German leaders tackle ‘difficult’ visit from Turkey’s Erdogan

German leaders host Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks Friday, in a highly controversial visit made more explosive by Erdogan's branding of Israel as a "terror state".

Erdogan and Scholz
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan (r), President of Turkey, meet for bilateral talks at the NATO summit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Erdogan has been increasingly critical of Israel’s war against Gaza-rulers Hamas, triggered after the Islamist gunmen’s deadly attack on October 7th that Israel said killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

While Chancellor Olaf Scholz travelled to Israel to offer Germany’s unconditional and unwavering support after the Hamas attack, Erdogan has doubled down on his defence of the Islamists as “liberators” fighting for their land.

The Turkish leader has accused Israel of committing war crimes with its bombardment and ground incursion in Gaza, where the death toll has mounted past 11,000. These numbers are mostly civilians, including thousands of children, according to Hamas-run health authorities in the territory, whose figures are deemed credible by the UN.

Erdogan’s stance has sparked questions in Germany about the wisdom of hosting the Turkish leader at this time, with the opposition conservatives and even the liberal FDP, a member of Scholz’s coalition, urging Scholz to scrap the invitation.

READ ALSO: Germany criticised at UN over Gaza war stance

But the centre-left-led government said it was all the more important to keep talking in the toughest of times.

“We have always had difficult partners whom we have to deal with,” said Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit, acknowledging that it is a visit “that will be challenging given the current circumstances”.

“But it’s not just about telling each other what we think, it’s about moving forward on numerous issues… and for that, we need these talks.”

‘Uncomfortable partner’

Characterised as an “uncomfortable partner” by Scholz’s spokesman, Erdogan will be making his first visit to Germany since 2020, when he attended a conference on Libya in Berlin.

Scholz gave a hint of the tone at the upcoming talks as he slapped down a recent “fascism” accusation against Israel by Erdogan as “absurd”.

Yet the Turkish leader ramped up his verbal attacks against Israel this week, calling it a “terror state” and alleging the West was “trying to exonerate the murderers”.

The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Germany offered the “ideal stage” for Erdogan to position himself as a voice for the “global south”.

“As the loudest critic of Israel, he is underlining his demand for leadership of the Islamic world,” said the daily.

Another issue that Erdogan may raise is Turkey’s hopes to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, which, according to Turkey’s defence ministry, co-manufacturer Germany opposes.

Ties between the two countries have always been uneasy, with Berlin critical of Erdogan’s clampdown on domestic dissent while recognising that getting regional power Turkey onside was necessary to tackle thorny issues.

From mediating to get grain shipments out of Ukraine amid Russia’s war to negotiating a key deal on alleviating the 2015-2016 migrant influx in Europe, the NATO member remains a crucial player.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey,

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, meets Federal Chancellor Scholz during bilateral talks at the G20 summit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Germany is also home to the biggest Turkish diaspora abroad, and a majority of the Turkish community in the country are supporters of Erdogan, including former German international footballer Mesut Ozil.

But Erdogan’s strident criticism of Israel sets him awkwardly against Germany, which has made the existence of Israel unconditional given its responsibilities over the Holocaust.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Erdogan did not deserve to be trusted.

“Anyone who not only denies Israel’s right to exist but also actively fights against it should not a be a partner for German politicians,” he told newspaper group RND.

Scholz “must use the occasion to make clear to Erdogan that his relativisation of Hamas terror cannot be accepted under any circumstances,” said Schuster.

READ ALSO: Could Germany strip citizenship rights from foreigners over anti-Semitism?

Calling Erdogan’s accusations against Israel “completely unacceptable”, Michael Roth, who heads the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, also said the Turkish leader “not only puts a strain on the relations between Germany and Turkey, but above all he is a burden for his own country”.

Yet Roth, who like Scholz is a Social Democrat, said he was in favour of the visit, which will include a meeting between with President Frank Walter Steinmeier before Erdogan sits down for dinner with the chancellor.

The discussions must be with “little fuss and little gloss but a lot of plain language,” said Roth.

Member comments

  1. Just one correction- when discussing Hamas’ Massacare on October 7th- These are not “Isalmist gunnman” These are Islamist Terrorists. Language does matters when discussing this

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Erdogan to attend Euro 2024 match in Berlin as diplomatic row spirals

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be in Germany for his country's Euro 2024 quarter-final on Saturday, the presidency told AFP, as Ankara and Berlin trade barbs over a Turkish footballer's celebratory gesture.

Erdogan to attend Euro 2024 match in Berlin as diplomatic row spirals

Germany summoned Turkey’s ambassador in Berlin on Thursday morning amid a spiralling diplomatic row which erupted after Turkish footballer Merih Demiral made an alleged ultra-nationalist hand sign during his team’s win over Austria.

In a tweet announcing the move the German foreign ministry said that “as the host of Euro 2024 we want sport to bring people together”.

A day earlier Turkey had summoned the German envoy in Ankara.

After scoring his second goal in Turkey’s 2-1 victory over Austria on Tuesday Demiral made a gesture associated with Turkish ultra-nationalist group Grey Wolves.

His action prompted UEFA to launch a probe for “inappropriate behaviour”, and sparked condemnation from German leaders, but Ankara immediately branded Berlin’s reaction as “xenophobia”.

READ ALSO: Belief returns for Kroos and Germany before Euro 2024 Spain showdown

Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser warned “the symbols of Turkish right-wing extremists have no place in our stadiums” and said that “using the European football championships as a platform for racism is completely unacceptable”.

While Erdogan himself has not yet weighed in on the row directly, several ministers and the spokesman of his ruling AKP party have condemned Faeser’s reaction.

Accusing German authorities of “xenophobia”, Turkey’s foreign ministry pointed out that Germany’s domestic intelligence service had emphasised in its report “not every person making the grey wolf sign can be described as a far-right extremist.

“We condemn the politically motivated reactions to the use of a historical and cultural symbol in a way that does not target anyone during the celebration at a sports event,” it added.

‘No hidden message’

The Grey Wolves is regarded as the militant wing of Turkey’s Movement Party (MHP) and has been banned in France and Austria, but not in Germany.

The group advocated radical ideas and used violence in the 1980s against leftist activists and ethnic minorities.

Speaking after the game in Leipzig, Demiral said there was no “hidden message” in his celebration.

“The way I celebrated had something to do with my Turkish identity,” said Demiral, who was man of the match after scoring both Turkey’s goals.

“We are all Turks, I am very proud to be Turkish and that is the meaning of this gesture.”

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: AP Photo/Michael Varaklas

The defender said he saw Turkish supporters in the stands using the salute.

“I just wanted to demonstrate how happy I am and how proud I am,” Demiral said, adding that he hoped there would be “even more opportunities to show this gesture.”

READ ALSO: How (and where) to watch Euro 2024 games in Germany this week

Germany is home to the biggest Turkish diaspora abroad, and Turkey’s quarter-final clash with the Netherlands at the Olympiastadion will be keenly followed by the community in Berlin.

Ties between the two countries have always been uneasy, with Berlin critical of Erdogan’s clampdown on domestic dissent while recognising that getting regional power Turkey onside was necessary to tackle thorny issues.