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«Tactics of Diabetes Control Turkish immigrant experiences with chronic illness in Berlin, Germany. Cornelia Guell PhD by Research The University of ...»

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The Turkish migrant population seems to occupy an even more ambiguous space. On the one hand, frequent media reports as well as political debate on violent male youth – which seem to capture so many European countries right now – are quite routinely discussed as an “Ausländer-problem”. A problem of the “other” in our midst. A German daily newspaper recently commended the British debate and reported curiously that even the internationally notorious British tabloids assign their “knifeand gun-culture” London Black youth unquestioned British status (Süddeutsche Zeitung 2008)9. Indeed in the German case, it is notable how the term “foreigner” (Ausländer) is employed, even in reference to German-born citizens of migrant background (Mandel 2002). And of course, some people turn out to be more “other” than others. On the other hand, in recent years Turkish-origin Germans increasingly occupy the public stage. Turkish Germans are represented in politics, not merely as problematic or needy citizens but as the concerned politician, on TV, not in media reports or as the token Turk but in an own Turkish sitcom, and in public health, not just as the suffering patient but the concerned health professional. Yet public discourse remains one of conflict and failure, and literature suggests that ambiguous emotions towards the new country, widespread institutional discrimination and social inequality have largely hindered settling in German society (Flam 2007).

Academic contributions that are concerned with exploring such migrant lives are plentiful and stem from different disciplines such as sociology, political and Middle Eastern studies, and (later) anthropology, but most of this literature fails to paint a complex picture of diverse migrant living in Germany. The anthropologist Jenny White (1995) reviewed the so-called “guest worker literature” and concluded that initial accounts in academic literature largely evoked the idea of one “Turkish culture” and focused on conflicts between migrant and host communities that were to be explained as “culture-clashes”. Such research hypothesised that it was either “the Germans” who were reluctant to accept “the Turkish” to their community and subsequently segregated them, or it was “the Turkish” failing to integrate or assimilate with “the Germans”. Recent media reports on rising xenophobic tendencies within Germany after reunification or violent behaviour at schools in This fails though in the case of young British born Muslim terrorists that suddenly puts their citizenship back into the spotlight.

Turkish “ghettos” of German cities still assume such clear-cut cultures – German versus Turkish (cf. White 1995).

Contributions from anthropologists such as Mandel (1989) and her research on the so-called headscarf debate in both Turkey and Germany provide an alternative to such a generalised view of German “Turkishness” yet is “conflict” still at the heart of her explorations. She acknowledged German Turks’ identities as defined or selfascribed by different Muslim faiths or ethnic groups, and how religious symbols such as headscarves were used in order to construct these differentiated identities. She pointed out that certain religious practices (wearing headscarves in public institutions such as banks, schools and universities) or organisational modes of preaching and education were allowed in Germany but not in Turkey and thus embraced in migrant lives.

Indeed, despite much discrimination, conflict and social inequality, the Turkish origin population has made its stamp on German society as its biggest minority group. Contrary to the image of the poor rural guest worker and literature that evokes notions of one “Turkish migrant culture”, today’s Turkish migrant population is (and has always been) heterogeneous, including all social classes, education levels, different religion and ethnic roots. While a large percentage of original migrants have migrated from rural Anatolia, I also met several first generation migrants who recounted how they had left their vibrant Istanbullu urban lives to explore the less developed post-war German cities, or even to settle in rural Germany. Today, Islam is the third biggest religion in Germany after Catholicism and Protestantism (probably a third of Turkish origin Germans are actually practising Muslims; Goldberg et al. 2004: 84). As in Turkey, most Turks in Germany are Sunni Muslim, but there is also a substantial Alevi population in Germany. It is estimated that about 400,000 German Turks follow this Anatolian Shi’ism (Goldberg et al.

2004: 83). Ethnically, the main distinction can be made between Turks and Kurds, with an estimated fifth of the Turkish origin migrants of Kurdish ethnic background (ibid. 128). Both the intensive recruitment from rural East Turkey and political migration explains this certain overrepresentation of Turkey’s minority groups.

Despite political repression and still present tension within Turkey between this ethnic minority and the state, Turks and Kurds live relatively peacefully alongside each other in Germany and focus on their shared migrant roots (ibid. 132). A new generation, however, is increasingly exploring their ethnic heritage, for example learning the Kurdish language their “guest worker” grandparents had not been allowed to speak in Turkey.

Statistics on education and employment show that the Turkish population is represented in all educational and employment levels, and that Turkish businesses make a significant contribution to the German economy and vocational training.





However, people of migrant backgrounds are still significantly overrepresented in low-skilled employment, unemployment, and household income under the EU poverty line (Statistisches Bundesamt 2007).

Finally, the Turkish population in Germany is today highly stratified in age compared to the fairly age homogenous guest worker cohort. There are families of four generations that settled in Germany (with children having to take special Turkish lessons to understand their grandparents), but there is also a constant influx through marriage immigration of “new” young first generation migrants (Goldberg et al. 2004: 62). Today only a about a quarter of Turkish origin residents in Germany have immigrated as “guest workers”, over 50 per cent came as part of the family reunification schemes, while 17 per cent of Turkish-origin adults were born in Germany. 800,000 of the 2 million Turkish nationals10 in Germany are under 21 years of age, another 440,000 are between 21 and 30 years old (ibid. 17). In comparison to the German majority population, the Turkish minority is a very young population. Many studies concentrate on this young generation, their place in society, their “between two cultures”-ness and consequent identity making (e.g. see Soysal 2002; Yildiz 2002).

However, different generations have different concerns and the initial “guest worker” generation seems almost forgotten. Physical and mental health, a certain 10 These statistics may be somewhat confusing. Due to decades of strict ius sanguinis (right of blood or parentage) based naturalisation laws, it is not unusual in Germany that a 30-year-old second generation Turkish German, born in Germany, still only holds a Turkish passport, while a 60-year-old first generation migrant from Turkey is a German national. Since 1998, children with migrant parentage finally receive automatic German citizenship, however they must still choose between the German and their parents’ citizenship by their 21st birthday to prevent “dual citizenship” (Fücks 2002). As ethnicity is not recorded in national census (see Chapter 2.2) they often only record nationality. The new national census aims to record place of birth of parents to add “migrant background” as a category.

persistent homesickness may seem old fashioned “guest worker themes” but are still relevant in their lives. After all, of nearly 2 million Turks living in Germany, an estimated 1,200,000 were born in Turkey (Statistisches Bundesamt 2007). A few ethnographies still explore a certain “transnationality” and the “first generation’s” strong emotional and factual ties to home (e.g. Wolbert 1995, 2001). All first generation Turkish migrants of retirement age that participated in this research spend several months a year, sometimes almost six months each year, in Turkey, where many own property. Mandel (1990) investigates shifting centres and gives interesting insight into what I would call discourses on marginality. She narrates how Germany with its more than two million Turkish residents is jokingly referred to as Turkey’s sixty-eighth province in Turkish public debates and how Germany has become some sort of new centre with Turkey being peripheral (or marginal). She explores “visits home”, the encounters between migrants and those that stayed in Turkey, and analyses the notion of gurbetçi (those living away from home) and gurbet (this exile or “diaspora”). Mandel concludes that Turkish residents in both Frankfurt and Istanbul might share the same identification with their Turkish rural natal village rather than to any of these cities. Nonetheless, gurbetçi returning from Germany to their home country encounter changed perceptions of their identity and find their identities as “Turkish” challenged by those that remained home. Mandel furthermore explains that Turkish residents in Germany share notions of “migrant” rather than “immigrant” identity, still embracing frequent visits home and the notion of a possible return. Still missing is the link between these explorations of identity and how they shape their everyday lives, dealing with deteriorating health, shifting roles as grandparents and unanticipated circumstances of aging (for example in a German nursing home).

The history of Turkish guest workers in Germany Labour migration from Turkey to German started in the early 1960s but German Turkish history proceeds the era of labour migration, most notably with the political allegiance of the German and Ottoman Empire in WWI (Corrigan 1967). As a result of longstanding military connections, Germany has had small Turkish Muslim communities since the 18th century, mostly in Berlin whose Muslim cemetery founded in 1863 is the oldest in Germany (Goldberg et al. 2004: 71-72). After WWI the two young republics shared a similar early development. Attatürk gave the newly found nation Turkey a distinct Western direction with state-enforced secularism, for example by abolishing the Sharia as the legal codex and banning headscarves from public buildings, changing the official script from Arabic to Latin lettering, and handing women the right to vote in 1930. Istanbul developed a Bohemian Parisian charm with its residents embracing a certain French-inspired lifestyle (not the least as the Orient Express had been connecting Paris with Istanbul since 1889). Similarly the young Weimar republic blossomed with democratic liberalism in what remains known as (Berlin’s) Golden 20s.

Large scale immigration of Turks to Germany started when, in the aftermath of World War II, Germany suffered from a severe shortage of (male) workers in the 1950s that was worsened by the closure of the East German border and consequent unavailability of East European migrant labourers. In order to compensate for this lack of labour force in the booming German economy, so-called Gastarbeiter – temporary “guest workers” – were recruited from southern European countries such as Italy, Greece, former Yugoslavia and finally Turkey. On 31 October 1961, Germany signed a so-called recruitment agreement (Anwerbeabkommen) with Turkey that started the over forty year long migration history between these two countries (Goldberg et al. 2004: 4). Incidentally, the agreement coincided with a change in the Turkish constitution to allow their citizens to leave the country.

Migration, however, started from rural to urban Turkey, where prospective guest workers finally awaited their move to Germany. There were various motives for such a life-changing decision. A majority of Turks came from rural south east Turkey with its quasi feudalist system in which great land owners’ power extended far beyond economic influence (Goldberg et al. 2004: 7). Migration to the thousand kilometre further West Turkish cities Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and Izmir did not bring the opportunities they had hoped for due to a lack of demand for unskilled labourers and high unemployment. The work schemes to gain employment in the German industry, providing transport and accommodation for whoever is willing to sign up, answered their demand. Tales of those migrants who settled successfully into steady employment in Germany promoted further migration of relatives and former neighbours. There were also political immigrants from Turkey, so today Germany hosts a substantial Kurdish community (also including Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian Kurds) (ibid. 128). The guest workers were mostly men, but there were also young women who sought their luck abroad. Many of my female informants did not migrate in order to accompany their husbands but came to Germany on their own at the tender ages of 18, 19 or their early 20s. They welcomed a bit of adventure in their lives, new opportunities, although I also encountered tales of escaping loveless arranged marriages and hard labour at home.

Regardless of their motivation, most of these migrant stories involved (at least initially) leaving family behind. Welcomed at the airports of Munich, Cologne or Berlin with flowers (red roses, as one research participant recalled), the guest workers were allocated in dormitories, and initiated into dire factory life. In the beginning, the migrant labour market was anticipated to work with a great “turnover”. Migrants should come to work in low-skilled jobs for a couple of years and then be replaced by new recruits. However, neither could migrant workers earn enough money in a few years to return to a better life in Turkey, nor did their employers consider it practical to constantly train new staff. Eventually work contracts were extended and, especially when family followed to Germany, employers would help finding cheap rented flats. Living conditions did not improve greatly for most families as money was meticulously saved and sent home to family or invested in the home country.



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