Friend or Foe: Belit Onay Controversy in Turkish Community

Belit Onay became the first ever Turkish-descent major city mayor in Germany on Sunday. He won the second round elections in Hannover with 52.9 percent of votes ending 70 plus year Social Democrat Party ruling of the city. His triumph, however, created mixed feelings among Germany’s more than 3 million members of Turkish community. He has been widely referred by his Turkish roots but does his win mean anything for the Turkish community?

Zeliha Eliacik, who has a bachelor degree in Ruhr Bochum University in Germany pointed out that big chunk of Turkish community in Europe are conservative Muslims but they lack representation in European politics. “Turkish-descent people whom have earned positions in the European political spectrum are either leftists or seculars. However, most Turks in Europe are pious Muslims,” Eliacik said.

Onay has not downplay his Turkish roots. On Sunday night during a victory speech to his supporters, Onay called out his wife and told her in Turkish how much he loves her. The video went viral on social media.However, Eliacik reiterated that it should be politically more correct to say that SPD-stronghold Hannover was won by Greens than saying a Turk won Hannover mayorship.

Onay shared an image on his social media account in 2014 using Hersey Cok Guzel Olacak hashtag. The line was used by Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu during his election campaign this year

While many members of Turkish community cheered Onay’s win in Hannover, some others criticized him. Secretary General of Turkish German party, Allianz Deutzcher Demokraten or ADD, Ugur Karadag, lashed out on those who showed support for Onay, calling him the second Cem Ozdemir incident. “Members of Turkish community showed support for someone who has no ties to Turkishness other than his name,” Karadag said on Facebook. He said Cem Ozdemir was also embraced by Turks when he first became popular.

Another Turkish-descent person, Burak Sahin, who is active in Union of International Democrats, biggest Turkish NGO in Europe, reacted to Onay by sharing his picture with Jewish Kippah and said it was sad that he was mistaken for being a Turk.

Embattled member of the Turkish Parliament, Mustafa Yeneroglu, whom was also raised in Germany cheered Onay’s success. Yeneroglu said it was as important for the Turkish community as it was for Germany. ADD Secretary General, on the other hand, reacted to Yeneroglu as well. Karadag said Yeneroglu would of course support someone who called Erdogan an autocrat. Yeneroglu resigned from Erdogan’s Ak Party after having divergence on many issues in Turkey.

Belit Onay was born in north western German city of Goslar where also former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is from. His family moved there from Istanbul.

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