What’s going on between Turkey and the Netherlands?

In the weeks leading up to the Turkish referendum, Turkey and the Netherlands find themselves in a situation of conflict. Turkish ministers have been kicked out, Turkish immigrants have protested and Turkish-Dutch are no longer allowed to leave Turkey. What is happening between Turkey and the Netherlands?


On April 16th a referendum will be held in Turkey that proposes some drastic changes to the Turkish constitution. The proposed changes would turn the Turkish system into a presidential system, a long-lasting dream of president Erdogan. Currently, his presidential role is technically mostly ceremonial. Though he already holds most of the power in practice, a positive outcome of the referendum would formally confirm this role. The role of prime minister would disappear, its functions carried onto the president. In addition to this, the president would gain the power to discard laws, dissolve the parliament and appoint and fire ministers. Drastic changes, but what do the Netherlands have to do with this?

The Netherlands

About 250.000 Turkish voters currently live in the Netherlands. Since the outcome of the referendum is far from certain, these are valuable votes for Erdogan. In light of this, a request is sent to the Netherlands in the beginning of March to campaign for the Turkish referendum. The request is turned down by the Dutch minister of foreign affairs, Bert Koenders, who calls such a visit by Turkish officials “undesirable”. Apart from fearing a disturbance of public order, the Dutch government, together with other European countries, deems the proposed changes to the constitution undemocratic. The Turkish government persists, but after refusing to comply with conditions set by the Dutch government, they are once again refused and the permission for the Turkish minister of foreign affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is withdrawn.

Minister Kaya

Turkey ignores the clear signals of not being welcome in the Netherlands and decides to send their minister of Family and Social Policies, Fatma Kaya, by car. Upon her arrival, she is denied access to the consulate in Rotterdam. In fact, she is sent back to Germany, the country that she arrived from, leaving Turkey and many Dutch Turks upset. But shouldn’t Turkey have seen such a move coming, after so many rejections? Why did they still persist?


Kutlay Yagmur, professor at Tilburg University and specialized in Turkish migration, thinks increasing the gap between the Dutch government and Turkish immigrants might be exactly what Erdogan planned to do. “Erdogan is purely provoking and it is a shame that the Netherlands have fallen for it.” He tells Univers in response to the incident with minister Kaya: “They’re giving him exactly what he wants. That minister coming from Germany to the Netherlands was definitely planned. Erdogan knew what was going to happen and he will profit from a confrontation between Turkish immigrants and the Dutch police.”

Travel ban

As Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands are placing their votes for the referendum, which is possible in the Netherlands from 6 until 9 April, some Turkish-Dutch opponents of Erdogan’s regime are unable to leave Turkey. Together with critics from other European countries, they have not been allowed to leave Turkey since the 11th of March.


However, Erdogan’s provocative behavior does not impress Yagmur. “Erdogan is at risk of losing the referendum. It makes him aggressive.” Yagmur tells Univers in March. “He knows he needs the support from Europe and that’s why he’s calling upon the three million Turkish immigrants that live there.” Yagmur does not think the several threats that Erdogan has posed to the Netherlands and Europe will lead to anything serious: “He also threatens everyone in the Turkish opposition. That’s just how he is. I don’t take it too seriously.”


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