Turkish president Erdogan drags Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims into Dutch row

Sofia Lotto Persio
President Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey's president has launched yet another extraordinary attack against the Netherlands, after the Dutch government blocked two Turkish ministers from rallying in the country in support of a constitutional referendum aimed at giving the president greater powers.

Ignoring high-level advice from the EU and Nato to de-escalate the ongoing row with the Netherlands, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has instead stepped up the rhetoric in his war of words.

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"We know the Netherlands and the Dutch from the Srebrenica massacre. We know how rotten their character is from their massacre of 8,000 Bosnians there," Erdogan said on 14 March.

Erdogan has derided the Netherlands in a number of ways since the Turkish ministers were blocked from campaigning on 11 March. He labelled the Netherlands and its citizens as "Nazi remnants", "fascists" and a "banana republic".

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Turkey slapped a series of political sanctions against the Netherlands on 13 March, including closing Turkish airspace to Dutch diplomats and suggesting a revision of the EU migrant deal.

Reacting to Erdogan's latest comments, Rutte said the Turkish president's comments were completely unacceptable, calling them a "disgusting distortion of history."

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"We will not lower ourselves to this level. It is totally unacceptable," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Dutch broadcaster RTL Z. "He is getting more hysterical by the second and the minute. He should cool down," Rutte also told the press as he was out campaigning ahead of the Dutch election on 15 March.

Erdogan also asked Dutch voters of immigrant background to not vote for either Rutte or the far-right leader Geert Wilders, whom he labelled an "extreme racist", according to CNN.

The Srebrenica massacre, also referred to as the Bosnian genocide, was one of the darkest moments punctuating the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and is considered the worst episode of mass murder in Europe since World War II. Around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, mostly men and boys, were shot dead by the Bosnian Serb Army. Between 25,000 and 30,000 women and girls were raped.

The besieged enclave of Srebrenica was considered a safe area under the United Nations and fell under the protection of Dutch soldiers operating under the UN banner. The Dutch troops failed to protect the enclave as they were insufficiently equipped to ward off the Bosnian Serb forces.

Erdogan's comments have attracted criticism on social media too, with several users pointing to the 1915 massacre of the Armenian people, which Turkey has always refused to recognise as a "genocide". Turkey even recalled the German ambassador in 2016 after the diplomat used that word to refer to the massacre. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the right to deny the genocide in 2015.

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