Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands are currently caught in war of words, with Turkey going so far as to invoke the ‘Nazi’ tag after Netherlands prevented two Turkish ministers from campaigning for the upcoming Turkish referendum.
What is the Turkish referendum?
The Turkish Constitutional Referendum, to be held on April 16, 2017, is a long-standing call by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AK party) to amend the Constitution on at least 18 counts.
These amendments would give more power to the President, including the power to appoint or sack Cabinet Ministers and the Vice-President, and transferring the powers of the Cabinet to the President - basically swapping the current parliamentary system of government with an executive presidency.
Currently, the Head of State in Turkey is the President in whose hands the executive power rests, while the head of government and the leader of the Cabinet is the Prime Minister. If the amendments kick in, the President would be both the Head of State and the head of Government.
What has the Netherlands got to do with this?
Netherlands has a sizeable Turkish population, with quite a number of Dutch citizens actually eligible to vote in the referendum.
On March 12, the Dutch government withdrew landing permission for the Turkish Foreign Minister’s plane. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was supposed to campaign for the referendum in Rotterdam but Dutch officials cited “risks to public order and security” for withdrawing permission. “I thought Nazism was over,’ but I was wrong. In fact, Nazism is alive in the West,” Cavusoglu said, after his return to Turkey.
Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who had entered Netherlands from Germany, also faced the same treatment. She was sent back to Germany under an armed escort.
According to the Associated Press, the Dutch government sees the referendum as a step backward in Turkey’s democratic process. Turkey has also accused Netherlands of “preventing campaigns in order to influence a “no” vote in the referendum”.
Erdogan told a rally in Istanbul that the Dutch “do not know politics or international diplomacy,” comparing them to “Nazi remnants, they are fascists.” Ms. Kaya wrote on Twitter that, “The whole world must take action against this fascist practice! Such a treatment against a woman minister cannot be accepted.”
Later that evening on the same day, Turkey closed off the Dutch embassy in Ankara and the Consulate in Istanbul for security reasons. The Dutch Ambassador to Turkey, who was abroad at the time of the flare-up, has still not returned.
A day later, on March 13, Turkey said it had formally protested its Ministers’ treatment after summoning the Dutch Embassy’s charge d’affaires, Daan Feddo Huisinga.
Protests in Netherlands and Turkey
About 500 people gathered outside the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul, waving Turkish flags and chanting slogans.
Outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, nearly 1,000 protesters turned up leading to the mayor of Rotterdam to issue an emergency order.
Netherlands elections and Geert Wilders
The “risks to public order and safety” that Netherlands cited to prevent Cavusoglu from landing could also be because of the upcoming elections.
On Wednesday, March 15, Netherlands will go to polls in what is seen as a test of the far-Right’s viability in Europe. The country’s far-Right candidate,Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, is known for his anti-Islam and anti-European Union rhetoric. He is known to have compared the Quran with Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and has called for a tax on veils.
The AP has reported that the election campaign has been dominated by issues of identity.
Cavusoglu has called Wilders “racist, fascist, Nazi, like a Nazi.”
Erdogan hs gone on say that Netherlands would “pay the price”. “If you sacrifice Turkish-Dutch relations to the elections on Wednesday, then you will pay the price,” Erdogan warned.
What is Germany’s role in this quarrel?
Germany’s Angela Merkel waded into the spat between the NATO allies to say that Netherlands had her “full support and solidarity”. She also demanded that Turkey stop using Nazi parallels and that such comparisons were “completely unacceptable”.
Germany also has a sizeable Turkish population that can vote in the referendum. There have been protests in several places in Germany with Erdogan supporters and those who are anti-Erdogan have clashed. Germany banned several rallies on the referendum.
A number of German politicians and officials have come out with statements regarding Turkey’s behaviour.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said his country needed no “extra tuition” from Turkey on fighting terrorism or countering the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, according to AP.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Governor of the western State of Saarland said she wants to prevent Turkish government officials from holding political rallies there before Turkey’s constitutional referendum and that she would use “all opportunities” to prevent such rallies.