More than half of the Turkish voters in Germany did not vote. Who are they? And what are their motives?
Shortly after the Turkish referendum, an old debate is being revived in Germany, with old buzzwords, first and foremost: integration. A word that has long been devoid of content. But when it became clear that 63 percent of the Turkish voters in Germany had voted for Erdogan’s constitutional reform, many again thought that integration had failed.
Once again, conservative to right-wing politicians are calling for the abolition of the dual passport or even the expulsion of the Yes voters because of their supposed lack of understanding of democracy. Whoever votes like that, some commentators say, whoever supports dictatorship and the death penalty, is not integrated – whatever you mean by that. Are then voters of AfD and NPD integrated? Or the screamers from Pegida?
They all have something in common: they are a minority. A small, but a loud minority. 412.000 voters cast their votes for Erdogan in this country. That is just about one eighth of the Turks in Germany. And while attention is focused on the question of who voted how and why, another aspect is almost forgotten. Namely the fact that more than half of the eligible voters did not vote. And this in what is probably the most important directional election about the future of the country, about whether democracy should give way to a profoundly authoritarian system without separation of powers.
It is not so easy these days to find Turkish non-voters who are willing to talk openly about their decision. One of them is Ilker Karaca. "Actually I wanted to vote, to vote no", he tells. "I only decided to do this at the last minute, and the reason it didn’t work out was quite banal: I couldn’t find my Turkish passport."
However, he does not regret this: "I was born and raised here, I consider myself a German, my German is better than my Turkic. I do not identify with Turkey. And before that, the question crossed my mind: Why should I take part in an election that brings me neither advantages nor disadvantages personally??" He knows many people in his private environment who have voted, but he can only understand this to a limited extent. "Sure", he says, "everyone has the right to vote, and you can’t tell people what to do. But it bothers me that people who live here and are only in Turkey for a few weeks a year then absolutely want to have a say there. Therefore, in retrospect, I am quite happy not to have voted."
"I had a bad feeling"
The situation is completely different with Azize Goz. Her name is on a list drawn up by DITIB – of supposed enemies of the state who are ostracized and probably watched by the Turkish secret service MIT. They are terrorists, she says from Ankara. The federal government reacted to the AKP’s displeasure by warning the individuals and in some cases even offering them protection. "Yes, it was a very important vote, but I had two reasons not to participate", she told. "I was not sure what to expect when I entered a Turkish consulate. In the worst case my passport would be gone. I had a bad feeling. I live in a small town, everyone here knows me and knows that I am involved with Hizmet."
Hizmet, that is the Gulen movement. AKP blames U.S.-exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen for summer 2016 coup attempt. To date, she has not provided any evidence for the accusation. Since then, however, there has been an unprecedented persecution in Turkey of those who are only suspected of belonging to the movement, and the long arm of the MIT reaches as far as Germany. There are said to be more than 6000 informers.
But that wasn’t the only thing that kept Goz from voting: "Moreover, I did not have much confidence in the election results. I don’t know if I voted when the circumstances were different. If a government is not interested in freedom of expression, why should they be interested in my vote?? Many friends did not go to the election for similar reasons. Others, however, said ‘now more than ever’ and cast their vote."
"Erdogan does what he wants"
Hanife Tosun is also active in the movement and refrained from voting. "I was unsure, I could not estimate the situation in the consulate. I had heard that some there had their passports taken away. A friend’s father-in-law was sent away with his whole family. There was a problem with his passport. However, his son-in-law is on the lists of Gulen supporters whom Turkey demands Germany extradite."
Tosun tells of families divided. The rift that divides Turkey also divides relatives. Many are divided over the question of whether to support or oppose Erdogan? Many a family did not go to the election, in order not to further fuel the stress within the family.
But resignation also plays a role in Tosun: "Some did not vote because they thought: There’s no point. I also felt it was hopeless. Erdogan has too much power. It was to be expected that he would not take no for an answer."
Ali, who did not want to see his real name in the press, has a similar attitude. He is Kurdish and not long in Germany. He seems angry, but also helpless, as he recounts how friends of his were driven from their homes when the army invaded Turkey’s Southeast. "What should I choose??" he asks. "Nothing changes after all. Erdogan does what he wants. If he thinks it will bring him votes, he negotiates with the PKK. And conversely, he bombs the Kurds if he thinks it will bring him votes."
The yes-voters, about whom there is such heated discussion, are a minority. There are twice as many non-voters – and apparently many of them had good reasons not to vote. Perhaps it could help to include them in the debate and objectify the discourse.