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Turkey’s Love-Hate Relationship with the West

Published 19 Sep 2017

On 12 September at Glover Cottages, Professor Ihsan Yilmaz, Chair of Islamic Studies at Deakin University, analysed the current situation in Turkey.

He said President Erdogan has a strong character and uses conspiracy theories to control the Turkish population. He cleverly manipulates popular ambivalence towards both the EU and the US, portraying the West as both a strategic ally and a threat. This is reflected in a 2013 poll that highlights how 66% of the Turkish nation have a negative view of the EU, but more than 50% of them also want to join it.

Since widespread unrest in the Middle East following the Arab Spring, Erdogan has refined his approach. To gain further popular support, he now relies on anti-western propaganda and a populist Islamist movement. With 90% of the media controlled by the state, images and rhetoric of the West as “crusaders” bombard citizens. Polls now show that as of 2017, 95% of the population sees the US as a major security threat.

Professor Yilmaz asserts that Erdogan himself is not a passionate Islamic leader; rather, he cynically utilizes Machiavellian techniques to maintain and expand his powers. With real and imagined internal enemies in the armed forces and abroad, Erdogan is relying on a jihadist movement as a method of protection in the event of attacks against himself or his government. By dividing and conquering, he pits loyal Islamists against secular citizens or those who are sympathetic towards the West.

Ultimately, Erdogan is using pan-Islamism to consolidate his power. He is directing the country away from secularism and towards stronger relationships with other Middle Eastern nations such as Iran. He wants to use social engineering to re-imagine an Islamic national identity for Turkey. This conflicts with the fact that Turkey hosts a number of NATO bases, but the President believes he may be able to reconcile his position with US President Trump. So far, however, their relationship remains tentative.


Report prepared by Damian Meduri

AIIA NSW intern