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Reasons for the Alienation of Turkish Youths (June 3, 1993)

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The strong self-confidence of the Turks is mixed with bitterness, anger, and aggression. The majority of Turks don’t approve of the street battles that many [of them] have been fighting in some German cities over the past few days. They’re all against violence. But for the sake of honesty, it must be said that they’re also slightly pleased by the Autobahn blockades and sit-down strikes. Finally, a signal that says: “You can’t do whatever you want with us. Enough is enough!” There’s great agreement on that point. And also on the fact that German politicians have hesitated far too long. Bold statements are being made; that, for example, the state was deliberately slow in meting out harsh punishment to right-wing extremists. That people were secretly hoping the attacks would have a deterrent effect on potential asylum seekers. That they thought: “Maybe we’ll disgust some foreigners enough that they’ll leave the country and free up jobs for East Germans.” At the moment, these speculations are very much a topic of conversation among Turks in Germany. Here, something also needs be said about the attitude of Chancellor [Helmut] Kohl: that the honorable federal president [Richard von Weizsäcker] is participating in today’s funeral services is most welcome; but Turks would have welcomed it much more if the highest active politician, rather than the highest representative of this state, would have chosen to participate and address the Turks directly.*

No one should be surprised when today’s foreign youths allow their anger free reign. What has the state given these young people, who could not choose their place of birth, to justify its demand for composure and level-headedness from them? Didn’t the state label them a “problem” from the very beginning and leave them largely in the charge of social workers and educators? Why aren’t young people of Turkish descent who were born in Germany automatically naturalized? Why do they have to stand in line in front of the alien registration authority early in the morning along with asylum seekers to get the stamp they need? What scars does this harassment leave on the souls of young people? Why are they still referred to as “foreigners” even though they have no homeland other than Germany?

The rage that is rooted in the hopelessness of these young Turks is certainly exploited by left- and right-wing Turkish fanatics. These groups, a remnant of the 1970s, have negligible membership figures and exercise virtually no influence on the Turkish community in Germany. This is confirmed by reports by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. But in such volatile times, young people are more prone to being influenced by extremists. Slogans such as “we won’t let ourselves be burned alive” can be heard these days, not only at demonstrations in Solingen, but also in Berlin coffeehouses. In order to retain credibility, anyone who gets upset about shattered window panes today should have been out on the streets last weekend to express his or her rage at people having been burned alive.

The majority of Turks in Germany want to stay here and live in peace. They are sick and tired of always being mentioned in the same breath as the word “problem.” Finally, there has to be an end to talk of the so-called “foreigner problem.” “Foreigners” have names such as Ahmet and Ayse; they have faces and individual biographies, and they expect German society to finally accept them and grant them the civil rights they have been denied for far too long. Acknowledgment of dual citizenship and quick and unbureaucratic naturalization could send a signal. By now, Turks know very well that in a democracy disenfranchised people are second-class citizens. They want to break out of a situation in which they lack rights and a voice.

* Whereas President Richard von Weizsäcker immediately condemned the attack, Chancellor Helmut Kohl seemed reluctant to offend his conservative electoral base – eds.

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