‘It’s going well between The Netherlands and Turkey’

Four hundred years ago it started, the official ties between the Republic of the United Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire. Jan-Paul Dirkse is now the Dutch ambassador in Turkey’s capital Ankara. How does he see the relations between the two countries now?

Published in a magazine of Schiedam Municipal Museum. The first Dutch ambassador in Turkey, Cornelis Haga, was from the town of Schiedam. On the occasion of the celebrations of 400 years of diplomatic ties between The Netherlands and Turkey, there is an exhibition in Schiedam of works by painter Marius Bauer, one of the Dutch artists who worked in the Ottoman Empire. Click here for more info about the exhibition – sorry, not available in English.

‘Of course, there was a dispute now and then over trade and business, but on a macro level, the Republic of the United Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire got along very well.’ Jan-Paul Dirkse, Dutch ambassador in the Turkish capital Ankara, outlines the relations between the predecessors of The Netherlands and Turkey, but is at the same time actually talking about the relations between both countries now. There is a dispute now and then, a row, but fundamentally the relation is good. Dirkse: ‘And that’s what we want to put in the spotlight this year: how well things go between Holland and Turkey’.

He sums up in which areas it’s going well: ‘Turkey has been a NATO member for decades and of course there are the negotiations about Turkey joining the EU. Holland is one of the biggest investors in Turkey, and Turkey also invests in Holland, especially in the harbour of Rotterdam. And of course there is the huge contribution of the Turkish community in the Netherlands, also in an economical sense.’

‘The Netherlands had a lot to offer in those years’

It all started with the journey that the first ambassador, Cornelis Haga of Schiedam, made in 1611: in five months he travelled overland to the city of Constantinople, now Istanbul. There was already a lot of trade between the Republic of the United Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire, but there were no diplomatic ties yet. Haga arrived in Istanbul in December 1611, and had to wait a few months until he had an audience with the Sultan and got official permission to open a diplomatic post. That opened its doors in the spring of 1612.
The Ottoman Sultan did not care about the protests of other nations with which he had official ties, like Venice and Great Britain. ‘They were afraid that diplomatic ties between Holland and the Ottomans would harm their interests’, Dirkse explains. ‘But the Sultan didn’t listen to them. Why was our small country important? The Netherlands of course had a lot to offer in those years, but we were too small to be a threat to the Ottoman Empire.’

Artists at court

Haga stayed in Constantinople for 27 years, and managed to make The Netherlands visible in the richest and most dynamic city of Europe. And at the Sultan’s court too, Dutchmen could be seen. Ambassador Dirkse: ‘Haga for example introduced Dutch artists to the court, and they could then work there.’
When it comes to art, the practice is much the same today as it was then: the embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul make a huge effort to promote Dutch cultural life in Turkey, from music, dance and painting to DJ’s and photography. These efforts will be intensified this year: throughout the year there will be huge exhibitions in Istanbul of Dutch artists and collections from Dutch museums, and many more cultural activities.

The biggest difference between 1612 and now, says Jan-Paul Dirkse, is the fact that nowadays there are some 386,000 Dutchmen with Turkish roots. They give an extra impulse to the cultural and economic ties between the Netherlands and Turkey. Dirkse: ‘Some time ago I was in a meeting with Turkish entrepreneurs in Holland. Successful entrepreneurs. The table was full of owners of companies with a turnover of at least twenty million euros.’

On vacation to Turkey

Contacts on the economic and human levels are important this year, says Dirkse. Is that especially important now that in Holland there is also some suspicion against that huge country at Europe’s eastern border, inhabited by more than seventy million Muslims? Dirkse: ‘Well, yes, there is some suspicion of course, but as long as 1.2 million Dutch people go on vacation to Turkey every year, I don’t really worry. You know, Dutch people tend to look with some suspicion at what is different than themselves, we are less cosmopolitan than we think.’

The festivities of this year could alter the image of Turkey. In four hundred years the ties have grown so strong, and are so deeply rooted in both societies, that nobody in his right mind would consider harming those relations. Ambassador Dirkse: ‘If we could convince even just a few people of that, I would be very happy.’

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