Germany’s history is supposed to have made German society sensitive to repression of minority groups and of freedom of speech, but only, it seems, for some groups and some ideas. Germany has a long record of repressing its Kurdish community – much the largest Kurdish community outside Kurdistan. They also attempt to silence Palestinian voices and even voices of Jews critical of Israel, demonstrating a failure to embrace the real meaning of “never again”, which has to apply to all peoples.
As in financial matters, Germany’s size and dominance ensure that it has a big influence on European Union policy and perspectives, too, though other western countries also support Turkey’s anti-Kurd agenda in their own interests. That nations have neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies, only interests, was acknowledged long ago, by Lord Palmerston.
Turkey’s strategic geography ensures that its NATO partners do not want to risk annoying the Turkish government, which has proved adept at playing NATO off against Russia. And, since 2016, when the European Union effectively subcontracted to Turkey responsibility for millions of Syrian refugees, Turkey has acquired another source of leverage over the European nations. If the Turkish government is unhappy about a European decision, they threaten to open the borders and push the refugees into the EU. Angela Merkel played a major role in securing this deal, after backlash against her earlier welcoming of refugees to Germany almost lost her the German Chancellorship. Turkey is also an important trading partner for Germany, and German goods exported to Turkey include weapons and other items that can be used in weapon manufacture. Furthermore, Germany’s Turkish immigrants far outnumber Kurdish immigrants, so count for many more votes.
In a politics guided by German (or German elite) interests, Kurds have little weight. Quite how little is demonstrated by an article on the opportunities and limitations of the Turkish opposition, published in February by the influential German Institute for International and Security Affairs, which doesn’t once mention the Kurds.
Sadly, the experience of the conference organisers is far from an anomaly. Dastan Jain has observed that military and economic links between Turkey and Germany go back to the 1880s, and that, in the Cold War years, Germany helped Turkey to put down leftist and pro-Kurdish struggles both within the immigrant community and within Turkey itself. Any hope for a major change of approach with the new government that was sworn in at the end of 2021 was short-lived. The social democrat/Green/Liberal coalition, with its so-called “feminist foreign policy”, has proved just as careful of establishment interests as its predecessor.
To give a sense of what this means in practice, I have sifted through Firat News Agency’s reports on Germany for the last year. While each story is shocking in itself, together they provide a stark representation of German complicity in Kurdish oppression. Similar things take place in other countries too, but in Germany the oppression is often worse.
Last year, parliamentary questions revealed how information about Kurdish activities and activists is collected by the German government and passed on to the Turkish authorities. A 1966 law requires all associations with a majority of foreign members to submit details of their directors to the government, and, since 1994, the information on Kurdish associations has been passed on to the intelligence services. When asked, the parliament’s own Scientific Services Office declared this illegal. And the government has admitted – without mentioning Turkey – that information on the foreign associations was shared with foreign intelligence services. Further parliamentary questions revealed that the German Government forwards all convictions of Turkish citizens in Germany to the Turkish government. Many of these concern violations of the law of associations under the PKK ban. This practice can be assumed to contribute to the number of Kurds arrested when they go to visit family in Turkey.
An investigation by Die Welt led to another parliamentary question that confirmed that when asylum seekers are not granted refugee status and are deported back to Turkey, the Turkish government often demands – and is given – detailed information about their asylum process, including highly sensitive statements that could be used against them on their return.
In a different scenario, a Kurdish man was deported to Turkey a year ago who had lived all his life in Germany but had a Turkish passport. He had got two criminal convictions after fights with Turkish nationalists, and Germany wanted rid of him, but his history makes him a target in Turkey and he had already faced many death threats.
Bans on going out of Germany have been imposed on a growing number of people (66 in 2022) and mostly affect left activists and Kurds. People have also been blocked from making specific journeys. Buses were stopped and searched on their way to the demonstration in Paris that protested the triple murder last December and also the triple murder of three Kurdish women activists ten years before. 24 activists were removed and prevented from going.
German immigration law allows for restrictions to be put on the political activities of refugees. Another parliamentary question found that an activity ban is currently being applied to thirteen refugees, of whom six are Kurds.
Many Kurdish Movement symbols are banned, and police often stop protestors carrying other symbols, such as YPG and YPJ flags, which are not on the banned the list. Demonstrators wanting to protest the prison conditions being suffered by Abdullah Öcalan were told they could not show his image.
Police blocks and detentions have become a regular part of the long youth marches carried out by the Kurds and their international supporters. And Kurdish associations face police raids, as can individual homes.
Accusations of using banned symbols have been used to prosecute former MP Michel Brandt. Included in the evidence against him were pictures he had posted on Facebook of a demonstration outside the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he had spoken out against Turkey’s attacks on Rojava.
A Kurdish activist on trial in Koblenz as an alleged PKK organiser, has been held in solitary confinement. A recent report on his ongoing trial commented, “On the one hand it became clear how closely the German security authorities monitor politically engaged Kurds, and on the other hand how arbitrarily and superficially the information collected is interpreted.” Questions have been raised about other trials, too.
The arrest of leading Kurdish activist, Tahir Köcer, in December made him the tenth Kurdish activist currently in custody or detention in Germany.
A Kurdish activist, who had been given political asylum in Switzerland to escape a prison sentence in Turkey, was arrested when on a visit to Germany, in compliance with a Turkish Europol request. His “crime” was working with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Official visits between Turkey and Germany have included a visit by Germany’s federal prosecutor, when he met with President Erdoğan as well as with his Turkish counterpart. What was discussed has not been made public.