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The Turkish dilemma (updated): Do we have the right to force our host nations to take sides?

(Editor’s note: This was originally posted last August. It’s reposted here with updated information related to Turkish President Erdogan’s demands that his party be allowed to campaign in Europe for an upcoming referendum that could expand his executive powers.)

I do not know a living person on this planet who has ever visited Turkey and said,“It’s just okay.”

Everyone – absolutely everyone – is amazed by the beauty and history of Turkey, and the hospitality and friendship of the Turks.

So the question all of us are asking right now is,“What is happening with Turkey?” Bombings, arrests, protests and a coup led by the military that just does not fit the image we all know. Right now something must be really wrong in this nation full of friendly, cheerful, “don’t stress about it” people.

Talking with many young college-educated Turks living in Europe, I’ve heard nothing good about President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. I cannot judge, since I do not live in Turkey and don’t know the local politics well enough. I can comment on the latest events of Erdogan’s calling Turks across Europe to protest as a sign of a support for him and against the attempted military coup.

imageThis move by Mr. Erdogan is causing Austria and German politicians a lot of anxiety since Austria and Germany have a large number of citizens of Turkish origin and/or citizenship. In Vienna, after Erdogan’s supporters started protesting on the streets of Vienna, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz called for a meeting with a Turkish Ambassador Hasan Gögüs, stating that all who wish to support Erdogan should do so from within Turkey.

(Editor’s note: Last weekend, Turkish protests in Rotterdam turned violent after the Netherlands refused to allow a Turkish minister into the country and expelled another one.)

Simultaneously, Kurz invited Turkish residents to show loyalty to their new home country – Austria.

More than 280,000 Turks live in Austria and out of that number, 135,000 retain Turkish citizenship with the right to vote. An estimated 70 percent of them are Erdogan’s supporters and voted for him in the most recent election. During the rally for Erdogan’s support, the supporters attacked a well-known food chain owned by Turkish Kurds … and attacked a few Kurdish people for good measure.

A lot of Turkish people still consider themselves part of Turkey and plan to return to their home country. Tradition and national pride are important for everyone; for Turks, I think, they have even greater importance.

The question here is, “Should we as Gastarbeiter force our host state to take sides?”

If the host state allows the protests/support, are they choosing a side? And does it complicate the host state’s foreign relations? Another question is, “How much of a right do we have to influence our countrymen who still live back in the country of origin?”

Meanwhile, the reactions to protests have gotten louder and more complicated. Erdogan accused Austria of not granting Turkish citizens the right of free opinion. Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern reacted promptly (on Sunday 31st July) stating that Austria, unlike the Turkey of Erdogan, has free speech, the right to protest and the right to diversity in political opinion.

Further, Kern stated, rhetoric, riots and the use of religion to justify authoritarian politics are not – and never shall be – acceptable in Austria. Angela Merkel was somewhat milder in her statement, and that is understandable since she has a greater responsibility as chancellor of Germany, trying to keep the peace amid what is an increasingly disturbing situation.

The main question among “ordinary” people is and remains: “Is it okay to let Turkish citizens protest in the guest countries … and possibly cause riots?”

I say no, it’s not okay to abuse the hospitality of a guest country that way. But I shall also say yes because let’s be honest: If something like this was happening in YOUR home country, wouldn’t you react?

If Trump were the president of the U.S.A. and was causing this much trouble, Americans all over Europe would be out in the streets. If Boris Johnson was damaging the UK while Brexiting, Brits all over Europe would be out in the streets. If my home country were being suppressed, I would be out in the streets.

The fact Erdogan is not a good man who does one thing while saying another is not the deciding factor as to whether we’re allowed to support him. There is no line within democracy that says, “You are allowed to support this kind of protest, but this kind you are not allowed.” In a true democracy, we’re even allowed to support leaders such as Erdogan.

While Erdogan is preaching modesty and religion, he is living in luxury while letting his people starve. Sixty-three percent of Turkish children under 15 years old live in poverty, according to a 2014 study. Sixty-three percent!

He IS a good salesman and manipulator. Every human being wants to feel good about themselves and secretly we want to feel superior to others. Erdogan stated that religious people are “better” and is preaching that, using religion to manipulate his religious followers into obeying him and fighting for his cause. They WANT to help him because it feels good when their leader says, “You are better than the others.” I recognize this because unfortunately, this is the trick politicians have been using in my home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the last 25 years.

This is the trick that made me leave my home, my people and my childhood behind. It is not a good trick; do not fall for it.

There is one thing I would like to ask Turkish people. What has HE done for YOU? Erdogan is asking YOU to support HIM and protest. Why are you just fulfilling his wishes without asking, “What do I get out of this?”

If he is so mighty and powerful, why does he need you – his people living outside the country that he currently leads – in order to lead it?  Why does he want YOU to fight each other in Germany, Austria and other European countries in order to support him? Why hasn’t he provided the conditions for YOU to live in Turkey in prosperity? Why do your children starve, while he lives in a 500 million pound mansion and uses you once again?

nina-avramovic-trninic-foto.1024x1024Do not forget, while you feel – and are – more Turkish than Austrian or German, Austrians and Germans do very well when it comes to questioning their leaders and holding them responsible. This is what makes it possible for all of us to live in a socially progressive and stable country.

So the next time Erdogan asks you for something, ask him what he can do for you … not the other way around.

About the author: Nina Avramovic Trninic is a civil engineer, and an expat originally from Tuzla, Bosnia. (Send comments to: [email protected].)

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