Anti-western turn reflects dual ideologies of Turkish ruling alliance - scholar

As Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has veered away from its traditional western allies over the last decade, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s frequent use of anti-western discourse has made international headlines.

This anti-western sentiment is not simply Erdoğan’s preference, but a reflection of the ruling alliance between Islamists and ultranationalists, said San Diego State University Professor Ahmet T. Kuru in an article for political news site openDemocracy.

While the AKP pursued a pro-western line before 2012, Erdoğan has since based his power on an alliance between these two large socio-political groups, which are united by anti-westernism, Kuru said.

Islamists, the AKP’s traditional base, reject western societies and the historical reforms that aimed to bring Turkey in line with them, in favour of a “utopian notion of Islamic civilization” that they believe can remedy many of the country’s problems, said the scholar.

Ultranationalist Kemalists, which Kuru says are represented in the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the AKP’s current coalition partners, also reject the west, though they favour a “Eurasianist” foreign policy based on alliances with Russia and China.

Both ideologies are riddled with inconsistencies, Kuru said. While Islamists ignore the numerous violent conflicts between Muslim states and ethnic or religious groups, the Eurasianists ignore the serious conflicts of interest that hold Turkey and Russia apart in a wide number of areas.

Nevertheless, Turkey’s policies could bring its relations with the west to a point of no return if it goes through with the planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems this summer.

Both U.S. and NATO officials have warned that the Russian-built systems could endanger NATO hardware if located in allied territory, but Erdoğan has insisted the deal will go ahead, with delivery of the systems due by August.

Last week, U.S. Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan sent Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar a letter setting a July 31 deadline to back out of the deal.

For Turkey to revive its struggling democracy, “strong, rational, and critical relations with western countries” will be vital, Kuru said.