Erdogan, Merkel Come Together for Uneasy Celebration of Turks in Germany
Germany has extended its thanks to the 3 million people of Turkish descent living on its territory, in a ceremony marking the 50-year-old decision that brought Turkish laborers to help rebuild the wartorn country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have praised the labor exchange agreement and the people who participated in the program in spite of emerging friction in the German-Turkish relations in the past couple of years.
Before the ceremony, however, Erdogan raised eyebrows with criticism of Germany's ways of handling the Turks living there in an interview for the German tabloid Bild.
"To leave family and friends behind to work in a foreign country, with a foreign language and a foreign culture is a brave step," Merkel told an audience largely made up of some of the first so-called guest workers, or gastarbeiter, as cited by DPA.
The framework for the low-skilled workers to come to Germany was signed on October 30, 1961.
But instead of returning home as the agreement originally foresaw, many of the Turkish immigrants stayed, the German press agency reminds.
There are now around 3 million Turks or people of Turkish heritage in Germany, from a population of just 7,000 in 1961. With a population of 180,000, Berlin is home to the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey.
While saying there were still problem areas that needed to be addressed, noticeably in crime and education, Turkish immigrants "belonged" to Germany, Merkel said, adding that integration was the responsibility of both Germans and immigrants.
"We have to understand, finally, that ... diversity also means enrichment and that Germany has become richer because it has become more diverse," she said.
Germany was "no longer a foreign home" for the Turkish immigrants, said Erdogan in turn, emphasizing the two countries' shared history. "I'd like to say in German 'Wir sind zusammen' (We are together)," he said.
Erdogan's visit was not without friction, though the issues were not new. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich immediately rejected Erdogan's repeated call for Turks born in Germany to learn Turkish as a first language.
"If a child wants to learn a new language, he must speak his own well first," Erdogan had told the tabloid Bild newspaper in an interview published Wednesday.
''You can see that he (Erdogan) hasn't really understood," Friedrich told ZDF television. "Their own language is now in fact German."
Merkel also emphasized the importance of learning German, saying it was essential for successful integration. "It's the key to good education and training," she said.
In Wednesday's ceremony Erdogan also demanded Germany do more to help Turkey's application for European Union membership, something which Germany has opposed. Merkel has in the past called for a "privileged partnership" for Turkey rather than full membership.
Precisely because of Germany's "special relationship" with Turkey through its immigrant population, "Germany should be the country that pushes hardest for Turkish membership," Erdogan said.
In the Bild interview, Erdogan stated Turkey felt "let down" by Germany.
Merkel played down his remarks, saying later at a joint press conference: "We can well imagine that another chapter (in the EU accession talks) will be opened when the conditions for that are fulfilled.'
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