|The German president [left] told his Turkish counterpart that more unites the two countries than divides them [AFP]|
Germany’s president has urged better integration between Turks and Germans, as he sought to ease a simmering debate on whether Berlin had failed in efforts to integrate Muslim immigrants.
“We have to realise that we are closely connected,” Christian Wulff, the first German president to visit Turkey in a decade, said after talks with Abdullah Gul, his Turkish counterpart, on Tuesday.
“We are old friends…. The things that connect us are much more than the things that keep us apart,” he said at the beginning of a five-day visit to Turkey, while his country is increasingly debating the integration of millions of foreigners.
The visit comes just days after Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, said Germany’s efforts to create a multi-cultural society had failed and urged immigrants, many of them Turks, to integrate, learn German and adopt German culture and values.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, in the Turkish city of Istanbul, said Wulff’s visit had been about “mending fences, building bridges and stressing common ground”.
“They [Wulff and Gul] stressed how they will go forward together; how old their friendship is [and Wulff] talked about [Turkey’s] EU membership accession process as being fair and open,” she said.
Germany has four million Muslims among its 82 million inhabitants, with 2.5 million Turks forming the largest ethnic minority.
While many later-generation Turks have integrated with German society, large sections have never learned German and live in closed communities.
In response to Wulff’s comments, Gul urged politicians in Germany not to exploit the issue of immigration for political gain and said they should instead help Turks better integrate.
“Instead of using the issue of integration politically, everyone must help reach a solution,” Gul said.
He said Turks living in Germany should learn to speak German “for their own sakes, for the sake of their families, and so that they may be of use for their environment and society”.
Gul said both Germany and Turkey had failed to provide sufficient guidance to Turkish immigrants, many of whom went to Germany as “guest workers” in the 1960s to help rebuild postwar Germany.
“We should not blame them,” he said. “Many went to German cities [from Turkish villages] without even having seen a [Turkish] city. Neither we nor you were able to provide the necessary leadership.”
Wulff later addressed Turkey’s parliament where he praised the Turkish “guest workers”’ efforts to rebuild Germany. At the same time, he urged co-operation to overcome the problems of integration.
“Nobody is expected to give up their cultural identity or deny their roots,” he said “It is about respecting and protecting the rules and laws of our life together in our society.”
Wulff said that many immigrants had successfully integrated in Germany but said Germans’ fears over “religious fundamentalism and terrorism” could not be ignored and that immigrants had to learn German from a “very early age”.
In his speech he also praised Turkey’s recent efforts to improve relations with its neighbours, and urged Turkey to take more steps toward normalising ties with Armenia.