“In times of elections, people from Turkey who live in Europe experience the [political] tension in Turkey in the same, and in fact in a deeper way, than the tension experienced in their motherland,” said Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute at İstanbul Bilgi University.
In the presidential election to be held in August, Turkey, a parliamentary democracy, will for the first time elect a president by popular vote. Turks living abroad will also vote in the presidential election in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to run.
Candidates who will run for president in the upcoming election are expected to also hold rallies in various European countries where a significant number of the Turkish diaspora lives.
Around four-and-a-half million people from Turkey, around two-and-a-half million of whom are estimated to be eligible to vote, live in various European countries. Germany, where nearly 3 million Turkish people live, is the country that hosts the biggest number of Turks. France comes second with more than 600,000, the Netherlands third with more than 450,000, Austria fourth with around 270,000 and Belgium comes fifth with nearly 200,000.
The political tension, which increased considerably with the Gezi Park protests that broke out at the beginning of last summer, has come to an all-time high since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, when a wide-ranging graft probe was made public on Dec. 17 of last year.
As part of the probe, in which Prime Minister Erdoğan may also be implicated considering a number of audios leaked over the Internet, four former Cabinet ministers had to leave their posts.
Kaya thinks tension may increase among the Turkish diaspora in Europe, as the diaspora will also vote in the presidential election. “It is only natural to expect that the diaspora of an already divided and polarized society would be even more divided and polarized,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
During the Gezi Park protests, which — although they began out of environmentalist concerns — quickly turned into anti-government protests that spread all over the country, Erdoğan used insulting and discriminative language towards protesters. During the protests, six people lost their lives due to a violent police crackdown, while some were seriously injured. Erdoğan called protesters who took to the streets “looters.”
Some time after the graft probe broke, as leaked audio recordings, if genuine, revealed that Prime Minister Erdoğan was also involved in corruption, main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced that he would no longer call Erdoğan prime minister, but “başçalan,” head of the thieves. Erdoğan, who dismissed accusations against himself and some former members of the government as baseless, has claimed that the corruption probe is a plot against the government.
European diplomats in Ankara — from countries that host a significant number of Turkish immigrants — have also expressed their concern, on condition of anonymity, that Turkey’s domestic political tension may be exported to their own countries on the eve of the presidential election in Turkey.
Kaya of İstanbul Bilgi University has the impression that the ruling AK Party has been making efforts, the same way some nationalists figures did to various groups in the diaspora before the presidential election of 2007, to organize the Turkish diaspora in Europe under the Union of European Turkish Democrats, whose headquarters are in Germany. Concerned that such a step could further provoke polarization among the Turkish diaspora, Kaya said, “This time, the tension may emerge on the divergence between seculars and Islamists and between Sunnis and Alevis instead of between Turks and Kurds.”
The presidential election will be held on Aug. 10. If no candidate manages to receive more than half the votes, the two candidates with the highest number of votes will compete in a runoff to be held on Aug. 24, and the candidate who receives the most votes will become president. Turkish citizens abroad are likely to cast their votes between July 31 and Aug. 3 at Turkish consulates and embassies.
In contrast, Faruk Şen, president of the Turkish-German Foundation for Education and Scientific Research (TAVAK), is not all that pessimistic. Şen, who does not think any kind of violence should be expected among the Turkish diaspora due to the presidential race in Turkey, has told Sunday’s Zaman: “Turks living abroad did not resort to violence even when the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] attacked Turkish ambassadors.” At the end of 2012, the government launched a settlement process with the jailed leader of the PKK aimed at resolving the country’s Kurdish issue and terrorism problem.