A senior Turkish official has slammed the German football federation, media and several politicians after they criticised two German players of Turkish descent who met Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he seeks re-election.
Erdogan met Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan during an official visit to the United Kingdom. Both also play for the German national team. Turkey’s striker Cenk Tosun was also at the gathering.
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Photos taken in London show the players handing jerseys to the Turkish president and were published on social media on Monday by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
One image shows the wording on Gundogan’s jersey, which reads: “With respect for my president”.
Reinhard Grindel, president of the German football federation DFB, accused the players in a series of tweets of being manipulated by Erdogan’s election campaign.
“DFB, of course, respects the special situation of our players with a migration background. But football and the DFB stand for values that are not sufficiently respected by Mr Erdogan,” Grindel said.
“That is why it is not good for our national players to be abused by his campaign manoeuvres. Our two players certainly did not help the integration work of DFB with this action.”
Erdogan and his party are campaigning for the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.
Yasin Aktay, a senior Erdogan adviser, called the reaction to the photos a new example of “Erdoganphobia” that is flourishing in Germany – in addition to “Islamophobia”.
“He is the publicly elected president of Turkey. He represents the whole of the Turkish public in that position. This reaction shows that German authorities have an irrational fanaticism against Erdogan,” Aktay told Al Jazeera.
Mesut Ozil, Ilkay Gundogan and Cenk Tosun welcomed Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to London — and gave him signed shirts from their respective clubs as a gift. https://t.co/LrhdCoLgS0
— Chris Wheatley (@ChrisWheatley_) May 14, 2018
He criticised Germany by making an apparent reference to dissident Turkish journalist Can Dundar’s meeting with German President Joachim Gauck late last year.
“German authorities casually meet and pose with a person who is accused of espionage in Turkey as the German president did,” he said.
“Conversely, German officials and politicians condemn Turkish German football players for posing in photos with their president as a result of nothing but natural emotions.”
Aktay also stressed that Erdogan, who is a former football player, met the players in a personal capacity and the meeting had nothing to do with the June elections.
Dundar, who currently resides in Germany, was sentenced in Turkey for revealing state secrets after his newspaper, Cumhuriyet, published a story about Turkish intelligence vehicles allegedly carrying weapons to rebels in Syria in 2015.
Dundar is one of many strains in the relations between Berlin and Ankara.
Turkish and German officials have been in a war of words in recent years. Ankara accuses Berlin of supporting “terrorism”, while Germany has denounced the deterioration of democratic and human rights in Turkey.
The Turkish government says Germany supports the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging war against the Turkish state since the 1980s.
Sevim Dagdelen, deputy chairperson of the Left Party parliamentary group in Germany, said all national team players have to be role models and should stand for fair play, not just on the pitch.
“Them courting Erdogan as their president while Turkey persecutes democrats and journalists is a gross foul,” said Dagdelen.
Cem Ozdemir, Green Party co-leader, tweeted: “It is distasteful and embarrassing for football millionaires to be homage for [Erdogan’s] election campaign.”
In an editorial, the national Bild newspaper called the players “political idiots, but football geniuses”.
“If you have a moral position, you don’t laugh into the camera with Erdogan,” it said, though it refuted calls to kick the players off the national team.
Germany and other Western European governments have repeatedly condemned the Turkish government’s detentions and purges of tens of thousands of people after a failed coup attempt in July 2016.
Erdogan’s government says the crackdown follows the rule of law and aims to remove coup supporters from state institutions and other parts of society.
For someone as exceptionally aware of and careful with his own image as Ozil I cannot understand why he would be photographed with Erdogan. Of course he took part in a personal capacity but he is not painting Arsenal in a good light at all.
— James Benge (@jamesbenge) May 14, 2018