Let us begin by first considering a hypothetical scenario. A minister from any European country – you can take your pick as to which one – turns up to Turkey during a campaigning season in his or her own country. That minister represents the ruling party and, hypothetically of course, wishes to talk to the large migrant community residing in Turkey who will have a vote in that European country’s upcoming referendum to determine the people’s will with regard to a key issue for that country’s future. That minister then attempts to access his or her country’s own consulate or embassy, yet is suddenly denied access by the Turkish government, who beat demonstrators demanding to see the minister. What would happen?
Well, I can tell you exactly what would happen. Not just the hypothetical European country in question, but the entire European Union and likely other states much farther afield who have nothing to do with the situation will suddenly heap opprobrium upon the Turkish government. They would each take aim at the “authoritarianism” of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They would each start suddenly denouncing Turkey for not accepting “European values”, and for making a mockery of international norms and laws. Finally, they would all become avid champions of human rights and freedom of expression, and would lose their minds at the fact that their countrymen had just been beaten by Turkish police.
The unwelcome Turkish ‘other’
The above, minus the international condemnation, is exactly what happened to Turkey recently to varying degrees in not just one European country, but several. It began with a number of German local authorities suddenly withdrawing authorisation for rallies booked months in advance by members of the Turkish community that would have been attended by Turkish ministers. The dispute with the Germans then spread to other neighbouring countries, with rallies being cancelled in the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland.
There are several strands to consider here. Firstly, it is not unusual or unreasonable for Turkish politicians and ministers to want to address their large expat (or is it “migrant”? One never knows these days) communities. There is a key referendum due to take place in Turkey regarding the country’s future as a democracy. Erdogan wants Turks to vote “Yes” to transform their country into a presidential democracy like the United States or even France, while others opposed to Erdogan’s ambitions want Turks to vote “No”, and both have sought to campaign in Europe where many Turks live – an entirely normal state of affairs.
Even the Europeans appear to accept this as normal, as they have granted permission for Turkish politicians to appear in Germany to campaign for the “No” side, particularly Deniz Baykal from the ultra-secularist People’s Republican Party (CHP), a party created by modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The acceptance of CHP campaigners comes as “Yes” campaigners and ministers, including Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag continued to be snubbed, showing European double standards and their taking sides in an internal Turkish referendum.
Secondly, and although people may argue that Turkey would not allow European ministers to campaign on Turkish soil, that is hardly a fair comparison. Due to the history of Euro-Turkish relations, migration tends to mostly be one-way towards Europe, not the other way around. Most Europeans who come to Turkey on a more permanent basis are retirees looking to spend the rest of their days in the sun and good weather of Turkey’s Aegean or Mediterranean coastal towns. They are not economic migrants in their millions, as is the case with Turks in Germany, for instance. That said, if economic realities were different, Europeans are no different to any other humans and would also become ready economic migrants if they felt their families needed it, so they should drop the xenophobic superiority complex and learn some humility.
Thirdly, there are questions of sovereignty. How can Dutch authorities prevent Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from accessing her sovereign nation’s own territory? It is ridiculous and shameful that the Dutch simply banned Kaya from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, which is Turkish soil under diplomatic and international norms and conventions. As mentioned above, if this happened to any European nation in Turkey, we would never hear the end of it. However, because Turkey is considered an unwanted “Other” encroaching onto what is seen as European turf, they are mistreated and it is seen as acceptable.
Spasmodic European reactions appear to originate in increasing Islamophobic tendencies, as well as an almost primordial fear of the Ottoman incursions into Europe. Though modern Turks are nothing like their Ottoman forebears, and the Turkish Republic is most assuredly not “neo-Ottoman”, this European insecurity is now centuries old, and appears to require therapeutic intervention.
That said, remarks by senior Turkish politicians, including Erdogan, that the German or even Dutch authorities are somehow Nazis because of this diplomatic dispute is an overreaction, and one that is likely to be very unhelpful. While Erdogan’s remarks are clearly designed for domestic consumption as a part of his longstanding populistic rhetoric designed to rally Turks to his aid, the ramifications of calling the Germans and others “Nazis” may be significant. After all, the Nazis were at the epicentre of World War II, costing tens of millions of lives and scarring the European conscience to this day.
However, Turkey is right, and entirely justified, in wanting to express its outrage at the belligerence it has been shown by arrogant European nations. Turkey should make good on its threat to impose sanctions on the Dutch, and should prevent all Dutch aircraft from flying over Turkish airspace or landing in Turkish airports.
Further, the EU has clearly not upheld its bargain with Ankara on the refugee and migrant crisis, so Turkey should quite simply do as little as possible to maintain its end of the bargain, or alternatively should tear up the accord altogether. Turkey hosts millions of refugees in its own country, and one must question how well the rich, gluttonous and greedy nations of Europe would cope if they had to bear a similar load. I suspect they would crack soon enough, and the politicians that have been so arrogantly dealing with Turkey will soon sue for a new deal and would behave with a little more respect.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.