Berlin – When Deniz goes to the polls in Berlin on September 24, he plans to draw a line through his ballot.
“There is currently no one to vote for,” the 41-year-old taxi driver tells dpa while sipping strong Turkish tea.
Deniz is one of around 1 million eligible voters with Turkish heritage in Germany – a demographic which, according to opinion researchers, is likely to largely abstain in the country’s upcoming federal elections.
“Every Turk was once proud to live in Germany. But in the past few years, a lot has gone wrong,” says Deniz, who would give only his first name.
“This time around, we are expecting a clearly lower turnout of ethnic Turkish voters,” says Joachim Schulte of Data 4U, a polling institute that specializes in researching the opinions of ethnic groups.
“We have noticed a withdrawal back into the community.”
Schulte notes that the consumption of Turkish media among Turks in Germany has risen from 80 per cent to around 90 per cent over the past year.
Naturally it is problematic
This trend is problematic for German politicians, who are up against pro-government media outlets in Turkey that propagate the idea that Germany is hostile to the estimated 3 million people of Turkish heritage who live there.
Headlines in Turkish newspapers have repeatedly compared Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government to Nazis due to Berlin’s decision to ban Turkish ministers from campaigning on German soil ahead of Turkey’s controversial constitutional referendum in April.
Turkey’s jailing of German nationals – including journalist Deniz Yucel and human rights activist Peter Steudtner – has further soured relations between Berlin and Ankara.
Meanwhile, charges by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Germany is providing shelter to Kurdish terrorists and those elements who supported the July 2016 coup attempt have also fallen on fertile ground among already-alienated German-Turkish voters.
On Friday, Erdogan called on Turks living in Germany not to vote for the three main parties – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, her centre-left Social Democrat coalition partners and the Greens – calling them “enemies of Turkey.”
“Naturally it is problematic, since the political debates in Germany are only perceived through the filter of the Turkish press,” says Gokay Sofuoglu, national chairman of the Turkish Community of Germany.
“It is never positive when the press presents slanted reports or pursues a certain political agenda.”
A recent survey of 1,000 people conducted by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats, which is close to Erdogan’s national-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), showed 15 per cent saying they would not vote at all in the German elections.
Forty-one per cent either gave no answer or said they were undecided.
The SPD and environmentalist Greens have the most to lose if turnout among Germany’s largest ethnic minority drops.
These parties have previously appealed to Turks by stressing the advantages of migration and steadfastly backing measures to combat discrimination.
Integration is not a one-way street
Cansel Kiziltepe, an SPD candidate campaigning to keep her seat in Berlin’s multicultural Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg constituency, has implored everyone in her area to vote.
“You are here, you live here. Exercise your right and vote. Because the federal elections will have a tangible impact on your life.”
She tells dpa that the alienation of Turkish voters is as much to do with developments at home in Germany.
Those turning their backs on mainstream German politics “are in some ways right, because, in the time that they’ve lived here, over decades, they have not got the respect and recognition that is in fact essential.”
Stigmatization in the jobs and housing markets and negative stereotypes of the Turkish community in German media have contributed to the trend, she says.
For Kiziltepe, the daughter of Turkish guest workers, “integration is not a one-way street. We all have work to do.”
Deniz’s main concerns going into the election do not include integration – an issue which he thinks is given more attention than necessary.
“I love the Germans … I live here, I have neighbours here. We actually have great relations with one another,” Deniz says, noting that most people in his community are engaged citizens who speak fluent German.
His demands of German politicians are universal: He worries about the long waiting lists for getting his son a place in preschool and lambastes the corruption that turned plans to open a new airport in the capital into a national embarrassment.
One specific concern, however, is closely linked to his migrant heritage. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has been accused of whipping up anti-foreigner sentiment, looks set to enter federal parliament for the first time next month.
“There is potential in Germany for a new wave of extremism,” Deniz says. “And that terrifies me.”