Welcoming a guest like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not easy for anyone in Berlin. When the Turkish President and Chancellor Angela Merkel shook hands to say goodbye after they gave a press conference together, he smiled like a schoolboy who just won a competition, while her expression definitely did not deserve the expression smile. She looked angry and disappointed, to say the least.
During the press conference, there was a moment of the kind Erdoğan likes. A Turkish reporter was lead away because he allegedly provoked. The man wore a t-shirt saying “Freedom for Journalists” in Turkish. Reporters on site said while the man was taken out of the hall by security, Erdoğan smiled at Merkel. She did not return this smile either.
During her statement, the Chancellor used the sandwich approach. First she listed as many aspects “which unite us” as possible, by saying both Germany and Turkey were NATO members, both were part of the fight against terror and the two countries cooperated in the refugee crisis.
Merkel also mentioned the three million people of Turkish origin who live in Germany. She assured her guest Germany would look after them and protect them “when attacks against mosques happen.”
The next part of Angela Merkel’s statement was not positive at all. Why would it be? Erdoğan has annoyed Berlin many times, his media have compared her to the (original) Nazis. And this was only the tip of the iceberg.
Recently, people had been released in Turkey, Merkel said. She meant Germans who had been incarcerated for political reasons. Some still are. “We are hoping there will be more successes of this kind”, she stated. Of course she had talked to Erdoğan about the subject, Merkel stressed, and made clear that Germany was “dissatisfied with the procedures in some cases.” When Merkel uses this kind of wording, she usually is angry indeed.
The Berlin government suspects that legal aspects may not play any role at all when Erdoğan and his people have reporters arrested, also because it usually takes ages until Turkey produces indictments. At this stage, five Germans are still incarcerated in Turkey, for political reasons. Generally, there were “profound differences” between the two governments, Chancellor Merkel indicated.
As expected, Erdoğan rejected Merkel’s criticism: “I can not interfere in Germany’s legal affairs. The same way, the Germans have to respect the Turkish judiciary”, he told reporters. Not for the first time, he said Gülen supporters needed to be extradited.
His visit lead to protests in Berlin, organized by Turkish opposition members in Germany, by Alevi, Kurds, and associations which demanded press freedom in Turkey. Many people who had been invited to today’s state dinner cancelled their participation in protest.
Photos taken right after his arrival in Berlin prove that Erdoğan showed the Islamist Rabia salute as he was driven to the Hotel Adlon at Brandenburg Gate, where he and his entourage stay during the visit. While the President walked by the guard of honor with Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Turkish media reports were spread, according to which Ankara demands the extradition of 69 critics of Erdoğan’s government who live in Germany, including the journalist Can Dündar. This was obviously yet another provocation.
German-language media report, an hour before the press conference with Merkel, Erdoğan had threatened to cancel the event in case Dündar would show up.
Human rights issues, a lack of press freedom, the attacks against Kurds, Turkey’s activities in Syria, and the steps Erdoğan took which, critics say, lever out democracy in the country are the main points of criticism. President Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel are aware of the problems. At the same time they believe this is a good time to work on an approximation. But it did not seem to work, this time around.
Merkel told the reporters at the press conference, Germany wanted Turkey to be economically stable. And she announced a Syria Summit which will include the heads of state from Turkey, meaning Erdoğan himself, from Russia and France. The summit will supposedly take place in October.