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March 05, 2013

Support Group Gives Turkish Immigrants Place To Open Up

by Michael Scaturro

Turks form the largest minority group in Germany, but traditional ways of thinking have made it hard for some men to integrate into society.  A support group geared toward Turkish men is helping them discuss their problems.

Kazim Erdogan's office sits in a rough, but slowly gentrifying corner of Berlin.  By day, the 60-year-old native of Turkey works for the city's child-welfare office.  In his free time, he runs what he says is Europe's first support group for immigrant men.

Erdogan says he began holding support groups in 2007.  At first, just two men attended.  Today, more than 80 men take part.  Erdogan has become an advocate of bringing immigrant men together to help one another.   

The group meets every Monday and speaks in Turkish because few of the men speak German fluently.  On any given night, Kazim Erdogan's role might shift from moderator to therapist.  The discussion topics vary widely, from helping kids get better grades in school to honor killings or arranged marriages.  

Murat Tas attended a recent meeting with his German girlfriend, Janna.  Tas is 40-years-old and comes from Eastern Anatolia.  He is one of Kazim Ergodan's more active members, and has helped organize anti-domestic-violence marches with him in the past.  

Tas says he sometimes brings Turkish work colleagues to the meetings.  One such man was a father of four who had been beating his wife.  At first, the man met privately with Kazim Erdogan.  Eventually, he and his wife began coming to meetings together.  Tas says after a few months, the abusive husband tearfully apologized to the wife in front of the other men.   

This week, Turkey's consul general in Berlin, Başar Şen, met with the group.  Şen says the group fills a gap in social services.

"Such a group is a product of their 30, 35, 40 years of experiences in Germany ... this is more or less a circle of men against violence," said Şen.

Until Erdogan started his group, immigrant Turkish men often felt isolated and struggled with their problems by themselves.  He says this sometimes led to domestic violence.

Kazim Erdogan admits his method is not always perfect.  But he says teaching Turkish men and boys that it is OK to talk about their problems is helping change a culture of silence in immigrant communities in Berlin.