The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, was in Turkey last week with a business mission. We, Dutch journalists in Turkey, were invited to have a chat with him, and with the brand new Minister of Foreign Trade (the new government was installed recently, but Rutte lead the previous government as well). Rutte also had a meeting with PM Erdogan, and of course we wanted to know more about it. A colleague of mine brought up human rights. Of course, Rutte said, he brought that up. But to be honest, I am still flabbergasted by the way he did it.
Of course, Rutte said, I told the Turkish Prime Minister that we are concerned about human rights. But, he said with a happy serious face: ‘I also congratulated the Turkish Prime Minister on the fact that Turkey will allow Kurdish as an official language in court rooms.’ I brought up press freedom, but no, that wasn’t discussed. ‘But it’s a very important issue, there are many journalists in jail’, I tried again. True, Rutte said, but of course, you can’t raise every subject.
Gestures and an intonation
So, time was limited, I understand that. But then, of all the human rights subjects he could have brought up, he chose to congratulate Erdogan on a step he is taking in the Kurdish issue that hasn’t even been taken yet. Let that sink in for a minute.
While there have been at least 700 Kurdish prisoners (mostly political prisoners) on an indefinite hunger strike for almost two months now demanding basic human rights, while Erdogan doesn’t even acknowledge there is a hunger strike, while the government again focuses mainly on a military ‘solution’ to the Kurdish issue, while children of this country die (both soldiers and PKK fighters), while the arrests in the KCK case are going on, while there are dozens of journalists in prison, the Dutch PM decides to con-gra-tu-late Erdogan on a policy change that the Justice Minister mentioned but that hasn’t even been brought before parliament yet.
I can still picture Rutte’s face when he told us about the congrats. Raising his eyebrows, and using gestures and an intonation that suggested: let’s not forget that also good steps are being taken in the handling of the Kurdish issue. But he can say human rights were brought up, so he did his duty. I bet Erdogan laughed his ass off after Rutte left. Oh these Dutchmen, anything for trade!
A vaguely promised breadcrumb
I don’t know if Rutte is really this much out of touch with the realities of the human rights situation in Turkey in general and with the Kurdish issue in particular. Of course, it would be good if Kurdish were allowed in court rooms, but does he realize that this is how Erdogan fools the Turkish electorate? The reality is that such steps are like breadcrumbs to a hungry child that is entitled to have a full meal, but the government makes it seem as if a full meal was given and the child is still nagging. And, let’s not forget: the bill to allow Kurdish in court rooms (one of the demands of the people on hunger strike) hasn’t even been sent to parliament yet. It’s not a given, but a vaguely promised breadcrumb.
When I travel in the southeast of Turkey and I tell people I am from the Netherlands, I always get the question why the European Union isn’t raising its voice louder on the situation of the Kurds. I usually say (among other things) that the economic situation in Europe makes the continent more concerned about itself than about others and about human rights.
It would be great if Rutte just acknowledged that. If he just said: ‘Sorry, the Netherlands is in a bad economic situation, this is a trade mission, Turkey has economic potential for our companies, that’s why I’m here. Human rights are just not our priority now.’ Because that’s how it is. Bringing up human rights this way, actually congratulating Erdogan on how he handles the Kurdish issue and that way misusing the Kurdish issue for business and night sleep purposes, is even worse than not bringing it up at all.