On Wednesday 6th May IR Soc hosted Natalie Martin in a joint event with the University of Oxford European Affairs society. Having worked as a broadcast journalist for the BBC for just under a decade, she is now a Politics and International Relations Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Her talk was titled “The President, the preacher and the Turkey - EU accession process.” The event landed on the eve of the UK general elections and but a few months before the Turkish population head to the polling stations, thus her presence in Oxford could not be more significant.
For those unfamiliar with the political climate of modern Turkey, Natalie provided a neat synopsis of the country bounding leaps towards illiberalism and away from a society compatible with the founding principles of the EU. This change, she argued, is propelled by the present AKP leader and President of Turkey; Tayyip Erdoğan.
Both Erdoğan’s undemocratic clamp down on dissent and the EU’s failure to address it are not secrets to the international community. However, the nuanced insight that the talk really offered was the analysis of the interplay between the AKP’s political shift and the Sufi cult figure Muhammed Fethullah Gülen.
As the world focusses on the misogyny and conservatism of Erdoğan, she portrayed how the spread of Gülen brand schools around Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia and even Western Europe is subtly building the preacher’s influence and power globally. She brought into question whether Erdoğan’s popularity could hold firm against a religious and political revolution sparked by what is now commonly known as the Gülen movement.
Regardless, while the international community grapples with the rise of IS, the talk underlined how this crisis is emphatically irresolvable without healthy dialogue between Turkey and the EU. Part of forming this dialogue, she showed, demands asking: is Turkey European?