Close your eyes for thirty seconds. Imagine that you have gone to work in a country whose name you have only seen on a map. There are hundreds of laborers like you on the plane, and you haven’t got any idea of the country that you are traveling to.
You can only speak your mother tongue. The biggest location that you have ever seen is the district that your village is in. You are a kind of traditional person who holds on to your customs very deeply. You have left your wife and children behind. Your biggest dream is to earn enough money for a house, a car, and then to save some money and go back to your country.
I don’t know you, but I cannot even imagine myself traveling into such an unknown. That dream led millions of Turkish people to Europe in the 1960s.
Thousands of Turkish people started working in hard jobs, making transcendental efforts. Not knowing even a word of a foreign language and not ever having seen a city in their lives before, most of these people who went abroad have worked in hard and honorable jobs and saved money.
They were laughed at, ignored and mistreated. They were able to keep those hard days, that pain and offense in the depths of their hearts, as a secret, and they were able to manage their lives with little things.
In the country that they immigrated to they were foreigners, and in their own country they were `gurbetçi’, people who had moved away. In their home town they were cheated because they had moved away and had a lot of money. They were seen as money machines. They were the first ones to be applied to when there was an exchange shortage in the country. All the money that they saved was taken and they were lied to and defrauded by tales of cooperative holdings for years.
All the workers that have immigrated to the countries of Europe, mainly Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Denmark, and the generations after them, are at a point where they should be respected in business, education, arts and social life especially after all the misfortunes that they’ve had.
They are criticized for not being a part of the culture that they have been living in for all those years, and also of being conservatives and fundamentalists in the heart Europe. Why does a Turkish citizen who has moved to the USA under same circumstances want to become an American citizen in the first year, but my uncle who has been living in Germany for almost thirty years not want to become a German citizen? Or why does a Turkish immigrant in the USA say proudly that he is “Turkish-Amerikan”, but the same kind of declaration is never made for “Turkish-German” or Turkish-French”?
This is connected with the opportunities that the countries present to their citizens. Having a low percentage of university-educated people, continuing the traditional lifestyles of the village in the city, and not accepting change are not only problems of Turkish people living in Europe. These are problems that exist in Turkey. The percent of people who read regularly in Turkey is only 4.5. It is an injustice to accuse Turkish youth living in Europe of not educating themselves. We have no right to criticize Turks living in Europe while others continue their way of life in Istanbul the same as they did in their villages.
At the moment in Europe there are 94 thousand Turkish contactors, who have invested up to 7.4 billion Euros, who have 451 thousand employers, and there are 51 thousand Turkish students attending European universities as well. These facts show that the fruit of ambition is success, a source of inspiration despite all the difficulties. It is a story of resistance to the spread of nationalist movements and to legal difficulties.
The potential of the Turkish people living in Europe, who have a population of nearly 4 million, is a great advantage to Turkey. They are the young generation which has grown up with no cost to Turkey. They can serve as opportunities to a brighter future for Turkey. If they are correctly used.
I think we need to apologize to the Turkish people in Europe who have been alienated from their own country by the label of `gurbetçi’ for years. Here, I want to say with all my heart that we are sorry for those things that you’ve been faced with and were forced to confront. You deserve more respect than you have had up to now.
(May 2006, 20th Issue, Europe Special Issue)