ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey's president on Tuesday urged politicians in Germany not to exploit the issue of immigration for political gain and said they should instead help Turks better integrate.
Abdullah Gul was speaking at a joint news conference with German President Christian Wulff who is paying a five-day visit to Turkey while his country is increasingly debating the integration of millions of foreigners.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long been skeptical of the idea of a nation of immigrants and at a recent party congress declared that the idea of a "multicultural society" in Germany had failed. She insisted that immigrants living here must learn the language and accept the nation's norms.
Merkel's Christian Democrats have a history of trying to rally supporters around pledges to be tougher on immigration, despite a lack of skilled workers in Germany who many argue can only be brought in from abroad due to an aging population.
"Instead of using the issue of integration politically, everyone must help reach a solution," the Turkish president told reporters.
Gul said Turks living in Germany should learn to speak German "for their own sakes, for the sake of their families, and so that they may be of use for their environment and society."
The Turkish president said however, both Germany and Turkey had failed to provide sufficient guidance to Turkish immigrants, many of whom went to Germany as "guest workers" in the 1960s to help rebuild postwar Germany.
"We should not blame them," he said. "Many went to German cities (from Turkish villages) without even having seen a (Turkish) city. Neither we nor you were able to provide the necessary leadership."
Wulff said that many immigrants had successfully integrated in Germany but said Germans' fears over "religious fundamentalism and terrorism" could not be ignored.
He said immigrants had to learn German from a "very early age."
Wulff later addressed Turkey's parliament where he praised the Turkish "guest workers'" efforts to rebuild Germany. At the same time, he urged cooperation to overcome the problems of integration.
"Nobody is expected to give up their cultural identity or deny their roots," said Wulff, who is the first German president to address Turkey's parliament. "It is about respecting and protecting the rules and laws of our life together in our society."
"That includes our constitutions and the values that it enshrines: above all else, human dignity, but also freedom of expression and equality between men and women and the religious and ideologically open, neutral state," he said.
Germany is home to an estimated 5 million Muslims, including some 3 million Turks.
Many immigrants speak little or no German, work in low paying jobs or live off of government handouts at the same time the country faces an aging population and a shortage of highly skilled workers.
Wulff, in his speech, also praised Turkey's recent efforts to improve relations with its neighbors, and urged Turkey to take more steps toward normalizing ties with Armenia.
Associated Press Writer Melissa Eddy in Berlin contributed to the report.