Collective Identity of Turkish Migrants in Germany

Term Paper, 2013

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0




1. Germany and its Turkish Migrants

2. Meaning of Collective Identity

3. Features of Collective Identity of Turkish Migrants




Over 50 years ago, the first so-called 'guest-workers' from Turkey arrived in Germany. Back then, it was neither expected that so many of them would stay and bring their families with them, nor what consequences the unprecedented influx of Turkish migrants would have. Meanwhile, Germany emerged from a guest-worker country in the 60s via a reluctant country of immigration in the 80s and 90s through to a country officially dedicated to immigration in the last decade. It was not until 2004, that Germany acknowledged its de-facto status as country of immigration and that political engagement to integrate migrants was emphasized.[1] The importance of successful integration becomes self-evident when regarding the failures in the past, as highly considered former chancellor Helmut Schmidt criticized: "For a long time, Germans have not grasped the problem of integration. [...]. We haven't done a good job."[2]

Integration is on daily debate now. Fierce violence at the Rütli School in Berlin­Neukölln, which marks the biggest Turkish district outside Turkey, discrimination and disadvantages in daily life testify the huge gap between requests towards immigrants to integrate and at the same time the conditions for them to do so. It further shows that the children of former guest-workers, their children's children have long become a part of our society and must be regarded as such.[3] However, they still feel alien in their own country, it might not be as a foreigners but as strangers. These problems of identity count in particular for Turkish migrants in Germany or people with Turkish migratory background.

With almost 3 million people in 2011[4], they form the biggest migrant group in Germany and are supposed to show the most obvious differences in contrast to a German 'Leitkultur'. Moreover, representing the biggest Muslim community, Turks are often attributed the stamps of strangeness, otherness as well as danger and threat. Nevertheless, this paper will not focus on religion, instead the aim is to illustrate that identity, precisely collective identity, can impossibly be solely manifested in a group's origin and religion, but is significantly influenced by its actual situation.

Therefore, I will first give a brief overview of the relations between Germany and the Turkish migrant group, before turning to the concept of collective identity. Starting from a general perspective, it will then be directed to features of collective identity of Turkish migrants in Germany, including questions whether there has been a transformation of their collective identity and whether the latter can be seen in a context of integration.

1 Germany and its Turkish Migrants

Labour shortage in West Germany during the 50s caused enormous immigration of guest-workers, that can be outlined in three phases. Germany encouraged labour from Turkey by a recruitment treaty in 1961. Within the framework of a 'guest-worker system', the aim was to limit migrants' stay and to prevent permanent settlement. It is worth mentioning, that in contrast to far-reaching restrictions on political participation and exclusions from unemployment pay[5], the enhanced presence of Islam in society was not a problem in this phase. In fact, the German government delegated social assistance functions to the non-governmental social democratic welfare agency 'Arbeiterwohlfahrt' and encouraged in religious practices for Turks and other Muslims by e.g. recruiting religious teachers from Turkey.[6] However, this support needs to be treated ambivalently, as it was strongly conditioned to the "German myth of temporary stay: maintaining homeland culture and religion would make it easier for migrants to reintegrate into their countries of origin."[7]

Against the background of the oil crisis in 1973, the second phase of consolidation and a re-orientation of migration policies started. Facing increasing unemployment, Germany stopped recruitment of foreign labour and expected their guest- workers to leave, instead of becoming a part of society. Non-assimilation (e.g. Turkish girls wearing head scarves in schools) was even seen as a "welcome sign that they were not part of German society"[8]. Despite enforced measures to make migrants depart, family reunions that caused new inflows in the 80s and 90s, long-term settlement and the establishment of network of ethnic businesses were inevitable.

Subsequently, government, education and welfare authorities gradually became aware of their duties, which marks the third phase of regulation of immigration and concepts of integration until today. The guest-workers have not only become immigrants, but also members of society, which counts especially for the generations that followed. Despite enormous immigration in the 80ies and 90ies, the German government did still not admit the status of a country of immigration.[9] It was confronted with upsurge in racist violence and extreme-right mobilization by contrast. As an example, Turkish youth formed self-defence groups to protect their neighbourhoods against skinhead attacks in the early 1990s.[10] It shows how conflicts around difference are among other factors related to spatial segregation, which in turn initially depend on economic conditions. Turkish migrants arriving in Germany in the 60s and 70s naturally were provided or looked for housing around the factories where they were employed, whereas local people avoided accommodating there. As a consequence, minority neighbourhoods, 'Turkish districts', quickly developed and characterize the image of German cities such as Berlin (Neukölln) or Augsburg (Lechhausen) till present day.[11]

Instead of enforcing extensive programmes of integration, the conservative government of the 90s imposed strategies and laws to restrain and hamper immigration to Germany. With the change of government in 1998, there was a paradigm change. The de-facto immigration during the passed years and the status as country of immigration was officially acknowledged with a call for integration programmes and a new immigration law.[12]

Regarding the high number of almost 3 million migrants, adding 1.61 million Turkish foreigners, the Turkish migrant group ranks first place in Germany.[13] Although a major part is indeed born in Germany or even got dual citizenship, Turkish are generally still regarded as homogenous group and strangers. Regardless of whether intended policies of differential exclusion ("welcome as workers, but not as settlers; as individuals, but not as families or communities") or recent engagement in pluralism and multiculturalism, both approaches aimed that immigration was not supposed to lead to social and cultural change. In this manner, Germany has for a long time not pursued the need for sustainable means to integrate migrants, in particular the Turkish migrant group.


[1] cf. Serie„50 Jahre Deutschland" [series: 50 years Germany] ZEIT ONLINE:

[2] Helmut Schmidt; ZEIT ONLINE:

[3] cf. Habermas, J. (2007): Opening up Fortress Europe: Immigration as the Key to European Unity, Social Europe the journal of the European left. Winter 2007.

[4] Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) [Federal Statistical Office (Destatis)]: Bevölkerung nach Migrationshintergrund (2011). [Population according to migration background]: tionshintergrund/Tabellen/MigrationshintergrundStaatsangehoerigkeit.html

[5] cf. Castles, S. & Davidson, A. (2000): Citizenship and migration. Palgrave: Macmillan. p. 54 - 69.

[6] cf. Castles, S. & Davidson, A. (2000): Citizenship and migration. Palgrave,: Macmillan. p. 134 - 138.

[7] ibid. p. 136.

[8] ibid. p. 137.

[9] cf. ibid. p. 54 - 69.

[10] cf. ibid. p. 144 -153.

[11] cf. ibid. p. 76 - 79.

[12] cf. Netzwerk Migration in Europa. Network Migration in Europe e.V.: "IMMIGRATION TO GERMANY"(2008):

[13] cf. Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) [Federal Statistical Office (Destatis)]: Ausländische Bevölkerung (2011) [Foreign populaton]: endischeBevolkerung/Tabellen/Geschlecht.html

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Collective Identity of Turkish Migrants in Germany
Jagiellonian University in Krakow  (European Studies )
Transformation of Collective Identity
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
535 KB
Collective Identity, Turks, Turkish Migrants, Europeanization, Integration, Migration, Migration in Germany
Quote paper
B.A. European Studies Franziska Caesar (Author), 2013, Collective Identity of Turkish Migrants in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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