The bottom line is: Turkey and the Netherlands are friends. Officially since 400 years ago, but in practice even much longer. No temporary political wind can change that. According to Jan-Paul Dirkse, the Dutch ambassador to Turkey, all you need to do is look at the map: ‘Then you see that we are in the same sphere. It makes it very obvious: Turkey and Europe should join forces in as many fields as possible.’
I talked to the ambassador at what you could call the unofficial kick-off of the 2012 celebrations. In December 1611 Cornelis Haga left the Netherlands overland to, probably, Venice, from where he would take a boat to Constantinople. The trip took five months – not because he was travelling by bike but because he made stop-overs on the way at other Dutch representations.
Once he arrived in what was at the time the richest and most vibrant city in Europe, Cornelis had to wait some months before he got to meet the Sultan to officially establish ties between the Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire. In 2012, that historic event will be celebrated extensively with many economic and cultural activities, and with an official visit from President Gül to the Netherlands.
Some circles in the Netherlands are not too happy about celebrating the 400 years of diplomatic ties between the Netherlands and Turkey, and about Presidents Gül’s visit. For political gain, they picture Turkey as a potential Islamic threat. I asked ambassador Dirkse his opinion about this, but of course he is not a politician but a civil servant, so he replied: ‘I’m being paid to reconcile, not to contribute to controversy.’
As a journalist, I might find that reaction somewhat disappointing, but of course this stance can only be supported. It’s actually the same as the approach of the Turkish government. On several occasions I have tried to get some reaction from Turkish government representatives about the current political atmosphere in the Netherlands, but they are always wiser than to become emotional. They don’t give any importance to anybody who deliberately wants to screw up good relations. However irritating it must be for them to be pictured as ‘the great Islamic threat’, they apparently at some point wisely decided to ignore racist, ill-intentioned Dutch politicians. I heard Mr. Davutoglu, Foreign Affairs Minister of Turkey, say, some months ago: ‘We only deal with the Dutch government, and our relations with the Dutch government are very good.’
Ignoring certain politicians, however, is something else than ignoring a sentiment that is alive in Dutch society. A fear of Islam, a fear of losing Dutch identity because of the influence of other cultures. The celebrations that are about to begin could contribute to reducing the fear of Islam and, more specifically, the fear of Turkish culture. ‘I don’t know what you thought about Turkey before you came here’, says ambassador Dirkse to me, ‘but weren’t you surprised about how Turkey is developing like crazy?’
He talks about his driver, who recently went to the Netherlands to follow a special course for diplomatic chauffeurs. In the plane back from Amsterdam to Ankara, the chauffeur was stunned by his fellow Turks who had been living in Holland for decades and now returned to Turkey for a visit: it was as if he was looking into the past. Dirkse: ‘I have seen details of all the festivities that are planned for next year. Of course, they are partly aimed at people who are already sympathetic towards Turkey. But I hope, and expect, that the side effect of all the festivities will be that it will become more clear in the Netherlands that Turkey in 2012 is a totally different society than the one that Dutch people come into contact with in Holland.’
In other words: Turkey is no threat, Turkey offers possibilities with its young population and growing economy. Dirkse: ‘Of course, you have to be realistic, but if we manage to convince a few people, that’s already a success.’
He refers back to 1612. In those days, protocol was different: if you wanted diplomatic ties with a certain power, you had to get special permission to open an embassy, and once you got that permission, economic favours followed. Dirkse knows very well why Holland got those favours: ‘We had a lot to offer, but we were too small a country to be a threat.’
I would like to draw a line from those days to now. The diplomatic ties that started in 1612, have over the centuries developed into a web of economic and cultural ties. Those ties are solid. They are actually so strong and contribute so much to the prosperity of both Turkey and the Netherlands, that nobody in his of her right mind would even consider putting that in danger. So because of the foundations that Cornelis Haga laid in 1612, huge and prosperous Turkey is not in any way a threat to The Netherlands now.
Not yet convinced? Then please be open to the message in 2012!