Islamic Calvinists. Change and Conservatism in Central Anatolia

Islamic Calvinists. Change and Conservatism in Central Anatolia
Source Date: 19/09/2005
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by the European Stability Initiative (2005): Wolfgang Schauble, recently said, that "a part of Turkey is Europe, just like Russia. But a far bigger part of both Turkey and Russia


Among the European voices who are sceptical of Turkish membership of the European Union, it is common to hear the view that Turkey has two souls, only one of which is Western. They contrast the cosmopolitan outlook of Ankara, Istanbul and the coastal resorts with the vast Turkish interior, which is seen as backward, impoverished and distinctly non-European in its values. One of the leading foreign policy thinkers of the German Christian Democratic Union, Wolfgang Schauble, recently said,

"A part of Turkey is Europe, just like Russia. But a far bigger part of both Turkey and Russia is definitely not in Europe. That is why Russia could never really integrate into the EU."

The argument, based partly on economics but more squarely on culture, has led many to conclude that, while Turkey should enjoy closer relations with the European Union, full integration would be detrimental both to Turkey and to the EU.

Central Anatolia (Orta Anadolu) is the heartland of this 'other' Turkey. The common perception of a non-European Anatolia has been built up over many decades both by foreigners reflecting on its village culture and by officials of the Turkish Republic, struggling to overcome the backwardness of traditional Turkish society. Both have seen concentrated in Anatolia those aspects of Turkey that are least European: a patriarchal, Islamic culture rooted deeply in the unchanging rhythms of village life, centred on wheat, sheep and hand-woven carpets.

Already in 1949, reviewing the Turkish economy for the U.S. government, a former executive of Standard Oil, Max Thornburg, wrote:

"The impression that one carries away from Turkey is that of a thin layer of modernity imported from abroad and imposed from above, with great will and vigour, upon a population the larger part of which is still steeped in medieval or even ancient ways of life."

In the rural world of 1950s Anatolia, three decades after the founding of the Turkish Republic, 68 percent of Turkish adults were still illiterate. Thirty years later, when an American anthropologist, Carol Delaney, spent two years studying a Central Anatolian village, she found that village life had changed little, culturally or economically. She described a moral universe centred on procreation and rigid gender roles.

"In the villager's theory only men are able to transmit the spark of life, and it is theoretically eternal as long as men continue to produce sons to carry it down the generations."

Work, on the other hand, constituted a "premonition of hell":

"Villagers must work, but they do not like to; work in any form is looked down upon. It is not seen as a way of learning about life, or as an affirmation or fulfillment of the self. Certainly the meaning of life is not conceived in terms of work. The exemplary human activity is to sit; the verb oturmak has both meanings."

Yet in recent years Central Anatolia has become the site of an economic miracle reminiscent of East Asia's tiger economies. A number of Anatolian trading centres, ranged along the old silk routes, have undergone an industrial revolution which has turned them into major manufacturing centres and players in the global economy. By the mid-1990s, Turkish journalists and academics had begun to write about the 'Anatolian Tigers'. As well as sheep, wheat and carpets, suddenly there was mass-produced furniture sold across Turkey, and high-quality textiles exported to the fashion centres of the world. In recent years, this transformation has gathered speed, with economic growth in parts of Central Anatolia reaching dizzying levels over the past two years.

With the arrival of industrial capitalism, the traditional village world described by Delaney is in retreat. Far more Anatolians now live in urban centres and have acquired distinctly modern tastes. With urbanisation and increased education have come new ideas about the virtues of hard work and entrepreneurship. Central Anatolia remains a religious and socially conservative society. Yet it has evolved a particular form of conservatism which is highly conducive to its new-founded economic success.

With economic development has also come a new political confidence. Central Anatolia is the electoral base of Turkey's AKP government, and home to some of its most influential figures, notably Abdullah Gul, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. The AKP government is in many respects a political reflection of the values and ambitions that have shaped the Anatolian Tigers. Understanding its social and economic roots can help to shed light on one of the paradoxes of contemporary Turkey which has puzzled observers, both within Turkey and abroad: how a government which is Islamic and conservative in its origins can nonetheless pursue such a vigorous pro-business and pro-European agenda.

Executive Summary

Among Europeans who are sceptical of Turkish membership of the European Union, it is common to hear the view that Turkey has two souls, only one of which is Western. They contrast the cosmopolitan outlook of Istanbul with the vast Turkish interior, which is seen as backward, impoverished and 'non-European' in its values.

Central Anatolia, with its rural economy and patriarchal, Islamic culture, is seen as the heartland of this 'other' Turkey. Yet in recent years, it has witnessed an economic miracle that has turned a number of former trading towns into prosperous manufacturing centres. This new prosperity has led to a transformation of traditional values and a new cultural outlook that embraces hard work, entrepreneurship and development. While Anatolia remains a socially conservative and religious society, it is also undergoing what some have called a 'Quiet Islamic Reformation'. Many of Kayseri's business leaders even attribute their economic success to their 'protestant work ethic'.

This report explores these social and economic changes in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri, home to one million people. It presents detailed case studies of a number of strategic sectors: the emergence of Kayseri as Turkey's leading cluster of furniture manufacturers; the rise of Orta Anadolu, producing one percent of the world's denim; and the success of the Kayseri sugar refinery and its impact on local agriculture. These case studies illustrate how industrial capitalism emerged from a predominantly rural and merchant society within a single generation. They also demonstrate how policy failures by successive governments caused the 1990s to be a 'lost decade', and how the economic crisis of 2000/01 and the structural reforms which followed it have marked a decisive turning point for the Turkish economy.

The report also explores how over the past decade individualistic, pro-business currents have become prominent within Turkish Islam. It looks closer at Kayseri's most successful small town, the industrial district of Hacilar, whose 20,000 inhabitants have given birth to 9 out of Turkey's top 500 companies. It finally examines the position of women in this evolving Anatolian society, and why this could prove to be the Achilles heel of continued rapid development.

Today's governing party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul (Kayseri's most prominent politician), and its political philosophy of 'democratic conservatism', are very popular in Central Anatolia. AKP's Kayseri headquarters was one of its first to be established, and in the 2004 municipal elections in Kayseri it won an overwhelming majority of 70 percent, its highest in the country. Democratic conservatism embraces many goals reminiscent of centrist political parties across Europe.

The report concludes that economic success and social development have created a milieu in which Islam and modernity coexist comfortably. It is the Anatolia shaped by these values that is now pressing its case to join the European Union.

for the full report use the link above

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