeatedly criticized the use of the term genocide to describe the Ottoman-era Armenian killings, arguing that the number of deaths had been inflated, and that Turkish Muslims also perished in the violence.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Tensions following failed coup in Turkey

July 15, 2016: A faction of the Turkish military tried to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but ultimately failed. Ankara accused Berlin of not taking a clear stand against the coup attempt or not doing anything about exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen's organization, who Erdogan blames for orchestrating the failed coup.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Germany criticizes post-coup purge

Immediately following the attempted coup, Turkish authorities purged the army and judiciary, detaining thousands of people. The purge expanded to include civil servants, university officials and teachers. German politicians criticize the detentions. Turkish diplomats, academics and military members fled the country and applied for asylum in Germany.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Kurdish rallies in Cologne

Erdogan's post-coup crackdown has also been condemned by Kurdish protesters at several mass demonstrations in the west German city of Cologne. Often the rallies have called for the release of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey considers to be a terror group. Ankara has accused Berlin of not doing enough to stop PKK activities.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Arrest of German citizens in Turkey

February 14, 2017: Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for the "Welt" newspaper, was taken into custody in Turkey. Other German nationals, including journalist Mesale Tolu and human rights activist Peter Steudtner were detained in Turkey for what Berlin dubbed "political reasons." Turkey accused them of supporting terrorist organizations. All three have since been released pending trial.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Germany bans Turkish referendum rallies

March 2017: A number of German localities blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies in their districts ahead of an April referendum in Turkey to enhance President Erdogan's powers. The Turkish leader then accused Germany of using "Nazi tactics" against Turkish citizens in Germany and visiting Turkish lawmakers. German leaders were not amused by the jibe, saying Erdogan had gone too far.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Spying allegations

March 30, 2017: Germany accused Turkey of spying on hundreds of suspected Gulen supporters as well as over 200 associations and schools linked to the Gulen movement in Germany. Turkish asylum-seekers have since accused officials working in Germany's immigration authority (BAMF) of passing on their information to media outlets with ties to the Turkish government.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Erdogan urges German-Turks not to vote for 'enemies of Turkey'

August 18, 2017: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed three of Germany's main political parties as "enemies of Turkey" and told Turks living in Germany not to vote for them in September's general election. He singled out Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), the Social Democrats (SPD), and the Greens. Merkel said Erdogan was "meddling" in Germany's election.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Merkel says Turkey should not become EU member

September 4, 2017: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during an election debate that she didn't think Turkey should become a member of the European Union and said she would speak with other EU leaders about ending Ankara's accession talks. In October, she backed a move to cut Turkey's pre-accession EU funds.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Turkey's military offensive in Afrin

January 20, 2018: The Turkish military and their Syrian rebel allies launched "Operation Olive Branch" against the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. The move was criticized by German politicians and prompted large protests by Kurdish communities in Germany.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Journalist Deniz Yücel released from prison

February 16, 2018: Turkey ordered the release of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel after he'd been held for over a year without charge. According to Turkish state media, Yücel was released on bail from pre-trial detention. Prosecutors asked for an 18-year jail sentence for Yücel on charges of "terror propaganda" and incitement.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Özil quits

July 2018: German footballer Mesut Özil quit the national team following the fallout from his meeting with the Turkish president. Özil said he was being made a scapegoat for Germany's forgettable performance at the FIFA World Cup in Moscow because of his Turkish heritage. Erdogan praised Özil's decision and slammed the "racist" mistreatment of the footballer.

Why are German and Turkish relations so strained?

Travel ban lifted

August 2018: A Turkish court removed the travel ban on German journalist Mesale Tolu, who was arrested last year on terrorism-related charges. But the trial against Tolu, who has since returned to Germany, is set to continue. Her husband, Suat Corlu, who is facing similar charges, has been ordered to remain in Turkey.

Voter manipulation?

Rumors that voters are being pressured to vote for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) are, however, unfounded, according to Consul General Muhammet Mustafa Çelik.

"Every night the ballot boxes will be sealed up, without being opened, and stored under lock and key," he told DW. “Then, on June 20, they'll be sent — unopened — to Turkey."

While optimistic that there'd be no manipulation of ballots in the German capital, Mehtap Erol, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP in Berlin, criticized that the vote boxes will be flown to Turkey unescorted.

"It’s bad that the ballot papers will be locked in a room for three to four days. We don't have a clue what goes on in there," Erol said.

Read more: Germany and the long arm of Turkey's AKP

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Erdogan is 'the future'

Among the thousands of people jailed in the post-putsch clampdown are some 150 journalists — and rightfully so, say the Ardic family.

"Those who are imprisoned supported the coup attempt. If they hadn't done anything wrong they wouldn’t have been detained," they said as they waited to vote at the consulate in Berlin. "Normal journalists can live in Turkey without any problems."

For the Ardic family, President Erdogan is the man to lead Turkey. Sixty-seven-year-old father and former driver in the German police force, Mehmet first arrived in Germany in 1969. At just 18 he was one of the hundreds of thousands of guest workers who traveled to Germany to fill the demand for cheap labor in a booming post-war economy.

"The AKP has done so much for the country in their 16 years in power: improving hospitals and the roads. That's why Erdogan is the future of Turkey," he told DW.

Turkey's economy flourished, indeed, after the AKP was first elected to power in 2002. Gross domestic product tripled, more than $220 billion (€186 billion) in foreign investment flooded the Turkish markets and inflation was back in single figures.

But as the country now makes its transition from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidential system, Turkey is fast approaching an economic crisis: the lira currency is rapidly losing value, tourists are staying away and investors are losing confidence.

Hamide, Fatima and Mehmet Ardic say Erdogan's AKP is the "best choice" for Turkey

Tight result

A look at the results of last November's referendum, which gave Erdogan sweeping powers, give an indication as to how close the elections might turn out on June 24. While votes in Berlin were split 50/50, in other parts of Germany, it was a different story.

In western German cities, anywhere between 64 and 76 percent of voters said 'Yes' to extending Erdogan's powers - shedding as much light on Germany's own problems as Turkey's.

Read more: Why many Turks in Germany voted 'yes' in Erdogan's referendum

At the consulate, Ezgi Dikdun left no doubt what she felt was riding on this election. "When I go back, I want to have some peace and less polarization."

"Sorry – I'm going to cry now," she said, rummaging around her handbag for sunglasses.