Islamic Calvinists – Social revolution in Anatolia
ESI report: Islamic Calvinists. Change and Conservatism in Central Anatolia (19 September 2005)
Video: Mustafa Akyol – Turkish Islam (August 2011)
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.
Background: Change and Conservatism in Central Anatolia