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How bad Googling put a small U.S. town in the middle of a rift between Turkey and the Netherlands
Photo Tolga Sezgin/Shutterstock, Inc. (Licensed)
It started as a simple mistake. Then it went way too far.
A heated diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the Netherlands had an unexpected victim over the weekend: A small-town American police department.
After the Dutch government barred Turkish ministers from holding a campaign rally for the Turkish minority in Rotterdam, angry Turkish supporters of controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to retaliate by protest-calling the emergency number of the Rotterdam police department and subjecting the operators to nationalist Turkish songs.
Problem is, the number they dialed was not in the Netherlands, but instead it was the town of the Rotterdam, New York, police department.
That wrong number was shared by pro-government trolls over Twitter, inviting their followers to take action: “This is the number of Rotterdam Police Station. Call them and make them listen to Dombıra, Mehter, Azan, and Quran.”
That mistake went viral when the pro-Erdogan news outlet Yeni Safak posted a video in which they claimed “a Turkish citizen in the Netherlands called Rotterdam police department and made them listen to Dombra” with the hashtag “#YesEuropeIsTrembling [with fear].” Dombra, the song in the video, was the Erdogan’s campaign theme for the 2014 presidential election.
Yeni Safak is known, among other things, for claiming the former U.S. Vice Chief of Staff John F. Campbell masterminded last summer’s Turkish coup attempt. These sensational headlines made the paper very popular among Erdogan supporters in Turkey and abroad.
— MUHARREM BALTACI (@muharrembaltaci) March 11, 2017
Hollanda polisi artık bol bol mehter marşı dinliyor. pic.twitter.com/CZcS4whrTH
— Alper Tan (@alpertan66) March 12, 2017
Lieutenant Jeffrey Collins of the Rotterdam Police Department told the Daily Dot that the emergency operators received about 900 calls per hour on Saturday without knowing what was it all about. He added that although the calls did not cause a public safety issue in the town of roughly 30,000 residents, they had to employ all of their resources, noting that it is hard to mitigate phone-blocking attacks when the callers are real people rather than bots.
Back in Turkey, there were other forms of protests that were equally troubling. In Istanbul, a Norwegian journalist covering anti-government protesters was harassed when pro-Erdogan supporters suspected him to be a Dutch citizen. In the Turkish city of Samsun, about a dozen nationalists gathered to burn a Dutch national flag in protest, but they mistook the colors and burned a French flag instead.
In Istanbul, a deputy of the city council said that he would slaughter a dairy cattle of Dutch breed in protest. And in Izmit, a group of Erdogan youth squeezed oranges and drank their juice to threaten Dutch people —who are colloquially referred as “the oranges.” (Orange is the color of the Dutch Royal Family.)
More serious protesters at the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul managed to reach the building’s roof and replaced the Dutch flag with the Turkish one. Following the incident, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the Turkish authorities are responsible for the safety of its diplomatic personnel. Sources in the Turkish administration say the government is considering sanctions against the Netherlands.
The European Union and the Council of Europe, of which both countries are members, asked Turkey to “refrain excessive statements and actions” while NATO called for de-escalation of the row between two member states.
Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Turkish freelance researcher who lives in the Netherlands. After studying political science in Istanbul, he moved to Amsterdam to study migrants' political behavior. Besides his academic work, he regularly writes on internet freedom and censorship in Turkey.