As It Happens

German politicians 'did nothing' to curb hate that motivated shisha bar attacks, says Kurdish organizer

A gunman police say was motivated by racism killed nine people after shooting up two hookah bars in a West Germany town. Leyla Acar works with a group that represents the Kurdish diaspora and has been comforting two Kurdish families, who lost their sons.

'It's the fault of the German politicians something like this happened,' says Kurdish leader Leyla Acar

A woman sets a candle near the hookah bar scene where nine people were killed in Hanau, Germany. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

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Police in Germany say a 43-year-old man shot up two shisha bars in the town of Hanau on Wednesday, killing nine people — before returning home and turning the gun on his mother, and then on himself.

A shisha bar is a café where people gather to smoke hookah together, and local community leader Leyla Acar says the two bars were targeted because they are popular meeting places for the Kurdish community.

Police say the gunman left behind a written confession in which he denounced Germany's ethnic minorities, and media reports suggest most of the victims are believed to be of Turkish and Kurdish background.

Acar co-chairs a group called Kon-Med, which represents the Kurdish diaspora in Germany. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Acar in the centre of Hanau, where a memorial was set to begin. Here is part of their conversation.

Can you describe the scene where you are right now?

I'm in the middle of the city, in Hanau. We are thousands of people coming together because at six o'clock there's a big meeting and a lot of politicians are coming. The representatives of the city are coming.

We from the Kurdish community are here because of the victims and we want to make our condolences and we don't want to be silent.

People attend a vigil for victims of Wednesday night's shooting in the central German town Hanau. (Markus Schreiber/The Associated Press)

What are people saying? What are the thoughts? What are the emotions that people have about the shooting last night?

They are hurt and confused. You have a lot of emotions here at the same place. You don't know how to feel. At one moment someone is crying. At the other moment someone is angry. So, it's very difficult.

Before you went to this walk, or this place where people are meeting, you were with some of the families, some of the people, who lost their loved ones in this killing rampage last night. How are they doing?

They were feeling very, very bad. The mother, for example, could not speak. She's trying to all the time. She can't speak with anyone. They tried to make her sleep and lay down.

The grandmother of one of the victims was there. She was very angry. She said, "My grandson did nothing. He was 23 years old. Why did this happen to him?" 

There are a lot of different feelings. The brother of one of the victims, he is making interviews and talking with television. He said, "I don't want to be silent. Why does it happen? What's happened to my brother?"

So, it's different. They all feel different. Like I said, a lot of feelings.

And what do you know at this point? What do they know about the killer himself, the man who is allegedly the person who killed all these people?

What we find out was, of course, from the media because the police did not give a lot of information.

At first, police gave the wrong information. They say maybe it was just because of his girlfriend and partnership problems. But it wasn't like that.

It was a political attack, a political murder, that is clear. And the person who did this wrote a few letters and before the shoot, I don't know if months, or weeks, he made a video and it's clear he is right-wing. He said, I'm against immigrants and everybody who was coming from another country.

Leyla Acar is with a group called Kon-Med, which represents the Kurdish diaspora in Germany. (Submitted by Leyla Acar)

How much fear does that create in your community when you hear things like that?

A big, big fear because you have to know we are Kurdish people. We fled from our country to come to Germany to start a new life in freedom and equality.

It's devastating that people are not feeling secure. It's crazy. I can't describe the feeling. I can't describe what we are feeling.

But we know it's a political murder and this happens because in the last year the right-wing politicians got bigger.

A shisha bar is a café where people gather to smoke hookah together. Acar says the bars were meeting places for the Kurdish community. (The Associated Press/Martin Meissne)

There were two shootings by allegedly the same man. There was one shisha bar named Midnight and another one called Arena Bar & Cafe, some kilometres apart. These are the two places that were hit by this man. Do you know those places? Do you know who goes there?

A lot of young people go there. It's normal and, you know, they are going out, go drinking, something in the evening. Normally, young people go there. 

They are young people between 20 and 30 years who died.

And so ... if somebody was looking to attack ethnic minorities and newcomers to Germany, these would be the kinds of places where he could find his victims?

Yes, it could be because shisha bars have a lot of nations. Everybody's going there. For example, one of the victims is the son of the owner of the bar.

It's so sad.

[The shooter] knew who belonged to the bar and who is going there.

Acar says the bars were targeted specifically because they are meeting places for the Kurdish community. (Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images)

You heard from Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, who made a statement that she is very upset about what happened. She said, "Racism is a poison. Hate is a poison. This poison exists in our society and is already to blame for many crimes." What did you make of what the chancellor had to say?

Yeah, that's right. But ... it's the fault of the German politicians something like this happened.

The right wings got stronger in Germany and they did nothing against it. That's the problem.

Something like this happens and now they act. They have to act before the real massacre happens, not after.

Have you yourself felt that — the effect of the rise of the right-wing in Germany? Have you noticed that in your own life?

Yeah, of course. You can see it in normal situations. You can see it on footage. You can see that it grows bigger — that the people are more and more, in some cities, against immigrants.

There are reports ... swastikas have turned up, Nazi salutes — that there are more and more circles of German politics that are showing this kind of extremism. What's the message you want to send tonight? As people gather, what do they want to tell the politicians?

The politicians have to act against fascism, against the right wing. We all as people have to get up and make some noise against fascism and against the right wing.

We cannot accept that. We must hold together ... and preach together.

Written by Jeanne Armstrong and John McGill. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.