Two German national football players of Turkish origin have met Germany’s president and football heads on Sunday, in efforts to calm a row over photos taken with the Turkish president.
The meeting in Berlin came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan during an official visit to the UK last week. Turkey’s striker Cenk Tosun was also at the gathering.
Photos taken in London showed the players handing jerseys to the Turkish president. The images were published on social media on Monday by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
One photo showed the wording on Gundogan’s jersey, which reads: “With respect for my president.”
Following the release of the photos, German politicians from different parties and state officials criticised the players for posing with Erdogan, many arguing that he did not respect “German values”.
Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters following the meeting with Ozil and Gundogan on Monday that the two players contacted the DFB “to clear this issue up”.
“The German president suggested they meet him as well. There was a discussion. Now we can start talking about other things.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier posted a photo on Facebook showing him with the two football players in front of his office at the Bellevue Castle in Berlin.
“It was important to both of them to clear up the misunderstandings,” Steinmeier said in the posting.
The German president said Ozil had told him he stood by Germany, where he had grown up, while Gundogan said that although Turkey was important to him as his parents’ homeland, “Germany is clearly my country and my team”.
Loew has called up the pair in his preliminary squad for their title defence at next month’s World Cup in Russia.
“Both assured us that they had not wanted to send any political signal with that action,” DFB President Reinhard Grindel said.
Grindel was one of the first to criticise the players after photos were posted on social media, arguing that they were used in Erdogan’s election campaign.
“Football and the DFB stand for values that are not sufficiently respected by Mr Erdogan. That is why it is not good for our national players to be abused by his campaign manoeuvres,” he had said on Twitter last week.
Erdogan and his party are campaigning for the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.
Yasin Aktay, a senior Erdogan adviser, called the criticism about the photos coming from German politicians and officials 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.
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.
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
Turkish and German officials have been locked 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.
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.