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At 60, is the Turkish ‘guest worker’ in Germany still a guest?

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«I was a postal worker in Istanbul, but then thought I'd try my luck in Germany, everyone was travelling here in those days to find better-paid jobs, so I got a job at a porcelain manufacturing factory in a small village in Bavaria. It was so beautiful, so picturesque, there was a small market, a small church, rolling green hills, I was in love instantly,» Azize reminisces

October marks the 60th-anniversary of the first Turkish ‘guest workers’ arrival to help rebuild postwar Germany. But many of them feel they weren’t afforded the welcome they perhaps deserved. The German President Frank Walter Steinmeier along with the who's who of the Turkish German diaspora were in attendance, as was the Turkish Ambassador to Germany, at a festival which saw talks, speeches, photos exhibitions marking the achievements of Turkish Germans and even a few musical numbers.

After the Second World War, Germany had a serious shortage of blue-collar workers, as the hundreds of thousands of men who had been drafted into the military by the Nazi war machine had either died or been maimed. 

Turkish 'guest workers' started arriving in Germany in the early sixties to help rebuild, a then, recently war-ravaged Germany – they staffed its many factories, helped fix the country's infrastructure – mainly blue-collar jobs.

From the time of post-war migration to this day, only around six percent of those employed in the public sector come from migrant communities. Germany has seen relatively slow progress in racial cohesion and equality when compared to other European countries, and Turkish Germans and other migrant communities have been forced to go into entrepreneurship as a means of earning a livelihood.

That's most of the 3 million people of Turkish migrant background – some estimates put the figure much higher around 7 million. Turks make up the largest ethnic minority in Germany, and recent studies suggest nearly 26 percent of Germans come from migrant backgrounds.

At the anniversary celebration, while many of the younger Turkish Germans were keen to extol their country of birth and brandish their German-ness, many of the older Turkish Germans were warier of the welcome which ran cold many years ago.

Among some of those honoured was a silver-haired Azize Tank, born 70 years ago in the capital of the ancient Ottoman Empire of Edirna, Azize is now a retired hard left German politician of Turkish origin. She is a sort of a matriarch to all Turkish Germans currently on the German political scene, a trailblazer – many Turkish German politicians owe a huge debt of gratitude to her for paving the way for them. 

«I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Azize,» says a sitting member of the Bundestag for the Social Democrat party, Orkan Ozlem.

Azize talking to young Turkish German politicians. (Sal Ahmed / TRTWorld) «It's naturally a good feeling when people recognise my work, these are my prodigies, I have known their parents, and I get a warm feeling in my heart when I see that they can achieve whatever they work hard towards,» says Azize.

Azize came to Germany almost 45 years ago to work in a porcelain factory in the state of Bavaria.

«I was a postal worker in Istanbul, but then thought I'd try my luck in Germany, everyone was travelling here in those days to find better-paid jobs, so I got a job at a porcelain manufacturing factory in a small village in Bavaria. It was so beautiful, so picturesque, there was a small market, a small church, rolling green hills, I was in love instantly,» Azize reminisces.

But when Azize is called onto the stage along with a couple of other young high achievers, she doesn't hold back – almost lambasting the slow progress of accepting migrant communities in Germany, the widespread discrimination, and how she still sometimes is seen only as Turkish and not also as a German.

In an almost rant-like fashion, she ends with a prosaic, «normality is when you have equal rights, normality is when you are accepted, normality is when you feel you are at home.»

Some of her prodigies and at least two current members of the Bundestag of Turkish origin were also in the crowd listening, as was the German President. 

Azize has been here before, for years she fought for the rights of minorities from the benches of the Left Party in Germany before hanging up her boots. She often took on the far-right, and also at times the centre-right – she was Germany's first 'Integration commissioner' responsible for dealing with civil society and other non-governmental organisations with regards to people from migrant backgrounds.

Today Azize is a mother of two grown-up daughters, one of whom is an integration commissioner herself. She lives a quiet life with her husband managing a foundation that calls for equality in economic, social and cultural rights for all.

After retirement from politics, Azize manages an NGO with her husband. (Sal Ahmed / TRTWorld) «But I do travel a bit now, I love Bodrum, I love Istanbul, it's always nice to go and meet my old friends and family, I travel to Cuba regularly, my husband has a place in Paris, we go there often. Life is good, I'm enjoying retirement,» she says.

Azize has a new mission now. «As a global citizen today, I can travel around the world, but as a refugee cannot, they have to live in a very small, narrow reality, and that's what I want to change.»

But going back to her rant of «normality is when you feel you are at home isn't always so», she says, «acceptance has been difficult, once I was travelling to Turkey, and the immigration officer at the airport in Germany said, 'Oh are you going home?'»

«I said no, this is home.»

Source: TRT World AUTHOR Sal Ahmed @Salahm3d Sal Ahmed is a freelance journalist based in Berlin.

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