ANKARA: Dutch Institute Works For Better Understanding Of Turkey


Today’s Zaman
July 19 2008

A Dutch non-profit organization has been hard at work to improve
Turkey’s image abroad since last year.

Turkish officials often complain of Turkey’s negative image
abroad, which they feel has been formed unjustly and as a result of
prejudices. The image problem has also played a role, to a certain
extent, even in the settlement of such international disputes as
Armenian genocide allegations and the Cyprus issue and has even
slowed down Turkey’s EU integration process. Hence, they frequently
emphasize the urgency of working to improve Turkey’s image to the
level it deserves.

Improving a country’s image through the work of civil society
organizations is perhaps the best method in a foreign country. This
method is even more effective when that organization is established
by citizens of that other country — like the Turkey Institute in
the Netherlands.

Turkey Institute Director Lily Sprangers describes the institution’s
goal as providing a more balanced view on Turkey, which she defines
as a country much more dynamic than most people in the Netherlands
tend to believe.

"It plays an active role in its region, and many of the societal
challenges Turkey faces are comparable to those of the Netherlands. We
also want to emphasize the increasing economic — trade, investment,
etc. — ties between the countries that are largely unnoticed in our
country," she told Today’s Zaman in a written statement.

The Turkey Institute, which was established in the fall of 2007, was
initiated by leading experts on Turkey from the academic community,
former Dutch politicians, members of the Dutch business community and
Sprangers, who is also one of the founders of the Germany Institute
at the University of Amsterdam, which has an objective parallel to
that of the Turkey Institute.

"The addressees of the Turkey Institute are mostly Dutch people,
but Turkish migrants and especially their [grand]children are seen as
Dutch too and are therefore more than welcome to our activities. They
add their own experiences and specific knowledge to our meetings,"
Sprangers explained.

Around 360,000 ethnic Turks live in the Netherlands, most of whom
came to the country after the 1960s to meet labor needs there.

Sprangers acknowledges that by and large, Dutch society perceives
Turkey through the impression the Dutch have of Turkish immigrants,
as is the case in many other countries with immigrant populations. She
thinks blurred distinctions between people from Morocco and Turkey
in the Netherlands often result in an unclear picture of Turkey. In
order to overcome this, the Turkey Institute invites speakers from
Turkey on topics such as political developments, Turkey’s economic
position in the world market, relations between Turkey and its
neighboring countries, and through the Institute’s Web site a balanced,
multifaceted view on Turkey is being presented.

When reminded of the Dutch saying "no" to the referendum on the new EU
constitution in June 2005, which was generally interpreted in Turkey as
a signal that the Dutch electorate was against enlargement and hence
Turkish EU membership, Sprangers does not interpret it as the Dutch
people’s opposition to Turkish EU membership. She instead associates
it with the problems coming along with EU enlargement, such as the
arrival of many migrant workers from Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

"Whether the negative feeling towards the idea of Turkey becoming a
member is fuelled by negative feelings on Turkey specifically or on
negative feelings on the EU or the EU-enlargement process is difficult
to make out," she says.

In this regard, she says that the institute, by pointing out many
positive potentials of Turkish membership, tries to assuage some of
these concerns, recalling that as an EU aspirant country Turkey has
the task of complying with the acquis communitaire. "The negotiating
process and the political will to join and to absorb will in the
end decide the matter. Turkey’s image with the public is important,
but not tantamount," adds Sprangers.


Despite being a newly born institution, the Turkey Institute has so
far organized 10 public debates featuring Turkish speakers, including
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, academic Baskin Oran, journalist Mustafa
Akyol and others, as well as Dutch speakers including European Joost
Lagendijk, a member of the European Parliament who also co-chairs
the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.

"Even the meetings that attract few people have been commented on
favorably. There is simply little knowledge on Turkey, and people
are eager to learn more," says Sprangers.

The Turkey Institute in the Netherlands can be reached at