Kerim Arpad: “Our welcome culture needs support institutions”

by | Feb 7, 2018 | Communities

Opinion leadership in cultural communication: The citizens’ initiative German-Turkish Forum Stuttgart e.V. has today grown into a decisive actor in cultural mediation. A conversation with CEO Kerim Arpad about educational rights and how integration can work even better.

The German-Turkish Forum Stuttgart – in German Deutsch-Türkisches Forum, abbreviation DTF – was founded in 1999 by German and Turkish citizens under the chairmanship of the Mayor of Stuttgart Manfred Rommel and with the support of the Robert Bosch Foundation. In recent years, the German-Turkish Citizens’ Initiative has become an important player in promoting cultural encounters, mutual understanding and cooperation between Germany and Turkey.

An important goal of the work of the DTF are the equal opportunities of the second and third generation of Turkish people here in Germany in the fields of education, work and society. Through educational initiatives and cultural programs, the DTF, together with the civic engagement of its members, makes important contributions to the social participation of Turkish immigrants and advocates the expansion of their opportunities in Germany. With cultural series in the field of cabaret and music, with literary and film days as well as exhibitions and discussion forums, the DTF initiates diverse encounters. The extensive event program aims not only to bring together German and Turkish citizens but also to build a basic understanding of the cultural roots of those involved in those encounters. Only on this basis dialogue and a harmonious coexistence can emerge.

We spoke with the Managing Director Kerim Arpad about the projects of the German-Turkish Forum Stuttgart as well as about his personal driving force for their implementation.

Mr. Arpad, why did you start working at the German-Turkish Forum?

Kerim Arpad, CEO of the German-Turkish-Forum Stuttgart


I originate from a German-Turkish family, my father is Turkish and my mother German. My father was one of the founding members of the DTF in 1999. He and several other activists laid the foundations for what we are doing today. I myself was a student at the time, and had my own club, a German-Turkish student and academics club, through which I had already had close ties to the DTF. We frequently organised common events. And, of course, I have also heard a lot about the DTF at home, from my parents. Professionally, however, I took a different approach at first. I worked in the media, then at the Vocational Training Center (in German “Berufsbildungswerk”) in Stuttgart, and then came to the DTF by chance with a project from another institution.

And that was my entry to the DTF. At that time, the then managing director emigrated to the USA, and the Board was looking for someone new to take over her duties. At that time I was still thinking about whether I should finish my studies or start work full time. I was then convinced, I can say, that it would be very good for the DTF and, of course, for me, if I would consider a professional cooperation. Through my parents and my German-Turkish background, I am personally involved in the German-Turkish relations and would like to work for the collaboration and understanding between the Germans and the Turks. These are very important topics for me, which also led me to take over the management position.

The German-Turkish-Forum Stuttgart fights for equal opportunities for the second and third generation of Turks in education. Why do you think that these people do not have the same opportunities as someone without a migration background?

Theoretically, the German society, including the Baden-Württemberg education system, offers equal opportunities for all. And we actually have a lot of young German Turks – Turkish people born here – who are originating from a guest worker family, where the parents sometimes could not even write or read, and have managed to study and later found a great job at a Swabian middle-sized enterprise or in a large corporation. The educational system works, therefore, on certain occasions, but it still has weaknesses. There are also many educational studies recently that show how difficult it is for people from low-educated and low-income groups to make advancements in the education system.

There are structural disadvantages for Turkish and other immigrant children in the German school system and we try to mitigate a bit with our projects – or to give impulses.

We notice this in many examples in our educational projects. When the obligatory primary school recommendation still existed in Germany, children sometimes received a poorer recommendation only because of their background and were, therefore, advised to visit the Hauptschule (secondary school). The reasons for those recommendations were bizarre. Children who grew up with both languages, German and Turkish, were sent to secondary school on the grounds that they would be overwhelmed by the many foreign languages at secondary school or grammar school. Or it has been thought that the parents can not adequately support the child with the homework, and, therefore, the child will not be able to cope with the high school demands. Reasons like those show that the chances and the future of a child are tied to the origin and possibilities of the parents. This should not be the case in a school system in the 21st century. Yes, there are structural disadvantages for Turkish and other immigrant children in the German school system and we try to mitigate a bit with our projects – or to give impulses on how the school system could work better.

An example of your engagement is also your project Ağabey-Abla…

Yes, our mentoring project. This is one of my favourite programmes, because it can achieve a lot with very simple means. Here, we have Turkish high school and university students who support younger children in their everyday school life. They are simply living role models for the youngsters, because they know the hurdles and obstacles in the school system, they have partially overcome them themselves – from secondary school until university. These are almost classic CVs for many Turkish people. And if the older ones can be a role model for the younger ones – especially for children who are still in the transition from elementary school to secondary school – then that is a huge gain, both for these children and for their families. The parents see that even their child can do it, even though it has not learned German as the first language, even though it does not have a German name or it is dealing with difficulties in school. As a personal guide for the young children, such a mentor can make a difference.

Do you have another project that you have co-directed or initiated, and that is of particular importance to you?

A few years ago, we started a series of discussions called BAKIS (“perspective” in German). For those events we invite two personalities, one from Germany and one from Turkey, and discuss with them controversial topics. Accompanying these public BAKIS evenings is an discussion forum held by a small group of teenagers. They gather in a very confidential setting and exchange ideas about the topic to be discussed later on in the main event. For the very first time, I understood that these debates provide a way to many young people to talk about a controversial issue in German-Turkish relations and, most importantly, outside the circle of family or friends. For example, the importance of nationalism, the importance of religion in the political system, how Turkish foreign policy is shaped. These are all topics that are either very one-sidedly discussed or not discussed at all in the family circle. We give young people the opportunity to talk about such topics in a confidential open forum with other young people who may disagree. These are exciting discussions that you can have with young people.

Apart from the political dialogue, it is also very important to arrange oneself in the cultural sector, I think. Without the festival films, which the DTF shows here in Stuttgart and which you would otherwise not see in the local cinemas, and without the invitation of artists and authors from Turkey, a lot would be missing in the Stuttgart cultural scene. That’s why these cultural events are very important to me.

Back to the education topic, now. We just discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the Baden-Württemberg school system. If you take a look now at the universities of our Federal State, the situation looks quite different: At the moment, the number of students from Turkey is increasing. What are the reasons for that, in your opinion and experience?

First, you have to look carefully at the student numbers. Were those students formerly enrolled in German primary and high schools or did they come from Turkey to study at the universities here? After all, about half of the Turkish students in Stuttgart came from Turkey to the higher education institutions of Germany. The other half are the local German Turks, who have graduated from local high schools. That’s an important aspect. And then, of course, you have to keep in mind that the Turkish people are the largest migrant group in Germany together with the Germans from Russia and, if you count them together, with the people from the former Yugoslavia. That’s why it is, I would say, normal that the Turkish students are a large group among the international students. But if you look at the numbers in relative terms, that’s rather little. The proportion of students among the Turkish youth is less than 10%. This is immensely unimpressive when you look at Germans, where about half of a graduate year goes to college.

The proportion of students among the Turkish youth is less than 10%. This is immensely unimpressive when you look at Germans, where about half of a graduate year goes to college.

Yes, there are many students who come from Turkey to study in Germany. And it can also be observed that their number is steadily increasing: a signal for the quality of our universities and the high status that German higher education and the German economy still hold today in Turkey. However, the United States and England are also leaders in higher education and attract the Turkish youth.

We are currently observing the trend of dual training and dual studies here in Germany. This interest in the “practical” training can be seen in all age groups, in all social classes … Is this development probably the explanation for the low in your eyes number of Turkish students at the universities in this country?

Yes, that’s true. There is also a recent study showing that students with a migrant background who graduated from the secondary school (called “Hauptschule” in Germany) are four times more likely to find a job compared to a university and higher education school graduate, also having a migrant background. That means that, a graduation with good marks from the secondary school is more likely to get you a job than a university degree, but, of course, not a job of equal value. You can not become an industrial engineer with a secondary school diploma, that’s clear. University studies have become less attractive lately. For Turkish students, the dual training and the dual studies can also be an opportunity, on the one hand, to develop their practical skills more and faster and, on the other hand, to enter easier the labour market and the desired company.

The whole welcome culture is insufficient, if I have no contact point where I can turn for help as a newcomer – be it as a specialist, as a student or as a whole family.

What can be done to better integrate the Turkish people into the German, the Stuttgart, society? Your projects are already contributing a lot to this.

Germany has many immigrants. The EU internal migration from Spain, Italy and Greece – important countries, from which many people also come to Germany – has increased sharply in the recent years. Fortunately, Germany has noticed at this point that the economy here needs skilled workers. But in order to be able to actually show those people in our society – including those of Turkish origin – that we want and need them here, we have to establish a welcome culture with appropriate support facilities. The whole welcome culture is insufficient, if I have no contact point where I can turn for help as a newcomer – be it as a specialist, as a student or as a whole family. Fortunately, again, Germany has made progress in terms of increasing the recognition of diplomas from abroad. There is still a lot of work to be done, I think, in order to show the immigrants that 21st century Germany is no longer the Germany of the 60s.

The interview with Mr Arpad took place in November 2017 and can be found in full length in our magazine. “New in BW” will be out on the market on April 22nd.