Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday put his most tactful diplomatic foot forward, railing at German refusal to allow some rallies by Turkish residents.
“Germany, you have no relation whatsoever to democracy and you should know that your current actions are no different to those of the Nazi period,” Erdogan helpfully noted. “I thought the era of Nazism was over in Germany, but now I see that it’s going on. Everything is clear.”
The atrocity that led Erdogan to level this particularly loaded charge at Germany? Last week, German authorities revoked permission for rallies by Turkish citizens in two German cities, Cologne and Gaggenau. That’s where Turkish government ministers were going to call for a “Yes” vote in a Turkish referendum, scheduled for next month, that would expand Erdogan’s presidential powers.
German authorities said they made the cancellation call for security reasons — namely, fear of overcrowding. And so, at a rally of his own, Erdogan — who has spent the last seven months jailing thousands of journalists, civil servants, and soldiers after an abortive coup in July — decided to liken Germany today to that of the 1930s.
Unsurprisingly, German officials did not agree with this characterization. At a business forum in Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “One cannot even comment on such utterances, they are not justifiable … Comparisons with Nazis always just lead to one thing — to belittle those crimes.”
The diplomatic spat comes at a complicated time for German-Turkish relations. German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for Die Welt, is currently under arrest in Turkey. Erdogan said last Friday that Yucel was arrested because he a “German agent” and a member of a militant Kurdish group. A source in the German foreign ministry told Reuters this charge was “absurd.”
Erdogan has had other showdowns with Germany. For example, in April 2016, the Turkish president requested that Germany prosecute Jan Böhermann, a German comic who performed a poem mocking him on television. Insulting foreign leaders is a crime in Germany, although that particular law will be done away with by the end of 2017. Charges against Böhermann were dropped for insufficient evidence in October.
Despite all the tensions, Erdogan isn’t threatening to cut off ties with Germany, home to 3 million Turkish immigrants. Rather, he said on Sunday, “If I want to come to Germany, I will, and if you don’t let me in through your doors, if you don’t let me speak, then I will make the world rise to its feet.”
Photo credit: MURAT CETIN MUHURDAR/AFP/Getty Images