Turks Press Germany For Citizen Rights, Police Protection


SINCE the arson attack that killed five Turks in the west German town of Solingen last weekend, "I get shivers up and down my spine," says Jasemin Karakasoglu.

"I live in an apartment house with other foreigners" that is easily recognizable as such to anyone who might observe the house, the Turkish woman explains anxiously. "I live on the top floor..." she trails off, an obvious reference to the Solingen blaze that had been set in the staircase, blocking the escape route.

The Solingen murders, thought by officials to have a right extremist motivation, have awakened fear, rage, and despair in the 1.7 million Turks in Germany, by far the country's largest minority. Five hate crimes occur per day in Germany.

Yesterday, the federal prosecutor's office announced that the arson may have been committed solely by a 16-year-old, now in police custody. On June 1, the office sent out descriptions of four suspected accomplices, but later withdrew them after discovering that the youth had falsely implicated those people.

Five days after the deaths, Turks were still holding a vigil outside the charred house, demonstrating throughout Germany, and demanding more police protection. "We thought that after Molln [the German town where three Turks died last November in a neo-Nazi firebombing], the extremist murders would stop. But nothing has changed," says Ms. Karakasoglu, who works at the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen.

Turkish extremist groups and young German anarchists have also rioted in Solingen, rampaging through the downtown area and smashing windows in stores, banks, and restaurants. In a joint statement issued June 1, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and interim leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Johannes Rau, warned against vigilante justice. "We must prevent injustice causing more injustice," they said.

The police reported that Solingen, after two nights of rioting, saw only minor unrest Tuesday night. But law enforcement officials are still wary of the 35,000 Turks in Germany who belong to extremist groups and who could be out for revenge.

Both the Molln and Solingen firebombings have left Turks feeling vulnerable. They are demanding more protection, such as police being assigned to regular beats in Turkish areas.

"You can't protect every Turk in Germany," admits Halit Celikbudak, a journalist at Hurriyet International, the largest Turkish newspaper in Germany. The Germans can, however, hand out harsher sentences to convicted neo-Nazis and extremist skinheads, he says, and treat the Turkish murders as genocide, which carries an automatic sentence of life imprisonment.

The Solingen case has also reignited the debate of Germany's immigration and naturalization policy. For the most part, German citizenship is granted only to people of German ancestry.

But considering that Turks have lived in Germany for 30-plus years, with new generations being born and raised here, Turks are demanding dual citizenship (Turkish and German) and the right to vote in local elections. Their demands are backed by some key German politicians and the Turkish government.

Last week, before the Solingen incident, Chancellor Kohl suggested that Turks and other foreigners born in Germany be granted dual citizenship for a period of five years, after which they must choose one or the other. Turks say that suggestion would be insufficient.

Kohl is also under fire for not attending the funeral service of the Solingen victims planned for today in a Cologne mosque. Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters, and President Richard von Weizsacker will be present.

Meanwhile, an extraordinary meeting of the Bundestag's interior committee has been called for tomorrow to take up the issues surrounding Solingen. Lawmakers are also pushing to pass legislation awarding compensation to foreign victims of hate crimes in Germany before the parliament recesses for its summer break.

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