It may be time to remind — or inform — your readers that the Turks were not brought to Germany by wicked slave traders. German ex-pats who found employment in German university departments in the USA contributed to the attitude here by including in some of their first- and second-year language books a chapter or so on the plight of the Turk who was at home neither among his indifferent German colleagues nor for a visit among alienated family and acquaintances.
And the translated article:
Guest Workers — The Art of Misunderstanding
by Necla Kelek
It was not Germany they saved; it was Turkey. Why the first Turkish guest workers came and why they were not victims.
“Every one of our brothers and sisters worked day and night here, to win hearts. They turned every bitterness to honey, they defied every difficulty.” President Tayyip Erdogan said that in 2008 in a speech to Turkish immigrants in Cologne. It was balsam for the souls of his listeners. They were only too glad to hear it.
German politicians, too, are inclined to define the history of worker immigration as one of Turkish victims and German guilt because of exploitation. But this version of history is a fairy tale.
In 1961, in response to the initiative and pressure from the Turkish government, the recruitment agreement was established between the Federal Republic of Germany and Turkey — as had already been done in 1955 with Italy and other countries. Actually, Turkish workers — both male and female — were not needed so urgently in Germany. But there were geopolitical reasons. The United States was pressing the Germans to support Turkey economically. In 1960 in Cuba Fidel Castro had thrown out the dictator Batista and the Americans. In Turkey too, the students and unions were in revolt. Global equilibrium seemed to be teetering out of balance.
Recruitment Agreement as Last Official Act
When the internal political situation became too hot for the Turkish military in 1960, it took power in a lightning strike, detained President Menderes, who had initiated democratic reforms, eased contacts with the Soviet Union, flirted with contacts with the United States, and promoted Islamization. No Western nation seriously protested the putsch.
NATO needed allies on the “southeast flank” of the socialist block, and militarily powerful Turkey was the historic partner. This was shown not long afterwards during the Cuban Crisis, in which Turkey played a significant role. The price exacted by the Turkish generals who supported NATO: a share in the economic rise of Europe.
The tools to accomplish this were, among other things, the Recruitment Agreement and, two years later, the Ankara Agreement which was intended to smooth Turkey’s path into the customs union and later into the European Community. On October 30, 1961, six months after the execution of Adrian Menderes on the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmora for alleged violations of the constitution, and two weeks after the new elections, the recruitment agreement was signed in Bad Godesberg. It was one of the last official acts of the longtime Christian-Democratic foreign minister, Heinrich von Brentano.
A German Employment Contract was the Big Prize
Turkish domestic politics had run aground in 1960 on the problems of a rapidly growing population and on the ignorance of the needs of its own society. All Turkish governments up until this point had followed a doctrine which their founder Atatürk had set down. They tried to centrally plan both the economy and foodstuffs. There were great “harvesting campaigns” in the wheat fields. Bread prices were kept artificially low.
Prices and the allocation of, for example, sugar and wheat were centrally controlled and, in this way, a market economy of supply and demand was prevented. And although 80% of the population lived in the country at that time, only 3% of the budget was invested there.
The result was an ongoing flight from the countryside and the impoverishment of the Anatolian population. Millions of people moved to the cities. Overnight, “gecekondus” — slums — sprang up on the outskirts of the large cities. Anyone who was able to followed the offer from “Almanya”. A German work contract was as valuable as winning the lottery. There were four times as many applicants as available positions.
As strong and reliable as the Turkish army was as a NATO partner, so weak was Turkey economically. Mass unemployment and mass poverty threatened and, as a consequence, so did not only a revolt of the young people and the military cadets, but also state bankruptcy. The Turkish government tried to gain control of the unrest with a constitutional reform, and had hopes of some relief for the Turkish employment market from the export of workers, as well as a reduction of the trade deficit. Besides, so the speculation went, the workers would gain know-how in the West and bring their new knowledge back to Turkey. With them, the plan was, the Turkish economy could be modernized.
Please Don’t Forget Your Homeland
The federal German employment ministry had doubts about the involvement of unskilled Turkish workers. it was thought that cultural-religious distance between people was not conducive to social peace. But the objections of social policy makers were pushed aside and the foreign ministry under Heinrich von Brentano took over contract negotiations. Turkey would be strengthened economically, and it would be profitable for the German economy to employ cheap workers from Anatolia for one or two years.
The conditions set for application by the German ministries were stringent. Work contracts were confined to two years (rescinded in 1964 at the request of the industry) and there was at first a rotation principle — after two years one worker was replaced by another one from Turkey. That turned out to be impracticable because of time for training and familiarization. The contract also provided explicitly that only unmarried persons could apply.
Policy and economics in Germany insisted that the guest workers should cost as little as possible and should retain their “cultural identity,” to retain the ability to return. As late as 1979, the Social Democrat, Heinz Kühn recognized that guest workers had become immigrants and he wished promote their integration through language and education.
The Turks were not just simply the Exploited
By 1973, over the course of twelve years, the Turkish employment market was unburdened of 857,000 job applicants. The employment agreement was the vent that de-pressurized a Turkey under political and social pressure. The guest workers, who in Turkey were soon called “Almancis,” i.e. “Deutschländer” [perhaps “Germanoids” — translator], sent home a part of their salaries monthly from the cold north. That was a blessing for Anatolia and for each family.
Estimates are that around 1970 up to ten percent of the 30 million people in Turkey lived partly or completely on money transfers from Germany. At that time in West Turkey, the birth rate was about 4.7 children per woman, and in the East 7.4 children. An entire family could live on the child benefits and the pay saved in Germany at that time, which was four times as much as the pay in Turkey.
The first generation of guest workers not only fed themselves but their extended families in Anatolia, and saved their homeland from bankruptcy. The privations and accomplishments of these people of the first generation were understood neither in official Turkey nor in Germany. Not until Günter Wallraf with his reporting in “Down and Out” made the situation of many Turks in Germany public.
At the same time, it must be said that the statement, “We Turks built this land” is incomplete. The Turks were never alone, but were only a small part of the army of more than 5 million immigrant workers, mostly from European countries — Greece, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Portugal, who had been working in Germany alongside their German colleagues since 1955. When nowadays anyone acts as if the Turks as guest workers at that time had fallen among thieves, were exploited and discriminated against, then that is only half of the truth, and the fairy tale of honey is as sweet as it is false.
The Actual Cause of the Integration Problem
The honey of which Erdogan spoke was, to be sure, collected by industrious Turkish worker bees in Almanya, but it was consumed in Turkey. For many, this was their sole support, for at that time, Turkey could not feed its own citizens. “At that time, the Almancis saved the Turks” should have been the word, which would also have been an honorable expression of gratitude to these people.
In contrast to most of the guest workers from European countries, incidentally, the Turks did not return to Turkey. They first of all brought their families from Turkey to Germany and then later, year by year, tens of thousands of young brides and grooms. That is how the present integration problem actually arose. But that is another chapter.
Sociologist and author Necla Kelek, born in Istanbul, came to Germany in 1966 as the child of guest workers. Her most recent publication is “Journey to Heaven: my argument with the guardians of Islam”.