Turkey looks inviting to Turks who lost their welcome abroad
Istanbul, Turkey — Musa Yilmaz pushed his small mountain of bags from the Munich Express still steaming on the tracks of Istanbul's Sirkeci station. Musa was returning to his home in the rural Turkish province of Afyon after two years in Stuttgart, West Germany. As a janitor on commuter trains, he managed to learn only enough German to understand the insults and aspersions cast against him and saved only enough to buy a color television set, although his village still does not have electricity.
''I'm going back to farming again,'' said Musa. ''You don't get rich but at least no one calls you names.''
With unemployment for Turks in West Germany running at around 17 percent, the official 20 percent unemployment in Turkey no longer seems so daunting. More and more of West Germany's estimated 2 million Turks are opting to face economic straits at home rather than in the increasingly hostile climate of the Federal Republic. More than 60,000 repatriated themselves last year, and an even higher number are expected to do so in 1983.
West German-Turkish relations, traditionally friendly, began to go sour when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil price hike in 1973 threw the world into recession. When the German economic miracle was in full swing during the early 1960s, West Germany welcomed immigrants. Foreign laborers did the jobs West Germans were loath to do themselves, such as working in the mines or cleaning the streets. This was the era of the ''Gastarbeiter'' (guest worker).
And Turkey welcomed emigration, notes Prof. Ekmel Zadil of Istanbul University, who was involved in recruiting Turkish workers during the early years.
''The Turkish government actively tried to promote placement abroad for two reasons: (1) it would ease Turkey's own chronic unemployment and underemployment problem, and (2) it would bring in badly needed foreign exchange from the workers' remittances.''
In 1960, there were only slightly more than 2,000 Turkish workers in West Germany, compared with 100,000 Italians. By 1973, the number of Turks had jumped to its peak at 606,000; and Turks formed the largest single non-German working group in the country, topping the 450,000 Italians, the 535,000 Yugoslavs, and the 250,000 Greeks. In 1960, the total number of foreign workers in the West German labor market was 1.3 percent; by 1973, it was a startling 11.8 percent.
Eventually the Turks, like other foreigners, began to bring their wives into the country and raise families. With its expensive social welfare system, West Germany found the influx of new families to support worrisome.
Because of this, and the coming world recession, West Germany terminated the policy of wholesale labor importation. But it still imposed no visa requirements for Turks.
Back in Turkey, there were more than 1 million applicants still waiting for jobs in West Germany. A visit for a cousin's wedding could turn into a five-year stay, and labor traffickers brought in thousands of illegal immigrants.
When West Germany finally passed a law requiring visas for all visiting Turks in 1980, 1 out of every 25 Turks was residing in West Germany, making up the largest group of the country's 4.5 million registered aliens.
But ''there's no way Turkey can reabsorb the expatriate population in one shot,'' said a Western diplomat in Istanbul.
Ironically, many Turkish employers prefer hiring unskilled local labor than a trained returnee. The worker who has spent years in West Germany as a union member is regarded at home as a potential agitator, too specifically trained in a given task to do the jack-of-all-trades tasks expected of a worker in a Turkish factory, and unlikely to accept a low post in the chain of command.
As guest workers return to their native Turkey, they find few job openings. To defuse possible social upheaval, one idea was to rechannel the trained guest workers into the labor-hungry markets of the Middle East, where Turkish construction firms have numerous contracts. But with the falling price of oil and stiff competition from Pakistan, Korea, and the Philippines, the hope of diverting the returning workers to other pastures seems to be a red herring.
Even if there were enough jobs in Turkey for every repatriated worker, many worry that the hard-earned benefits accrued from their time spent in West Germany will be denied them if they pack up and go. Although an agreement allowing for the expatriation of social security funds paid by the workers themselves to the West German government is in effect, West German employers are reportedly trying to buy off the pensions they are obliged to pay to their Turkish employees in lump sums, or denying payment altogether.
But even if most returning Turks are somewhat relieved to leave West Germany, others view the return to Turkey as banishment from the land that has become home.
''We thought it would be good to have the children spend some time in Turkey, but they want to leave,'' said Fikret Uzunlu, now back in Istanbul after 20 years in Gelsenkirchen. ''They have no friends here, they speak much better German than Turkish; they are, in fact, Germans. But now they cannot return to West Germany, because their passports say they are Turks. . . . We now have all the things we wanted when I first went abroad to work: We have a car, stereo, television, good clothes - everything but a home.''