Police estimates indicate that between 30,000 and 40,000 people attended the pro-Erdogan demonstration.
Published at the Middle East Eye
Stream of red flags flowed towards the river Rhein, overshadowed by the sight of the towering Cologne Dom Cathedral.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 Erdogan supporters came together in Cologne to express solidarity with – what many placards read, “the hero of democracy.”
As the day progressed, the Pro-Erdogan demonstration received little support from inside Cologne, and relied upon buses organised by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) to bring supporters from all over Germany, and as far as Belgium and the UK.
A member of the UETD, who took part in organising the demonstration, said on the condition of anonymity: “We organised a few hundred buses from all over Europe, even from England.”
The perceived support for Erdogan amongst the 1.5 million Turkish immigrants in Germany – the largest minority group in the country, wanes when venturing deeper into the Turkish community spheres.
Upon hearing of the proposed pro-Erdogan demonstration a day before, a Turkish migrant spat on the floor and muttered – “Bastards.”
Ali, a man in his early 40s, sipping a coffee in Cafe Istanbul, said: “Erdogan is a dictator, simple.”
Ali is a second generation immigrant, who has lived most of his life in Germany. Even though amongst themselves they talk freely about politics, it can be dangerous when visiting Turkey – where a misplaced twitter post can land you in prison.
“Erdogan is the leader of terrorists! He supports Daesh, he attacked the Kurds, the Alawites,” added his friend.
“Erdogan has already closed down over 100 media sources,” said one man; the rest nod in silence.
“Of course there are those who support Erdogan, you saw the mass demonstrations in Istanbul. And they are students, people with heads,” Ali raised his eyebrows – “Who knows. Most of the support is within Turkey.”
“Most people around here think like us, but there was little action [after the failed coup] in Kalk [predominantly Turkish are of Cologne], most people are detached from all of it, most are second generation immigrants,” said Ali.
However, the phenomenon of patriotism amongst third generation youths became fervent during the protest on July 31.
16 years old boy from German city Ulm, who identified himself as Ali, said during the protest: “Erdogan made Turkey better. I know, because I see it when I go back every year and drive through the country by car – you can see improvements in every town and village.”
His friends added that about “only 5 percent of our Turkish friends are against Erdogan.”
However, according to UETD member speaking on the condition of anonymity, UETD Youth has only “around 1,000 thousand members across the whole Europe.”
Nearby, a young man getting off a chartered bus from Stuttgart, told MEE that the bus journey to the protest was organised by DITIB -, who was immediately told to be quiet by an elderly woman.
Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) is one of the leading organisations within the Turkish and Muslim communities in Germany. Established in 1984, it now attracts “over 70% of Muslims living in Germany,” according to the official website.
Despite claims of it being an “apolitical organisation,” and “prohibiting any kind of party political activity,” DITIP took an active role in promoting Pro-Erdogan demonstration.
Cem Özdemir, the Germany’s Green Party member and an MP, told reporters earlier this year that DITIB is “is nothing other than the long-arm of the Turkish State.” He added: “Turkish government is making DITIB more to a front-organisation of AKP in Germany.”
In a trendy area of Cologne, where gentrification has been making its mark with craft coffee stores and student nights’ bars, builders are putting finishing touches on DITIB’s biggest mosque.
Inside, Cologne Muslim’s population attend the prayers.
Dursun Atak, a DITIB member, says: ”DITIB itself had nothing to do with the organisation of the protest.”
His colleague, who preferred not to be named, says: “Imams come from Turkey, and the Turkish cultural and religious attaches have informed them over the protest.”
German media reported earlier this year, that 970 Imams trained in Turkey by the Religious Authorities are preaching in Germany’s mosques.
“Of course DITIB publicised the protest an anti-coup, pro-democracy event, which is a universal principal. This doesn’t conflict with the apolitical stance,” he adds.
Atak agrees: “These Imams then chose to speak about the demonstration in mosques, but not necessarily in all of them”
“It can be that some groups within mosques then organised between themselves,” he says.
Gokay Sofuoglu, leader of the organisation Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), told MEE: “DITIB must ask themselves the question, what kind of organisation they are. When they are in talks with the the Turkish government, they lose their credibility as an open religious organisation.”
“Imams come from Turkey, and they get paid from Turkey,” he added.
Dr Susanne Schroeter, director of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam (FFGI), told MEE: “DITIB is an establishment of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Dyanet), which is directly subordinated by President’s ministry. DITIB is structurally, financially, and ideologically dependent on Dyanet.”
“Though UETD and DITIB, Erdogan uses political influence on Turkish citizens in Germany,” she said.
“The inner Turkish conflicts have now reached Germany, and the Turkish voices – that are not pro Erdogan, are intimidated and threatened,” added Dr Susanne Schroeter.
Curtailing the pro-Erdogan stance amongst the Turkish immigrants, are the supporters of the Fethullah Gulen – a once ally of Erdogan, who became the primary target of the post-coup purge, and what many – including Turkish immigrants in Germany, believe to be the figure behind the failed coup.
This week, DITIB opened an internal investigation against an Imam, who praised the attack on Gulen-aligned youth center in Hassel – a city in the same Nordrhein Westfalen region as Cologne. The Imam was heard saying: “I was very pleased. May Allah reward you!”
On Sunday 31, at the mention of Fethullah Gulen, a trembling noise echoed throughout the crowd. “Gulen-movement had its own lawyers, its own people in the police, everywhere,” said Semih Turan, a protester in his early 20s, who came from Aachen.
“But now they shot themselves in the foot,” he added.
“We are here for democracy. Of course some protesters don’t understand that – they think they’re here for Erdogan, but anyway, it stems from the same,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu told CNN Turk in July 28 that “The Berlin government should extradite them [Gulen Supporters].”
Yet, the Gulen-aligned institutions remain operating in Europe and elsewhere.
‘School-Dialogue’ in Cologne makes no attempt to hide its existence – a large, modern block is almost completed adjacent to the old building. Wealthy list of donors and supporters include the EU and Nordrhein Westfalen School Ministry.
“All neighbours keep watch,” said a man in his 50s – “There have been no problems, but we must stay vigilant. I’ll call the police, they’re also around the corner,”
Cologne police spokesman Dorothe Goebel told MEE over email: “I cannot comment [on the neighbour’s claims]. The Police in Koln manifests itself fundamentally [generally], and not through possible safety measures.”
Gokay Sofuoglu, leader of the organisation Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), told MEE: “We have seen two groupings along Religious lines. On one side the Gulen-movement, and AKP (Justice and Development Party) on the other.“
“AKP is attempting to transfer internal Turkish politics to Germany, and therefore the people are increasingly polarised. UETD is a long-arm of AKP in Europe.”
Dr Sussane Schroeter agreed: “The Turkish diaspora in Germany is as polarised, as they are in Turkey.”
“Bridges between people will become more and more important. I think this situation is a good opportunity for discussion within the Turkish community,” said Sofuoglu.
Dr. Tobias Kunstein, the head of Political Science and European Questions Faculty at Koln University, is optimistic: “I think that Turkish people from all political camps choose to live in Germany for a reason. Ultimately, this will supersede or at least conceal the current political cleavages, as it has in the past.
“Turkish history sees a completely new chapter,” added Gokay Sofuoglu.
UETD failed to respond to repeated requests for comments.