Dutch-Turkish ties at lowest point in four centuries

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed The Netherlands “will pay a heavy price” for its treatment of his Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya.


The minister was expelled from the country on Saturday after defying a ban on attending a Rotterdam rally to drum up support among expat voters for April’s referendum on boosting Erdogan’s powers.

“Certainly in recent history it’s the biggest diplomatic crisis between the two countries,” said Erdogan Aykac, a researcher in Turkish foreign relations at Groningen University.

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Although it was unclear whether Turkish threats included economic sanctions, Ankara would “suffer far more than The Netherlands” from such a move, said Erik-Jan Zurcher, professor of Turkish studies at Leiden University.

“The Dutch economy is in excellent shape and very resilient, while the Turkish economy has been in crisis mode since the middle of last year. It’s extremely vulnerable at the moment to any kind of shock,” Zurcher told AFP.

Diplomatic spats

Diplomatic relations – cordial since they were first launched in 1612 – took a turn for the worse 400 years later in 2012 and have steadily deteriorated since then, experts said.

Even while then Turkish prime minister Erdogan shook hands with Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte during an official visit in March 2012, events were overshadowed by a spat over a Turkish boy adopted by Dutch lesbian parents.

Dutch newspapers reported the couple went into hiding with then nine-year-old Yunus because of attempts in Turkey to have him returned and apparent disquiet in the Turkish community.

Last year Turkish-Dutch journalist Ebru Umar was arrested and briefly detained after she tweeted comments critical of Erdogan. Umar later returned to The Netherlands after diplomatic efforts, but lives at a secret address for her own safety.

The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin.

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Thousands of pro-Erdogan demonstrators took to the streets in big Dutch cities after the failed coup in July. At the time, journalists said they were attacked by pro-Erdogan supporters in Rotterdam, and the president’s opponents say they were threatened.

The incidents were widely condemned in the Dutch parliament.

Concerns over perceived Turkish interference in Dutch internal affairs reached breaking point on Saturday, experts said.

Dutch officials said the government had drawn “a line in the sand” when it refused Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane permission to land near Rotterdam.

A few hours later, Dutch police expelled family minister Kaya, driving her back to the German border.

“Everybody who lives in The Netherlands… must have the freedom to make their own choices and not allow a foreign power to come and tell them how they should live their lives,” Dutch deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher said Monday.

“We have to defend all Dutch citizens,” he told the NOS public broadcaster.

‘Painful for both sides’

Bilateral trade between Turkey and the Netherlands amounted to almost eight billion euros in 2016, according to the Dutch central statistics office.

But that number falls behind the top Dutch bilateral trading partner Germany, which amounted to 98.2 billion euros in 2016.

“It remains to be seen whether economic sanctions will indeed manifest themselves,” Dutch economic broadcaster RTLZ said.

But “seeing that trade relations with Turkey have improved over the last decade, it’s clear it wouldn’t be painless for either side,” it said.  

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