Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Turkish marriages in Germany

Christopher Caldwell:

Exact statistics are hard to come by, but it is possible that as many as 50 percent of Turks (a word that in common parlance often includes even those with German citizenship) seek their spouses abroad, according to Schäuble, the interior minister. For most of the past decade, according to the ministry, between 21,000 and 27,000 people a year have successfully applied at German consulates in Turkey to form families in Germany. (Just under two-thirds of the newcomers are women.) That means roughly half a million spouses since the mid-1980s, which in turn means hundreds of thousands of new families in which the children’s first language is as likely to be Turkish as German.

Binational marriage alarms many Germans for two reasons. First, it allows the Turkish community to grow fast at a time when support for immigration is low. The Turkish population in Germany multiplies not once in a life cycle but twice — at childbirth and at marriage. Second, such marriages retard assimilation even for those Turks long established in Germany. You frequently hear stories from schoolteachers about a child of guest workers who was a star pupil three decades ago but whose own children, although born in Germany, struggle to learn German in grade school. After half a century of immigration, every new generation of Turks is still, to a large extent, a first generation.

Turkish marriages are seldom Western-style love matches. They are often arranged by parents. A 2003 study by the Federal Ministry of Family found that a quarter of Turkish women in Germany hadn’t even known their partners before they married. The rural Anatolian practice of marrying relatives, usually first cousins, is frequent. It accounts, according to the Center for Turkey Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, for between a sixth and a quarter of binational pairings. These marriages bring certain Anatolian problems into the heart of Germany. Domestic violence is high. The causes of wife-beating among families of immigrant background can be debated, but not the numbers. Gulgun Teyhani, who works at a battered-women’s shelter in Duisburg, reckoned that of the 86 women her house took in last year, 60 had a migrant background, and 51 of them spoke Turkish. Last year, the Federal Criminal Investigation Agency found that in the preceding five years, 45 “honor killings” were carried out by Turkish or Kurdish families in Germany against women deemed to have “strayed,” generally by dating Europeans or adopting Western fashions.

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