While politics has mostly been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks, the Dutch parliament was shaken by a conflict within the Denk Party which consists predominantly of migrants with a Turkish descent while also addressing other migrant communities living in the Netherlands. As more and more news was published on the matter, it became clear that the conflict was of a personal nature between the founders of the party.

The party, founded in 2014, established a ‘tolerant and solidary society’ movement, and has since been the biggest voice for citizens with a migrant background in Dutch politics. In the last parliamentary elections in the Netherlands in 2017, Denk secured three seats in parliament, filled by party leader Tunahan Kuzu, co-founder Selçuk Öztürk, and Farid Azarkan. As two of the three representatives are of Turkish descent, the party is wildly popular among the Dutch-Turkish community, as well as among the muslim minorities. Kuzu entered Dutch politics in the Labour Party in 2012, but left after he clashed with the party’s critical stance on the presence of Diyanet, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, in Dutch society. Together with another Labour deputy Selçuk Öztürk, Kuzu founded the Denk (‘Think’) Party.


On March 21st, the party leader published a statement saying he would leave the Dutch parliament for personal reasons. “I have been wondering if I still have the energy I had when we started the party,” Kuzu said. “Now that I found the answer to that question, my decision is final.” Kuzu announced that his colleague Farid Azarkan would be taking over the role as the leader of Denk party.


The media reacted confused, but understanding of Kuzu’s decision. It was not until a week later that an underlying crisis was revealed. The Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd published an article on the conflict within the party: Kuzu had been involved with a party employee in an extramarital affair. Co-founder Selçuk Öztürk had contacted the woman in order to be able to pressure Kuzu to resign. Moreover, the magazine was in possession of a written statement by the woman who decided to stay anonymous, saying Kuzu behaved in an inappropriate manner, and was advised to report him to authorities.


Kuzu did not take the allegations lightly. He denied crossing any boundaries and called it an “easy attempt” to discredit him. On his Twitter account Kuzu wrote Öztürk had committed ‘political fratricide’ by throwing him in front of the bus. [embed]https://twitter.com/tunahankuzu/status/1247164914608701442?s=12[/embed] According to Kuzu, his relationship with Öztürk started to get sour as he was not invited to a trip to Istanbul, in which he and Azarkan spoke of the future of the party. Afterwards Öztürk allegedly attempted to set up local representatives against Kuzu.


Azarkan, as interim party leader, called for the party board to withdraw temporarily for reevaluation. He stated that he would not choose a side and instead focus on the party’s ideals. He proposed an interim board to take over until the conflict is resolved. Denk’s party council, an advising organ to the board consisting of local representatives, stated on Tuesday that the the board was too involved in the conflict to remain neutral in the situation, and should therefore resign. Öztürk has stated that he will not be resigning from the board under any circumstances. Kuzu claimed that he would not give up his seat in parliament either.