"People like me are forced to choose a side," says Serkan Uzunyurt, 27, who was born and raised in Austria, referring to the ongoing war of words between Turkish and European leaders. Austria, like other Western European countries, has criticised the Turkish government's move to organise campaign rallies in Europe, seeking support for the April 16 referendum on constitutional reforms among the Turks living in the continent, and sought to ban them within the country. "A common approach by the EU to prevent such an election campaign would be useful. Therewith, single countries like Germany, where rallies have been cancelled, could not come under Turkey's pressure," Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said earlier this month.
The referendum seeks to transform Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential one, making President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powerful. Turkey is keen to hold campaign rallies in Europe as at least 2.9 million eligible voters from the country live in the continent. According to the Turkish election commission, more than 1,08,000 Turks living in Austria alone are entitled to vote. However, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands moved against the campaign rallies. Recently, Dutch authorities barred Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from joining a rally in Rotterdam. Another Minister was barred from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. These actions triggered a furious response from Mr. Erdogan, who said Nazism is widespread in Europe.
"Considering the fact that a big Turkish community is living in Europe, it seems that these issues are handled very unprofessionally," said Mr. Uzunyurt, who was born and raised in Austria. "In these days, statements from both Turkey and the EU foster daily racism and hostility towards Turks."
Despite Mr. Erdogan's attacks on the EU, many Turks living in the continent say the decisions by the European leaders are understandable. "The Dutch government has every right to act like that. The Nazi comparison is not well-reasoned. It's already difficult enough for Turks in the Netherlands to be accepted as equal citizens. Why do they [the Turkish government] make it even more difficult for them?" asks Deniz Bol, 29, who lives in the German city of Mühlheim.
Some observers believe that the current events are part of Mr. Erdogan's referendum strategy. "In my opinion, everything that is happening now is part of Mr. Erdogan's sophisticated referendum campaign. He wants to win over the electorate through this agitation," said Murat Yilmaz, a 26-year old Austrian-Turk who grew up in Innsbruck. He noted the "hypocrisy" of Austria's political elite as well. "In the past, we have seen Austrian MPs touring together with Turkish politicians. Mostly, they were not from the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party). Mr. Erdogan is benefiting from such actions. He and his supporters see their worldview confirmed." Mr. Yilmaz and many other Turkish immigrants believe a general ban on foreign political activities will be more useful. But at the moment, it seems all parties concerned want to see an escalation.
Article 94/A of the Turkish general election law explicitly bans campaigning abroad or in foreign diplomatic missions. It was enacted by the AKP government. "Ironically, the AKP is violating its own law. They don't even respect their own rules like they don't respect those of foreign countries," said Serhat Karaman, a 28 year-old student from Innsbruck. "It's a real joke and a mess that so many Turks, especially abroad, still support this party."