In Turkey, Erdogan’s electoral gains are counted, but in Germany, the same is probably not the case. How is its popularity explained? What do his voters say?

On May 14, Turks are called to the polls to elect a new president. Turks abroad have the right to participate in the elections, including Germany, where the largest Turkish population resides. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Asylum (BAMF), around 2.8 million citizens of Turkish origin live in Germany. It should be noted that this figure reflected the reality five years ago. Half of them have a Turkish passport.

From April 27 to May 9, they can vote in a total of 14 Turkish representations in Germany. Consul General Turhan Kaya, speaking to DW, did not want to give details while the approval process is ongoing before the German authorities. The outcome of the Turkish election is completely open. This time, however, President Erdogan could lose the election to his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, president of the Kemalist-secular CHP, who is supported by a wide spectrum of politics and society. However, Erdogan and his AKP party can expect a clear victory at the polls in Germany.

Strong foundations in Germany

Metin Sirin has lived in Cologne for 43 years. He worked for decades in Ford factories and was an active unionist. In previous elections he had cast his vote for Erdoğan and wants to do so again this time. Yunis Ulysoy, of the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, says that Turks in Germany vote for Erdogan disproportionately more than in Turkey.

In the 2017 referendum on constitutional reform, around 63% of Turks in Germany voted in favor of Erdogan’s plans to convert the parliamentary system to a presidential one, while the corresponding figure in Turkey was just under 51%. In the 2018 presidential election, 64.8% of German Turks who went to the polls voted for Erdogan. Within Turkey, its percentage was 52.6%.

Of course, the trend abroad is not the same everywhere. For example in 2018 Erdogan only got 17% of the total vote in the US, 21% in the UK, 35% in Iran and 29% in Qatar. However, the electoral behavior of the Turks in Germany caused criticism. They were accused of an inconsistent attitude, mainly those who vote for Social Democrats or Greens in German elections and in Turkey the Islamic conservative AKP. How is this possible?

For Metin Sirin this is a perfectly reasonable decision, even a sign of how open and a little fanatical the conservative Turkish voters are in Germany. “People naturally vote for the party that represents their interests. We have to look at this in a positive way.” Political observers have a similar view. “Of course, even as a foreigner you look at which party is close to you. In the past the question was: CDU or SPD? At that time the Turks were mainly workers and the Social Democratic party, with its international orientation, was closer to the conservative Turks than the conservative Christian Democrats,” explains integration researcher Ulyssoi. “The first Turks who came to Germany were mainly from the rural , conservative Anatolia. When people migrate, they continue to develop the values ​​they bring with them. Their conservative-religious views remain, especially in the diaspora.”

“You belong to us”

“Many Germans don’t even try to understand the voting behavior of conservative Turks,” criticizes Ulusoy. “One can judge it by ideological criteria or criticize it, but one can also try to understand what drives voters to vote that way. Furthermore, German public opinion focuses on the Turks. Are there only German Turks who vote for their national elections? Of course not. Italians living abroad also have the right to vote. In Italy a right-wing populist government came to power and no one knows how Italians voted in Germany. Nobody cared.”

Erdogan seems to have filled a gap left open by the German state: “After 60 years politicians still find it difficult to clearly recognize these people and say, you belong in this country, regardless of whether you are a founder of BioNTech or maybe you were involved in some kind of riot as a youth on New Year’s Eve. Even if you’ve made mistakes, you belong to us. On the contrary, that’s exactly what Erdogan is saying. ‘Wherever you are, whatever nationality you are, you belong to us.’ Sociologist Zabrina Meyer takes a similar view. “It was easy for Erdogan to appeal to sections of people of Turkish origin who yearned to be appreciated,” says the Bamberg University professor in an interview with DW. Due to the policy of the German government the Turks of Germany “could not feel that they belong to German society”.

Meyer points out that obtaining German citizenship for people of Turkish origin was not straightforward for a long time, unlike other immigrant groups such as German-Russians. “Such factors lead young people, especially the third generation, to vote for Erdogan, also out of spite,” says Ulusoy. Metin Sirin, an AKP voter from Cologne, confirms this. “In recent years, conservatives have been ostracized from German political parties because of Erdogan. This is a very sad development. This exclusion naturally caused a reaction.” Regardless of the outcome of the May 14 election, Schirin enjoys having the right to vote and being politically represented: “Even though I’ve lived in Germany for 43 years, I’m not allowed to vote in the local elections here. This is an exclusion and it saddens me. But Turkey gives us the right to vote. I am proud to be able to have a say for our citizens.”

Burak Inverness

Editor: Irini Anastasopoulou