Recep Tayyip Erdogan was at one time known for articulating a foreign policy of “zero problems with our neighbors.” If that always seemed perhaps overly ambitious given the unpredictability of international affairs, some of Turkey’s recent problems originate with Erdogan’s own mouth. These days, Turkey’s diplomacy is perhaps better known for how faithfully its leader’s rhetoric conforms to Godwin’s law.
Over the past few years, the Turkish president has gotten into highly personal foreign-policy disputes with his foes and friends alike, describing the events that followed the toppling of the Morsi regime in Egypt as “state terrorism;” likening Israel’s operations in Gaza to Hitler’s “barbarism;” accusing the U.S. of supporting terrorists; and, most recently, describing the Netherlands and Germany as “Nazis” for their barring of Turkish political campaigning on their soil.
Here is a list of countries whose leaders Erdogan has has likened to Nazis—along with other choice epithets the Turkish leader favors.
The insult: “Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past.”
The provocation: Erdogan’s remarks in Istanbul on March 5 followed Germany’s decision, citing security concerns, to block Turkish political rallies on its soil ahead of a referendum next month in Turkey that, if it goes the government’s way, would expand Erdogan’s power. Turks in Europe are a key part of Erdogan’s constituency—and though overseas campaigning is illegal under Turkish law most political parties in the country flout this rule. More than 1 million Turks in Germany alone are eligible to vote in the Turkish referendum.
The consequences: German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the remarks “particularly grave,” but her spokesman was more forthright, calling them “absurd.” Merkel had pinned on Erdogan her hopes on resolving Europe’s refugee crisis. It’s unclear how this latest flare-up will affect the agreement Turkey reached with the EU last year, though Erdogan has threatened to scupper the deal during previous spats with the EU.
The insult: “Nazism is alive in the West.”
The provocation: Over the weekend, Dutch officials prevented Turkish ministers from holding rallies related to the referendum. They too cited security concerns. Erdogan’s “Nazi” reference came almost immediately. On Tuesday, he escalated, saying the Dutch had been “spineless and ignoble” during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. A Dutch court found in 2014 that the Dutch government was liable for the deaths of about 300 victims, saying the peacekeepers didn’t do enough to stop the killings. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told the BBC on Tuesday that Erdogan’s remarks are a “vile falsification.” Rutte also told the BBC that Erdogan was becoming “increasingly more hysterical hour by hour and I want him to... calm down.”
The consequences: In theory Turkey and the Netherlands are allies. They both belong to NATO. Turks make up about 2.4 percent of the Dutch population and Turkey is a top tourist destination for the Dutch, and an important trading partner. Erdogan’s strong language could strengthen his position ahead of the referendum—though it seems likely the Turkish leader will win regardless. But the spat could also have consequences in Wednesday’s Dutch parliamentary elections, in which issues of immigration and Islam have dominated the campaigning. Most polls show Rutte’s ruling center-right People’s Party (VVD) for Freedom and Democracy neck-and-neck with Geert Wilders’s far-right Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). Neither party is expected to win an outright mandate to govern, but, because of how the Dutch political system is structured, the VVD is more likely than the PVV to be part of the next Dutch government.
The insult: “Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”
The provocation: Erdogan’s remarks came during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014. The longtime allies were then experiencing a low point in relations. Turkey is one of three countries in the region (the others are Jordan and Egypt) that has diplomatic relations with Israel. But ties suffered in 2010 after Israel raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters, killing 10 people, all Turkish activists.
The consequences: Israel warned its citizens not to travel to Turkey in light of rising anti-Israeli sentiment at the time. It also reduced staff at its embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul. But last year, the two countries announced a thaw. Israel said it would pay out $20 million to the bereaved and injured from the 2010 raid and Turkey said it would deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. The two countries enjoy relatively normal relations now.
The insult: “Fighting your own people until the death is not heroism, it’s cowardice. If you want to see someone who fights his people to the death, look at Nazi Germany, look at Hitler.”
The provocation: These comments, made in 2011, were directed by Erdogan to his onetime friend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at the start of the Syrian civil war.
The consequences: Turkey opened its doors to millions fleeing the fighting in Syria and is the country hosting the most Syrian refugees in the world, but its involvement in Syria’s conflict has also resulted in Erdogan clashing with countries that are allies. He fell out with Russia over the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet that Turkey alleged strayed into its airspace in the course of Syria operations (the two countries have since made up), and has experienced tensions with the U.S. for its support of what Turkey regards as Kurdish terrorist groups. Meanwhile, six years after the war began, Assad is still firmly in charge of his country—and Erdogan no longer publicly calls for him to either step down or be ousted.
The insult: “Without any shame, ignoring their own blood-stained hands and without considering their own callous hearts, they draw comparisons between us and the Nazis. If there are any Nazis, it is you who are the Nazis.”
The provocation: The remarks last November followed criticism in Europe of Erdogan's crackdown in Turkey following the coup attempt against him last July. That crackdown prompted Jean Asselbor, Luxembourg’s prime minister, who compared the crackdown on the Turkish media and opposition, to events in Nazi Germany.
The consequences: Relations between the EU and Turkey have remained tense since the coup. Erdogan has said EU countries did not condemn the coup harshly enough, and, in fact, he says, condemned his government for cracking down on those who he suspected of organizing it.
Erdogan uses the “Nazi” insult quite liberally, but also employs it when describing the kind of state he wants to create in Turkey using next month’s referendum, which would give him vastly expanded powers.
“There is nothing to say that you can’t have a presidential system in a unitary state,” he said last year. “There are already some examples in the world today, and also some from the past. You see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.”
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