“Abdullah Gül has no right to speak”, I hear all the time as a reaction to President Gül resisting the ideology of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, which discriminates against people and marginalises them. That’s because Gül has a problem handling minorities in his own country, the argument goes. Kurds and Christians in general and Armenians in particular are mentioned as examples. True. But let us not forget an important difference: Gül’s country is actually making progress when it comes to handling minorities, while the Netherlands are, under Wilders’ leadership, going backwards.
The problem that Turkey has with its minorities is solidly anchored in the pillars of the republic. One of the most important of those is: we are all Turks. So Kurds were named ‘mountain Turks’, Armenians and Greeks could officially exist as minorities but were in fact forced to assimilate or leave the country, Roma became society’s outcasts.
Since the AKP, the party President Gül hails from – he is non-party in his role as President – has been in power, the pillars of the republic are being questioned. As well, the truth that everybody in the country is a Turk is not as sacred as before. Mountain Turks have become Kurds, Armenians dare to be more visible than ever before, century-old churches are being renovated with state money and sometimes services are held which attract believers from all over the world.
It’s all not enough, and the AKP cannot keep leaning on the successes that have been realised over the last decade. It’s about time for new steps in the democratisation process. But silencing President Gül by pointing out the position of minorities in Turkey when he criticizes Wilders denies the development Turkey is going through.
And it denies the direction the Netherlands is taking. Under Wilders’ leadership whole communities are being placed outside society, because they are supposedly not Dutch enough, or are not respecting our ‘values’, or have a religion that threatens us. Why were the Kurds forced to assimilate? Because they were supposedly threatening the unity of the country, and because they were considered too primitive for the new, modern Turkey. Why were the Christians suppressed for decades? Because they were seen as threat to Turkey’s sovereignty.
That is just how in the Netherlands these days foreigners and Muslims are seen. They should become pure Dutchmen. The multicultural society has been abandoned, and government policies are more and more adjusted to the idea that we all have to be Dutch. In short, the Netherlands are going in the direction where Turkey is coming from. A scary direction, painfully illustrated by Turkey’s history.
This article is first published in nrc.next and journalistinturkey.com.