In Turkey’s pious Muslim heartland, anti-Erdogan protests seem a world away
“This Nation Is With You” declares a small billboard in the center of this conservative central Turkish city, the words emblazoned on an image of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and a sea of his flag-waving supporters.
Cosmopolitan Istanbul or the avenues of the capital Ankara, rattled by weeks of anti-government protest, seem a world away from Konya, an industrial city in Turkey’s pious Anatolian heartland, where support for the premier appears resolute.
The wave of riots has highlighted an underlying tension in Turkish society between a modern, secular middle-class, many living in Istanbul or on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and a more conservative, religious population that forms the bedrock of support for Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party.
Konya, a city of 1.1 million with a dynamic economy steeped in Islamic tradition, epitomizes Erdogan’s reformist vision.
Few restaurants serve alcohol, the Islamic headscarf is more in evidence than in the main cities, and tourists are drawn to the tomb of Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic, rather than to any wild nightlife.
But it is also modernizing fast. One of the “Anatolian Tigers”, cities whose small industries have flourished under a decade of AK Party rule, Konya’s highways have been widened and a fast train line has put Ankara less than two hours away.
There is little sympathy here for the protesters of Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir, the country’s three biggest cities and the main centers of unrest.