Why Ankara affects us all

IMG_20151008_161923 - KopieOn the 10th of October 2015, a twin bombing on a peace rally in Ankara has killed more than ninety people. It is likely that we will never find out who is responsible for this most cynical attack, but that it will be one more name and date on the long list of unsolved political crimes in Turkey.

The message is clear: War is inevitable and your lives are in our hands. It is a plot which I cannot imagine to be the solemn product of raging hatred, but of cold-blooded calculation.

One day earlier, on the 9th, I posted a picture into my German university’s facebook group, the one you can see on top of the page. It shows a banner hanging in the uni’s grand hall. It’s common to put up such banners here in Bielefeld. As you see there’s another one next to it, calling for clothing-donations for refugees.

The banner in question consists out of three parts: A popular phrase from a Jewish holiday celebration in which items are being smashed; a sneaker kicking a light bulb, visibly the symbol of Turkey’s ruling AKP; and the words AG Ergenekon.

AG is the abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft, describing a project group. Ergenekon on the other hand is an – alleged – clique of nationalist plotters in Turkey. It’s unclear whether it really existed, as membership to the group was primarily used by the religious-conservative AKP to detain political enemies. However, the principle idea is based on actual formations, namely the Grey Wolves. The Grey Wolves are a right-wing terror organisation with mafia-like structures, responsible for several pogroms against minorities as well as uncounted murders.

We have many AGs focussing on various issues at Bielefeld university, but there is no record of an AG Ergenekon. Hence, I posted the picture to facebook, asking if anybody had an idea what this was about and what the AG represents.

We didn’t find the answer yet. But what was bound to emerge instead was a seemingly disconnected, lengthy, rather emotional debate about guilt and accusation in Turkey’s Kurdish issue, the PKK, war crimes, the role of the pro-minority HDP, the role of German arms traders*, and so on. All in German.

Germany and Turkey have a special bond. Today, one in twenty people living in Germany is of Turkish descent. We tend to – realpolitikly – think of nations in terms of stiff geography, but in real life, our societies merge like societies always did. Who is German, who is Turkish, both, nothing – in the end, everybody has to decide for his- or herself.

The victims of the massacre of the 10th of October have ties to German communities, and so do their murderers.

Among the suspects are also the Grey Wolves. As it seems, the Grey Wolves have been somewhat active in Germany since the 1970s – rarely noticed by the public eye, apparently widely ignored by Germany’s inner security. I wouldn’t know about trustworthy statistics to their activity. Our secret service’s incompetence in fighting right-wing terror is famously boundless., its interest in investigating the death of German Turks is limited. Hence, it cannot see it as a reliable source.

The deliberate radicalization that’s being shoved upon Turkey as well as the reactions to it mirror themselves on German streets, in German mosques, culture groups, or, as above, in universities. It is an issue that we need to debate in public, simply because many of those directly affected are long since part of the „we“.

It’s obviously not just conflicts and döner that are imported, but also other features of Turkish society. During my time in Istanbul, I sensed a resentful stubbornness regarding politics. People demand participation – a notion also Germany, just as any other democracy, depends on.

The effect of Turkey’s pro-democratic movement on Germany’s political culture is hard to measure, but visible if you know where to look. One can see numerous able politicians and journalists as well as private individuals drawing upon their observations from abroad to gain a better understanding of what’s happening in Germany. Lessons learnt from Turkey’s social defence can improve ours. As to the structure of grassroot-democratic movements, for example, or in the detection of threats.

The massacre of Ankara and the reaction of the government are a tragic example for this.

Our brothers and sisters in Turkey are being targeted by a terror that is meant to break their will, to instill hatred for each other. Divide and conquer – that’s what’s behind the attacks, to which’s true perpetrators of course points no reliable evidence. And when there’s no evidence, people draw on their basic instincts. Intellectuals blame the AKP, nationalists the communists, Kurds the MHP, and so on. The solidarity between the people of Turkey crumbles. Who profits are those who always profit from a lack of social unity; so-called strong men, radicals, ruthless industrials, plotters in the dark. The enemies of freedom and just distribution of wealth.

I’m not in the position to allege the Turkish government of involvement. But it clearly plays its part, via the media and news blackouts. These blackouts delay public debate and leave room for speculation. When the networks function again, and information can be shared again, rage-born positions might already have fortified.

We must declare solidarity to the victims of the cowardly attack of Ankara. An attack on decency and cohesion in Turkey is, indirectly, an attack on decency and cohesion in Germany, since terror, regardless of creed, isn’t halted by borders.

At the same time, when the pro-democracy movement in Turkey is strengthened, so is participation in Germany – already due to the many people who take part of both societies, or at least exist in both. And the Turkish pro-democracy movement is resilient. That it shows these days.

Radicalization cannot be fought by ignoring it. It can only be battled by open and public exchange of opinions and information. Yet, while we would be well advised to keep track of the butchers lurking in the shadows, we ought not forget the benefits – and the inevitability – of cultural exchange. I personally have found beauty in the vigor with which a German-Turkish freshwoman lectures an elderly conservative on his rotten stance on integration.

* Ever wondered where Eastern Germany’s armory went to after the GDR was dissolved? Apparently, the unified government sold them. German warships sailed off to Indonesia’s dictator Suharto, German tanks soon rolled through Kurdish villages.

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