The Germans in Turkey

Cem Şentürk
Türkiye Araştırmalar Merkezi

As in many West European countries, immigrants in Germany and their adaptation to society is one of the constant issues in German politics. If Germany is taken as the focal point, the Turks, forming the largest immigrant group with a population of 2.6 million, have a consistent place in the middle of the discussion.
Besides the arguments brought forward by the parties involved, the governments and the immigrants, and the steps taken, lately, with the increase in their numbers, the Germans living in Turkey are becoming another party.
The Germans in Turkey, an estimated fifty thousand in number, are made up of different groups. The main groups are comprised of Germans who moved to Turkey with their Turkish spouses; those who came for employment; retirees who came as tourists and bought properties on the coastline; and long-term tourists, who spend most of the year in Turkey.

The German community in Turkey, rapidly increasing in number in the last two decades, has roots going back a long time. The officials and the artisans sent to Istanbul during the close relations with the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II formed the so-called Bosphorus Germans. The Germans in this group returned home after the First World War, and during the 1920s some of the Germans who had converted to Islam formed a small community around Berlin, and played a major role in the spread of Islam in the period between the two world wars.

In 1933, the coming to power of the National Socialists caused the second wave of immigration from Germany to Turkey. The majority of the Germans escaping from the oppression was made up of world-famous intellectuals. People escaping to Turkey were assigned to universities. It has been reported that the number of these “exiled Germans” reached 800, concentrated in Istanbul and Ankara .

Some of the scientists who played a major part in the academic traditions is Ernst Hirsch, who played a major role in the establishment of the Istanbul Law School and the preparation of the Turkish Trade Law; Fritz Neumark, who prepared the Turkish Income Tax Law; Paul Hindemith, who re-established the conservatories in Turkey; and Bruno Taut, who designed the building of the National Assembly. Among the hundreds of important names in art, science and politics, one of the foremost was Ernst Reuter, who came to Turkey by invitation of Ataturk. Reuter, who returned to Germany after the war, would become the first mayor to rule Berlin (as head of state).

After the return of the exiled, other than some individuals, no major movement can be seen. Along with the labor agreement between Germany and Turkey in 1961, the present diplomatic, military and economic relations add another social-cultural dimension. In addition to the Germans that move because of their marriage to Turks, Turkey with its natural beauty, climate and with its comparably cheap cost of living becomes an attractive alternative retirees and for those who wish to live abroad. Moreover, because of its geographic location, its rapidly growing market and its demographic dynamism, Turkey becomes attractive to many German multinational companies. The companies employ Germans in their management. To name a few, Bosch, Siemens, Mercedes Benz, MAN, and Volkswagen can be listed among large German companies establishing themselves in Turkey.

Germans living in Turkey are concentrated among the Mediterranean coastline, and in western cities as Istanbul and Izmir. The district of Alanya, in the city of Antalya, where the German population is concentrated, is known by the punning name of with a small letter play as Al‘m’anya. In Turkey today there are close to 10 newspapers published in German.

One of the weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly newspapers, the “Deutsche Turkei Zeitung – Prima Turkei” has a print run of 10,500 copies during winter and up to 18,000 during summer months, and addresses the Germans living around Alanya. While some of the newspapers in German are distributed to parishes through churches, Istanbul Post and Aktuelle Turkei Rindschau are published by German publishers. Istanbul Post is published on the internet.

Albeit small in number in comparison to the number of Turks in Germany, the German community in Turkey is much more institutionalized. Besides the Goethe Institutes in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, numerous German foundations with connections to political parties are active. In addition to these, public institutions addressing the Germans in Turkey, such as Die Brucke (The Bridge), have been active since the early 1990s. This organization, open to anyone who speaks German, brings people with ties to Turkey, whether these be personal or business, together.

This organization has its headquarters in Istanbul and concentrates on improving the living conditions (in bureaucratic terms) of foreigners, especially Germans. Considering itself a consulting authority, the organization is striving to establish a Turk-German lobby, and to implement a project for the German education of children growing up in both languages. In addition to establishing educational institutions in the German language in Istanbul and Ankara, Die Brucke is in process of seeing its project to establish a private university, Istanbul Bati University, with the language of instruction being in German, come to fruition.

Turkey, as a source country for migration, along with its inheritance from a multinational empire, provides a comfortable social environment for foreign nationals. This thesis can be better understood if one considers that the Germans, although the majority are not able to speak Turkish, neither encounter any social exclusion nor any expectation for them to adapt socially, particularly those living in and around Alanya. But because Turkey is a migrant giving rather than receiving country, the legal statutes put into effect at the time of the foundation of the nation state haven’t been revised, thus creating difficulties for citizens of other countries in obtaining residency and work permits.

Strict legal restrictions on buying property in Turkey, one of the basic complaints of foreigners residing in Turkey, has been mitigated by the legal revisions in 2003 and 2006. Following the recent changes, foreign nationals residing in Turkey can purchase property up to 2.5 hectare. This can be increased by a decree of the Cabinet Counsel to 30 hectare. Such properties can be purchased for private or business use, and cannot be in the military and security zones, and the land purchased should not exceed one thousandth of the city area. Also, the home country of the foreign purchaser should allow Turkish citizens to buy property there.

The documents and procedures for purchasing property is not much different than for a Turkish citizen buying property; only an additional fee, for determining if the property is located within the military zones, is requested. With these recent changes, the major cause for complaint of Germans living in Turkey has started to cool down.

As of April 2005, of the 49,567 immovable properties owned by foreigners, 41,413 belonged to German nationals. 2,967 of these properties have been purchased after the revisions of 2003. The revisions made in the second half of 2005 and in 2006 have not yet been reflected in the statistics. According to Land Registry Department data, across the nation German nationals own 7,865,611 square meters of land. Of these, 3,157,889 square meters were obtained during the period of July 2003 – April 2005. In terms of area, following the Syrians, Germans form the second biggest group of foreign nationals owning immovable property in Turkey. In terms of units, they also are second with 12,508 units, following Greek nationals with 14,340 units.
In Turkey today there are close to 10 newspapers published in German.

Another subject of complaint of foreigners living in Turkey has been the difficulties encountered in obtaining work and residency permits, and the limits imposed on these permits. With the revisions of the Turkish Foreigner Law of 2003, some professions previously restricted to Turkish nationals have been opened to foreign nationals as well.

Again, in accordance with the same regulation, work permits once given to businesses will be issued directly to individuals, once the requirement of a certain period of time passed in Turkey has been satisfied. In spite of this, the requested 5 year legal residency requirement for the acquisition of work permits for family members of foreign nationals seems to be a transitory requirement of a more liberal statute to be put into effect. The work permits for certain geographic areas and certain professions granted by the law to foreign nationals who resided in Turkey for a total of eight years and worked for 6 years is an important step. The number of foreign nationals working in Turkey is unknown. No improvement in regulations and fees for the residency permits, seen by foreign nationals as a major issue, have been made. Unlimited residency for foreign nationals has not yet been institutionalized.

Residency permits for foreign nationals in Turkey are limited to a maximum of five years. At the end of this period, a new application for residency is required. To limit residency for people who have unlimited work permits makes the reforms meaningless.

Naturally, for c. 20 families, who were granted Turkish citizenship, obtaining residency and work permits is not a problem. In spite of this, because of the hard stand of German laws against dual citizenship, Germans living in Turkey hesitate to accept Turkish citizenship. Many European citizens were able to keep their original citizenship while being granted citizenship in Turkey, which recognizes dual citizenship, but Germans, fearing the loss of their German citizenship, do not agree to this.

The number of Germans living in Turkey is increasing as the political and economical relations between the two countries and nations improve. This increase, which we can predict will be enhanced by Turkey’s accession to membership in the European Union, looks like a concentration of an issue which will be played out in the diplomatic field in the upcoming years. Turkey’s development, parallel to the process of its joining the EU, is creating serious attraction to the country, and, as it happened with other South Mediterranean countries, immigration seems poised to become one of the items on the political agenda in the near future.

Turkey, with the enforced reforms made to comply with the membership process, seems to be prepared for the days to come. Taking the steps necessary to satisfy the needs of foreign nationals (especially regarding residency permits) will surely elevate the nation’s prestige. In addition, considering its citizen living abroad and the Turkish immigrants living within its borders, both groups of whom have some part of both countries in them, Germany’s consent to dual citizenship would encourage living abroad in both countries, something which is already a fact for the Turks living in Germany and the Germans living in Turkey. Isn’t this the meaning of the European Union?
(May 2006, 20th Issue)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07