A panel discussion held at the House of Commons in London on Monday highlighted the recent developments in Turkish politics especially focusing on the relationship between the Gülen movement and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
İhsan Yılmaz, an associate professor of political science at Fatih University and popular columnist for Today's Zaman, said that the recent Twitter ban and other violations of freedoms in Turkey have confirmed the anti-democratic stance of the Turkish government. “It is not a battle of Gülen vs. Erdoğan; it is Erdoğan vs. democracy,” he said.
Nick de Bois, member of parliament for Enfield, chaired the discussion and raised some of his own concerns on the changes taking place in Turkey. The MP stressed that the problems in Turkey are leading to a more closed society, one that is not as open and is lacking freedom of the press, and is also trying to limit communication on social media. “These are uncomfortable steps and difficult for someone like me to understand who does not live there,” he said.
Questions from the audience created a heated discussion about the strategy and initial objectives of Erdoğan's government. Professor Yılmaz said that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had “victimized” himself to become successful. He said that Erdoğan had played the role of the victim against the villains who were imposing stringent bans on the public such as that on freedom of religious expression with the headscarf ban.
Members of the audience asked questions about the shift of support from the Gülen movement away from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government. Professor Yılmaz highlighted a recent poll which took place before Dec. 17, revealing that 80 percent of the movement's supporters had sided with AK Party government. He said that this support was on the basis of principle, supporting entry to the EU, an end to military tutelage and wanting a transparent state, all principles that were held by the AK Party government until 2012-2013.
He stressed that from this date onwards the government started talking about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which the movement is not interested in, as it has no schools or prominence there. The latest changes in Turkey also saw the censorship of the Internet and the proposal of a “Putinistic presidential system” and anti-EU rhetoric, all changes which pushed the movement away from its previous support.
De Bois said that this recent separation could end with a difficult divorce, to which Professor Yılmaz responded “yet it wasn't a marriage at all.”