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2017 Dutch–Turkish diplomatic incident

Dutch–Turkish relations
Map indicating locations of Netherlands and Turkey



In March 2017, the Netherlands and Turkey were involved in a diplomatic incident, triggered by Turkish efforts to hold political rallies on Dutch territory and subsequent travel restrictions placed by Dutch authorities on Turkish officials seeking to promote the campaign for a 'yes' vote in the upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum to Turkish citizens living in the Netherlands. Such foreign campaigning is illegal under Turkish law.

The Netherlands barred the aircraft of Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu from landing, and expelled Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya from the country, when both tried to speak at rallies. In response, Turkey expelled the Dutch ambassador from the country, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the Dutch "fascists" and "remnants of Nazism" and accused the Netherlands of "massacring" Muslims in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War in 1995. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called Erdoğan's remarks "unacceptable" and a "vile falsification of history" and demanded an apology.[1] Rutte also called for talks to resolve the impasse, adding that Turkey had crossed a diplomatic line.


 Turkish constitutional referendum 
Sunday, 16 April 2017

Choices ordered according to colour and layout of ballot paper

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.[2]

In the 'Yes' campaign's attempt to persuade Europe's Turkish diaspora (many of whom still hold Turkish citizenship and thus are allowed to vote on the referendum) several high-ranking Turkish government officials sought to campaign in European cities with large Turkish populations. This included the Dutch city of Rotterdam, which contains a large portion of the 400,000 people of Turkish origin living in the Netherlands. The Turkish plans to campaign in European cities met a mixed reception in many European states, including the Netherlands.[3]

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.[4][5]

The Turkish referendum comes at a time when the Netherlands, too, was scheduled for its general election, which was held on 15 March 2017.[6]


Protesters at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Istanbul

On 3 March 2017, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte got confirmation from the Turkish authorities that a campaign manifestation was planned on Dutch territory,[7] on 11 March.[8] That day he announced on his Facebook page that the Dutch authorities would not cooperate.[7] On 6 March, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs received diplomatic mail requesting the admission of the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu with the intention of attending a campaign meeting.[7] The same day, the Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders replied in a note verbale that such a visit would not be allowed.[7] This led to a series of telephonic contacts between Koenders and Çavuşoğlu, as well as between Rutte and the Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım.[7] According to Çavuşoğlu, the Dutch government told him that it objected to a visit because it feared that it would lead to an electoral victory of the anti-Islamic Party for Freedom.[8] The Dutch government has denied that such a motive was ever communicated to Çavuşoğlu.[8] Dutch diplomatic sources have indicated that Çavuşoğlu offered Koenders to postpone a visit to a date after the Dutch elections on 15 March, e.g. to 18 March, but that this option was refused by Koenders who wanted to avoid any suggestion of a connection between the two events, fearing it might give the impression that the Dutch government deliberately escalated the situation.[7] As an alternative for a ministerial visit to a mass gathering, the Dutch authorities offered to allow the visit of Turkish ex-parliamentarians, or Çavuşoğlu visiting some closed session.[7] When no consensus was reached, the Dutch made a final offer on 10 March: Çavuşoğlu would be allowed access to the Turkish embassy in The Hague.[7] This was accepted by the Turks.[8] Then the Dutch demanded that no more than fifty people were invited to the meeting and the session would not be made public beforehand.[7] While Turkey considered this condition, a third one was made in the evening: the names of those invited would have to be disclosed beforehand to the Dutch authorities.[8] On 11 March 03:00,[8] it was added that if Turkey would not accept this offer, landing rights might be refused.[7] Turkey considered this to be an unacceptable infringement on its sovereignty and a deliberate attempt by the Dutch to sabotage the visit.[8] Koenders told the Dutch press that the Netherlands would not facilitate a planned visit by Çavuşoğlu 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.[9] Çavuşoğlu was very dismayed by what he saw as a Dutch ultimatum.[7] He publicly requested "all Turkish citizens in the Netherlands" to come to the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam on 11 March. In an interview with CNN Türk around 09:00 he claimed to have been threatened by the Netherlands and announced "heavy sanctions" if his visit was prevented.[8] Koenders watched the CNN programme; when he heard the remarks by Çavuşoğlu, he said "This is the signal" and immediately phoned Rutte.[7] On 11 March, around 10:00, Rutte denied Çavuşoğlu's government plane the right to land on Dutch soil.[10]

Mounted police in front of the Turkish consulate, Rotterdam

Meanwhile, Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-Islamic Party for Freedom, had on 8 March demonstrated against the visit in front of the Turkish embassy in The Hague, heading a small group of party candidates.[7] Together with member of parliament Sietse Fritsma, he held a banner with the words Blijf Weg! Dit is ons land ("Stay Away! This is our country").[7] On 11 March, Wilders too became aware of Çavuşoğlu's remarks; on 11:20 he sent a tweet to his many Twitter followers to re-tweet to Rutte: "don't let the Turkish minister into the country; do NOT let him land here".[7] Later that day, Wilders in an interview with Al Jazeera claimed it was pressure from his party that convinced Rutte not to grant landing rights.[7]

At the time, the Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, was touring Germany.[7] A visit to the Dutch town of Hengelo, close to the German border, had already been scheduled.[7] On 11 March, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service received information that Kaya would try to reach Rotterdam by car.[7] She could freely cross the border because of the Schengen Treaty.[8] A crisis centre was established on the twenty-third floor of the Rotterdam World Port Center to coordinate police actions.[7] Earlier, the Turkish consul in Rotterdam had indicated to the Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, that there were no plans for such a visit.[7] It now proved impossible to contact the consul, which gave Aboutaleb the conviction that the consul knew of Kaya's attempt.[7] A motorcade was intercepted but the car with the minister managed to drive away.[7] It reached a small yard at the rear of the Turkish consulate.[7] The Dutch police stopped Betül Sayan Kaya's entourage just metres from the Turkish consulate building.[11] About twenty police officers, forming a special forces unit, the Dienst Speciale Interventies, masked and equipped with body armour and automatic weapons, arrested ten members of Kaya's bodyguard, on suspicion of illegally carrying firearms.[7] A German source had indicated they had obtained a German weapons permit.[8] No arms were discovered.[7] Two other men were also arrested, who later proved to be the Deventer Turkish consul and the chargé d'affaires of the Turkish embassy.[8] They in principle enjoyed diplomatic immunity.[8] The twelve arrested men were detained for two hours and their passports were seized.[8] A stand-off ensued for several hours in which the Turkish minister refused to leave the car.[7] Just after midnight, a special heavy tow truck, a lift flatbed, was driven into the yard and prepared to vertically hoist the 3.5 tonne car on the flatbed, with the minister still in it, to transport her back to Germany.[7] The minister now left the car and demanded entrance to the consulate invoking the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.[7] Although not arrested, she was declared persona non grata.[12] She was, loudly protesting, taken to another car, a black armoured Mercedes,[8] by masked Dutch police officers who accompanied her to a police station at Nijmegen near the Dutch–German border.[7] Her passport was seized.[8] She was not allowed to leave the station for one and a half hours, while being reunited with the ten bodyguards.[7][8] She returned to Germany under German escort.[7] Sporadic rioting occurred among the about a thousand pro-Erdoğan protesters who had come to the Turkish consulate. They were met by Dutch riot police, who arrested twelve people for violent assault and not following police instructions.[13][14][15] Kaya's passport was returned on 12 March, 18:00, to the Turkish consul.[8] In April 2017, Kaya's lawyer said they would file a complaint against the Dutch government at court claiming that her expulsion from the Netherlands was illegal because she was not given a written statement of the reasons for the expulsion.[16]

The Dutch actions 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.[17][1] 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.[18]


Dutch reaction

Turkish reaction

International reaction

International organisations


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".[50]


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