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Erdogan and the 'Islamic Calvinists'

Daniel Heinrich, Kayseri / jsOctober 28, 2015

Suppression of the Gezi Park protests, press censorship, erosion of the constitution. But Erdogan and 'his' AKP party are still popular in Turkey ahead of Sunday's elections. Daniel Heinrich reports from Kayseri.

Türkei Stadtbild Panorama in Kayseri
Image: DW/D. Heinrich

"Respect for God and for work, those are the most important things in life." Orhan Kara leaves no doubt as to what his world view is. The 35-year-old runs a small kebab shop in the old part of Kayseri, the capital of the central Anatolian region of the same name.

People here are known as "Islamic Calvinists." For the last several years, the region, with around 1.8 million residents, has been experiencing an economic boom. The industrial zone on the outskirts of the city is much like a small town of its own. Internationally successful companies such as "Istikbal," a Turkish version of Ikea, and "Boyteks," a textile company, are both from the region.

"Ora et labora" (pray and work) would be an appropriate description of residents' attitudes toward life here - the streets are clean, women wear headscarves, men carry prayer beads and at 7 p.m. they roll up the sidewalks.

This conservative attitude is reflected in the election results. In June's parliamentary elections, nearly 60 percent of residents voted for the religious conservative, Justice and Development Party (AKP). Recent opinion polls suggest that a similar result can be expected in Sunday's upcoming election. The fact that "only" five of the Kayseri region's nine representatives in Ankara are from the AKP is almost seen as a rebuff here.

Pressure as political instrument

Since the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also has three representatives in Ankara, Cetin Arik is currently the only parliamentarian from Kayseri that is not from the religious-nationalist milieu. He represents Kayseri in the "Grand National Assembly" as a member of the Kemalist and social-democratic Republican People's Party (CHP).

Türkei Orhan Kara mittig in seinem Kebab-Imbiss in Kayseri
In Kayseri, people say Erdogan is the only man for the jobImage: DW/D. Heinrich

The party of Kemal Atatürk, the country's founder, the CHP is actually Turkey's largest opposition party and hopes to win 30 percent of the vote on Sunday. But Cetin Arik admits that the situation in Kayseri is relatively hopeless: "One of the biggest problems is that we are not allowed to advertise. We don't get TV appearances either," he tells DW. The AKP puts too much pressure on the television stations.

The fact that the state is not simply making empty threats was recently felt by local economic VIPs. The Boydak Holding, which also owns Istikbal, pays half of the region's corporate taxes. Despite their economic might, when rumors that the holding was involved in a supposed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan abounded, several of its highest representatives found themselves behind bars. The men are now free and deny all accusations, but proceedings against them continue.

Conspiracy theories order of the day

Rumors about coups are extremely popular in Turkey. For Gareth Jenkins, an expert on Turkey and a fellow at the Silk Road Studies Program of the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development, a research and policy organization, such rumors are an inherent aspect of Turkish political discourse.

He says there is an unshakable belief in the most abstruse conspiracy theories here. "There have been a slew of supposed coup attempts aimed at weakening Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP, in order to hinder Turkey's otherwise unstoppable ascent on the path to becoming a world power."

Kayseri is no exception. Orhan Kara thinks that the AKP and Erdogan are under threat as well. And he is convinced that the threat comes not only from within Turkey's borders.

Türkei Wahlplakat AKP Davutoglu in Kayseri
The AKP is omnipresent in KayseriImage: DW/D. Heinrich

"The West was happy when the AKP lost votes during the last election." For Kara, a ruling coalition, the most likely result of the pending parliamentary elections according to opinion polls, would be a catastrophe. "That would just keep Turkey from becoming stronger, keep it from growing." The only thing that can save Turkey from sliding into chaos is an absolute majority for the AKP, he believes. "The AKP stands for security and stability."

Ankara's terror cocktail

But he is not just referring to the economic situation. The mid-October terrorist attack in Ankara that killed 102 people, and in the eyes of the opposition was a failure of the otherwise all-powerful Turkish security forces, has only served to further convince the residents of Kayseri of the urgency of an absolute majority for the AKP.

In talks with DW, Gareth Jenkins spoke of a recurring pattern that occurs when voters head to the polls. "Those that support the AKP see the Ankara attack as further evidence that there are internal forces that seek to harm the AKP and Turkey itself." In the opinion of AKP voters, the only way to fight such forces is by cementing the power of the AKP.

The political leadership of the AKP is happy to strengthen that tendency by busily spreading conspiracy theories. Shortly after the Ankara attack, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davatoglu offered a whole list of potential suspects: Among them "Islamic State" (IS), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and groups of left-wing extremists. Very complex, very diversified. Thankfully, Davatoglu also brought an appropriate name with him - "cocktail terrorism."

"Cocktail terrorism," is appealing because of its simplicity. Even in Kayseri, and even for Orhan Kara. However, Kara seems relieved that this type of differentiation is not necessary on the political landscape. For him, it is exceedingly clear who will continue to wear the pants in Turkey.

"Erdogan is our boss," he says enthusiastically. In his euphoria, he seems to have forgotten that firstly, the man that he has just named is not even up for election on Sunday; and secondly, that his more or less public support of the AKP violates the country's constitution. By law, the head of state is obliged to remain neutral. But that will not dampen AKP enthusiasm in Kayseri any time soon.