The Turkish referendum scheduled for 16 April 2017 concerns a series of constitutional amendments that, if approved, would transform the country from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential system, under which President Erdoğan would be able to stand in two more elections, theoretically allowing him to govern as a powerful head of state until 2029. Critics of the proposed changes have expressed their fears of increased authoritarianism, whereas supporters claim the new system would make the Turkish state stronger and safer.
Overseas election campaigning, even in diplomatic missions, is illegal under Turkish law; yet most political parties in Turkey, including the ruling AKP, have flouted this law.
The Turkish referendum comes at a time when the Netherlands, too, was scheduled for its general election, which was held on 15 March 2017.
Protesters at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Istanbul
On 9 March 2017, the Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders told his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu that the Netherlands would not facilitate his planned visit to Rotterdam on 11 March, meaning that he would not meet with Çavuşoğlu in any official capacity and that the Dutch state would not provide support in any way during his planned visit. Koenders cited risks to public order and security for the decision, and further stated that, although the Dutch government did not approve of the planned visit, he would not infringe upon the constitutional right of freedom of assembly. This did not faze Çavuşoğlu, and he publicly requested all "Turkish citizens in the Netherlands" to come to the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam on 11 March. He further threatened the Netherlands with "serious sanctions" if his visit was prevented. In response to these threats, which came at a moment when the Netherlands was still negotiating with Turkey to allow for a small appearance by the Turkish minister, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte promptly revoked the rights of Çavuşoğlu's government plane to land on Dutch soil.
The Turkish government then sent the Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, from Germany to Rotterdam by car after the Turkish consul had allegedly promised the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, that she would not be coming to the Netherlands. After intercepting two decoy motorcades, the Dutch police managed to stop Betül Sayan Kaya just metres from the Turkish consulate. A standoff ensued for several hours in which the Turkish minister refused to leave the Netherlands and tried to enter the consulate. Although not arrested, she was declared persona non grata and eventually escorted to the Dutch–German border near Nijmegen and returned to Germany. Sporadic rioting occurred among the about 1,000 pro-Erdoğan protesters who had come to the Turkish consulate. They were met by Dutch riot police, who arrested 12 people for violent assault and not following police instructions.
The Dutch refusal prompted President Erdoğan to characterise the Dutch as "fascists" and "remnants of Nazism" and to accuse the Netherlands of mass murder in Srebrenica, which resulted in a hardening of positions on both sides. Rutte called Erdoğan's remarks "unacceptable" and a "vile falsification of history", and demanded an apology.
Rotterdam councillor Turan Yazir, a Dutch-Turkish citizen and supporter of Fethullah Gülen, was granted leave of absence after receiving threats and having his details published by the Daily Sabah newspaper, which also accused him of working with Geert Wilders.
Prime Minister Rutte called the Turkish government's stance bizarre and unacceptable and called for talks to resolve the impasse, adding that Turkey had crossed a diplomatic line. "This has never happened before; a country saying someone is not welcome and then them coming regardless."
A nationwide poll showed that 86% of the Dutch population supported the Dutch government's actions, with 10% condemning them. 91% of the Dutch population blamed the Turkish government for the incident's escalation.
The Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said there would be "strong countermeasures" for the Netherlands. The residences of the Dutch ambassador, chargé d'affaires and consul general in Ankara were sealed off and the ambassador (who was on leave) was not allowed to return to Turkey.
Protesters in cities of Turkey including İzmit were seen squeezing and sticking knives into oranges (a prominent symbol of the Dutch royal family; the orange color is also associated with the Netherlands). Some protesters also burnt the flags of France since they assumed French President François Hollande was the President of Holland (Netherlands). Similarly, some Erdoğan supporters intended to call the Rotterdam police department and make the operators force to listen to religious and nationalistic Turkish songs. However, they mistakenly called the police department of the Town of Rotterdam in New York State, United States. A man replaced the Dutch flag of the Dutch Consulate General in Istanbul with a Turkish one with some protesters making signs of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves and shouting "Allahu akbar", "Racist Holland" and "Damn Holland".
On 13 March, Turkey barred the Dutch ambassador (who was out of the country during the incident) from returning to Turkey and said it was suspending "high-level diplomatic relations". In addition president Erdoğan announced the two ministers involved would file a complaint against the Netherlands with the European Court of Human Rights.
On 14 March, Erdoğan accused the Netherlands of mass murder in Srebrenica. Also, he called on Turks, Muslims and foreigners living in Germany and the Netherlands not to vote for parties that espouse anti-Turkey policies.
On 15 March, President Erdoğan urged the city of Istanbul to cut their (nonexistant) sister city agreement with Rotterdam. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality city council has terminated Istanbul's twin city agreement with Rotterdam, on March, 15.
On 15 March, Turkey's red meat association has ordered a consignment of prize Dutch cattle to be sent back to the Netherlands, saying it no longer wants to farm the cows due to the diplomatic crisis between the countries.
Responding to Dutch election results, Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu stated to consider Mark Rutte's party fascist like Wilders's PVV and predicted a holy war would erupt in Europe.
Turkish hackers have hacked a number of Twitter accounts following the diplomatic row with Germany and the Netherlands over a ban on Turkish ministers entering the country.
On 17 March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while on a campaign event in the town of Eskişehir, called for the Turkish Diaspora in Europe to get more children. Erdoğan said "Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you."
On 22 March, 2017, Erdogan said that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey. "If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy," he said.
On 23 March, 2017, Erdoğan said that he would call the European countries fascists as long as they continue to call him a dictator. Also, he clarified his “Nazi” remarks for the Netherlands and Germany, saying that he uttered those words within the context of their definition.
EU – On 13 March, the European Commission urged Turkey to "moderate its tone" in order to avoid further escalation of the incident. It added that Turkish insults towards the Netherlands, accusing them of being Nazis or fascists, is a mode of rhetoric which has no place in Europe. On 15 March, the President of the European CouncilDonald Tusk said that Turkey's comments were "completely detached from reality". As a show of respect for the Netherlands and its citizens, Tusk, also delivered part of his speech in Dutch. In it, he said "The Netherlands is Europe, and today I want to say Europe is the Netherlands. Place of freedom and democracy, especially Rotterdam, city of Erasmus, brutally shot to pieces by the Nazis, today with a mayor born in Morocco. That has nothing to do with fascism. We stand in solidarity with the Netherlands." He finished his speech by saying "Yes, we are European, and we are proud".
NATO – NATO called for calm and for both sides to de-escalate the situation.
Austria – Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that Turkey was not welcome to hold rallies in Austria, stating that doing so could hinder integration and increase friction between Austrians and Turkish immigrants.
Denmark – Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen expressed his concern about the political developments in Turkey, and announced his intention to postpone the visit of the Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım to Denmark.
Germany – ChancellorAngela Merkel stated that she was not opposed to Turkish ministers holding rallies in Germany, providing that they had previously been announced. However, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that Turkey had no business to campaign in Germany. Merkel defended the Netherlands and rejected Erdoğan's accusations towards the Netherlands as "completely unacceptable comments". She further stated that "the Netherlands could count on her full support and solidarity".
On 20 March, Chancellor Merkel told President Erdoğan that his comparing German officials to Nazis must stop. She also said that permission that had been granted for rallies to be held in Germany might be rescinded. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that he had let his Turkish counterpart know that "a line had been crossed".
United States – State Department spokesman Mark Toner called on both sides to avoid escalatory rhetoric.