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Monday 14 March 2022

Turkey Under Erdogan: How a Country Turned from Democracy and the West

SEESOX held its last hybrid event of the Hilary 2022 Term, taking its title from, and focusing on, Dimitar Bechev’s latest book. The event was chaired by Ezgi Başaran (St Antony’s College, Oxford) who introduced the book as a tour-de-force of events and critical junctures in the past two decades in Turkey, as the country succumbed to authoritarianism and nationalism, and as it further distanced itself from the West. The author and speaker Dimitar Bechev (Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA)) was accompanied by the discussants Mehmet Karlı (St Antony’s College, Oxford) and Kerem Öktem (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice).

Bechev began by commenting on Turkey’s role as a critical player in the war in Ukraine. The Turkish government is currently stuck in the middle, given the tremendous economic challenges it is facing, the pressure from a united opposition, the discontent brewing among the Turkish society, and now a geopolitical crisis in its neighbourhood where it has robust connections to both parties.

He then zoomed back from the current situation to talk about the evolution of Turkish foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Turkey had reinvented itself from being an EU-applicant to a central player with connections throughout the Middle East, the Balkans and the Black Sea. Turkey had been very confident that it could shape its neighbourhood and its image, bringing together Islam, democratic experience, economic growth and a populist leadership style, until it discovered its limitations and faced a pushback. Despite the lessons learnt, Turkey still wants to influence its environment and to play a central role in the balance between the West, Russia and China. Turkey’s process of becoming an ambitious regional player as a result of domestic politics, geopolitics, and ideology, is one of the major themes in the book.