BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will stand by the three million people with Turkish roots living there, its foreign minister said, offering assurances that they were not Berlin’s targets in a rapidly escalating political row with Ankara.
In an open letter published on Saturday in mass-circulation daily Bild, Sigmar Gabriel said Germany had to look after its own but had no quarrel with Turkish people in either country.
“We must protect our citizens,” he wrote. “However difficult the political relations between Germany and Turkey, one thing is clear: you, people of Turkish roots in Germany belong here with us, whether you have a German passport or not.”
Gabriel’s intervention came after his cabinet colleague, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, compared Turkey’s actions in detaining six human rights activists, including a German, to the authoritarian former communist East Germany.
“We have always striven for good relations with Turkey, because we know that good relations are important for you (German Turks),” Gabriel added in the letter, which was also published in Turkish.
Officials in Germany are increasingly concerned at what they say is large-scale covert activity by Ankara’s security services among Germany’s vast Turkish diaspora.
On Friday, Germany’s head of domestic intelligence said Turkish agencies were carrying out influence operations in Germany, including targeting opponents of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan living in the country.
Bilateral tensions were already high prior to the activists’ arrests after recriminations during a referendum in April on extending Erdogan’s powers and a pullout of German troops from a Turkish air base that began this month.
The arrests were part of a broader crackdown across Turkish society since a failed coup last year.