Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Germany : Turks and Kurds

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Germany : Turks and Kurds, 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


German official statistics do not usually differentiate between Turks and Kurds, even though hostilities in Kurdistan/Turkey are reflected in relations between the two communities in Germany. Turks and Kurds represent the largest group of foreigner nationals in Germany, numbering 1.9 million in 2002. Another 800,000 are naturalized Germans. Turks are the largest group in the 3.5 million strong Muslim community, and they include followers of different denominations of Islam. Turks and Kurds who fled as political refugees have often maintained their opposition party allegiances, which include Islamic and Kurdish separatist parties. Turkish and Kurdish workers are represented in German trade unions and on works councils. There is an increasing number of Turkish businesses. Naturalized second-generation Turks have been voted in as members of the federal and state parliaments.

Historical context

Turkish gastarbeiter were recruited in the 1960s through a bilateral agreement between the German and Turkish governments. The workers had short-term permits and were expected to return home and be replaced by others. This did not happen to the extent planned, mainly because German employers wanted to keep the workers they had trained. In 1973 recruitment ended, and most immigration since then has been for family reunification and asylum. By the 1990s some 70 per cent of the community was born in Germany, the children of immigrants who arrived between 1961 and 1973.

Approximately one-third of the original gastarbeiters were qualified workers, mainly men from urban areas of more developed parts of Turkey with high levels of education and professional skills. They worked in iron and steel processing, plastics, rubber, asbestos processing and other manufacturing sectors. The majority of Turk and Kurd women came as dependents, although most found work illegally as unskilled labour, particularly in the textile, electronics and food industries.

Many early Turkish and Kurdish immigrants of the 1960s were political activists and continued their activism in Germany They set up their political organizations in exile, and continued their adversity towards each other and the Turkish government. For the most part this was tolerated. But in September 1993, when the Turkish and German governments agreed cooperation on the social integration of Turkish people, the German government promised to investigate the activities of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK estimated it had 400,000 supporters in Germany, the majority of the Kurdish community there. One month later the German state banned the PKK and closed down Kurdish cultural organizations and the Kurdish press agency.

Current issues

Turks and Kurds are disadvantaged in education, employment and housing. There have been acts of extreme violence, including murder, and discrimination against the communities for many years. Racism and right-wing extremism have increased in tandem with rising unemployment and the prospect of new immigrants following the accession of Central and East European countries to the European Union in 2004. The events of 11 September 2001 and the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005 increased negative attitudes towards Muslims.

All parents must pay to send their children to kindergarten and many Turkish and Kurdish families, like other low- income families, often cannot or do not afford this expense. As Turkish is spoken at home rather than German, many Turkish children start primary school with insufficient German. They are taught in their own language initially, but this sets them apart and sets them back in education, from which many never recover. Few Turkish children go to gymnasiums, the secondary schools that prepare students for university entrance. The German three-tier secondary school system, which directs children towards certain types of work from an early age, reinforces disadvantage on account of its inflexibility, and also fosters prejudice. Turkish and Kurdish workers have been regarded as unskilled or semi-skilled production workers, but the need for such workers is decreasing and disadvantages in education for the Turkish and Kurdish communities mean that the next generation is not obtaining the skills Germany now needs.

The number of entrepreneurs is increasing. There were over 60,000 Turkish entrepreneurs in Germany but only 36,000 Turkish students at university in 2005. A Turkish entrepreneur set up the first Turkish university in Germany in Berlin in 2001, specializing in business studies and IT, with the aim of improving community integration. The first graduates received their degrees in 2005. The university will link with universities in Turkey.

Religious education, including Islam, is offered in state schools in five states, and religious instruction is offered in non-state schools in four other states. The Turkish government and other Islamic governments provide some funding. The teachers are often trained in Turkey and the courses delivered in Turkish.

There are naturalized German-Turkish members of parliament at the federal and state levels. Turkish actors and actresses, comedians, musicians, authors and artists raise the profile of Turkish culture within the mainstream.

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