Erik-Jan Zürcher

Erik-Jan Zürcher (born 1953) is a Dutch Turkologist. He is a professor of Turkish studies at Leiden University since 1997. From 2008 to 2012 he served as director of the International Institute of Social History. His book Turkey: a Modern History is considered a standard work.[1] Zürcher frequently comments on current issues related to Turkey.


Zürcher was born in 1953, the only child of Sinologist Erik Zürcher (1928–2008).[2][3] Zürcher obtained a BA in Turkish studies from Leiden University in 1974. Three years later he received his MA in Turkish studies, with minors in both modern history and Persian. In 1984 he obtained his PhD in Turkish studies, also from Leiden University.[4]

From 1977 to 1989 Zürcher was an assistant professor of Turkish and Persian at the Radboud University Nijmegen. He subsequently was employed as associate professor of modern history at the same university until 1997. From 1990 to 1999 he was a senior researcher at the International Institute of Social History. Between 1993 and 1997 Zürcher was an affiliate professor of social history of the Middle East at the University of Amsterdam. In that latter year he was appointed as full professor of Turkish studies at Leiden University.[4]

Zürcher was director of the International Institute of Social History between April 2008 and November 2012.[5]

Honours and distinctions

In 2005, Zürcher received the Turkish Medal of High Distinction for his work in informing the Dutch political scene and general public on Turkey. The award was presented to him by foreign minister Abdullah Gül. In May 2016 he returned the medal, citing "dictatorial misgovernment" by the government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[6]

Zürcher was elected a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.[7]


Zürcher has noted a tendency in Turkish government circles to refer nostalgically to the Ottoman Empire. According to him, this is in line with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's depicting of a powerful Turkey in the future, linked to a glorious empire in the past.[3]

Zürcher previously pleaded for accession of Turkey to the European Union, in 2012, he noted that the perspective of accession was lost politically in both Turkey and the European Union.[8] In 2016, he noted that his previously expected advancement in democratic standards and Rechtsstaat did not materialize, and that Turkey therefore cannot and should not become a member of the European Union.[9]

Reacting shortly after the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt, Zürcher stated that he deemed it "highly unlikely" that the Gülen movement was behind it. He added that the coup attempt would lead to Turkish president Erdoğan using the event to get rid of opponents, citing the example of arrest warrants for nearly 3000 judges.[10]



  1. Floris van Straaten. "Waarom Turkije de Koerden aanvalt". NRC Handelsblad. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  2. Esther Hageman (27 February 2008). "Erik Zürcher 1928-2008". Trouw. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  3. 1 2 Pieternel Gruppen (27 January 2015). "Flirten met de Ottomanen". Trouw. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  4. 1 2 "Erik-jan Zurcher". Leiden University. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  5. "Erik-Jan Zürcher Resigns as IISH Director". International Institute of Social History. 23 October 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  6. "Hoogleraar geeft Turkse onderscheiding terug vanwege 'dictatoriaal wanbeleid'". NRC Handelsblad. 9 May 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  7. "Erik-Jan Zürcher". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 23 July 2016.
  8. Maurits van den Boogert; Jan Jonker Roelants (2012). De Nederlands-Turkse betrekkingen: Portretten van een vierhonderdjarige geschiedenis. Uitgeverij Verloren. p. 96. ISBN 978-90-8704-292-9.
  9. "Hier heb je mijn Turkse medaille terug, Erdogan". NRC Handelsblad. 10 May 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  10. "Gülen-beweging achter Turkse coup? 'Zeer onwaarschijnlijk'". Nederlandse Omroep Stichting. 16 July 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
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