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
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 OpenDemocracy.net, 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
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.