Germans of Turkish origin are finally better accepted
Presenting the popular German program “Tagesschau” with confidence and charisma, Damla Hekimoglu brings good, bad and horrible news to millions of viewers every day. This makes his smiling face, broadcast by the public broadcaster ARD in living rooms and on smartphones, one of the most recognized in the country.
His position at the heart of German society also makes Hekimoglu, 33, one of many Turkish-born scientists, athletes, actors, diplomats, doctors and politicians who are helping to reverse decades-old prejudice and discrimination. against the Gastarbeiter – the “guest workers” who came to do the hard and dirty work that others avoided – and their offspring.
“You can certainly feel a growing sense of pride in all that Turkish-born Germans are accomplishing,” Hekimoglu said in an interview. “Times are changing, and that’s a good thing. It’s great to see more models and a greater sense of appreciation, even though there is still a lot of racism around. “
Not in the small rural town of Kalterherberg, in the far west of Germany, to a dentist father and stay-at-home mom, Hekimoglu said she and her family were living “the German dream” of a better life in their country adoption.
The rise in Turkish ethnic pride comes 60 years after the agreement between Turkey and what was then West Germany that opened the doors to millions of Gastarbeiter. To mark the anniversary, a new book, “Wie Deutschland zur Heimat wurde” – “How Germany Became Home” – hit bookstores, a moving compilation of the success stories of 27 residents of Turkish descent.
One story in particular, of triumph in the time of the coronavirus, stood out: that of Ugur Sahin, an immigrant who, with his wife of German origin of Turkish origin, Oezlem Tuereci, was the mastermind of the first COVID- widely trusted in the world. 19 vaccine, through their start-up company, BioNTech.
Other recent milestones have also generated celebration and optimism. Earlier this month, the first Cabinet member from the country of Turkish origin, Cem Oezdemir, was sworn in as Minister of Agriculture. In 2008, Oezdemir became the first German of Turkish origin to lead a major political party when he was elected co-leader of the Greens.
“The last 60 years have been an achievement for Turks in Germany that has been ignored for too long,” said Oezcan Mutlu, 53, former Member of Parliament and editor of “How Germany Became Home”. “It’s time to see immigrants enrich this country and make important contributions.
“Discrimination, racism and ostracism are still there too. But it’s good to see times change.
For decades, the dominant attitude among Germans was one of bigotry towards the millions of Turkish immigrants who kept their factories running, fueled their post-war “economic miracle” and accepted the low-paying menial jobs that no one else wanted.
Gone during a labor shortage after the construction of the Berlin Wall, the welcome mat for Gastarbeiter rolled up in the early 1970s when the global oil crisis crippled Europe’s economic might. Many Turkish workers returned to their home countries, as Germany had capitalized on, but many more remained, despite discrimination in jobs, schools and housing for decades to come.
Residents of Turkish descent now number around 3-4 million, making up the largest and most vibrant minority ethnic group in the country of 82 million.
A succession of conservative governments have essentially avoided newcomers to them and refused to grant citizenship to Turks. It has exacerbated feelings of an underclass in one of the richest countries in the world – and indirectly encouraged racists and far-right extremists in Germany, some of whom staged deadly attacks.
In 1993, five young Turkish women and girls were killed in an arson attack in the city of Solingen, near Düsseldorf. Between 2000 and 2007, eight Turkish traders and small business operators were gunned down across Germany by a small group of neo-Nazis whose crimes baffled police only because they believed the killers were other Turkish immigrants.
And at the start of last year, five Turks were among nine foreigners shot dead in a racist rampage outside cafes popular with Turks in the western town of Hanau by a right-wing extremist who later committed suicide. .
Sahin, the founder of BioNTech, remembers facing hostility and discrimination, but also swearing it wouldn’t stop him from achieving his goals. These came to fruition dramatically in the COVID-19 shot that the company developed with Pfizer, a vaccine sometimes referred to here as the “Miracle of Mainz”, which arose out of research originally intended to improve treatment. cancer.
“Everyone is discriminated against at some point because of their origin, the color of their skin, their appearance, what they think or because they were born with a golden spoon in their mouth. Sahin, 56, says in the newly published book. “But I didn’t care. I focused on the things I was doing.
Relations between Germans and their Turkish-born neighbors have long been strained by misunderstandings and restrictive citizenship rules which, until 2000, almost prevented Turks from becoming German nationals and full members of society. German, even though they were born in the country.
Encouraged by arch-conservative anti-immigration politicians, some Germans harbored ugly stereotypes that Turks were integration-resistant Muslims who refused to eat pork or drink alcohol. They accused Turkish residents of locking themselves in separate communities and mopping up the country’s generous welfare system.
Public perceptions have also been influenced by the horrific 2005 murder of a 23-year-old Turkish woman by her brother at a bus stop in Berlin after rejecting a forced marriage with a cousin and stopping wearing a headscarf.
Prejudice was not uncommon on the streets, in shops, in workshops and in the classroom.
“I was the only one of Turkish descent at my high school in a rural town in Bavaria,” said Serap Ocak, born in Illertissen, about 80 miles west of Munich. “It took some time for teachers and classmates. Most of the teachers had good intentions, but they also let me know that they didn’t think I belonged there. When I finished school, the principal couldn’t help but make a flippant comment: “We finally have a Turk who has graduated. “
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Ocak, 45, is now a rising star in the German Foreign Ministry and has served as a diplomat in New York. She said she feels the sting of discrimination growing in Germany, and although the situation has improved dramatically, it is still not perfect.
“A lot has changed since I started at the Foreign Ministry 10 years ago,” Ocak said. “At the time, no one was in a managerial position of Turkish origin. There is a lot more diversity now. But not everyone is happy with that, as a younger colleague made it clear to me.
The same goes for Oezden Terli, who has become one of Germany’s most prominent meteorologists, in part for his sometimes controversial reporting on the ZDF network’s prime-time news broadcasts linking climate change to weather issues. current.
“I have always experienced slight bursts of discrimination all my life,” Terli said. “But when I started doing the weather forecast on ZDF, it turned into a hurricane. It was too much for some people for a Turk to be on public television warning of the dangers of climate change.
“Suddenly, I was caught in the crossfire of agitators. It bothered me at first, but then I started to ignore it. I try not to let it get to me.
Besides Terli and Hekimoglu, the presenter of “Tagesschau”, other personalities of the television news of Turkish origin are Mitri Sirin of ZDF and Pinar Atalay of RTL News.
The Germans were also enthused by the exploits of national football team stars Mezut Oezil and Ilkay Guendogan, flocked to films starring Sibel Kekilli and directed by Fatih Akin, watched TV programs hosted by Nazan Eckes and read from the books of Emine Sevgi Oezdamar.
Long to come, today’s greater acceptance sparks hope for an even more inclusive Germany, a Germany that belatedly recognizes how its people of Turkish descent, who were once denigrated for going beyond their welcome, have enriched the nation throughout its diversity, talent, rigor and creativity.
“Being an immigrant is quite normal for us,” said Sahin from BioNTech, who moved to Cologne at the age of 4. “What’s important is that everyone contributes. It’s so easy – you just have to create a great team where anyone who wants to join can do so.
Kirschbaum is special envoy. Times writer Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.