German Violence Puts Turk Community on Edge

THE Turkish community in Germany, by far the largest group of foreigners here, has been deeply shaken by the deaths yesterday of three Turks killed by neo-Nazi fire-bombs.

Early yesterday morning, two Turkish women and a 10-year-old girl were killed in the fire-bombing of two apartment buildings in the west German town of Molln, near Hamburg. An anonymous caller alerted the police, signing off "Heil Hitler," according to the Associated Press. Nine other people were hospitalized.

The deaths capped one of the worst weekends of extremist violence since the August riots in Rostock.

Late Friday night in a Berlin subway station, a rumble between left- and right-wing extremists ended in three stabbings. One of the victims later died.

The fire bombing of the Turkish apartments shows that rightist extremism is not limited to attacks on asylum seekers, says Fatih Gullapoglu, editor of Hurriyet International, the largest of eight Turkish newspapers in Germany. Mr. Gullapoglu says one of his greatest concerns is that extremist Turkish youths will retaliate for yesterday's deaths, escalating the violence. Turks not exempt

"Now, everyone is afraid," says Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen. Just because the Turks are an established presence in Germany, they are not exempt from racist violence, he says, citing a 1991 case of a Turkish youth beaten to death in Berlin by seven rightist radicals.

Turks first came to West Germany as invited "guest workers" in 1961, filling the labor shortage in German mines, foundries, and automobile plants. Even when Germany stopped the arrangement in 1973, this didn't stanch the flow of Turks into the country, because those already in Germany were allowed to bring family members from Turkey to join them.

Now 1.7 million Turks live in west Germany, mostly in "Turkish ghettos" in the large metropolitan areas. But these are hardly ghettos in the pejorative sense. Economic contribution

According to Mr. Sen, the Turks make a significant contribution to the German economy: 50 billion deutsche marks annually, he estimates. They are also greater consumers than the Germans themselves.

As a percentage, more Turks own stereos, video cassette recorders, and even personal computers than Germans, according to a September poll by TurkMedia in Berlin. While only 7.6 percent of Germans drive a Mercedes Benz, 20.4 percent of Turks do.

Sen says that, on the whole, "most Turks are satisfied with their economic and social situation" in Germany. They are entitled to all the social benefits that Germans receive, for instance, including unemployment benefits, pensions, health care, and free university training.

But the Turks are deeply disturbed by the rising tide of racism here and the fact that they still do not have the right to vote, Sen adds.

Given their economic clout and the fact that they clearly are not about to move back to Turkey (83 percent say they want to stay in Germany), Turks are perplexed that they have no voting rights.

"Even though we live in this country, we have no say over our future," says Nermin Gultas, a second-generation Turk born in Germany.

That is not quite true. In 1991, German law changed to allow foreigners who have been living here for an extended time to apply for German citizenship. But there are strings attached, and it means the relinquishment of citizenship of the previous country - a condition many Turks will not accept.

Even though Ms. Gultas speaks perfect German, wears German clothes, has German friends, has been through the German school system, and is, she admits, "a little Germanized," she does not want to trade her Turkish passport for a German one.

"I feel like a Turk. You can't forget it," says the smartly dressed secretary. Like a third of the Turks in Germany, Gultas still visits Turkey every year. Vote not offered

If the Maastricht Treaty on European unity becomes reality, European Community members living in Germany will be able to vote here. But this does not apply to citizens of Turkey, which is not a member of the EC.

"We want at least the right to vote in local elections," says Sen, adding that this is allowed in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Ireland, and France.

As far as racism in Germany is concerned, Sen cites a poll among east Germans in which Turks are the second most-hated group of foreigners (just below Gypsies) - even though no Turks live in east Germany. "That shows you what a degree of hate there is," he says.

"I'm not afraid of 10,000 rightist radicals, but millions of Germans clap [along with them], and that's what's bad," Sen says.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.