Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged not to take a step back on his decision to visit Cologne where he will gather almost 20,000 Turkish supporters in the run-up to the presidential elections in August, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
"Some say 'Well, my honorable Prime Minister, it would be good if you don't go to Germany. Do not go.' No offense, but we will go," Erdogan said May 23, speaking about himself in the third person.
For the first time ever, Turkish citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote in the two-round presidential elections in August, including in Germany, where most of the 5 million Turks abroad live. The August election will be the first direct vote for the post.
"If we are making politics in this country, if we are the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey and if I have 3 million citizens there, then we go there," he said, addressing an expanded meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) provincial chairs.
Critics worry that Erdogan could use his appearance to give a campaign speech for the presidential election. He has not yet said whether he will run for the Turkish presidency, but he is widely expected to do so.
Those who have exploited the loss of 301 workers in the country's most disastrous coal mine accident on May 13 are now trying to make provocations ahead of the visit to Germany, Erdogan said, referring to clashes between police and protesters in Istanbul which erupted on May 22 and led to the loss of at least two people.
The same "circles" have been trying to provoke certain sects, Erdogan said, in an unveiled reference to the Alevi community. The latest clashes took place in the Okmeydanı neighborhood when a group of up to 15 people protested the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who passed away in March after nine months in a coma after sustaining a head wound during an anti-government protest in Okmeydanı. A 30-year-old Alevi man was shot dead by a stray bullet while attending a funeral at the local cemevi on May 22. The majority of the neighborhood's residents are Alevi, like Elvan.
Not to 'remain silent'
Erdogan promised not to remain silent in the face of such efforts. Germany's Alevi community - which is widely seen to be a moderate form of Islam and constitutes upward of a quarter of Turkey's 76 million citizens - has called for an anti-Erdogan demonstration on the day for Cologne, accusing him of seeking "polarization." Around 100,000 people are expected for the anti-Erdogan rally.
Erdogan's Cologne gathering is being organized by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD).
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a newspaper interview, called on Erdogan to be restrained in his speech in Cologne.
"He's often made such appearances in Germany. I assume he knows how sensitive this event is, especially this time, and that he will act responsibly," Merkel said in an interview published in the German newspaper Saarbruecker Zeitung on May 23.
"I'm counting on the fact that he'll make this [appearance] on Saturday with a sense of responsibility and sensitivity," Merkel said in the May 22 edition of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.
Erdogan spoke by phone with Merkel later on May 22 about the Cologne visit, but mainly to discuss the Ukraine crisis, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.
Hours after Erdogan's speech, speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Erlan Abdildayev, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ruled out possibility of any crisis between Germany and Turkey.
Lauding positive messages during Erdogan's call to Merkel, Davutoglu said it was German authorities' responsibility to prevent any provocation against the prime minister of Turkey.
"Above all, if there is an anti-Islam demonstration, then it would have a racist basis. In our opinion, any demonstration which is against a religion, no matter where it is held, is in line with neither European values nor universal values. Anti-Semitic or Islamophobic stances have always been condemned in the world," Davutoglu said, noting that such demonstration would also be in violation of German laws.