- Merkel has used stronger language to denounce a Nazi slur directed at Germany by Turkish President Erdogan.
- She criticized Erdogan’s Turkey for its crackdown on freedom of speech.
- Merkel has rejected calls for banning Erdogan or his associates from campaigning in Germany for Turkey’s presidential republic referendum.
- Neighboring Austria, however, has banned Turkish referendum campaign events.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has used strong language condemn comments by Turkish President Recep Erdogan in which he accused Germany of “Nazism”.
The remarks from Merkel herself came after earlier on Monday her spokesman Steffen Seibert used a somewhat milder tone urging calm in the German-Turkish diplomatic spat despite calling Erdogan’s comments “absurd”.
On Sunday, Erdogan accused Germany of “Nazi practices” because several German cities decided to ban campaign events of government ministers from his Justice and Development Party (AKP) for an upcoming referendum in Turkey, which is likely to turn the country into a presidential republic.
At least three million ethnic Turks live in Germany, and at least half of those hold Turkish citizenship, and are eligible to vote in Erdogan’s referendum. Relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey have gone downhill since in 2016 the former recognized the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire.
German Chancellor Merkel reacted publicly on Turkish President Erdogan’s accusations during a business forum in Berlin.
“One cannot even comment on such utterances, they are not justifiable,” Merkel declared, as cited by CNN.
“Comparisons with Nazis always just lead to one thing – to belittle those crimes,” she said, in effect echoing the point made earlier by her spokesperson Steffen Seibert, who was the first to react to Erdogan’s Nazism comments on behalf of the German Chancellor’s office.
“We reject the policy identification of the democratic Germany with that of National Socialism. National Socialist comparisons are absurd and not acceptable,” Seibert said at a press conference hours before Merkel spoke out on the issue.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Erdogan had hurled accusations, and even threats at Germany.
“Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past,” Erdogan declared at a women‘s rally in Istanbul, adding, “You will lecture us about democracy and then you will not let this country’s ministers speak there.“
“If I want to, I will come to Germany. If you don’t let me in or if you don’t let me speak, I will make the whole world rise up,” he even threatened.
His tirade came after the southern German town of Gaggenau prevented Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag from campaigning there in favor of a “yes” vote, and the city of Cologne in Western Germany and its suburb Frechen also blocked an event where Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was supposed to campaign.
Largely keeping her diplomatic tone, however, German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself did subject Erdogan’s Turkey to criticism over the state of its democracy and freedom of speech
“There are profound differences of points of view between Germany and Turkey on the state of liberty of the press and opinion in Turkey, on the destiny of many more than a hundred journalists in prison – also the destiny of our compatriot, the journalist Deniz Yücel,” Merkel declared, as cited by Euronews.
She referred to the case of Deniz Yucel, German journalist of Turkish origin working as a correspondent of the leading German daily Die Welt (“The World”).
Yucel faces charges of “supporting terrorism”, and could be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison.
Last Friday, Turkish President Erdogan personally accused Yucel of being a “German agent” and of having ties to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which uses violence to fight for the autonomy or independence of the Kurdish-populated regions in Southwest Turkey.
Chancellor Merkel, however, has rejected calls for banning Erdogan or his associates from holding campaign events in Germany, arguing that Germany remained dedicated to freedom of expression.
Her approach is markedly different from that of its German-speaking EU neighbor Austria which has decided that allowing Erdogan’s campaign events for the Turkish constitutional referendum would be harmful to the integration of Turks living in Austria.
“Our Austrian solution should be clear: we will not accept any campaign appearances by Turkish politicians in Austria,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, said as he arrived at a meeting of European Union counterparts in Brussels, as cited by AP.
“We don’t want campaigns from other states to be brought to Austria and conflicts from other countries imported … that is always damaging for integration,” he added.
On Sunday, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern even proposed an EU-wide ban on campaigning for the Turkish referendum in order to protect individual member states from President Erdogan’s drive to win over Turkish expats.
German Chancellor Merkel and Turkish President Erdogan last met in early February 2017 in Turkey, when Erdogan scolded Merkel for using the phrase “Islamist terrorism”.
German-Turkish relations have been deteriorating steadily since last year the German Parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire during and after the First World War.
This was followed by tensions after the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey after which Erdogan cracked down on opponents and the media drawing criticism from across the European Union, including Germany. The Turkish leadership, however, accused Germany of failing to condemn the organizers of the coup.
Recept Erdogan served as Prime Minister of Turkey for three terms from 2003 until 2014, before getting elected to the Presidency, which under the country’s present constitution is largely ceremonial.
However, Erdogan has remained the leading Turkish politician based on his informal influence and public popularity. His powers will be expanded greatly, if the Turkish voters approve the transition to a presidential republic in the April 16 referendum.