“This book is a product of 10 years of research on Turkish migrant communities living in Europe,” Özcan said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman. Turkish expats have long been neglected by those living in the Turkish motherland, Özcan said, adding that his book is an attempt to help Turks get to know about 5 million migrants of Turkish origin in Europe, their daily lives and the challenges that they have faced so far in the host countries.
It was a cold November morning in 1961 when Turks first made their way to Germany from İstanbul’s Sirkeci Railway Station with wooden suitcases in their hands and a new hope for a better future in their hearts. “The passengers had not yet realized that Germany would be their new homeland,” Özcan puts forward in the preface to his book.
The Turks who migrated to Germany over half a century ago after a labor migration agreement was signed in 1961 between Turkey and Germany were called “Gastarbeiter,” a term meaning guest worker, and they were expected to return after their service was completed.
“We wanted a labor force, but human beings came,” Swiss writer Max Frisch once said while describing his country’s immigration story, but his statement fit the situation of the Turks in Germany as well. After 1961, Turkish workers, who initially wanted to come back after saving money to buy a piece of land, or a tractor or a house, settled in the countries they went to work in and brought over their families. Their grandchildren were raised in those countries, and the number of migrant Turks in Europe reached about 5 million, as temporary workers turned into permanent citizens. Currently, there are 3 million Turks in Germany, 500,000 in France, 450,000 in the Netherlands and 250,000 in Austria, the book reveals.
The first generation of Turks in European countries such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, who mostly arrived from then-underdeveloped Anatolian towns, experienced hardship in integrating into a different society with a different culture and language, Özcan states in his book.
European countries on the other hand have long denied being countries of immigration. “If the German society and state had realized earlier that the country is a country of immigrants, we could have reached a different level by this, our 50th year as an immigrant community. But still, the steps taken in the last 10 years have been important,” Zülfiye Kaykın, integration undersecretary of North Rhine-Westphalia -- Germany’s largest state, is quoted as saying in the book.
The relationship between the host country and Turkish expatriates became more tense when German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in 2010 that her country’s attempts to create a multicultural society had “utterly failed” -- a declaration that has sparked a debate over the integration of immigrants, which has also been a major focus of Özcan’s book.
“Turks and Germans have different perceptions of integration. Germans welcome immigrants as long as they learn the country’s language and comply with its cultural norms, while Euro-Turks think what Germans call integration is practically assimilation in disguise. Turkish immigrants’ values and beliefs have been regarded as an obstacle hindering them from becoming integrated in society,” Özcan told Sunday’s Zaman. “What Turks demand is recognition as equal citizens in the country and living together with host citizens in harmony without making concessions to their beliefs and culture.”
The first generation of Turks in Europe wanted their children working as soon as possible and did not give priority to education which, according to the book, was the reason why integration was not easily achieved, given that people with more education are more likely to become integrated in a society.
Commenting on problems stemming from host countries that have barred Turkish migrants’ integration into European societies, Özcan said Islamophobia and racism have long plagued European countries, where residents think migrant communities cannot be integrated into society unless they make concessions to their religious beliefs, lifestyles and cultural values.
Benefits and problems of immigration have been the focus of many books so far, yet “Göçtürkler” stands out as an impressive work with its collection of interviews with Turkish expatriates living in Europe.
Regarding his interviews, which provided reliable information based on migrants’ personal accounts of their European experiences and challenges they have had to face so far, Özcan said he paid special attention to meeting various Turkish civil society groups in Europe and Turkish expatriates with diverse professional and social backgrounds.
“‘Göçtürkler’ can actually be regarded as a travel book in this respect,” Özcan stated and went on to say that success stories of Turkish immigrants, which have often been overlooked by the European media, form an important part of his book. Turkish businesswoman Aysel Erbudak, who has been successfully managing the first private hospital in the Netherlands, one of Austria’s most famous doctors, Ahmet Hamidi, and Belgium deputy Mahinur Özdemir are just a few among the many successful Euro-Turks who left their marks on European society.
Despite the many success stories of Turkish migrants in Europe, they often come to the fore in the media only when they are involved in criminal matters. “The image of foreigners as criminal, even though disturbing, did not much concern the first-generation immigrants, who always planned to return to Turkey. They lived somewhat isolated in their ‘ghettos.’ But from the mid-1980s on, they began to realize that the countries they were working in had become their homes. … They began to organize and to voice their concerns,” Özcan states in his book.