It has been interesting to watch the ongoing strife and turmoil that has been shaking Turkey. We were there for two weeks in March & April and had a chance to speak with a number of people in different locations. To a certain extent it has been hard to reconcile the strength of reaction given our conversations and the views shared, though some of the seeds of the reaction were easily visible. Our time in Turkey was marked by three main themes when we spoke with people:
Ongoing tensions between secular & traditional Turks – Due to reforms driven by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey has a modern history of being open to different forms of religious worship, or no worship at all compared to the rest of the region. The majority of the people we spoke with (bias of English speakers) identified as Muslim, but not devout and in many cases, non-practicing. They had plenty of scorn for the clerics and traditionalists and dismissed their political power as buy-outs & giveaways to segments of the population. They felt that their options & lifestyles were under threat to a certain extent.
The Turkish economy is (or was) great – We saw a lot of new development and construction as we navigated the country. In general all of the folks that we spoke with said things were good and life was getting better for everyone. Despite Turkey’s run of growth there is increasing worry that the economic growth and stability in Turkey has been fueled unsustainable by outside lending. Sound familiar?
Turks are happy to be separate from the Euro – Without prompting people would mention how proud they were that they were doing better than the Euro zone, and that they were very happy to have not joined the Euro. The financial crisis appears to have given confidence to going it alone. Perhaps the growth experienced in the last five years was amplified by the troubles in Europe and investors looking for (and paying more for) opportunities in Turkey.
Time will tell how far the current unrest will last, both sides don’t appear to be backing down and are further instigating the other. I wouldn’t give up hope soon – Even now it is very common to see Atatürk bumper stickers and tributes. Turks are proud of their country and consider it unique and a model for other countries to follow.