"Get Involved or Emigrate"

The Liberal Turkish-German Association (LTD), which has ties to the Free Democratic Party (FDP), was founded ten years ago. In July 2003 the Cologne branch of the LTD was established. Qantara.de spoke with the deputy chair Bilgehan Köhler


photo: FDP Cologne
Bilgehan Köhler, a liberal, traditional Turkish German

​​What kind of work does the LTD do in Cologne?

Bilgehan Köhler: We do lobbying and cooperate on many things with the FDP. One example: In North Rhine-Westphalia the laws concerning cemeteries have been relaxed. This is important for Muslims because coffins are no longer obligatory.

But an agreement between the governing coalition of the CDU and Greens deemed that this does not apply to Cologne. We told the FDP in Cologne that for us Muslims it is important that we have the freedom to be buried according to Islamic rites.

At our initiative, the FDP parliamentary fraction chairman will hold a hearing in the fraction. This is how you get access to the decision-making bodies. Although we have close ties to the FDP, our members don’t have to be Liberal Party members. Not all of us have a Turkish background. We promote civil rights, which should also hold for minorities.

You are a member of the FDP. Since when?

Köhler: Since the arson attack on a Turkish family in Solingen. That scared me. It was clear to me that either you emigrate, or you get involved in politics.

Why did you become involved in the FDP?

Köhler: In Germany you don’t have much of a choice. Being socialist is just not my thing. Rather the CDU, because the people there are religious. But in a mass party you disappear as a minority. Otherwise there’s only the Greens and the FDP. I am not a fan of the 68 generation. Free love is out of the question for me, I am a bit too conservative for that. And I have never been against nuclear energy.

Ok, so I eat granola once in a while, but that’s about it. To me it was important that the liberal ethos “each to his own” allows me enough freedom. I must be able to live the way I want to live.

How do you asses the political engagement of Turkish immigrants in Germany?

Köhler: Turks come from a country in which political participation was not common. And I think many brought this mentality with them to Germany. Even when Turks remain living here, they are not aware that integration should be seen as a way of participating in politics. I don’t know how it works in Turkey, but here there is a lot you can do at the city and local level. Many Turks don’t realize that.

I rather have the feeling that they are irritated when laws are passed which put them at a disadvantage. They discuss the issue in their community and in their neighborhood and they feel permanently discriminated against. But they don’t realize that they can formulate a position for their own community when they become involved in associations and parties. Again and again I find a certain frustration among the Turks. They feel as if they are victims.

I am an active type of person and I find it hard to simply accept such a fate. My work in the future will be to motivate Turks to become politically involved, otherwise negative laws will be passed for them.

Interview: Mona Naggar

© Qantara.de 2003