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Challenges from the Turkish question / by Sumantra Maitra, March 15, 2017 Adjust font size:

Turkey is planning to retaliate in the "harshest ways" to the Netherlands barring the flight of the Turkish foreign minister and prevent its family minister from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said in a statement that "this situation has been protested in the strongest manner by our side, and it has been conveyed to Dutch authorities that there will be retaliation in the harshest ways...we will respond in kind to this unacceptable behavior."

This comes after a wild couple of days in European politics, with Dutch elections imminent, and with no apparent sign of things subsiding anytime soon. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu continued to press for an official apology, calling the Dutch actions fascists. His president termed Netherlands as a "banana republic" with Nazi elements.

This is a continuation of a confrontation between EU states and Turkey that is now inevitably reaching boiling point. Post-coup, there has been strong concerns from EU about Turkish reprisals against those alleged to have been involved, with Netherlands, Austria and Germany opposed to the brutal crackdown that has occurred.

Turkey and the EU are also at loggerheads over immigration as well. And this confrontation is not going to end anytime soon for obvious historical reasons.

Turkey is the state that inherited an Ottoman legacy after the WWII. The Ottomans, long the regional hegemon, were a dying force after WWI having been on the losing side with Germany. After a period of recovery up to WWII, Turkey was an economic basket case after the war, but was rescued by being favored as a NATO outpost in the Cold War

It was the only Islamic country, bordering Russia, that was secular in foreign policy and with strong State institutions. Much like Greece at that time, it was a frontier of liberal democracy against the Soviets in the Mediterranean.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the immediate threat of Russia was removed. Much like Western European states, therefore, Turkey started to chart a more independent foreign policy. Added to that was the natural rise of more reactionary forces all across Europe, in Turkey's case, it was the semi-Islamist party AKP under Erdogan that emerged to oppose the institutional secularism of Turkey, including hijab bans.

With the start of the Arab Spring, these socio-religious divisions came to fore. While, initially, the Arab Spring was welcomed in the West as some sort of liberal democratic blooming in an arid region, that naivete was soon gone, as the region went on to become an Islamist sectarian conflict zone between rival great powers.

This is where Turkey is facing confrontation with the West. As a local actor, Turkey wanted Syria's President Assad to go. The West, even though rhetorically opposed to Assad, after the debacle of Libya and Egypt, has developed different views on a post-Assad Syria and reluctant to see a more interventionist policy.

Turkey on the other hand, was pushing for visa-free travel in Europe, something European states were considering until it was jeopardized due to conflicting interests in the Arab Spring and Turkish illiberal turn.

Turkey, facing the largest migrant movement towards Europe from Middle East, is now looking for opportunities to use that as a negotiation tactic with EU, and is constantly threatening to open the floodgates into Europe for millions of Middle Eastern migrants.

Turkey really has no credible option other than the migrant leverage. Previously, the Turkish government railed against Israel, and Russia, before slowly bowing to pressure and coming to a negotiated settlement instead of a standoff. However, no migrants have headed to Israel or Russia, and this is presenting Turkey with an opportunity that some leaders in the EU think could become weaponized.

Therefore, this is a problem that is going to continue to exacerbate, and might lead to a conflict. Turkey is a member of NATO. It also has the highest number of people smugglers who are raking in thousands of dollars per head from poor migrants to ferry them to Greek coast, with the Turkish state either incapable or unwilling to crack down upon.

Turkish illiberalism is also creating a backlash in Europe, with the largest Turkish diaspora being used as pawns in a broader geopolitical game. The ever-present historical skepticism in countries like Hungary, Poland, Greece and Austria about Turkish intentions is also leading to an explosive situation. With the Dutch, French and German elections ahead, this will only increase.

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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