This summer, the German public began to realize that there are hundreds of thousands of Germans of Turkish origin who revere as their leader not German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In a country where Erdogan is arguably the most-despised foreign leader, this revelation was probably bound to create a dust-up. For years, Erdogan’s human rights violations, his slander against Germany (where he sees “Nazi practices” at work) and the imprisonment in Turkey of German citizens on trumped-up terrorism charges have been regular news in the German media. The fate of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, arrested by the Turkish police in February 2016, then held in solitary confinement in a Turkish prison for almost a year, has caused as much public outrage in Germany as the imprisonment and subsequent house arrest of Pastor Andrew Brunson has in the United States. Cem Özdemir, a former chairman of Germany’s Green Party — who in 1994 became the first member of the German parliament who had Turkish roots — has called Erdogan a “hostage taker”.
So it was not surprising, shortly before the soccer World Cup, when two German national soccer team players of Turkish origin had a photo-op with Erdogan, that there was a national outcry.
In a meeting at London’s Four Seasons Hotel on May 15, Mesud Özil (Arsenal London) and Ilkay Gündoğan (Manchester City), two midfielders who had been called up by Germany’s coach, Joachim Löw, for the World Cup in Russia, gave signed club shirts as gifts to the Turkish president. The shirt given by Gündoğan — who holds only German citizenship — bore the message (in Turkish): “With respect to my president. Yours faithfully”. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) immediately distributed the pictures through its media channels and used it in its election campaign.
In Germany, the reaction to the “Erdogate” scandal was seismic. Cem Özdemir said: