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13 Mar 17

Pro-Erdogan Turks Hold Anti-EU Protest in Sarajevo

The protest in Sarajevo showed how tensions between Turkey and EU states over bans on rallies in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could spill over into the Balkans, experts said.

BIRN Sarajevo, Ankara
 Protesters in Sarajevo on Sunday. Photo: Anadolu.

Several dozen people protested in Sarajevo’s Bascarsija district on Sunday to express anger about bans in several EU states on rallies in support of a referendum in Turkey on whether to give the president more powers.

Yusuf Isler, a student at the International University of Sarajevo and the organiser of the protest, told BIRN that it was intended to criticise “fascist” European policies which led to Turkish ministers not being allowed to hold rallies in the Netherlands and Germany in recent days.

Reis-ul-Ulema Rifat Fejzic, the head of Montenegro’s Islamic Community, who is known to be close to Erdogan’s administration, also backed the protest in Sarajevo and criticized the Dutch government’s refusal to host rallies by Turkish ministers.
“I was shocked when I heard the Dutch government decision. They did not only stop the rally they also deported an elected minister. This decision [reminded of the] Dutch soldiers’ role in Srebrenica Genocide,” Feyzic told Anadolu Agency on March 13.
“European countries always criticise that there is lack of democracy and violation of women rights among Muslims and in Muslim countries. However, now the Dutch government banned a democratic rally and deported a Turkish woman minister. This is obviously an antidemocratic, inhumane and uncivilised decision,” he concluded.

“We are here to prove that Turkey is not alone. Europe plans to stop our referendum campaigns but it will fail,” Isler said.

The protesters, who were mostly Turkish students but included several Bosnians, also demonstrated outside the Dutch embassy in the Bosnian capital. 

Turkey’s ambassador to Sarajevo, Haldun Koc, attended the protest, which was held after tensions escalated as the Dutch authorities barred Turkish ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Dutch government of “Nazism and fascism”.

“Turkish citizens and our Bosnian friends are here to show their support for Turkey amid the recent crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands. The Dutch authorities made a huge mistake and I hope it will never be repeated,” Koc told Anadolu news agency before the rally. 

In the referendum on April 16, Erdogan will be seeking support for constitutional changes that would effectively cancel the parliamentarian system in Turkey and further strengthen his own position.

Experts said that it was likely that Turkish government supporters would seek to stage more rallies after pro-Erdogan protesters clashed with police in Rotterdam on Sunday.

"The number of protests is expected to increase not only in Sarajevo but also in some other European and Balkan cities,” Mehmet Onur Cevik, an expert on Turkish politics at the University of Essex, told BIRN.

Isler also vowed to return to the streets of Sarajevo.

“We will organise larger gatherings with our Bosniak friends if the Dutch authorities do not apologise. We also plan to make other rallies before the referendum in Turkey in order to show our support to President Erdogan,” he told BIRN.

Isler also accused the Netherlands of being responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacres, because a Dutch battalion of UN peacekeeping troops failed to protect Bosniaks from being taken away and killed by Serb forces.

His words were echoed by Kahraman Haliscelik, a New York-based reporter for Turkish radio and TV station TRT, who went even further and accused the Dutch of deliberately allowing Srebrenica massacre. 

"We've thought all along that Srebrenica was not intentional. It's clear now that the Dutch wanted the Muslims cleared from Europe!" Haliscelik wrote on social media on Sunday.

As the vital referendum in Turkey draw nearer, polls show a tight race between those in favour and those against constitutional changes.

This makes the votes of Turks who live abroad even more important, which is why Erdogan wanted to stage rallies across Europe, Cevik explained.


More than 3.5 million Turkish voters live abroad and Turkish government wants to mobilize as many of them as possible.

According to Cevik, there is a serious lack of communication between the Turkish government and EU states, which has been exacerbated by the pro-Erdogan rallies, some of which have been banned for security reasons.

“No one can ignore that Turkey is socially, economically and politically integrated with Europe. Europe also hosts around five million Turks. It seems that the EU and local governments do not want to cooperate with Turkish government since they have serious claims that rule of law and freedoms are at risk in Turkey,” said Cevik.

“On the other hand, the EU has to work with Turkey because of geopolitical reasons such as the refugee crisis and ISIS,” he added.

But he said that the EU has difficulties dealing with what he called “unpredictable leaders such as Erdogan, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban”.

“EU institutions and governments do not know how to deal with these leaders and their manoeuvres,” he added. 

In recent years, the Turkish authorities have provided political and financial support to Muslim leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in other Balkan countries. 

During this period, Turkey has used its ‘soft powers’ - money, political and media support, as well as business and cultural cooperation - to boost its influence in the region.

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