I was walking in the street with my nephew; we were stopped by a Turkish guy who heard us speaking Turkish to each other.
He wanted us to help him communicate with a television repairman to fix his television’s antenna. We acted as his translator in the store and when we went out I asked him how long he had been living in London. He had been living in London more than seven years and could not speak a word of English. Apparently, he had never left the Turkish ghetto there until he could not find what he had needed, a television repairman.
My second experience with Turkish “existence” in Europe was just a couple of years ago when I visited Amsterdam for a weekend. I have a Turkish friend there and he introduced me to Turkish youngsters from different walks of life. They were all so friendly, such nice people, and they were all second or third-generation residents of Holland. We started hanging out in Amsterdam.
Normally, when I am abroad I prefer not to go to Turkish restaurants. However, I did not want to reject my young friends there when they invited me to eat at a kebap house. But after the second and third invitation to different Turkish restaurants, I wanted to invite them to a Dutch restaurant that I had chosen. When we were sitting in the restaurant, I was shocked by what I heard from one of the youngsters. He looked around, paused and said, “I have never been to a restaurant like this before.” The restaurant we went to was not the most luxurious restaurant in Amsterdam; it was just a decent Dutch restaurant and I am not an Amsterdam expert -- it was my first time there actually.
The more we spoke the more I was surprised by the psychology of these youngsters. They were not like the Turkish guy I met in London. They seemed more integrated, spoke the Dutch language, were shift workers and had been born and grew up there. However, these otherwise nice and ingenuous people had an apparent hostility to the country they lived in. They were not religious fanatics or anything like that. They were living in an extremely isolated world in which they were separated by invisible walls from the rest of society.
When I came back home, I thought about these young people’s psychology a lot. Were they actually that alienated from and hostile to Dutch society, or were they trying to prove to me that they have not lost their Turkishness, or both? What were people from Turkey expecting to see in them?
At around this time, while I was pondering these questions, our Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to a group of 20,000 Turks in Cologne, Germany, in 2008. His remarks explained what Turks in the motherland expect from Turks living abroad. Mr. Erdoğan addressed the crowd, saying: “I understand very well that you are against assimilation. One cannot expect you to assimilate. Assimilation is a crime against humanity.”
I remembered all these things in the aftermath of a heated debate over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments about the end of “multiculturalism” in Germany. It is all debatable really, as we know in Turkey now, whether Germany or any other European country has ever been a multicultural society in which different cultures live and flourish side by side. It is debatable whether Europeans have ever welcomed Muslims and other cultures in Europe. Yes, we can discuss all these things. But how about looking into our own eyes in the mirror and asking ourselves the same questions?
Almost half a century ago, we sent thousands and thousands of Turks who have never seen or lived in a major city in Turkey to the heartland of Europe, and we only expected them to send hot money back to Turkey. These people -- who could have experienced serious culture shock even if they had moved to İstanbul or İzmir and most probably would have created their own ghettos there as well, as they are doing now -- have been paralyzed by deep, deep culture shock while living in Holland, Germany, Switzerland and so on. Did we do anything to understand and alleviate their pain and suffering? All we did was to continuously pump chauvinistic sentiments and ideas into this vulnerable group of people.
Turks’ integration problem in Germany, or anywhere in Europe, cannot simply be the problem of the Germans or Europeans. It is also a problem created by Turks in the homeland, who never imagined that a person can very well be a Turk and Muslim and perfectly integrated into European society at the same time, as we see is true for Turkish MPs in European parliaments.
My column’s space is finishing here and if I have to summarize it in one sentence, it is this: The Turkish official and unofficial approach to expatriate Turks cannot be the approach of a country that is a candidate for the EU and encouraging these people to not integrate into the societies they live in is itself against the very idea of human rights, since we have condemned them to live and die in the prisons they themselves created!