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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 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] 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[10] 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.[11]

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.[12][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.[13]


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".[44]


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  33. ^ Erdogan warns Europeans 'will not walk safely' if attitude persists, as row carries on
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