The Turkish outlet Hurriyet has published a photo of a copy of a Dutch election ballot with the name “Recep Tayyip Erdogan” written in as a candidate, an apparent protest against the Netherlands’ decision to prevent high-ranking Turkish officials from campaigning for Erdogan’s constitutional referendum on Dutch soil.
Hurriyet noted that the image of the ballot with the Turkish president’s name on it has “gone viral on social media” in Turkey and appears to be the latest incident in a string of such “write-in” votes for Erdogan throughout Europe in other elections. The Dutch elections Wednesday became a particular point of contention with Turkey, however, following the decision by Amsterdam to prevent Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from attending rallies in Rotterdam in favor of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The Dutch elections became a focal point of Turkish frustration with the West. Following a number of incendiary remarks by President Erdogan against the Netherlands, referring to its “Nazi” leadership as “fascists” and calling for a clean diplomatic break from the Netherlands. In addition to the Erdogan ballots, a number of polling stations in Turkish communities decorated with Turkish flags, handed out pamphlets advertising the Turkish Islamic government authority (the Diyanet) and played Turkish radio while Dutch citizens entered to pray. Local Dutch authorities ultimately took down the signage and Turkish nationalist decorations, which were in violation of Dutch campaigning laws.
Turkish hackers also acted against German, French, and Dutch outlets, hacking into a variety of European Twitter accounts, including the BBC North America account, to publish Turkish-language nationalist messages. “#NaziGermany. #NaziHolland. This is a small #Ottomanslap for you. See you on #April16. I wrote what? Learn Turkish,” one of the hacked Twitter messages read.
The mainstream center-right party of Mark Rutte fended off a challenge from conservative rival Geert Wilders in the parliamentary elections. Notably, a pro-Turkish party, Denk, won its first seats in the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday.
Erdogan’s AKP, meanwhile, is campaigning with an eye on April 16. Turks are scheduled to go to the polls next month to vote on a referendum intended to switch Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, greatly expanding Erdogan’s power. An estimated 400,000 Turks eligible to vote in that referendum live in the Netherlands.
Following the Dutch government’s refusal to allow referendum campaigning in their country, violent Turkish mobs took to the streets of Rotterdam, chanting “allahu akbar” and attacking police. Dutch law enforcement authorities were forced to use water cannons and dogs to keep the crowd’s destruction at a minimum and arrested thirteen in relation to the riots.
Both Erdogan’s belligerent rhetoric against Europe and that of pro-Erdogan pundits appear to have inflamed tensions between Turkey and greater Europe. Yeni Safak, a particularly vitriolic pro-Erdogan newspaper, has published editorials blaming nebulous European special interests for attempting the failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016 and warning of the conquest of Europe by an apparently reconstructed Ottoman empire.
“We are going to interfere in the internal affairs of those who interfere in our internal affairs. Yes, we are going to defend ourselves in European countries, cities and on its streets,” columnist İbrahim Karagül wrote this week in a piece titled “Yes, We Are Going to Interfere in Your Internal Affairs, Europe.”
“As the EU is falling apart, many European countries are in a period of regression while we are restarting a period of rising again after a century, and we will have no intention of wasting this new history or sacrificing it for your evils and collapse,” he continued.
“We now leave you alone on your own continent with your racist, murderous past and the evils you spread across the face of the earth,” he added. “[Y]ou openly attacked our country on July 15, 2016. You conducted the biggest attack after World War I.”
Erdogan himself has been only slightly more measured in his rhetoric against the West. “Shame on the EU. Down with your European principles, values and justice,” he said this week. “They started a clash between the cross and the crescent, there is no other explanation.”