Erdoğan: There are currently 80,000 Turkish companies in Germany that employ 480,000 people. You can't ignore that. That is why we have to stay together. And now we are coming to the G-20 summit in Hamburg, and we have said that we would like to meet with our countrymen there – and German authorities have issued directives everywhere that Erdoğan should not be allowed to speak. What kind of a mentality is that? That is extremely ugly. I have never experienced such a thing. Germany is committing suicide. That is political suicide.
ZEIT: Why suicide? What happens if Germany commits suicide?
Erdoğan: Germany must correct this mistake.
ZEIT: That you aren't allowed to speak?
Erdoğan: Of course, it must correct this mistake. I mean, it's a problem that I am not allowed to share my thoughts with my citizens. Ok, if not, then we won't speak. We'll take part in the G-20 meeting and say what we have to say there, and then return home. But I cannot be silenced! I speak on Turkish television, and they also broadcast in Germany. They should also ban these broadcasts in Germany!
ZEIT: For Germany, and for us journalists, it is completely unacceptable that our colleagues are in prison, despite the fact that they have very clearly not supported terrorists, like Deniz Yücel. If you were to send a commensurate signal ...
Erdoğan: ... please, don't defend those suspected of terrorism and who supported the terrorists ...
ZEIT: ... then you would likely find it easier to make public appearances in Germany!
Erdoğan: Work on behalf of respectable people! On the one hand, it is said that the PKK is a terror organization ...
ZEIT: ... which is banned in Germany ...
Erdoğan: ... and in all of Europe. But on the streets of Germany, they can comfortably hold their demonstrations with posters of the terrorist leader. What’s more, they can demonstrate in a German police car with a poster of the terrorist leader. In a German police car! We have images!
ZEIT: I'm not aware of those images.
Erdoğan: In an official state vehicle, there is a terrorist. In his hand, he is holding a poster of the terrorist leader; he waves it on one side. And, through the other door, they are waving their rags (Eds. Note: the reference is to flags). And where are they doing this? In Berlin! How can that be allowed?
ZEIT: German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has just announced that the authorities will strictly prohibit PKK symbols during the summit in Hamburg. Because, as you have said, the PKK is banned in Germany.
Erdoğan: Well, we will see. I hope that such measures will be taken.
ZEIT: Do you intend to send a signal of reconciliation to the chancellor?
Erdoğan: I don't have a problem with the chancellor. At the NATO summit, I met and spoke with Ms. Merkel. We will also have a face-to-face meeting now. We will address many issues. I will address the terror problem, in addition to ways in which Europe can approach this problem, and what we as NATO countries are doing. There is no animosity between the chancellor and myself. The chancellor hasn't made any statements about it, but unfortunately her coalition partners have.
ZEIT: You are referring to the Social Democrats (SPD). We asked the chancellor – with whom we are also publishing an interview in this issue of the paper – whether she has a message for Turkey. She answered that living together in harmony with people in Germany with Turkish backgrounds is very important to her. And she said she will not abstain from demanding the release of Deniz Yücel and other journalists. That issue is weighing heavily on relations between our two countries.
Erdoğan: Do you think that we give orders to our judiciary?
ZEIT: If the Turkish judiciary is truly independent ...
Erdoğan: ... answer the question first: Do you believe that we give orders to our judiciary?
ZEIT: If the Turkish judiciary is really so independent, then why did you say that Deniz Yücel won't be extradited for as long as you are still in office?
Erdoğan: Look, we cannot issue any orders to the judiciary. Turkey is a state under the rule of law. If he is innocent, he will be acquitted. If he is guilty, the rule of law holds that a corresponding verdict will be handed down.
ZEIT: Regardless of what you want?
Erdoğan: We cannot intervene. Because whenever we speak with Chancellor Merkel or with other countries, such as the U.S., they tell us: The judiciary is independent. The leader of the Gülen terror network is in America, and we have sent all the files – 85 boxes full of them. On July 15 (Eds. Note: the day of the coup attempt), there were 250 martyrs and 2,193 people were injured. It has been proven that FETÖ followers were responsible. Nevertheless, we have seen our friends defend them. Germany is currently full of members of the FETÖ organization. Why aren't they extradited?
ZEIT: Because the courts rule on their cases independently.
Erdoğan: I have demanded their return from Ms. Merkel. Why aren’t they given back to us? And, unfortunately, some of them are being treated as refugees. Why won't you extradite them to us?
ZEIT: The courts decide.
Erdoğan: Then it is allowed for courts to decide here, too.
ZEIT: Have you been tempted in recent months to withdraw from NATO?
Erdoğan: Why should I consider such a thing?
ZEIT: Out of annoyance with the West?
Erdoğan: It is one thing to be disappointed in the West, and another thing to withdraw from NATO. We aren’t planning such a thing. When discussing disappointments, it is first and foremost dissatisfaction with the EU process. NATO has always been more honest with us than the EU has. The EU has been giving us the runaround since 1963. And they are still making us wait at the door. But we have patience; we will see what happens. We aren't just any country. We have a deeply rooted tradition in our state that prevents us from reacting emotionally. Before we take a step, we deliberate and calculate.
ZEIT: Do you sometimes long for the era of Merkel's SPD predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, a time when relations with your country were much friendlier?
Erdoğan: It's exactly as you say: Yes, I miss those times. Because relations with Schröder were really quite different. They were very good. I hope that we can return to that. I also think that the SPD shouldn't be behaving as they are right now.
ZEIT: You are referring to the condemnations coming from the SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz and others regarding the arrests of journalists in Turkey?
Erdoğan: Mr. Schulz's approach is ideological. It isn't clear when he does what. They want to score points domestically by instrumentalizing our relations, but they are losing. It isn't a positive development. And I think they are also losing support from Turks in Germany in the process.
ZEIT: But, in this conflict, life hasn't been made easier for Turks in Germany, either. It will become more difficult to hold on to dual citizenship, and there have been setbacks regarding the questions as to whether a woman wearing a headscarf can work as a civil servant. Many Turks in Germany are also concerned by such developments, and would like to hear a gesture of conciliation and concession from you.
Erdoğan: Where is the freedom of opinion? What is more natural than a woman who covers her head in accordance with her faith? Even as you devote yourself to the freedom of Deniz Yücel, you do nothing for the freedom of these women. You go to sleep, wake up and say: Deniz.