It all began with a very long train journey from Istanbul to Frankfurt am Main – and a great deal of confidence: when Yilmaz Atalay came to Germany as a young 27-year-old Turkish man in 1961, he was convinced that he could achieve a lot through hard work and determination. He first worked in a factory, then as a social worker. Later he founded a Turkish travel agency and headed an association that provides advice on health questions to migrants with Turkish roots.
Yilmaz Atalay took the opportunity offered by the German-Turkish recruitment agreement that was signed 50 years ago on October 30. Both countries were interested in closer cooperation. During the years of the “economic miracle” Germany needed workers, and Turkey wanted its people to gain more qualifications by working abroad. Following Italy (1955) and Greece (1960), Turkey was the third country to conclude such an agreement with the Federal Government. Between 1961 and 1973 about 2.7 million Turkish people applied for a job, and about 750,000 actually came to Germany. Whilst about half of the migrant workers returned to Turkey, the others remained in Germany. The “guest workers” became immigrants, and many of them brought their families to Germany.
Today there are about 2.5 million people with Turkish roots living in Germany. A total of almost 16 million people in Germany have foreign roots. People with Turkish roots form the largest group and represent 14 per cent of the country’s total population. Germany’s national football player Mesut Özil, the filmmaker Fatih Akin, the writer Feridun Zaimoglu and the politician Aygül Özkan – the first woman with Turkish roots to become a Land minister – are four prominent examples of successful integration. Current initiatives, such as the founding of the German-Turkish University in Istanbul and further education programmes in the German language for imams offered, for instance, by the University of Osnabrück, are promoting German-Turkish understanding.
On November 2, 2011 there will be an official celebration in Berlin to mark the 50th anniversary of the German-Turkish recruitment agreement. It will be attended by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In addition to this, numerous events throughout Germany will be commemorating the anniversary. For instance, the Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration in Germany (DOMiD) has organized the exhibition “50 Years of Migration from Turkey” which will be on show from the end of October in Berlin, Cologne and Düsseldorf.