Kurds living in Germany or Germans with Kurdish ancestors quickly come into conflict with the police and judiciary in Germany. Especially if they are politically active, campaign for Kurdish issues in Germany or even criticise the Turkish government for its persecution and oppression of Kurds in Turkey. And anyone who displays symbols of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) or photos of Abdullah Öcalan at demonstrations in Germany gets into trouble with the police, even though the German constitution guarantees freedom of expression. This is because the PKK and also Öcalan himself are regarded as terrorists by the German government.
There are historical reasons for this. There was already cooperation between the former Prussian kingdom and the Ottoman Empire, i.e. the predecessor state of today’s Turkey, in the 18th century. A close political relationship developed as a result. The German Empire and the Ottoman Empire were allies during the First World War. Kemal Atatürk began his political career in Berlin. These close political relations between the German state and the Turkish state still exist today, and there is still close cooperation between the German and Turkish authorities. Because of this, the German authorities pursue and suppress the political activities of Kurds in Germany much more radically than any other European states do.
The German daily newspaper “Frankfurter Rundschau” on 13 January 2023 made public a further variant of the persecution of Kurdish activities by German authorities. It reported that the State Criminal Police Office of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has apparently been trying to pressurise Kurds or Germans with Kurdish ancestors to work as spies for the police. The specific case concerned a young woman of Kurdish origin with German citizenship who lives in the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Oberhausen. Last year, the Frankfurter Rundschau reported, the city administration of Oberhausen confiscated the young woman’s identity card and passport so that she could no longer travel. The reason given was that the young woman had already travelled to Istanbul twice in 2022. The city of Oberhausen suspected that the young woman had visited a PKK youth camp in Istanbul. But the Frankfurter Rundschau reports that there were no PKK youth camps in Istanbul at all.
However, the competent administrative court in the regional capital Düsseldorf has recently ruled that the measure taken by the city of Oberhausen was unlawful. The city of Oberhausen must now return the young woman’s identity card and passport.
But this is not an isolated case. A left-wing member of the German Bundestag Gökay Akbulut, the Frankfurter Rundschau further reports, had asked the Bundestag how many German female citizens had had to hand in their passports in recent years and were no longer allowed to leave the country. The German Federal Police responded to the question giving the number of 131 German citizens who were not allowed to leave the country for the years 2018 to 2022. The number is likely to be even higher, as regional authorities can also confiscate a passport in Germany.
The Frankfurter Rundschau reported that more details have now come to light about the case of the young woman from Oberhausen. The newspaper report said that the State Criminal Police Office in North Rhine-Westphalia had contacted the young woman and her mother some time before. The police office wanted to recruit both women as informants. The aim was apparently to spy on Kurdish organisations.
According to the Frankfurter Rundschau, the mother said that an official from the State Criminal Police Office had told her that two of her daughters were being observed by the police. She said that the officer had hinted that she could be deprived of custody of her daughters. However, she flatly refused to cooperate with the State Criminal Investigation Department and asked the authority not to contact her again.
Then in 2019, the custody authority actually tried to deprive the woman of custody of her daughters, who were still minors at the time. The authority argued that the woman had taken part with her daughters in pro-Kurdish demonstrations calling for the release of the former leader of the outlawed PKK, who was imprisoned in Turkey. The woman was further accused of indoctrinating her daughters with PKK propaganda. The case then came before a family court. The court ruled that the woman would not be deprived of custody of her daughters. But it ordered her to inform her daughters of the background, and the effects of the PKK ban in Germany.
According to what is known about this case so far, there is a connection between the state criminal police office’s recruitment attempt, the attempt to deprive the woman of custody of her daughter and the later confiscation of the passport of one of the daughters by the city of Oberhausen. Bundestag member Akbulut told the Frankfurter Rundschau that she had already been told several times by German citizens of Kurdish origin that the German security authorities had tried to recruit them as police informers. It appears that people in difficult life situations are more likely to be approached by the security authorities, who then apparently threaten them with penalties or make them promises of various kinds. The Frankfurter Rundschau asked the responsible North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of the Interior for a statement, but the ministry did not want to comment.
Since the German authorities cooperate closely with Turkish authorities, one can only assume that Turkish interests are also behind these recruitment attempts. Most of the Kurds living in Germany live here because the Turkish government has made it impossible for them to live safely in Turkey. Both the German constitution and the law of the European Union guarantee people who are persecuted and oppressed in their countries of origin a right to protection and the possibility to build a new life in Germany or another EU member state. The actions of the German security authorities are in sharp contradiction to this constitutional right of protection. Instead of spying on Kurdish organisations in Germany, German authorities and the federal government should use their energies to enforce the rights of Kurdish people in both Turkey and Iran.
Jürgen Klute was a Die Linke (The Left) MEP and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the EP from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Europa.blog.