Life In Berlin: Countering Assumptions About Turkey’s Referendum

Apr 27, 2017

In Turkey’s recent referendum, 51% of voters were in favor of expanding Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential powers. The narrow margin of victory, combined with repressive tactics by Turkey’s ruling AK party prior to the election, led to two broad implications. First, Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, has called for the referendum to be voided, citing voting irregularities. Second, that is was Turkish expats that swung the vote in Erdogan’s favor.

“I don’t rule out the fact that there could be people in Turkey capable of manipulating the vote, but I also must say that in the past, vote-rigging has never been an issue in Turkey, the reason for that is probably that the ruling AKP Party had tremendous support through all regions of Turkey in the past,” says Hasan Gökkaya, a dual Turkish-German citizen and an editor at the German weekly paper Die Zeit.

“The referendum is over now, but many people don’t know if they should smile, or cry right now.”

Gökkaya has closely covered Germany’s Turkish demographic leading up to the referendum, and was not surprised at the results.

“It wasn’t as if he won 80 to 20%, or even 70 to 30%,” a doctor who wished to remain anonymous told me.

She was raised in Germany. Her Turkish family voted "no" in the referendum, but she anticipated a win for a "yes." Nevertheless, she doesn’t expect the results to severely affect her or her family’s periodic visits.

“I don’t think that it will actually keep me from going there, because I want to meet with my family as well,” she continues.

“The media here in Germany, they always say that most of the Turks here are backing up Erdogan, but I must say, I don’t feel very comfortable with that because I think it’s a very fast conclusion," Hasan Gökkaya tells me.

The editor notes that there is a correlation between strictly religious Turkish expats and support for Erdogan’s party, but that hardly tells the whole story.

“Of course there are also Turkish people here who are not very strict-religious, but they still voted for Erdogan, because I think Erdogan spoke out to a part of the Turkish community here in Germany which still can’t identify themselves with German society.”

Gökkaya saw nationalism play a significant role among the German-Turkish "yes" voters he met.

“I think if they would say now, ‘no’ to Erdogan, it would mean for them something like ‘okay, I give up Turkey, and I stand side-by-side with Germany.’ Then there is the fact that these people don’t feel really welcome here. I think that they are maybe afraid of losing both countries — at the end, staying there with nothing.”