By Thomas Jones
Throughout its history, Turkey has been the scene of many an invasion and migration of peoples moving west-east and vice versa. The Ottomans absorbed many cultural aspects of the various regions they conquered, often added new dimensions to them. As such, the Turks are predominantly a mix of West Mediterranean, West Asian (Semitic) and even Central Asian ethnic backgrounds; all since unified by a common tongue and faith.
The historian Andrew Mango, noted for his biographical work on the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, describes the Turkish nation as such:
“The Turkish nation took shape in the centuries of Seljuk and Ottoman power. The nomadic Turkish conquerors did not displace the original local inhabitants: Hellenized Anatolians (or simply Greeks), Armenians, people of Caucasian origins, Kurds, Assyrians and—in the Balkans—Slavs, Albanians and others. They intermarried with them, while many local people converted to Islam and ‘turned Turk’. They were joined by Muslims from the lands north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus, by Persian craftsmen and Arab scholars, and by European adventurers and converts, known in the West as renegades. As a result, the Turks today exhibit a wide variety of ethnic types. Some have delicate Far Eastern, others heavy local Anatolian features, some, who are descended from Slavs, Albanians or Circassians, have light complexions, others are dark-skinned, many look Mediterranean, others Central Asian, many appear Persian. A numerically small, but commercially and intellectually important, group is descended from converts from Judaism. One can hear Turks describe some of their fellow countrymen as ‘hatchet-nosed Lazes’ (a people on the Black Sea coast), ‘dark Arabs’ (a term which includes descendants of black slaves), or even ‘fellahs’. But they are all Turks.”
Prior to Ottoman defeat in WWI, giving way to language reforms initiated by Atatürk, the Turkish language was heavily influenced by both Arabic and Persian. Turkey’s largest religion, Islam, is in many ways an expression of Arab culture. Indeed, Atatürk, a secularist, claimed it was a form of Arab nationalism. Atatürk tried to eradicate the old Arab-Persian cultural dominance and Islam in favour of a renewed Turkish language, culture, and French-style laïcité secularism. It didn’t work.
On the language front, it would seem Atatürk was successful. Yet on matters of faith, Islam has essentially won out. Turkey’s current president and former prime minister, Erdoğan, has done much not only to revive political Islam in Turkey but also aspects of the old Ottoman culture. For years he has been criticised by the global press for being a new sultan, and indeed, he has been increasing his hold on power. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt this past July (2016), he has since called for a referendum which, if passed, would give him an even greater degree of power. In preparation for the upcoming referendum in April, Erdoğan has begun campaigning in Europe.
Some of the campaign stops for the pro- Erdoğan vote are in Germany, which has around 1.5 million Turks eligible to vote in the referendum, and the Netherlands, where there are at least 400,000 Turks who are also eligible to vote. Of course, these numbers do not include the millions of other Turks inhabiting these countries without that ability.
This isn’t the first time that Erdoğan has pulled such a stunt, as he gone to Europe in search of votes a number of times before. However, there is greater scrutiny of his actions this time around. At the beginning of this month, a row brewed between Germany and Turkey after the German government cancelled a number of planned rallies, citing security concerns. There are also strains between Ankara and Berlin concerning the treatment of journalists in Turkey, and Germany’s recognition of the Armenian genocide. In response to the recent cancelling of rallies, Erdoğan has called Germany “nazi” and “fascist” which has only added further strain.
“The Dutch government had banned Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from attending a rally on Saturday in Rotterdam but he said he would fly there anyway, saying Europe must be rid of its “boss-like attitude”. Cavusoglu, who was barred from a similar meeting in Hamburg last week but spoke instead from the Turkish consulate, accused the Dutch of treating the many Turkish citizens in the country like hostages, cutting them off from Ankara. “If my going will increase tensions, let it be … I am a foreign minister and I can go wherever I want,” he added hours before his planned flight to Rotterdam was banned. Cavusoglu threatened harsh economic and political sanctions if the Dutch refused him entry, and those threats proved decisive for the Netherlands government. It cited public order and security concerns in withdrawing landing rights for Cavusoglu’s flight and said the threat of sanctions made the search for a reasonable solution impossible. “This decision is a scandal and unacceptable in every way. It does not abide by diplomatic practices,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday evening.”
Turkey’s family minister, Betül Sayan Kaya, has also been banned. In response, she took to twitter to call the Netherlands “oppressive” and has tried to use her status as a woman in a failed attempt at shaming the Netherlands into giving into Turkish demands.
In the face of this fascist practice, the world needs to act in the name of Democracy! This treatment of a woman is never acceptable.
— Dr.Betül Sayan Kaya (@drbetulsayan) 12 March 2017
But Turkish people from all over Europe are here with us tonight. We will never surrender to this oppressive mentality.
— Dr.Betül Sayan Kaya (@drbetulsayan) 11 March 2017
Once again, Erdoğan, ironically, has taken to throwing out leftist buzzwords in an attempt at shaming. Many ordinary Turks followed his lead and took to social media to throw out “racist”, “fascist” and other such liberal-left favourites, whilst being Nationalists and staunch Muslims themselves. And like Cavusoglu, Erdoğan has also taken to threats, stating:
“Listen Netherlands, you’ll jump once, you’ll jump twice, but my people will thwart your game,” he said. “You can cancel our foreign minister’s flight as much as you want, but let’s see how your flights will come to Turkey now.”
The responses to Dutch actions are enlightening. The Turks clearly do not care one iota about the sovereignty of others even fellow NATO members. Leading Turkish politicians are threatening the Netherlands and ordinary Turks living in the Netherlands have risen up against the Dutch government, which is supposedly their government. Clearly, holding a Dutch passport and/or living in the Netherlands is not enough to make one Dutch.
These events aren’t completely negative, however. Indeed, they may be quite a positive development. On March 15th the Netherlands is to have a general election and the events of this month could very well work in the favour of Geert Wilders. People have seen inhabitants of their country of Turkish descent showing solidarity with a foreign government, flashing Grey Wolves salutes, waving Islamic flags and just generally showing how unassimilated and incapable of assimilation they are. Indeed, prominent Turkish politicians including Erdoğan have made it clear in the past that they are against Turks assimilating into host populations (even if that were possible). Immigration scepticism will only continue to grow.
Granted, Wilders is a strange character of the Classical Liberal or Right-Libertarian variety, holding a number of views that many of us find strongly disagreeable (such as support of gay marriage and Zionism). There are other smaller populist right-wing parties critical of immigration that may also do well now as a result of Rotterdam. Given the Netherlands’ system of governance which almost always relies on the formation of coalition governments, the potential rise of these other smaller parties would be beneficial in the long run, potentially helping each other and Wilders out.
Another positive aspect of this whole situation is the continued breaking down of Turkish-EU and Turkish-NATO relations. Turkey’s move towards authoritarianism and continued refusal to bow to EU demands for a “free press” make EU membership less likely. In January, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Şamil Tayyar, called NATO a threat to Turkey, going so far as to call it a terrorist organisation. There are also conflicts between Turkey and NATO-backed Kurds in Syria, with NATO members being condemned and even threatened.
The Turks seem rather hell-bent on both going and getting their own way. Such an attitude can only survive for so long in multinational organisations which supposedly work for collective interests as opposed to just one nation. I suppose given their history as a mixing ground of disparate peoples, forged together by a common faith and language, it is only right and natural that the Turk should strike out on their own. However, they are hindered by an ongoing personality split which causes them to move at once westwards and eastwards thinking they somehow belong in both spheres.
Personally, I could care less if Turkey moves towards an authoritarian state, especially if it means a greater likelihood of it staying out of the EU and perhaps leaving NATO. The current matter at hand has also given further proof that the Turks are neither Europeans nor allies of European states. Let’s hope that future developments continue to serve as a reminder that Europeans should keep Turkey firmly at arm’s length, prompting further criticism over the impact of Turkish immigration on European countries.