The Turkish President has demanded an ‘end to racism’ while criticising the treatment of Germany’s national football team players during a controversial state visit.
By – Claire Anderson
President Erdogan spoke out today at the inauguration ceremony of Europe’s biggest mosque in Cologne.
He decried the backlash against Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan for taking a picture with him in London earlier this year. The pair were widely criticised and Ozil quit the national team over the row.
The ceremony marked the end of the president’s state visit, which was aimed at repairing frayed ties with Berlin after two years of tensions.
Erdogan made the impassioned address as thousands of demonstrators descended on Cologne to protest against his three-day visit to Germany.
They criticised everything from Turkey’s record on human rights and press freedom to its treatment of minority Kurds.
Speaking at the event, President Erdogan condemned the treatment of football players of Turkish descent on Germany’s national team and called for ‘a joint stance against this racist drift’.
Decrying the treatment of Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, he said: ‘They ostracized our Mesut Ozdil, our Ilkay, who were born and raised in Germany, just because we had a photo taken with them.
‘As a president, I could not stomach the fact that he was alienated. We would have liked to see a joint stance against those who have fallen in this racist Ditib.’
Meanwhile, furious protesters gathered on the bank of the Rhine and held banners reading ‘Erdogan not welcome’ and ‘Away with fascism’ as he cut the rope at Cologne Central Mosque.
A police sniper was spotted in position on the roof opposite the building as the authorities geared up to tackle potential disruption at the event.
Cansu, a 30-year-old student of Turkish origin, came from Switzerland for the rally.
‘I want to be the voice of people who can’t take to the streets in Turkey. Because they have been arrested, killed or otherwise suppressed,’ she said.
‘Erdogan thinks anything that differs from his opinion is terrorism. I am here to show solidarity.’
And Tomas, a German student, turned up in a suit spotted with fake blood holding a giant banner with several other people that read ‘Dictator. Mass murderer’.
At the same time, the president’s supporters gathered near the mosque waving Turkish flags and chanting ‘Who is the greatest? Turkey’.
In talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, both leaders signalled their interest in a cautious rapprochement, but Merkel stressed that ‘deep differences’ remained on civil rights and other issues.
But Erdogan described his visit as a success, telling crowds: ‘I have stressed that we need to put our difference of views to one side and focus on our common interests.’
Merkel, whose country is home to more than three million ethnic Turks, highlighted the need for continued dialogue to overcome disagreements, particularly ‘in questions about a democratic, open society’.
She also emphasised Germany’s interest in a ‘stable’ Turkey – a country she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants arriving on European shores.
The sheer size of Cologne Central Mosque, which was designed to resemble a flower bud opening with two towering minarets, has disgruntled some locals.
It opened its doors in 2017 after eight years of construction and budget overruns, and can house more than a thousand worshippers.
Constructed in glass and cement, the imposing dome-shaped structure was commissioned by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib).
The group runs hundreds of mosques across Germany and its imams are paid by the Turkish state.
Read more: From 2018/07/20