Dutch and Turkish Ambassadors look back on 100 years of friendship


Celebrating a century of friendship between the Netherlands and Türkiye, the Dutch Ambassador to Türkiye Joep Wijnands and the Turkish Ambassador to the Netherlands Selçuk Ünal sat down together for an interview. Before enjoying a friendly dinner, the Ambassadors looked back on their partnership, last year's earthquakes, the Turkish communities in the Netherlands and the frankness in their relationship. ‘We even have each other on speed dial,’ they share.

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Inspired by Wijnand's swim across the Bosphorus, Ünal surprised his colleague with a Turkish newspaper from the 1980s featuring a Dutch swimmer who once conquered the Golden Horn in Istanbul.

One stationed in Ankara, the other in The Hague, both proudly representing their countries. Thanks to the annual Ambassador's Conference, they briefly found themselves in the same city, which gave us the unique opportunity to catch up with them.

Ambassador hotline

Looking back on how their personal relationship began, Ünal remembers: ‘We first met in Ankara, way before my assignment was nominated. Honestly, I had no idea I would be heading to the Netherlands. Then, I got the exciting news about being proposed as an ambassador. Later on, Ambassador Wijnands invited me for a dinner at his Residence in Ankara where we had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves.’

Whether through calls or texts, Ünal and Wijnands stay in touch regularly. A good way to stay updated on each other's experiences and activities. ‘Our working relationship is not just lively, but also incredibly helpful. It adds another layer to our friendship,’ says the Dutch Ambassador. Ünal adds: ‘We even have each other on speed dial.’

Historical beginnings: Dutch or Turkish tulip?

Celebrating a century of friendship this year, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Türkiye trace their official friendship back to a 1924 treaty. Ties go much further back though, as Ambassador Wijnands elaborates, ‘In 1612, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire gave trading rights to the Dutch, initiating a lasting friendship that goes beyond 400 years.’

Ambassador Ünal confirms the codification of friendship between their nations in 1924 and brings up the earlier connections through merchants and tradesmen: ‘The first recorded contact was, I think, 1561.’

Speaking of trade and merchants in history, Wijnands sets the record straight about the origin of the tulip, or Lale: ‘It is a Dutch national symbol now, but we owe that  to Türkiye, as merchants brought tulips from there to the Netherlands. It embodies our shared heritage.’

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In the Turkish embassy, Selçuk Ünal and Joep Wijnands speak about the Dutch-Turkish friendship.

Celebrating the Dutch-Turkish partnership

The two ambassadors, along with their embassies, have planned an exciting course of events to mark the centennial.

The Netherlands Embassy is planning a range of activities. From various friendship concerts throughout Türkiye, to a symposium in Izmir, with students from Technical University Delft, focused on earthquake resilient architecture to help rebuild communities after the tragic earthquakes, to sending gift boxes to 100 schools across Türkiye containing 100 tulip bulbs & Dutch children’s literature .

The Turkish Embassy is also set to host a series of events, including a performance by a Turkish classical music quartet in Amsterdam and activities at the Yunus Emre Cultural Centre. 'We also plan academic discussions on the history of the relationship and economic-oriented events, led by the enthusiastic Turkish communities here,' says Ünal.

Trading nations

‘Both our countries have a history of being trading nations,’ Ambassador Ünal explains the Netherlands has been the biggest investor in Türkiye. And in the last two years, the Netherlands has become Türkiye's largest foreign direct investment partner. We see more investors setting up operations here, acting as bases for the Netherlands or Europe. This growing trend is significantly boosting our economic partnership.’

Ambassador Wijnands adds: ‘We have 3000 Dutch companies working in Türkiye. But more than just the numbers, there is a shared trading spirit between Turkish and Dutch people. Our history of looking outward and doing business internationally gives us a strong understanding of each other.’

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The Turkish ambassador to the Netherlands, Selçuk Ünal.

Responding to the earthquakes: The Hague

It is a year since the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. Ambassador Ünal was at home when it happened. He quickly went to the embassy next door, where his colleagues were already gathered. Soon after, Ünal began receiving calls from Dutch friends, colleagues, and people from the Dutch Turkish communities offering condolences and help.

In his first meeting the Turkish Ambassador told his team: ‘Look, this is a difficult day. We may have lost our friends and loved ones. But this is not the time to cry. Not today, at least. We have to act and help everybody in coordination with our Dutch friends.’

Ünal then reached out to mosques and transportation companies as well as Turkish Airlines, KLM, and Corendon to prepare for collecting and sending humanitarian aid. ‘Our gratitude goes to the Dutch government and more importantly, the Dutch people for their generous support to the Dutch Emergency Fund, GIRO 555. We are truly thankful for their help during those sleepless days.’

Responding to the earthquakes: Ankara

Shortly after the Dutch Ambassador first heard the news about the earthquakes, he was informed the Turkish authorities needed international help, indicating the seriousness of the situation. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Ambassador Wijnands has visited the area several times and he returned there recently with Dutch-Turkish singer Karsu to open a music school in Hatay, the province impacted the most by the earthquakes.

‘The Dutch government and people were actively helping, and as an embassy, we wanted to help too. We collected clothes among the embassy team, cancelled our Kings Day celebration in Ankara, and instead had a meal with earthquake victims in Kahramanmaraş. With support from Dutch businesses, we also opened the Tulip Education and Recreation Centre in Kahramanmaras, providing support to children and women affected by the earthquakes’

To collect money for the earthquake victims, Ambassador Wijnands and his colleague also participated in the Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim, a swimming competition over the Bosphorus.

The Dutch government also supports the reconstruction efforts in the earthquake affected regions and thinks Dutch companies can play a role, especially in the areas of circular construction, water & sanitation and modular buildings.

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The Dutch ambassador to Türkiye, Joep Wijnands.

Turkish diaspora: A natural bridge

The first generation of Turkish workers started coming to the Netherlands in the 1960s, and this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the bilateral Labour Agreement. Everyday in Ankara, Ambassador Wijnands meets people who have a connection to the Netherlands – either they have been there, have family ties, or know someone in the country. ‘This helps us understand each other better, which is a great way to build on our friendship,’ he says.

Ambassador Ünal believes Dutch-Turkish communities plays a significant role in the Dutch economy. As time passed, the second and third generations also became more integrated into Dutch society. ‘Since their arrival, people from the Turkish communities have gotten involved in various aspects of Dutch life, like trade, politics, arts, and academia.’

Overcoming diplomatic challenges

‘In any relationship, whether friendships or families, ups and downs are normal,’ says Wijnands. ‘What matters is how you handle them. Communication is key, and we use several channels to increase understanding. The Turkish communities in the Netherlands play a role there, the contacts between governments, between businesses that all comes together.’

Ambassador Ünal agrees with his Dutch colleague: ‘Ups and downs are part of any relationship. It would be unrealistic to expect complete agreement on everything. Most important is engaging in dialogue and addressing differences openly. Through honest conversations, we can always find common ground.’

Poffertjes or künefe?

Before heading to dinner, the Ambassadors talk about their favourite local foods. Ambassador Wijnands loves the sweet delicacies Türkiye has to offer. ‘From künefe to kadayıf and from sütlaç to irmik helvası - I love them all.’ The hazelnuts, pistachios, and olives are also among his favorites. ‘My wife and I actually adopted a cat in Ankara, and we named him Zeytin, which means olive in Turkish.’

The Dutch favourite food for Ambassador Ünal is definitely kibbeling. ‘But I also like poffertjes with cheese.’ While Wijnands thanks his colleague for the warm hospitality, he laughs: ‘I still hope the chef will serve Turkish cuisine tonight.’

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