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New Wave and Dwelling in New Spaces

Concepts and Repertoires of Living Together (RePLITO)

Published onMay 05, 2022
New Wave and Dwelling in New Spaces
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“New wave” as a concept

 “New wave” is the concept to refer to the last wave of migration from Turkey to Germany. Among other European countries, Germany has always been unique due to the earlier bilateral labor recruitment agreement between West Germany and Turkey, which was signed in 1961 [Soysal 2008; Steinert 2014; Yaşar 2016; Zırh 2021]. Since this first wave of migration, the number of Turkish nationals grew from a few thousand to around 2.75 million people with migration links to Turkey living in Germany by 2020 (Federal Statistical Office 1). There is a large volume of published studies describing the migration flow from Turkey to Germany in different waves with distinct characteristics [Abadan-Unat 1995; Fassmann & İçduygu 2013; Zırh 2021]. In the light of recent events in Turkey, it is extremely difficult to ignore the brain drain from Turkey to Germany, which is the so-called “new wave” leading us to a renewed interest in the research field.

This text aims to explore new wave migrants’ repertoires of living and resisting together after a short description of the “new wave” concept. The repertoires are collected from two focus group meetings and six interviews.

Waves of migration to Germany from Turkey

Before explaining the new wave, it is necessary to underline its difference from previous flows of migration. Starting from the first labor migration, their family unification, and return to Turkey till 1983 are generally described with “Gastarbeiter” (Abadan-Unat 1995). Following this “guest workers” phase, the next migration flow is considered to be influenced by the military coup in Turkey in 1980 and described with “asylum-seekers and refugees”.  This phase of political refuge extends into the 1990s reflecting the increasing tension and conflict in the Kurdish regions of Turkey and thus asylum requests of Kurdish population in Germany (Fassmann & İçduygu, 2013). “Circular migration” was used to describe the 2000s by Yaşar (2016), to explain the intermigration from and to Turkey. While some retirees from the Turkish diaspora moved back to Turkey, children of the first wave migrants, who returned before the 1980s, choose to study in Germany. What makes these migration phases so intense and remarkable among other European countries is the first migration of guest workers and the political refugees from the 1980s. The networks established by these two main groups paved the path for the newcomers.

We all have one or more German-Turk relatives or connections in our circle.” was a common view amongst interviewees which clearly reflects the issue. Therefore, Germany became the most preferred destination country to dwell in among its counterparts based on these already established networks.

New developments in Turkey and the new wave of migration

The last so-called new wave started especially after the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Another incident to be mentioned before describing this flow is the coup attempt on 15 July 2016. Political oppression and persecutions of the AKP Government ended up with more than 130,000 civil servants purged or suspended and over 80,000 people arrested or imprisoned [Tuncel 2021]. These two incidents are the main impetus for the so-called brain drain from Turkey to Germany.

Germany, which has Turkey’s largest diaspora in the world, subsequently received ten-fold more asylum applications from 2015 to 2020 and according to the statistics given by the Federal Office for Immigration and Refugees, the refugees from Turkey have the highest level of education within all applications in 2019. Besides, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) stated that the number of doctors, who ask for certain papers required for working abroad has increased in the last 10 years undefined2. While around 40 professionals were to apply for such document, in 2020 it rose up to 1000.

It is called brain drain because, in contrast to the 1960s’ blue-collar guest workers, new immigrants consist of academics, white collars, journalists, and artists. Tuncel (2021) states, “… regardless of their diverse political backgrounds, new wave migrants share two important features. Firstly, they stand in opposition to the AKP government (…) and secondly, they are disproportionately educated, many of them being prominent figures of civil society in Turkey.” Besides, Türkmen (2019), categorizes this “new wave” of immigrants as diverse as “Gülenists (followers of Fethullah Gülen, the US-based Turkish cleric …), white-collar professionals who no longer see a future for themselves in Turkey, students, leftist oppositional figures, Kurdish political actors, persecuted academics, and exiled intellectuals, among others”.

Repertoires of Dwelling in New Spaces

Their repertoires of moving to Berlin is also diverse based on the reasons they move and can be described in three different ways (i) orchestrated (expat migration: white collars and students), (ii) forced (asylum seekers: political refugees), and (iii) extemporary (activists).

White collars and students moving to Berlin experience an orchestrated process due to the nature of their visa requirements. While the process of moving is a bit longer than their peers among the new wave, they settle easier. For instance, the recruitment process in Tesla and the emerging new industry around it, reflected in a well-organized moving experience.

“There was a mass recruitment process at my husband's company… Lots of people were recruited at the same time from the same company in Turkey. We were able to decide and move, as there were no children etc. On the other hand, coming collectively and the process of settling in together with our environment was very fast, with the support of the recruiting company.”

“I came for MA study at a joint program with a German and Turkish University. I had a network of students from the same program.”

The second way of moving experience was forced migration of new wave migrants who seek asylum. The moving experience also made the dwelling process rougher while some of them had to live in camps for a short term. However, since they were already part of initiatives or have political affiliations, they found institutional support through NGOs and lawyers.

“Common experiences or common political backgrounds do not only determine my relations with people but also my relationship with the city”

The third group includes activists. Their arrival stories are quite diverse, however, all of them were extemporaneous. By pulling out all the stops, straining every nerve, some found themselves here without saying goodbye, and some after a farewell. But most of them fled due to political persecution or pressure. As such, it is traumatic which makes the settling process more difficult based on the problems in continuous residency permit applications or being in exile itself.

“I did not come here with the luxury to pick my preferred neighborhood.”

Encounters and tensions with old guest and host

The migration flow added a new layer to the existing and already fragmented diaspora based on the tensions in Turkey and the state diaspora policy, especially after 2003 which polarized the existing groups (Arkilic, 2020). Recent immigrants from Turkey had higher levels of educational attainment than their earlier counterparts and originated from metropolitan cities in Turkey. The discrepancy between the guest workers and the new wave was obvious to the old guest as well as the host which was contradicting the existing perception of Turkishness in Germany [Türkmen 2019].

The Mitarbeiter vs. Gastarbeiter encounter can sometimes lead to tension:

“We were being recognized by the Turkish accent we are speaking that signals that we came just recently. First of all, this allows the old pro-AKP diaspora to notice that we are not.”

“For a very long time, I avoided many supermarkets and taxis to avoid any encounter and discussion with them. Because I did not want to support those who were supporting the reason for my exile.”

Common experiences shaped their relations with the political migrants of the 1980s and 1990s based on, either collaborative work or solidarity. Being in exile in a city which your fellow citizens already inhabited is very much appreciated.

“Besides, you come to a city which is considered to be the biggest Turkish city in Europe (Kreuzberg) and where you can find almost anything that you have been missing when you are away from home. This is something we did not have to create from scratch.”

“Sure, we benefitted a lot from already established institutions and gained rights. Just imagine the language, which became one of the institutional languages in Germany, and we owe this to the guest workers who moved here 60 years ago”

However, those who had commercial relations, such as renting flats of former immigrants or getting service, evaluate this relationship as exploitative and open to abuse. It is especially worth noting the distress of encountering the social feature of the country they have fled or had to flee from, which they complain most about.

The language barrier, the never-changing story

“Despite the differences in our migration experience and socio-economic background, dwelling in a new country and language creates a lot of commonalities.”

Although most members of the new wave speak English and some already know German, language is still a barrier to communication in many circumstances.

“I prefer to go to Kreuzberg for personal needs, there are some circumstances I even don’t feel comfortable with English and ı feel the need to use my mother tongue”

“I don't feel comfortable in neighborhoods other than Neukölln, Kreuzberg, or Prenzlauerberg.”

 “Something might happen and I might get myself in trouble which I might have to explain myself in German ...it is my biggest fear.”

Regardless of the education level and spoken languages they attained, the german language is seen as the biggest challenge among others. Moreover, the language barrier plays an important role to connect the old and new wave migrants from Turkey. Sometimes it comes from necessity sometimes from empathy, therefore sometimes a wall between the host (Personal interviews conducted in November-December 2021).

Resisting together

There are a few Facebook groups in which new wave migrants are organized. Some of them are named directly as “new wave”, some organized around the same professions. These Facebook groups help them communicate and get advice for daily migrant lives, sometimes for organizing social events and sometimes mobilizing for political events related to Turkey or migrants.

However, a recurrent theme in the interviews was a sense that they, prominent figures of civil society in Turkey as well, don’t feel comfortable enough to attend any kind of demonstrations.

“I'm scared of my freedom being taken away from me”

“I am afraid of dying here ....I am afraid of even the traffic police. I don't know why.”

“The migration experience itself is traumatic. We have traumas that we brought from Turkey”. The statement echoed by interlocutors with activist backgrounds reflects their reluctance to partake in any political action. Besides, this reluctance demarcates their loss of belongingness.

 “I miss the rightful and emotional rage/anger against the government in Turkey”.

“There are very few organizations and activities that I feel secure and feel represented.”

Among those organizations, Puduhepa, founded by migrant women, stands out significantly which was referred to in all interviews.

 “I always feel comfortable with the woman and migrant organizations. (8th March Events I attended all 8 March events and partaken in the organization. It is really impressive to see several initiatives organize the event months before.”

Loss of being: in lieu of conclusion

“It's like the ground was pulled from under me.”

“It is not me. It is not the first time I’m living abroad but this is different. I have never been this lonesome in society with less than a handful of friends. I don’t feel capable of organizing demonstrations, not even attending because I don’t feel that I can fight for anything here. It is like the transition from being to non-being. With the feminist organization in Turkey, I was able to mobilize people to the streets. It was another version of me. Each and every rights woman in Turkey gained recently, I fought for that”

Most of the above-mentioned statements of the interlocutors match recent and earlier studies indicating that migration causes loss of belonging and entails the construction of new identities (Ehrkamp, 2005). This loss of being for new wave migrants seems to be the prevailing feeling for the new wave migrants except for the white-collar migrants who work at international corporate firms.

“Dwelling in a new space and a new country is starting from scratch and regardless of your former titles and socio-economic background, you lose all your capabilities and licenses and you have to prove yourself in the new game”.

A prominent figure at Gezi Protest who moved to Germany after protests commented, “It takes some time and some rights such as citizenship to find your new identity in the new city you dwell, and to become more active in resistance scene again”.  

These findings may be somewhat limited by the views of 20 interlocutors and cannot be extrapolated to all members of the new wave group, however, given the nature of exploratory research, these findings entail new research questions. Besides, the findings while preliminary, suggest that the repertoires of “new wave”s living and resisting are as diverse as their backgrounds and provide us abundant room for further research.

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