Footballers’ photos with Erdogan spark row in Germany

Özil and Gündogan pose with Turkish president reigniting debate about integration

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Arsenal and Germany star Mesut Özil in London. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Arsenal and Germany star Mesut Özil in London. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s national soccer manager Joachim Löw have attacked members of his World Cup team for posing for photographs with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In pictures posted on social media, Germany international Mesut Özil, is seen alongside two other German-Turkish players, Ilkay Gündogan and Cenk Tosun, with Mr Erdogan in a London hotel. In one photograph, published online by the Erdogan campaign, Gündogan presents the Turkish politician with a number 8 jersey with the message “with respect for my president”.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Manchester City’s Ilkay Gündogan in London. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Manchester City’s Ilkay Gündogan in London. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

The photographs have caused uproar as Arsenal star Özil in particular has previously been celebrated as an example of successful integration.

A spokesman for Dr Merkel said the images “raised questions and invited misunderstandings” while Löw, presenting his team for the Russia World Cup on Tuesday, said it was “not a smart move”.

“When you play for Germany you represent the country and German values,” he said.

Germany’s national football association (DFB) head Reinhard Grindel said he had respect for players with migrant heritage, but that soccer and the DFB “stand for values not adequately respected by Mr Erdogan”.

Germany’s federal integration minister accused the men of making a “crooked bow” before the Turkish politician, seeking re-election in snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24th.

Özil and Manchester City midfielder Gündogan were both born in the western German city of Gelsenkirchen, in 1988 and 1990 respectively, while Everton striker Tosun, who plays for the Turkish national side, was born in Germany in 1991.

Failed coup

The row has revived political tensions between Ankara and Berlin, which has forbidden Turkish political rallies in Germany and, since the 2016 failed coup, has attacked mass imprisonment of opposition politicians and journalists, including several people with dual German-Turkish citizenship.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper asked if players of Turkish origin posing with the “autocrat Erdogan” could still be seen as German national players.

“Of course they are, as before, the typical German player without even a spark of political awareness,” it added.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Premier League players Ilkay Gündogan, Mesut Özil and Everton’s Cenk Tosun in London. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Premier League players Ilkay Gündogan, Mesut Özil and Everton’s Cenk Tosun in London. Photograph: Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

The pictures have reignited Germany’s long-running debate about integration – or lack thereof – of Turkish economic migrants, who came to Germany from the 1960s on, as well as their families and children. Current German law obliges children of non-EU citizens to choose when they come of age between German and other citizenship.

Many Turkish-Germans, who complain of being treated as second-class citizens or are annoyed by demands to declare their loyalty to Germany, choose Turkish citizenship.

About 800,000 German citizens have Turkish roots, around 530,000 have dual German and Turkish citizenship while there are 1.5 million people with only Turkish citizenship.

Mr Erdogan and his AKP party are highly popular among Germany’s Turkish community, scoring 11 points more support on average than among Turkish voters at home.

Summarising the row over the footballer photograph and the background, German newsreader Constantin Schreiber, tweeted: “Everything in one image that can go wrong in integration.”