Turkish-Danish Relations: Possible to Make A New Start?

Yasemin DİRİL
25 March 2011
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Historically, Turkish-Danish relations date back 250 years and actually started in the field of trade in 18th century. In fact, their relations officially began with the Agreement of Friendship and Trade signed on October 14th, in 1756 by Sultan Osman III and King Frederick V.


On November 26th in 1999, the "Joint Action Plan" on cooperation in the fields of politics, security and defense was signed during the visit of Ismail Cem, the late Minister of Foreign Affairs. In concrete terms, most of the items in the plan were put into practice in the period of 2000-2001. (1)

Despite the fact that Turkish-Danish relations were strained because of some reasons, in particular, due to the Cartoon crisis and the Roj TV affair, Ankara hopes to break the ice with Copenhagen. However, there is much work on the side of Danish state to meet its commitments made to bring Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the position of secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Moreover, possible support to be provided by Denmark to Turkey’s EU membership will also create a positive atmosphere between the two states.

The Cartoon Crisis (2006)


The bilateral relations between Turkey and Denmark came in a trouble spot since the "Cartoon Crisis" of 2006 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban although the Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits any depiction of holy beings. (2) The crisis has been internationalized as the cartoons were not only insulting to Muslims in Denmark but also to Muslims worldwide, bringing the Islamic world to denounce it. (3) Indeed, Muslims from all over the world protested about the cartoons and expressed their discomfort with the indignity under the guise of freedom of speech.

Lawmakers in Northern Nigeria have burnt Danish flags; about 5000 people have taken to the streets in Peshawar in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province; several hundred Muslims have protested in Muzaffarabad (capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir) and it has led to 8 deaths in Afghanistan and one in Somalia. Moreover, hundreds of Muslims gathered in Cotabato, in the Southern Philippines, have demanded Denmark to punish the newspaper that initially published the cartoons. In Indonesia, protesters have targeted the Danish and the United States consulates in Surabaya, the country's second-largest city. Protests were also held in the capital, Jakarta. On the other side, on January 10th 2006, as Norway publication has reprinted these cartoons, Syrians attacked both Norwegian and Danish embassies in Damascus.

Iran's reaction about these cartoons was to ban Danish imports and halt trade ties. As European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger underlined, knowing that European Union's one of the main trading partners is Iran and taking account the fact that when Iran proceeds to a boycott of Danish goods it means by definition to a boycott of European goods, the cartoon crisis has led the EU to face economic consequences. (4)


Concerning the Turkish reaction on that subject, Ankara has called for official apologize from Denmark in order to rectify this moral offense. Actually, these cartoons could be wrongly interpreted as Islam upholds terrorist activities, which may constitute a kind of misunderstanding since the Twin Towers of World Trade Center attack on September 11th 2001. To publish such cartoons about a sensitive issue could characterize a suggestion which breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16th 1966. More precisely, the article 18 of the ICCPR provides that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice [...]".


Then, on November 25th 1981, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by resolution the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, considering that "the disregard and infringement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or whatever belief, have brought, directly or indirectly, wars and great suffering to mankind, especially where they serve as a means of foreign interference in the internal affairs of other states and amount to kindling hatred between peoples and nations" and indeed, these cartoons engendered demonstrations which have led to deaths.


In spite of international protests from Muslims worldwide, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen did not fulfill the demand of official apologize while he put forward the freedom of expression. Recently, on September 8th 2010 in Germany, the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has been awarded the M100 prize about freedom of speech for his notorious caricature. (5) During the ceremony where Angela Merkel was present, he stated: "Despite all the events following the publication of these cartoons, I think that I did well. I do not regret because I am convinced that this conflict in between the both cultures would occur sooner or later". (6)


In response to the event of 2006, Turkey intended to veto the appointment of Rasmussen as the new secretary-general of NATO, citing his lack of outright apology at the time. Thence, President Obama has intervened and promised that a qualified Turk would serve as one of Rasmussen's aides. (7) Two other promises were also made to Turkey: the official apologize from Rasmussen for the cartoons and the end of Roj TV- the terrorist organization PKK’s channel- broadcasting from Denmark.

The Roj TV Affair


While some media organizations linked with the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were banned by European countries like the United-Kingdom (UK), France and Germany; Denmark allowed Roj TV - terrorist organization PKK’s channel - to broadcast from Copenhagen. Anders Christian Hoppe, Denmark's ambassador to Turkey conceded that "the Roj TV affair is not something that helps to improve relations". Turkey has many times appealed to Danish authorities to revoke the broadcasting permit of Roj TV (8). The issue culminated with the boycott of a press conference by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan because of the presence of a Roj TV reporter in the room. About this fact, the American Government has also compelled Denmark to close down the television channel. However, it was only when the appointment of former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the post as secretary-general of NATO, was confirmed that Copenhagen decides to go after Roj TV.

Finally, Danish authorities sequestered the station's properties and bank accounts in October but the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) overruled their suspension, arguing that such treatment of media outlets restricts freedom of speech, according to BjoernElmquist the station's lawyer. But what about the rights and freedoms of the Kurdish people being enforced to support the terrorist organization PKK?In fact, the Kurdish people and especially the Kurdish businessmen are under threat by the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) which is the new state-like establishment of the terrorist organization, created in 2005 upon the order of the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. (9) There are proofs that the KCK forces Kurdish people to give regularly some money to finance the terrorist organization in order to set up a “Kurdistan confederation”.(10) Concretely, the KCK imposes to Kurdish people a kind of forced payment through quittances with the amount that they have to pay and with death threat if they plan to refuse. The payment is taken by the members of the new armed wing of the KCK, Hezen Parastina Gel (HPG) which has been designed to bring the militant power of the terrorist organization PKK into cities.

About the Roj TV case, there is no doubt that this channel is owned bythe terrorist organization PKK. After 5 years of investigation, Prosecutor LisseLotteNilas has prepared an indictment which put forward the fact that the content of the Roj TV broadcasting is propaganda of the terrorist organization PKK and provides a real backing for the organization. (11) Then, Prosecutor Sörensen takes over the case and the indictment charges the Roj TV to broadcast reports on PKK members, PKK sympathizers and PKK terrorist leaders; to spread the terrorist PKK-Kongra Gel propaganda and to promote the terrorist PKK attacks against the Turkish soldiers. Concerning the evidence, there are enough to uphold the case. Indeed, the link between the financing of Roj TV and the terrorist PKK is proved.

On January 2010, the Roj TV former chief executive officer Zonoozi has given some evidence to the Police in order to justify the Roj TV’s terrorism links, which was published in the Danish newspaper BerlingseTidende. (12) Additionally, the same newspaper has published some photos about both Roj TV and PKK leaders in terrorist PKK camps. Finally, there is a call recording between Zonoozi and Abdullah Sen Aka who told that he came on behalf of Abdullah Öcalan. According to the indictment, Roj TV will be judged under the article 114e of the Fight Against Terrorism legislation.

So, with all these evidence and as Denmark (1949) and Turkey (1952) are both full members of the NATO, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), they dispose of many platforms for exchanging and developing common actions in the fight against terrorism context but unfortunately, these available means are not fully used in practice. The judgment about the Roj TV case is waiting for summer 2011 and Ankara expects an effective support in the fight against PKK terrorist activities in Turkey and all over Europe.


Hope For A New Era In Turkish-Danish Relations

On December 7th 2010, Turkey's chief European Union (EU) negotiator and State Minister Egemen Bagis did his first trip to Denmark though he has been on the post since two years. Denmark is a host country for some 60 000 Turkish citizens and it sends about 200 000 tourists to Turkey annually as the state minister and Turkey’s chief EU negotiator pointed out during his trip. He told that this official visit was planned the day that Denmark announced it was taking legal action against Roj TV. Concretely, the aim of this visit was to revitalize the relations between the two countries, especially on economic level. Concerning the immigration policy in Denmark, immigrants have to pass a test in order to check their basic knowledge about Danish culture and language. However, thanks to a European guest worker rights accord (13) concluded in 1963 between Turkey and what was the European Community (now the EU), citizens from Turkish origin are exempted from this test. (14)

Denmark is one of the European countries which have suffered from the activities of the terrorist organization PKK, like murders, bomb attacks, premises fire as in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and France. In 2007, the main activities of the terrorist organization PKK in Europe were money laundering, drug trafficking, forged documents, and extortion within the Kurdish community. As well as their annual budget coming from Europe and sent through London City bank is about 80 million dollars. For example, only the extortions within the Kurdish community in Great Britain contribute to 4 million dollars. On that subject, Egemen Bagis said that “Denmark just recently began supporting Turkey in its fight against terrorism”. Since the 17thJune of 2002, the European Council (EC) has qualified the PKK as a terrorist organization. (15)

In the post-September 11 international politics, it has been increasingly difficult for states to provide safe havens to the terrorist organizations. The cooperative response of states against terrorism should not permit for the reserves to some organizations. Thus, international cooperation against the terrorist organization PKK and now the KCK establishment is significant in terms of the future of EU-Turkey relations. In fact, recently there have been operations against the terrorist organization PKK-related facilities in a number of European countries albeit with the prompting by the US. For example, France detained six members of the PKK near the southern city of Marseilles on orders of the French anti-terrorism judge, Thierry Fragnoli. Previously, during his visit to Turkey on October 2010, the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner vowed to struggle against terrorism and pledged to step up cooperation with Turkey in fighting against members of the PKK. From 2002 to 2011, the French public opinion about Turkey’s EU accession has changed in a positive way. It has been revealed that the percentage of people advocating Turkey’s accession to the EU has an increase of 6 points in France. (16) This type of development has positive effects on government’s perception and policies concerning Turkey’s EU membership.


Turkey’s EU Membership and Denmark

As the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) will start on the first half of 2012, how does Denmark look at Turkey’s EU-accession? Hereof, Ambassador Ole EgbergMikkelsen declared in a presentation of September 21th 2010 that “Danish position was clear, consistent and constructive”. (17) He precised “the end goalis Turkish membership of the EU but it is “an open process” whoseresult is not obvious yet. Public opinion polls of 2010 concerning the question “once Turkey complies with all the conditions set by the European Union, would you be strongly in favour, fairly in favour, fairly opposed or strongly opposed to the accession of Turkey to the EU?” show 26% strongly in favour, 33% fairly in favour, 16% fairly opposed and 24% strongly opposed. Then, an analysis of November 2010 prepared by the Center for Mellemøststudier from Syddansk University has underlined that “the Danish debate on Turkey’s EU membership aspirations has been characterized by rhetoric of both therapy–“we have to help Turkey to treat their democratic deficits”- and rejection“ -based on religious and cultural grounds-. (18) According to the analysis, “Turkey’s candidacy has a very peculiar status in Danish politics and it is knitted into both political discourses on the EU and the public debate about migration and Islam”.

In concrete terms, Denmark is leading a quite ambivalent attitude about Turkey’s EU membership: for the Danish government, Turkey is considered as “a candidate for full-membership in the EU” and in the public debate, “some of its leading representatives give the impression that they neither believe nor want to believe in Ankara’s ability to meet the Copenhagen Criteria”. As some observers have noticed, there is a “certain mismatch between the official statements of Denmark’s political elite” and many Danish politicians’ comments in the public debate. In fact, the issue of Turkey’s EU membership raises another problem for Danish population: it has its origin in the “skeptical stance toward an ever closer European Union” and it is “in line with the general suspicion that European integration causes a threat to the democratic credentials of the Scandinavian role model”. However, Denmark’s business elite does not share a negative image of Turkey. For example, for Hans Skov Christensen the director of Dansk Industri, “without any doubt, Turkey, like the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, should be invited to join the EU”. (19)


It is anticipated that Danish authorities will revise their long-endured tolerance for the activities of terrorist organization PKK and act in compliance with the anti-terrorism Security Council resolutions and the relevant international conventions. To conclude about Turkish-Danish relations on the way of getting a new start, Copenhagen is expected to honor its commitments: solving the Roj TV case in the context of the fight against terrorism and uttering an official apologize for the notorious cartoons. Finally, an unequivocal Danish support to Turkey’s EU membership will boost bilateral relations and reciprocal confidence will gain strength.




1. Website of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
2. “After the Danish Cartoon controversy”, The Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007, pp.3-11.
3. Ibid.
4. “Muhammad cartoons' global crisis”, BBC news 7th February 2006.
5. “Kurt Westergaard recompensé en Allemagne”, Courrier International, September 9th 2010. [http://www.courrierinternational.com/breve/2010/09/09/kurt-westergaard-recompense-en-allemagne]
6. Ibid.
7. “Anti-blasphemy gone wild: Turkey disrupts NATO chief's appointment over Danish cartoon”, Paul Fidalgo, April 6th 2009, http://www.examiner.com/
8. “Turkey hopes for start of new era in relations with Denmark”, December 8th 2010, http://www.todayszaman.com/news-229060-turkey-hopes-for-start-of-new-era-in-relations-with-denmark.html
9. “Court evidence reveals KCK terror network is worse than PKK”,Today’sZaman, June 20th 2010.
10. “Şırnak Jandarma Komutanlığı, KCK operasyonunda işadamlarından kesilen haraç makbuzlarını ele geçirdi”, Internet Haber, January 3th 2011.
11. “Roj TV terror yasasıyla yargılanacak”, DHA online, August 31th 2010.
12. Ibid.
13. “EU rule exempts Turks from immigration test”, The Copenhagen Post online, November 27th 2010.
14. Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten
15. Council Decision 2002/460/EC (June 17th 2002)
16. “FransızlarınTürkiye'nin AB üyeliğinedesteğiarttı”, KayhanKaracantvmsnbc (25.02.2011) http://www.turkiyeavrupavakfi.org/index.php/genel-haberler/2243-fransa.html
17.  “Update on Danish-Turkish relations”, Presentation by Ambassador Ole EgbergMikkelsen for the Danish-Turkish business community, Istanbul 21 September 2010.
18. “Denmark and Turkey’s EU Accession: Between therapy and rejection”, Dietrich Jung, Center for Mellemoststudier, SyddanskUniversitet, November 2010.
19. Ibid.

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