Divisive Turkey coup exposes integration problems for Dutch-Turkish community

Divisive Turkey coup exposes integration problems for Dutch-Turkish community
Comment: Reverberations of Turkey's attempted coup were felt thousands of kilometres away in The Netherlands, where the Dutch-Turkish community retain strong attachments to their country of origin, says Brenda Stoter.
6 min read
22 Jul, 2016
The younger generation of Dutch Turks often feels excluded by society [Getty]

When it became clear that the military coup in Turkey had failed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks to remain on the streets throughout the week. "We cannot ignore this demand," he told a chanting crowd in Istanbul. "In democracies, whatever the people say has to happen." His supporters in Turkey agreed. They took the squares and streets, waving flags and celebrating the fact that democracy had triumphed.   

Similar scenes where on display in Germany, Belgium and also in my home country, The Netherlands. Friday night - when the coup was still ongoing and Erdogan had broadcasted a message through Facetime, urging his supporters to take the streets - Dutch-Turks rushed to the Turkish embassy in Rotterdam to support Erdogan and to protest against the coup. In the following days, hundreds of people gathered in towns across The Netherlands, waving Turkish flags, this time to celebrate that the coup had failed.

Of course, they have the right to take the streets and let their voices be heard, just like anyone else who lives in this country. However, it was not contained to protests. On social media a black list of Gülen affiliated organisations and business was circulating, urging people to boycott them. Dutch journalists trying to cover the protests were harassed and intimidated by pro-Erdogan protesters. Organisations, which are known for their anti-Erdogan or pro-Gülen stances, had rocks thrown through their windows. In addition to that, the number of people who received death threats is still growing.

On social media a black list of Gülen affiliated organisations and business was circulating, urging people to boycott them.

It is not the first time supporters of Erdogan have been accused of intimidating people who are critical of the president. Erdogan is quite popular among the Dutch-Turkish community. Prior to the elections, the Justice and Development Party [AKP] had send letters to the Turkish population in The Netherlands advising them to vote for the party. The AKP received 64 percent of the votes in The Netherlands - more than in any other country.

Earlier this year, the Turkish consulate in The Netherlands sent out an e-mail asking its nationals to report anyone who had insulted Erdogan, Turkey or the Turkish people on social media. Later the consulate claimed this was a misunderstanding. In April, the Dutch-Turkish columnist Ebru Umar was arrested during her holiday in Kusadasi, after she posted critical tweets of President Erdogan. Umar was banned from leaving Turkey for three weeks and has moved to another city in The Netherlands due to constant threats she received.

Deep roots

All these events immediately sparked questions amongst analysts, politicians and civilians. How can it be that mostly young people could feel a stronger attachment to the country of their (grand)parents, than to the country where they actually live? After all, we are talking about the second or third generation here, people who were born and raised in The Netherlands. And how can it be that a foreign head of state is able to mobilise so many people in foreign countries?

It is no surprise that Dutch-Turkish are very attached to Turkey. Various studies show that from all emigrant groups, they are more concerned with issues that are taking place Turkey, have strong links within their own community in The Netherlands, and less frequently consider themselves as Dutch citizens than other emigrant groups. For years, this was not considered to be a big problem, because the Turks were underrepresented in crime figures and contributed to the country economically.

Zihni Özdil, a historian and writer of the book The Netherlands, My Country, wrote in multiple works that the basis of this segregation lies in the 70s, when politicians thought the best way for integration was to subsidise the Dutch departments of Turkish religious and nationalists' movements. Since then, organisations such as Diyanet, Milli Görüş Gülen and Süleyman have a strong position within the Dutch-Turkish society.

In addition to that, the influence of Diyanet (the Presidium for Religious Affairs) should not be underestimated. In The Netherlands, 140 mosques are part of the Islamic Foundation Netherlands (ISN), the Dutch branch of Diyanet. Their imams were educated in Turkey. For many Dutch Turks, the love for Turkey and for their faith go hand in hand.

This nationalist sentiment is also strengthened by the Turkish government. In 2014, Erdogan gave a speech in Berlin. "Integrate yourselves into German society but don't assimilate yourselves. No one has the right to deprive us of our culture and our identity," he said. Erdogan repeated the same sentence of a speech he held a few years before in which he used the phrases "we Turks" and "the Germans" repeatedly.

By doing so he delivered a clear message: you may live in Germany, but I am still your leader.

Özdil finds it worrying that after fifty years so many Turkish Dutch do not consider their Turkish background as a heritage that complements their Dutch identity, but that it is in fact the opposite.

For their part, Dutch-Turkish citizens, especially the younger generation, often feel excluded by mainstream society.

"Perhaps it is wiser for you not only to act as a bellboy to Erdogan, but also to demonstrate occasionally for things that are in your best interest, such as healthcare, pensions, education and the environment in our country, the Netherlands," Özdil wrote in an opinion piece.

Reassessing identities

For their part, Dutch-Turkish citizens, especially the younger generation, often feel excluded by mainstream society. They often complain of being viewed as second-class citizens at school or in work. This is because they are still being addressed as an outsider ('foreign', 'Turk' or 'Muslim') or even discriminated against, as research shows.

For years, they have created a somewhat parallel society of which the reactions of Dutch-Turkish citizens about the failed coup in Turkey are just a symptom. We must ensure that political conflicts that are taking place in other countries are not being imported into Europe. Last year, for example, tensions between the Kurdish and Turkish community in The Netherlands were also on the rise.

Recently, Erdogan has linked the failed coup to cleric Fethullah Gülen and has established a three-month state of emergency to "cleanse the supporters of the Gülen terrorist organisation from the state bureaucracy, to place the state in strong hands in order to make democracy function better". I am afraid that his words will not only lead to more chaos in Turkey, but also in The Netherlands.

Therefore, the Dutch government will do good to reverse its previous policies and starts thinking about how to integrate the Turkish population culturally. The Dutch-Turkish citizens and leaders of their organisations also have a responsibility. They should remain calm and call for dialogue. Otherwise the situation might get worse and lead to escalations. 


Brenda Stoter is a Dutch journalist who writes about the Middle East, with special attention to women and children and Western female jihadists. Her articles have been published by Al Jazeera English, al-Monitor and Middle East Eye as well as featured in Dutch and Belgium national newspapers and magazines, including De Tijd, Trouw and De Groene Amsterdammer. Follow her on Twitter: @BrendaStoter

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.