After Dutch authorities banned Turkish ministers' rallies ahead of Turkey's April 16 referendum, Pandora's box was opened. Fiery statements and the exchange of accusations and insults are escalating the crisis, and an end to it should not be expected before the election in the Netherlands and the referendum in Turkey.
While there are diverse views in Turkey, a significant majority of Turks viewed the crisis through the prism of Turkish nationalism and anti-Western sentiment, and believe the blame lies within the Dutch government. While this group includes almost all supporters of the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) – which is in opposition but supports the government's position in the upcoming referendum – it also contains a significant part of the supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).
It is worthy to note that Turkish society, which is deeply polarised, rarely shows such a unity, with the coup attempt last summer being the latest example.
These Turks, looking through the prism of nationalism and anti-Western sentiments (one of the building blocks of Turkish patriotism), think that the crisis is just another example of European racism and hostility towards Turks and Muslims.
References to Dutch colonialism in Africa, the "Dutch role" in Srebrenitsa and even the Crusades color the arguments that European countries such as Germany and Netherlands are jealous or, even, worried about Turkey's success and are constantly conspiring to divide and rule Turkey.
These people are therefore supporting sanctions against the Dutch diplomatic staff in Turkey, especially considering that the Netherlands declared Turkey's minister in charge of women's affairs as "persona non grata".
The leader of CHP, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has unexpectedly supported the government's tough stance against The Hague, but also criticised it for not taking severe measures, such as recalling Turkey's ambassador to the Netherlands. "Turkey has not been offended in such a way before. Do what needs to be done. We will give you full support", he said during his party's parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, echoing the widespread national pride in the country.
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Those expressing such sentiments have already abandoned their hopes that Turkey and the EU are allies, and they complain about Western hypocrisy and double standards when allowing supporters a 'No' vote in the referendum to hold rallies.
Therefore, as retribution, they can easily legitimise the attack – in the heart of Istanbul – of a Norwegian journalist by saying that they thought he was Dutch. Squeezing oranges – redolent of the royal color on the Dutch flag – and drinking orange juice in northwestern city of Izmit, as a form of public protest, is also another manifestation for those people who use every occasion to show their national pride to the entire world.
The reactions from Dutch society – with a Netherlands' right-wing daily De Telegraff front cover on March 13 saying that "we are the boss here!" or images of Dutch police beating several demonstrators outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam – only boosts such feeling further. With several other European countries, such as Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, preventing Turkish politicians from holding rallies to prevent the overspill of the crisis into their countries, this ever-expanding nationalistic sentiment is gaining ground among Turkish society.
A weaker, but significant and perhaps a more enlightened view within Turkish society is critical of both the Dutch and Turkish governments. Voters, mainly among the CHP – a group that expresses concern about rising populism and xenophobia in Europe – criticise the Dutch government for violating not only the Vienna Convention, but also European values. This group is concerned with the fact that the recent crisis did not happen in an isolated setting and is a preview of what Europe may be evolve into.
However, the CHP also blames the Turkish government for orchestrating the crisis in order to use it to mobilise nationalist voters during the upcoming referendum and criticises the Turkish government for undermining Turkey's standing in Europe for domestic, political reasons. This segment calls for de-escalation of the crisis.
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There is yet a third view, mainly shared by supporters of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, part of which supports the CHP and other left wing and liberal circles, that directs all criticism towards the Turkish government and sees the Netherland's approach as a normal and legitimate reaction to the Turkish government's atrocities. This group accuses the Turkish government for initiating an orchestrated crisis to galvanise Turkish voters around the Yes camp in the run-up to the April referendum; designed to grant the Turkish president with far-reaching powers.
For them, it is just a political game to drum up votes among Turkish expats. They assume that the Turkish government deliberately sought to escalate the crisis by disregarding the warnings of Dutch authorities who, one week ago, sent a diplomatic cable to the Turkish government saying authorities would not be provided with security if they ever come to campaign in the Netherlands.
The crises is likely to de-escalate once these circumstances change, particularly given the fact that Dutch companies are the top foreign investors in Turkey
This segment of Turkish society also voices criticism against measures taken by the Turkish government to restrict freedom of speech in the country while moralising to the West about their own standards. They underline that dissident voices are systematically silenced in Turkey where the two leaders of the pro-Kurdish party HDP are in prison, along with dozens of mayors and over 100 journalists are jailed in the challenging atmosphere of the state of emergency in place since last summer.
The proposed constitutional amendments, almost ending the checks and balances system in parliament – as well as the judicial independence that is leading to an excessive concentration of powers in the presidential office – are also seen as a backward trend in Turkish democracy, if they are approved at the referendum of 16 April. So, for this segment, the EU anchor is necessary for Turkish government to remind it of its obligations as a EU candidate country and a member of the Council of Europe.
This crisis occurred in a specific set of circumstances marked by the election in the Netherlands and the referendum in Turkey. The crises is likely to de-escalate once these circumstances change, particularly given the fact that Dutch companies are the top foreign investors in Turkey in a wide range of sectors from oil to banking. However, the views among the Turkish society summarised above will definitely outlive the current crisis.
The author is an Ankara-based journalist who has opted to remain anonymous due to the serious restrictions on and threats to journalists in Turkey.
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