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The choices Europe faces with Turkey

By DAVID ROMANO 17/3/2017

The latest casualty of Turkish President Erdogan’s drive for more power appears to be Turkish-Dutch relations. The Netherlands this week denied Turkish political leaders, including the Foreign Minister and Family and Social Policy Minister, permission to campaign on Dutch soil for the ‘yes’ side in Turkey’s upcoming April referendum on granting more power to Mr. Erdogan (the Netherlands has a large Turkish diaspora).

Various levels of government (municipal or federal) in some other European states, notably Denmark, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, have likewise forbidden such Turkish political rallies and campaigns on their territory. The response from Mr. Erdogan was to call the Dutch “Nazi remnants.” Last week he decried a similar policy in Germany, bemoaning the “fascist antics” of the Germans. Mr. Erdogan went on to state that “I have said that I had thought Nazism was over, but that I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West.”

A protestor in Istanbul broke into the Dutch consulate there, replacing the Netherlands’ flag with Turkey’s. Not to be outdone, members of Ankara’s Beef and Lamb Producers association promptly returned 40 Dutch Holstein cows they had purchased from the Netherlands. According to EuroNews, Turkish “Cattle farmers and traders are also reportedly considering halting the purchase of Dutch tractors, equipment, cattle feed and even bull semen” (Ankara has ample home-grown bull manure to satisfy that market).

The irony surrounding these events comes from the fact that what the Dutch and like-minded European governments are doing conforms with Turkish law. As Mehmet Ugur, writing in, points out: “…the Electoral Procedures Law was amended in 2008 by the AKP regime itself to stipulate that ‘Election propaganda campaigns shall not be conducted either in foreign countries or in Turkish representation facilities therein’ (Article 94/A). Turkish officials have violated their own law in 2014 (Presidential elections) and in 2015 general elections.” 

Ugur goes on to lament how European governments generally remained silent as, according to a new UN report, Turkey recently leveled entire cities in its majority-Kurdish southeast, displaced over 350,000 Kurdish civilians and engaged in a security crackdown that killed at least a thousand civilians. 

In other matters Europe again said nothing, notes Ugur:

Their fear of ‘losing a strategic partner’, has caused Europe to turn a blind eye to regime atrocities in Turkey. Since 2005, Europe has remained largely silent in the teeth of Turkish official discourse that has demonised domestic opponents as plotters in the service of European/western interests. Europe has also remained silent against the AKP elite’s use of law as an instrument for settling political scores with opponents. Europe has been silent too as the Turkish state supported and collaborated with Jihadi terror groups to destabilise Syria. Finally, Europe remained largely silent when AKP officials (including the president and the prime-minister) have uttered irredentist claims against other neighbours such as Iraq and Greece.

Appeasing President Erdogan has clearly not worked well for Europe, and should Turkey fall into complete authoritarianism, the Europeans have the makings of a real problem on their doorstep. With the United States now under an administration that apparently cares little for democracy and human rights abroad, only Europe (and a handful of other smaller or weaker democracies) remains to speak up for such values in a sufficiently loud voice. Leaders in London, Paris and other capitals should thus join the Dutch and others in standing up to Erdogan.

The only problem, however, is that such a strategy plays right into Mr. Erdogan’s and the European far-Right’s hands. Certain kinds of politicians in Turkey, Europe and elsewhere thrive on an apparent “clash of civilizations,” benefitting from a rally around the flag effect when their people and culture looks to be assaulted by outsiders. Mr. Erdogan in particular would no doubt love nothing more than the appearance of a Western assault on Turkey and European meddling in his referendum campaign. 

European leaders must therefore choose their words and strategies carefully. They must find a way to stand up for the principles they insist they hold dear, and they need to stop appeasing Ankara’s current leadership. They must do so in ways sensitive to how their actions might be portrayed in domestic Turkish politics, however, so as not to strengthen the very authoritarian forces they decry. They could start with more actively supporting true democrats in Turkey, such as the many members of the opposition now under assault or behind bars. 

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He is the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press) and co-editor (with Mehmet Gurses) of Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East (2014, Palgrave Macmillan).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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The Historian | 17/3/2017
Turkey is the greatest threat Europe has to deal with since the demise of Hitler's rule.
PLINY THE KURD | 17/3/2017
His inflamatory words and ugly gestures remind those of Hitlers.Erdogan is threatening everybody , he bullies the U.S, he blackmails Europe, he ambitions Greek territories, he invades Iraq and Syria, he levels entire Kurdish cities and towns, he does all that hiding himself behind NATO which is scared and very afraid of him. Europe must finally overcome its dream of no more wars.Europe must build up a strong coalition with the U.S. and with the Kurds to defeat and fracture the vile and Islamist terror state.
Guest | 17/3/2017
That's a good point made about Erdogan breaking his country's own laws. It's a another good example why he should not be trusted and the bulk of authority in Turkey transferred to his office.
adam | 17/3/2017
I think the problem can be solved trough creation of a kurdistan state from zagros mountain to euphrates river. But Apoist Kurds are more oppose an independent Kurdistan than Turkey.
T.I | 17/3/2017
It's not just the human right issue but in all other aspects the EU countries will come to regret their policy of appeasing Erdogan. The blame falls on the Europeans not Erdogan because the Europeans know very well what kind of person Erdogan and those surrounding him are, despite that they keep making concessions whenever Erdogan threatenes (bluffs) them, they've essentially told Erdogan that threats and blackmail works. It started with the Gezi uprising, when Erdogan put it down brutally the Europeans first made some noise but quickly backed down when he threatened economic repercussions and that he would steer Turkey towards Russia/China. Then it was the purging of the judiciary after the corruption scandal, then his support for ISIS, then his war on the Kurds and so on. Everytime something happened the Europeans quickly backed down, the irony here is Erdogan actually did everything he threatened he would do anyway, so the Europeans are loosing at both ends.

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