Transnational Political Practices of Turkish and Kurdish Organisations in Germany

Seminar Paper, 2008

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Transnational Practices and Their Development in Germany

3. Connections to Home

4. Factors Promoting Transnational Ties .

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

When I was elected to the Bundestag, I was celebrated by the Turkish media as the “Turkish member of the German parliament.” So I had to explain to those of the migrant community who saw the issue that way that I was of Turkish descent. Not more and not less. Had I been a Turkish member of the parliament, I would have been residing in Ankara and not in Bonn or Ludwigsburg. After a while, this point got accepted. However, the next problem of origin for me was just around the corner. Because my father originated from a Circassian village in Turkey, the Turkish-Circassian community in Germany had approached me: “You are Circassian. How come you don’t emphasize that more in public?” Okay, but I don’t speak a single word of Circassian. Through my father I may have some access to another interesting little part of this world, as far as one can talk about it after thirty-four years since my parents have settled down in Germany. (Özdemir 1997, 8)

Cem Özdemir, the first politician of Turkish descent elected to the German Parliament (Bundestag) and since recently head of the Green Party in Germany, wrote about his political experiences in the book “Ich bin ein Inländer” (“I am an Insider”). Because of his Turkish background he was expected to utter his opinions to themes, especially relating to Turkey, he had not been focusing on in his previous political career. Whereas he before concentrated on topics as environmental protection and nuclear disarmament, he was now regarded the political voice of the Turkish community in Germany and expected to comment on Turkish domestic issues. Turkish and Kurdish migrants in Germany with about 2 million persons and 26% of German’s foreign population constitute the biggest fraction of all migrant groups.[1] Since the beginning of Turkish and Kurdish immigrants arriving in Germany as so called guest workers in the 1960s, they have established multiple organisations ranging from totally apolitical associations to the ones with a political focus. The approximate number is estimated at about 1.500 Turkish and Kurdish organizations in the country (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2001, 270).

These organisations can be differentiated between having their focus on immigrant or homeland politics. Whereas immigrant problems on the agenda of an organisation involves politics to improve the situation in the receiving country, such as gaining political, economic and social rights, homeland politics imply the political connections of organisations maintained to the home country in order to affect the domestic or foreign policy (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2001, 262). Although since the 1970s there has been a certain shift from engagement in homeland politics to a stronger political involvement in immigration and German politics in general, Brady mentions that the attempt to influence Turkish politics among the immigrants might have actually increased (see Brady 2004, 49f.). Moreover, Ögelman states that most Turkish and Kurdish organizations in Germany have based their interests on homeland conflicts (see Ögelman 2003, 164). Against this background the paper focuses on the homeland attachments of Turkish and Kurdish political organizations in Germany. It aims to inquire about the forms of homeland ties established and furthermore discusses the reasons for migrants’ mobilisation and participation on homeland political issues. First, I will give an historical overview on the major stages of transnational politcs’ development since the beginning of labour recruitment from Turkey in the 1960s. Then I will go on to describe the transnational ties of Turkish organisations existing in Germany. Due to the high number and the diversity of Turkish organisations in Germany and the importance of the transnational space for the Kurdish movement (see Argun 2001, 125), this paper will particularly focus on the establishment and the ties of Kurdish organisations in Germany.[2] In the third part of this paper I outline the reasons for the establishment of these connections considering Turkey’s and Germany’s influence.

2. Transnational Practices and Their Development in Germany

The concept of transnationalism arose within the last ten years and has reached the centre of attention in migrant research. Basch et al. first defined transnationalism as “the process by which transmigrants, through their daily activities, forge and sustain multi-stranded social, economic, and political relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement, and through which they create transnational social fields that cross national borders’ (Basch et al. 1994, 6). These attachments maintained by migrants to people, traditions and movements can be established in order to pursue political interests. Thus, transnational political practices of organisations, movements and parties can be described as political activities that aim to influence the homeland politics, establish a political system that transgresses national borders, and functions via networks through which members of the diaspora communicate with political actors in the home country (see Koslowski 2001, 1).

The development of transnational political practices of Turkish and Kurdish organisations dates back to the arrival of guest workers in the 1960s. In accordance with the belief that their stay in Germany would be limited and they were to return to their home country soon most migrants generally avoided political organisation and association in the early and mid-1960s. When guest workers organised it mainly served the strengthening of social support. More politicized associations could be found among the labour unions and the student organisations (see Argun 2001, 41). The labour unions as well as the student organisation Almanya Türk Öğrenci Federasyonu (ATÖF), founded in 1962, had established closer links to Turkish politics by the mid-1960s. During this time the homeland ties of organisations were mainly based on the support of parties in Turkey (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2003, 46f.). Beginning in the 1970s the movements and parties from Turkey had started to influence Turkish citizens abroad by promoting their party interests via leaflets and asking for political and economic support. This led to the positioning of Turkish and Kurdish organisations in Germany along party lines which was reflected in the division between right-wing and left-wing parties in the Turkish community in Germany that originated in Turkish politics. With the military coup in 1980 and the prohibition of political parties such tendencies were further promoted through solidarity acts among the Turks and Kurds in Germany supporting the banned leaders (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2001, 267).

In the beginning of the 1980s two different developments could be observed. First of all, the migrants, now realizing that their stay would be permanent, started to include immigrant policies on their organisational agendas. Therefore, their before homeland oriented programmes had been complemented with or even exchanged for issues aiming at a more inclusive German immigration policy (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2003, 46f.). The second change was the organisations’ stronger commitment towards ethnic and religious agendas. Hence, more organisations established measures uniting Turkish migrants under criteria such as common language or origin, for instance Kurdish or Alevi organisations. The latter development has to be seen against the background of the implementation of Kemalist ideology in Turkey at this time that insisted on a unitary understanding of national identity and promoted a stringent form of laicism. The plural Turkish political understandings were once again mirrored in Turkish organisations in Germany (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2003, 49f.).

The formation of Kurdish organisations in Germany coincides with the general tendency of the 1980s to organise along ethnic and religious lines. An increase of PKK supporting activities as well as the founding of the most important Kurdish association Yekitiya Komelên Kurdistan (KOMKAR) date back to 1978 and 1979. The PKK, representing the military wing of the Kurdish movement, was spread out in Europe after 1978 and had been organised in the group’s “Europe Bureau” by 1981. As the name already suggests the bureau served as a branch to manage Kurdish activities around Europe, such as the recruitment of young workers for the PKK’s guerrilla, sending recruited men to training camps in Lebanon, gathering financial support, and spreading the Kurdish idea via published books, newspapers, and handouts (see Argun 2001, 123). Germany among other European states served as a considerable supplier of human resources for the PKK. The group’s recruitment tactics ranged from smuggling of Turks and Kurds into the country up to the taking away of teenagers form Kurdish families in Germany to send them to training camps in Greece and Bekaa Valley. Furthermore, the PKK carried out activities, such as poll taxes, enforced participation in protest marches, or obliged people to purchase the organization’s newspapers, t-shirts etc. in order to raise money for Kurdish activities. The group and its political wing Eniya Rizgarya Netwa Kurdistan (ERNK) were banned in 1993 after two attacks on Turkish businesses (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2003, 61). It is estimated that today about 11.000 Kurds in Germany sympathise with the PKK (see Argun 2001, 124).


[1] see Statistisches Bundesamt. <,templateId=renderPrint.psml> (05.12.08).

[2] There are between 500.000 and 700.000 Kurds in Germany. 90% of them are from Turkey (see Østergaard - Nielsen 2001, 261).

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Transnational Political Practices of Turkish and Kurdish Organisations in Germany
Bilgi University İstanbul  (Bilgi University İstanbul, Institute for European Studies)
Turkish Politics and Foreign Policy
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Transnational, Political, Practices, Turkish, Kurdish, Organisations, Germany, Turkish, Politics, Foreign, Policy
Quote paper
Manuela Paul (Author), 2008, Transnational Political Practices of Turkish and Kurdish Organisations in Germany , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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