What’s behind the rising tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands?

When the Netherlands decided to refuse entry to the Turkish minister for Family and Social Policy, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, they inadvertently began an escalating war of words and threats with Turkey. But it’s not just the Netherlands that Turkey finds itself facing, this incident has exposed numerous rifts Turkey has with the European continent.

Turkey is currently embroiled in an internal referendum campaign, and it’s not altogether a pretty one. The countries president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is essentially seeking to increase the powers given to the office of president in sweeping legislative changes. To ensure the success of his campaign Erdoğan must secure the support of the millions of expat Turks living within Europe. To try and gain as much support as possible numerous rallies have been organised across Europe for these expatriates. It was to one such rally that Kaya had been heading.

The Dutch decision to deny entry to Turkey’s minister comes amid repeated claims of bullying, harassment and even imprisonment of activists opposed to the president’s plans.

The result of the Dutch decision has been a tit for tat exchange between the two countries. Police in Rotterdam used batons to disperse protestors while a man in Istanbul invaded the Dutch consulate, tore down their flag and replaced it with the Turkish one. In this age of rising nationalism this butting of heads is becoming more commonplace, but this is certainly the greatest illustration of a breakdown in diplomatic civility we’ve had thus far.

The Turkish populace is being constantly shown stark images from Rotterdam as Turkish supporters clash with police only to meet with batons and attack dogs. Turkish anger is also falling upon Germany as they too have denied permission for a rally to occur that would have been attended by President Erdoğan himself. With Austria and Denmark also looking to ban such rallies many Turkish people are seeing this as confirmation that European nations see Turkish individuals as lower status.

Whatever the intent behind the bans, Erdoğan has managed to cleverly manipulative the narrative into a nationalist one, striking up a fervour amongst the electorate that overshadows genuine problems with the referendum.

There are numerous valid reasons for which the Erdoğan regime is being prohibited from hosting rallies upon European soil. For one thing his regime is aggressive against liberals, democrats and the few human rights activists that stand against the oppression. Yet these arguments are being left in silence. Austria for instance cancelled a rally on the ground of fire regulations, while Germany has banned some rallies while allowing others to go ahead. The legitimate reasons to stand against Turkey are not being stated, maybe in fear of invoking Erdoğan wrath still further.

The Turkish media, which not surprisingly is now fully under the control of Erdoğan, has dutifully and vehemently reported on the abuse by Dutch police, and are framing that into a victory of sorts for the Turkish state and its leader.

As the Turkish-German politician Cem Özdemir said, why does Turkey expect to be able to hold rallies on European soil whenever it likes without the home country having a problem with that when demonstrations and protests are so viciously put down in Turkey itself? And why are Turks so angry at images from the Netherlands when protestors are treated worse within their own country? Well quite simply that’s the power of media censorship and propaganda.

Yet there are legitimate concerns amongst Turkish workers abroad, specifically in Germany where they are known as, “Gastarbeiter”, which translates to “guest worker”. This word refers to a two million strong work force that was never intended to settle permanently within the country. This concern about being second-class citizens within the country they call home is one that should be addressed, particularly since the Erdoğan regime frequently uses it to stir up hostilities with Turks in Germany. To him this just shows that European countries continue to treat Turkish immigrants as nothing but cheap labour.

For their part European authorities have been incredibly blind to the rise of pro-Erdoğan groups across the continent. Ankara has aggressively supported numerous faith networks and communities in various countries and in so Erdoğan’s AKP party now has the ability to mobilise the Turkish communities across the continent.

What this escalation shows more than anything though is Europe’s failure in leaving Erdoğan to his own devices. The Turkish president is well aware of the bargaining power he has over Europe in with his ability to control the flow of Syrian refugees through his country.

While Erdoğan’s is not without his critics, many people within Turkey despise the man more than any European could possibly understand, his rapport and support with his party’s rank and file is strong. Even this escalation against the Dutch, while clearly a liability, has done little to trouble his supporters. A youth branch of the AKP were seen stabbing and squeezing oranges in a direct threat to the Dutch, this is an idiotic and juvenile form of politics but it is a menacing one all the same.

This is a ridiculous situation that the Dutch now find themselves embroiled in, while nationalism grows within their own borders they are now faced with growing hostilities from Turks both at home and abroad, and quite sadly this is too good of an opportunity for Erdoğan to ignore. Seeking to increase his own power he needs undying support, and what better way to achieve that than cast himself as the oppressed politician fighting for Turkish rights? Europe should have, and could have done more, but that needed to be done years ago, now the damage is done and Ankara rules in those Turkish communities far from home.

Jamie Hall

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