Dismissing a recent storm of German criticism toward Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has maintained that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks in which he urged Turks living in Germany to maintain their traditions and resist assimilation have been "misunderstood" and have thus led to debates.
In a speech delivered in Cologne earlier this month, Erdoğan said Turks there should learn German but not give up their Turkish identity, highlighting differences between Turkish and German leaders concerning integration. The prime minister also called assimilation a "crime against humanity."
The comments to a huge crowd of some 16,000 people of mainly Turkish descent triggered sharp reactions from Merkel and members of her conservative party, who have long argued that immigrant groups must adapt to the German way of life even if it means abandoning aspects of their native cultures.
During a discussion with members of the Association of the Foreign Press in Germany that was held in Berlin yesterday, Merkel was asked by a Dutch reporter why Erdoğan's remarks had led to such discussion.
"I reckon that what led to discussions was the prime minister's remarks in which he said that 'assimilation is a crime against humanity.' These remarks led to an impression that such things were being experienced in Germany. We have clearly shown that that is not so. There are no efforts here to strip people of their cultural identity. This is against my understanding of having respect for freedom of religion and tolerance." Merkel was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency in response to the question.
Some 2.5 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, more than in any other country in Western Europe. While some are well integrated into German life, others live in separate urban communities, speak only Turkish and stick to old traditions.
Merkel, who opposes Turkey's bid to join the European Union, has made improving integration a priority of her government, bringing a coordinator for the issue into her chancellery and holding regular "summits" with leading immigrant groups.
On Friday Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a key supporter of Merkel, said the meaningful translation of the Turkish word used by Erdoğan should have been "forced assimilation."
"It can't possibly be asserted that forced assimilation is happening in Germany. So the phrase is not directed at us and we ought not to make such a fuss about it," he was quoted as saying by German media.
Erdoğan had said people should not be forced to surrender their culture and identity, "and he is absolutely right," Schaeuble also said.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Şubat 2008, 11:44