The diplomatic clash and rising tensions between Turkey and Netherlands

Erdogan who is becoming accustomed to employing harsh rhetoric and giving vile statements should have shown at least some caution and restraint in tackling this diplomatic standoff with Netherlands

My dad was watching some talk show (notorious for its outrageous comments on government) on a Pakistani news channel about the row between PML(N) and PTI over the Panama Papers case. Two men from opposing parties were arguing with each other in a way as if they were trying to flaunt how vehemently they are opposed to each other, but with no logic or ideological reason behind that reckless opposition. I told my dad to change the local news channel and turn to some other channel as I am sick of these constant dogfights between these Pakistani politicians on these so called talk shows (claiming to be capable of revealing bitter realities of our political system).

While my dad was changing the channel, BBC News came in between an American TV channel showcasing English movies and TV series with English subtitles and that Pakistani news channel notorious for its outrageous and explicit anti-government rhetoric. I saw the headline on BBC about how the Dutch government has barred the Turkish foreign minister from entering Netherlands to address a political rally and this has led to a diplomatic row between the two nations.

I wasn’t amazed by that headline as I knew that Erdogan has been intent on rallying the roughly 4.6 million expatriate Turks living in Western Europe to vote in an upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum – ironically overseas election campaigning, even in diplomatic missions, is illegal under Turkish law; yet most political parties in Turkey including the ruling AKP have flouted this law – and the Dutch government would be skeptical of motives of Erdogan, like other European governments have become within the span of a few years.

If passed, the Turkish constitutional referendum on 16th April, 2017 will metamorphose Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential one, effectively consolidating the power of three legislative bodies into one executive branch under Erdogan.

Though that headline didn’t amaze me, but I was, to some extent, prompted by it to contact my Turkish friends. I asked my friend Ilker – who once used to be a very vocal advocate of Erdogan and his AKP because of the initial economic prosperity, not because of any religious inclinations, but now he is disillusioned by the increasingly autocratic nature of Erdogan’s government – about the diplomatic row between Netherlands and Turkey over Dutch government not allowing Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to land on Dutch soil and Erdogan’s offensive rejoinder and his galling subsequent reply to Dutch government accusing it of Nazism and also likening the Dutch Republic to a Banana Republic.

Ilker told me how Dutch government’s debarring of Turkish foreign minister from landing on the Dutch soil for an AKP’s politically charged rally of Hollandali Turkleri (Turks living in Netherlands) has kicked off dozens of protest rallies in various parts of Turkey against the Dutch government and in some conservative areas of Eastern Turkey also against Europe and Western civilization as a whole.

He told me how a group in the Turk Baskenti (Turkish Capital: Ankara) placed a black wreath in front of the Dutch embassy building. A politically charged mob of AKP supporters in the Turkish Black Sea province of Samsun set a Dutch flag on fire and sung Istiklal Marsi (Turkish National Anthem).

Ilker, who is a student of political science in Ankara’s Bilkent university, told me how students from his university also protested in front of Dutch Embassy situated on The Netherlands Street of the Turkish capital to show how much they are offended by this move of the Dutch government. These students also demanded that the name of The Netherlands Street be changed. They also erected Turk Bayragi (Turkish Flag) on the street sign.

Along with the students, members of the International Peace and Friendship Association also gathered in front of the Dutch embassy on March 12 to protest the expulsion of Turkish family minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya from Netherlands along with the prohibition by the Dutch government on the entry of Turkish foreign minister in Netherlands.

Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya has said she witnessed “inhumane treatment” from the Dutch authorities after being barred from entering Turkey’s Rotterdam consulate and deported to Germany. Sayan Kaya said their “most basic needs were not provided” and charge d'affaires, five members of her team were detained, while members of the press were attacked by Dutch police dogs and horses.

“I once again condemn the Netherlands,” Kaya told a press conference after reaching Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, accompanied by Energy Minister Berat Albayrak. Albayrak described events as “a night of shame for European democracy.”

Members of the Physically Impaired Individuals’ Association of Turkey also gathered in a park in southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep and chanted slogans like “Down with the Netherlands,” and “Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya is not alone.”

Ilker told me how various non-governmental organizations from the provinces of Gaziantep, Batman, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Sakarya, Kahramanmaras and Bitlis have also organized small gatherings to deliver public statements to articulate their outrage at the Netherlands.

Although Ilker has been more skeptical of Dutch government than Erdogan in this recent diplomatic row, but he argued that Turkish news channels like CNN TURK have played their role in fomenting and instigating antagonism among the Turkish public against the Dutch government by sensationalizing and over exaggerating every new piece of information or update coming about strained relations with the Dutch republic.

Another friend of mine Mert from the Turkish southeastern province of Adiyaman told me how a shopkeeper in his province has filed a complaint against the Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Dutch interior and foreign ministers, and also against Rotterdam’s mayor. Mehmet Ozturk filed a criminal complaint against Dutch authorities to a courthouse in the province’s Kahta district over their treatment of Turkish ministers on March 13.

AKP youth wing on the other hand in northwestern Turkish province Kocaeli protested against the Dutch government by squeezing oranges and drinking the orange juice. AKP youth wing protestors said that Netherlands doesn’t even have the value of orange peel.

Ilker told me how even though he has been against the flippant and shallow rhetoric of Erdogan evolving within the span of a few years on international forum starting with lambasting Netanyahu of Israel and Sisi of Egypt, the recent diplomatic standoff should be blamed on the Dutch government of Mark Rutte and this time Erdogan shouldn’t be seen as the main culprit or perpetrator of this new political melodrama.

I was kind of convinced by Ilker’s argument when he said that the recent behavior of Dutch government under Prime Minister Mark Rutte towards Turkey (a predominantly Muslim nation with an Islamist president) can be seen as an attempt to stem the flow of votes to far-right leader Geert Wilders who has become notoriously known as the Trump of Netherlands. It’s not because of his similarly wacky hairdo and wife of Eastern European origin like Melania Trump, but because of his anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric using racial slurs  such as “Moroccan scum” explicitly and calling Left wing politicians losers and accusing them of adopting an elitist approach.

In this recent diplomatic standoff on the forum of global politics, it seems that letting domestic politics spill over into the foreign policy domain is now not just confined to Turkey of Erdogan but Dutch politicians are also diagnosed with this same kind of disease.

Former Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, a Christian Democrat who in the past also served as ambassador to Ankara, is of the same opinion as Ilker and me. He told the RTL Nieuws channel that the decision of Dutch government to declare Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya “persona non grata” and to deport her unceremoniously from the Netherlands was “very unwise.”

But I argued with Ilker that this standoff wouldn’t have been exacerbated, if Erdogan didn’t employ harsh rhetoric towards the Dutch government by hitting them with characterizations such as “Nazi” or “fascist” and if Erdogan kept the language of diplomacy intact.

I argued with Ilker that using derogatory characterizations such as “Nazi” or “fascist” for a democratic government, which also has the headquarters of organizations like ICC or ICJ on its soil (in Hague) goes down well with Islamist and nationalist sections of Turkish society, but not with the global community and EU and NATO which have urged both sides to show calm.

I think Erdogan has also irked EU with his harsh rhetoric towards the Dutch republic and has risked Turkey’s EU Accession deals, which may take a further gear back as Netherlands is the largest net contributor to EU. In 2015, its payments to the EU amounted to almost 150 Euros net per head of the Dutch population and these financial contributions complement the political and economic significance Netherlands possess within EU today.

It is quite disconcerting for those like me and Ilker, infatuated with a liberal brand of Islam with European inclinations that Turkey once used to offer, to see how the Turkish republic now drifting rapidly away from its EU Accession and has adopted an external outlook, becoming pretty similar gradually to the one offered by its Middle Eastern fellow nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Erdogan’s use of such harsh rhetoric against the Dutch government gave a big blow and a major setback to Turkish pursuit of EU membership especially at a time when Erdogan is already being criticized globally for human right violations and for leaving no room for democratic pluralism in his country.

Erdogan who has become habitual of employing harsh rhetoric and giving vile statements within the span of a few years should have shown at least some caution and restraint in tackling this diplomatic standoff. But he was as outrageous and explicit as the Pakistani news channel I mentioned earlier and like the Dutch Far right leader Geert Wilders who is wringing his hands with glee over the recent moves of Dutch government against Turkish officials.

Wilders is also capitalizing on Erdogan’s statements against Dutch republic by telling Dutch PM in a heated TV debate that “you’re Erdogan’s hostage, close borders”. He also gave a message to Turks living in Netherlands that they should either support Netherlands or leave the country and said that Turks living in Netherlands should reject “crazy Erdogan”.

Turkey seems alienated globally on the recent standoff and the only support Turks had on this diplomatic row with the Dutch republic was from individuals like Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour, Iraq’s former vice president Tariq al Hashimi, Adnan Mansar, the Secretary-General of the Tunisian Harak Tounes al-Irada political party and Veled Eddi, a representative of a Mauritian umbrella group the National Forum for Democracy and Unity. There’s not been any support even from the governing parties of these countries, and in this context thinking about support from leaders like Putin of Russia or Rouhani of Iran seems a distant reality.

Putin displayed rhetoric similar to NATO, asking for both the Netherlands and Turkey to calm down and de-escalate the tension. That was not something that AKP government of Erdogan needs now as Erdogan is craving for explicit supportive statements from some major world leaders like Putin especially after normalisation of Russo-Turkish relations which were strained by the Turkish shooting of Russian fighter jet in its airspace in 2015.

Turkish government should work out a venerable exit strategy and a sustainable way to take the Turk Millet (Turkish Nation) out of this recent diplomatic standstill. Erdogan shouldn’t give offensive political statements with feverish haste, should act with a little restraint and follow the potent Turkish proverb “Acele ise seytan karisir” (Haste makes waste).

Sarmad Iqbal is a writer, blogger, columnist and a student at FC College Lahore. He can be followed at Twitter @sarmadiqbal7.

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