Tayyib Demiroglu is both successful and smart. He passed his A-Levels almost entirely with A’s, he is a stipendiary of Deutschlandstiftung Integration and currently a student of Business studies in Vallendar near Koblenz.

He is also very angry.

Angry enough, in fact, to write an open letter to the Interior Minister of Germany, Thomas de Maizière, in one of the biggest German magazines, Der SPIEGEL (German only) in February. In this letter, he complains about a “great injustice” taking place in Germany, a “misinterpretation of the lifetime achievements” of millions of guest workers, a “bad joke”.

What happened?

Photo: Tayyib Demiroglu

In February, during the coalition negotiations following the parliamentary elections of 2013, the SPD and CDU/CSU parties agreed on a change in the German Nationality Act, making it possible for children born in Germany whose parents are non-EU citizens to obtain dual citizenship. Before the act, a lasting dual citizenship for children of a non-EU or non-Swiss citizen was only possible if the other parent had German citizenship. Children of two non-EU citizens who were born in Germany obtained dual citizenship, but had to decide on a single citizenship between their 18th and 23rd birthday. If they missed the deadline, they automatically lost their German citizenship. This so-called “option obligation” has always been the cause of criticism, especially from Turkish associations, whose national group comprises the largest minority in Germany affected by that law.

Now, children will be allowed to keep both citizenships. However, mainly due to the intervention of the CSU, this possibility comes with obligations. The children will have to have lived in Germany for 8 years by their 21st birthday, and – and this is where Tayyib’s anger particularly stems from – will have to have gone to school in Germany for at least six years, which is to be proved by a certificate of education. Otherwise, the option obligation remains. Additionally, the changes in law do not apply to older siblings, parents, or children born before 1990.

“I have no problem with sending you a copy of my A-Level-certificate”, Tayyib writes in his letter, but “then you, Mr de Maizière, have to explain to me, why, because I can make out no sense in that law whatsoever.”

Tayyib himself only has Turkish citizenship. Before 2000 (when the last major change of the Nationality Act occurred) children of non-EU citizens born in Germany didn’t obtain the temporal dual citizenship automatically. “Back when my parents would have had the possibility of filing for my temporal dual citizenship, the procedure wasn’t as transparent and easy as it might be now. Yet, even if I had had the ‘choice’, I would have rejected it, that’s why I wrote the letter,” Tayyib tells me. He says he feels heavily concerned by the issue, describing the regulation as “the last straw” in a series of discrimination against people of Turkish origin in Germany. “This issue, of course, is and has been a huge topic in my family, and I also discuss it with my friends often. Initially, at the beginning of the coalition negotiations, I was relieved and happy because finally, I could expect change – change in attitude, change in laws. But then, when another discussion about ways to prove that we belonged here arose, I came to realize we were put off again.”

His voice resonates with disappointment. “Asking us to prove our affiliation to Germany of course implies they believe us to have none. I was born in Germany, I was raised in Germany, and for me, it is ludicrous that I should still have to prove that I belong here.”

The aforementioned “lifetime achievements” also play a great role in his anger.

“My maternal grandfather came to Germany to work for Salzgitter AG (German steel industry) in the 1960s. When he was still alive, he used to say, ‘I helped to rebuild this country.’ The guest workers and the generations following them didn’t profit from Germany’s prosperity – they helped to make it possible and then maintain it. My grandfather had the courage to leave his home in favour of hard work in a foreign country. Also he and his co-workers lived in conditions we would call borderline today. And the hard work in the steel industry had a huge impact on their health. So whenever I hear of more debates arising on integration, it makes me sad that this society doesn’t seem to be able to offer so much as a simple ‘Thank you’ to those that sacrificed a lot to help build the wealthy Germany of today.” The discussion about the dual citizenship in Germany is for him just another symptom of everyday discrimination. “I hope this society will one day understand that Germany is a country that needs immigration – it needs the skilled personnel that immigrate now, as well as those that are already here and work for this country. Because the majority doesn’t waste away in council houses. We are full members of this society and wish to be treated as such.”

Home, for me, means family.

Tayyib Demiroglu is not alone in his disappointment. When the results of the coalition negotiations were published in VVV, the political opposition and, especially, Turkish associations complained about a factual continuation of the option obligation which, in their opinion, caused nothing but a huge amount of bureaucracy. However, there are also Turks who approve of the changes. One of them is Şenol Duğramacı, chairman of the Turkish Islamic Union (DITIB) district office in Salzgitter-Bad.

“I am happy that my children will not have to decide, so I appreciate the changes,” he says. “If you were born and raised here, it should not be that hard to receive a leaving certificate, that’s my opinion. Of course, it is still unfair, but it is huge progress at the same time.”

The Turkish Islamic Union (DITIB), founded in 1984 in Cologne, is a non-political umbrella association that includes almost 900 Muslim communities in Germany. In its statutes, it explicitly admits itself to the federal laws of Germany, equality and transparency. The local community in Salzgitter-Bad has more than 200 members. Most of them – yet not all—are of Turkish origin or have Turkish citizenship. Also, as Mr. Duğramacı tells me, almost 50% of those attending the Friday Prayer are Bosnians, Albanians, or other. The association sees itself as a bridge between migrants and society, so our interview quickly developed in that direction.

“On your website,” I asked Mr Duğramacı, you describe assistance for social integration as a central part of your work. “How do you achieve that goal?”

“By all means possible,” he says, laughing. “We view ourselves as a bridge between migrants and the rest of society. To fulfil that function, we work with governmental institutions and churches, organize language and computer courses, especially for women.”

Successful integration, in his eyes, comes through mutual respect, acceptance, participation, and communication. “It is vital to speak the language of the society you live in. You can be highly intelligent, someone with deep insight and opinions, but if you can’t communicate with the people in your surroundings, it will not help you any. A lack of communication results in parallel societies.” Mr Duğramacı says.

Photo: Nathan Gibbs, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (flickr)

However, communication swings both ways. As much as Tayyib Demiroglu and Şenol Duğramacı disagree on the Nationality Act, they are united in their belief that Germany still has a long way to go with regards to everyday discrimination. “We can open ourselves up and take a step towards society – but society has to be open to us, as well.” Mr. Duğramacı says. “That it isn’t – at least not wholeheartedly – is the main reason I have never filed for a German passport. Whether I am a German citizen or not – for a large part of society, I remain “The Turk”.

However, he also partially blames the Turkish Government for that situation, as well. When I asked him if he would file for dual citizenship, if he had the choice, he replied, “Funny thing is, it’s partly the Turkish government’s fault I don’t have it… Back in 2000, when the last major changes in the German Nationality Act where made, it was decided that citizens from countries where it was not permitted to discard the nationality would automatically qualify for dual citizenship in Germany. So we contacted the Turkish government and asked them to change their laws concordantly. However, they refused, arguing that as a democratic country, they could not force their citizens in this regard.”

For Mr. Duğramacı, most of the discrimination stems from religious prejudices. “For most of the media, Islam equals terror. A few years ago, we still had a Federal President (Wulff) who clearly positioned himself in favour of Muslims being a part of Germany – and he had maintained the position long before he became President, by the way. In 1999, when he visited our community, he voiced similar beliefs. However, those times seem to have passed. I would wish for the media to cover what we have achieved so far, the positive news. But maybe they don’t sell as well as the bad news.”

Tayyibs criticism goes even deeper. Referring to three arson attacks in Berlin and Bielefeld in August this years, he says, “Mosques are burning in this country, and the deputy head of probably the most-widely read newspaper writes about Islam as an integration hindrance. Germany puts one rule above everything else: Never again Anti-Judaism. What I wish for is an additional: Never again Anti-Muslimism. Where is the outcry from society?”

In Berlin, the police have arrested a Jordanian with previous convictions for similar offences. But, as of now, there is no evidence of a link between the cases, nor have any motives been established.

For me as a German, looking back on my country’s younger history, those words are more than worrying. When I met Hilal Erol, my third interview partner for this article, I was therefore relieved that at least she, as she told me happily, feels like a fully integrated member of society and never experienced discrimination because of her name or looks.

But apart from their criticism, Tayyib Demiroglu and Şenol Duğramacı also recognize improvements in society, commending, for example, the opportunity Turkish citizens were presented for the first time ever in Germany to participate in a Turkish election without having to travel to Turkey. “It gives a lot of people the possibility to vote for the first time in their lives.” Tayyib says. Şenol Duğramacı agrees: “It was touching to see my father vote for the first time in 50 years. However, the organisational part was a disaster. Some people had to travel hundreds of kilometres, married couples were given different dates to vote… my wife, for example, was told to vote on Friday, whereas I got an ‘appointment’ on Sunday. Hannover, the city we would have had to travel to, is about 100 km away. Now go figure why only 10 % of the Turks in Germany voted. Of course, this is also partially due to the holiday season, but a large part remains frustration at organisational processes.” Still, Turkish citizens are not allowed to vote in Germany at the communal level. “I would appreciate the right to vote in local elections,” Duğramacı says, ” – at least for people who have lived here for decades, because they want to contribute to what happens in their town as well.”

In the end, I asked all three interviewees how they define the concept of “home”. Their answers were both touching and philosophical.

Hilal: “Home, for me, means family.”

Tayyib Demiroglu: “That is a tough question. My home is where I feel at home, comfortable and welcome. Family and friends are an integral part of that concept. I feel at home in many places – in Brunswick in Lower Saxony, where I grew up, for example. But as I already said, I consider myself a cosmopolitan. I am able to feel at home everywhere my feelings are not called into question.”

Şenol Duğramacı: “In Turkey, we call our native country our mother country. In Germany, it’s called father country (Vaterland). My children now have a motherland and a fatherland, and that’s wonderful. So, home for me is both where I come from and where I feel at home right now. Both are equally important. Germany is my home; but roots are important as well. The most severe troublemakers I know act like they are the epitome of Turkishness, Muslimness, but they know next to nothing about their roots or religion. Without roots, we are loose leaves in the wind, and this wind may carry us in every possible direction.

Cover Photo: Nathan Gibbs, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (flickr)

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