Turks in Europe are victims of Erdogan’s policies
If, as some of his opponents say, there was a master plan by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invent a crisis with the European Union, it worked perfectly. With verbal insults, Turkey escalated a diplomatic rift with Germany and the Netherlands.
Both their governments and their people were accused of being Nazis. They found the comments outrageous but remained unsure of how to respond to Erdogan.
The dispute goes back to Dutch and German decisions to prohibit Turkish ministers from speaking at political rallies in their respective countries. In Germany, several members of Erdogan’s cabinet challenged the restriction, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisting on addressing German Turks at a Turkish consulate, in breach of Turkish election law. In the Netherlands, there were tense encounters between two Turkish ministers and Dutch authorities. Cavusoglu was prevented from landing in the Netherlands and was treated as persona non grata.
Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who entered the Netherlands by road, was dealt with even more harshly. She was prevented from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, deported from the country, officially declared persona non grata and, BBC Turkish reported, banned from entering the Schengen area for ten years.
It was an ugly row but, to use the term coined by Erdogan after the coup attempt last July, it came as a gift from God. Turkey’s mercurial president was swift in seizing the events and creating a perfect storm. The ensuing rhetoric and drama lifted his campaign for a “yes” vote in next month’s referendum to new heights.
The German and Dutch governments were not as crafty as Erdogan. They failed to speedily work out the meaning of his war of words, which came in response to Berlin’s and Amsterdam’s bans on campaigning imposed on Turkey’s ministers.
Over the past three Turkish elections, about 70% of Turks in many EU countries voted for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). By escalating the diplomatic crisis, Erdogan evidently had a broader agenda: He would whip up anti-Western sentiment among conservative pro-AKP voters at home to consolidate support for a “yes” vote in the referendum. The strategy could even help with undecided voters, which recent surveys put at 10%.
It worked. Pro-Erdogan crowds were mobilised in Rotterdam and the clashes that erupted gave Erdogan material to abuse the Dutch even more furiously. He went on to accuse them of involvement in the genocide in Srebrenica and imposed diplomatic sanctions.
Until Erdogan started the fight with Germany and the Netherlands, domestic surveys showed the referendum vote about 50-50. Now, if opinion polls are reliable, the “yes” camp feels more confident.
The Turkish opposition said Germany and the Netherlands fell into Erdogan’s trap by curtailing freedom of expression. A row broke out between opposition parties in Turkey and Turkish, Kurdish, secular groups in Germany that largely supported the ban.
The crisis is definitely a game changer.
First, Erdogan’s gamble has already paid off. No matter who wins this year’s Dutch, French and German elections, Erdogan has improved his chances of getting a “yes” vote, which would enable his presidency to accrue even more power. He will have positioned Turkey as a country that espouses nationalist and Islamist ideas.
Second, Erdogan has done just what Russian President Vladimir Putin would have wanted: He sowed further division within the European Union. In a broader context, he played up the clash of civilisations idea.
Third, Erdogan signalled that he is ready to break loose from the European Union, leaving it with only one choice — at best, a privileged partnership that is focused on trade and the agreement on stemming the refugee flow to Europe.
Fourth, the European Union, which has kept quiet about human rights violations in Turkey to preserve its own self-interest, may be facing its moment of reckoning.
It is clear that the 58-year Turkish- EU relations will never recover from this crisis. More importantly, the real victims of Erdogan’s ruthless policy of crisis after crisis will be European Turks, who will face the risk of being targeted and branded as undesirable elements on European soil. Comparisons are being made between them and the Jews and Roma in 1930s Germany.
Does Erdogan care about that? If so, his concern might involve using them as bargaining chips.