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22 Jul, 2017 14:44

German FM tells Turkish nationals ‘You belong here with us,’ amid tensions with Ankara

German FM tells Turkish nationals ‘You belong here with us,’ amid tensions with Ankara

While German policy towards Turkey will change, it won’t affect Turkish nationals residing in the country, German FM Sigmar Gabriel said, as the rift between the two countries deepens.

When “innocent German citizens are being arrested,” it’s not possible for the German government to “remain without a response,” Gabriel said in an open letter, published both in German and Turkish in Bild.

Germany’s policies towards Turkey will therefore change, he wrote, reiterating his previous statement. The policy change, however, will not affect the Turkish nationals residing in Germany.

“We will re-examine our cooperation and especially the economic aid to Turkey,” the letter reads.

“However difficult the political relations between Germany and Turkey, one thing is clear: you, people of Turkish roots in Germany, belong here with us, whether you have a German passport or not.”

Gabriel also noted that despite the row, Germany is “homeland” to many Turks and that Berlin has always been “committed to good relations with Turkey because we know that a good relationship between Germany and Turkey is important to you [Turks in Germany].”

The new dip in already strained German-Turkish relations followed the arrest of German human rights activist Peter Steudtner; charged by Turkish authorities with supporting a “terrorist organization.” Berlin condemned Ankara’s actions and has called for the activist’s release, while threatening a review of its policy towards Turkey.

“We cannot continue on as before,” a statement by the Foreign Ministry cited Gabriel as saying. “We have to be clearer than before, so the authorities in Ankara understand that their policies are not without consequences.”

It’s not the first time Ankara has detained a German citizen over “terrorists support” allegations. In February, Die Welt’s reporter Deniz Yucel was arrested on similar charges, also prompting outrage in Berlin and escalating tensions between Germany and Turkey.

Bilateral relations between the two countries have been turbulent following last year’s botched coup in Turkey. Ankara has accused Berlin of harboring the alleged plotters and supporters of the elusive US-based cleric Fethulla Gulen, identified by Turkey as the mastermind behind the coup attempt.

Gulen has firmly denied the allegations. Germany, in turn, accused Ankara of violating human rights and suppressing opposition during the massive purge which followed the failed coup.

Simmering tensions have reached boiling point several times since then, spilling over when the German parliament, in 2016, termed the early 20th century massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.” Ankara responded by barring German MPs from visiting troops stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base.

Turkey again denied German legislators entry to the base earlier this year. This time after after Berlin granted asylum to several Turkish military officers who were accused of being coup supporters. Tensions over Incirlik ultimately led to Berlin’s decision to relocate German troops from the base to Jordan.

Earlier this month, German MPs were again stopped from visiting troops at another Turkish NATO airbase in Konya. Turkey cited dismal bilateral relations as a reason for cancelling the scheduled visit. The move was branded as “awkward” by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who emphasized that German lawmakers should be allowed to visit the base without any preconditions.