Victorious Islam opts for fundamental civic virtues: Istanbul's Muslim rulers steer clear of city's secular tradition

IF SEEING is believing, the first orders given by the new mayor of Beyoglu seem to show that the 10 million people of Istanbul may have more reason to be hopeful than fearful of their new Islamist administration.

The orders concerned an obscure corner of a dirty backstreet district, where a small group of curious Turkish chair- makers gathered in the sunshine to watch the unusual goings-on around the Greek Orthodox church of Evangelistria.

The men from the municipal cleansing department were clearing away junk that had accumulated for years beside the church. 'They said they'll come back tomorrow and every day from now on,' said a Mr Dimitriades, one of a few thousand ageing ethnic Greeks who cling to their drowning heritage in a city they still call Constantinople. 'We'll just have to wait and see if they do.' It is the strategy of Nusret Bayraktar, the new Islamist mayor of Beyoglu, that is being seen in action. The district started out as a Genoese Christian colony, before the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and for centuries its 50 churches and synagogues were a symbol of multi-denominational, multi-ethnic coexistence.

But its new and essentially Muslim identity was suddenly affirmed in last Sunday's municipal elections, when Mr Bayraktar's pro-Islamic Welfare Party won with 32 per cent of the vote.

The energetic 43-year-old businessman faces a huge task. He must not only overcome the suspicions of Turkey's secularist majority and fiercely hostile media, but also control the frightening excesses of the Islamic fundamentalist fringe.

Many Turks have been horrified by much-exaggerated reports of harassment by men in Islamic fundamentalist garb, who have, in isolated incidents, forced women off mixed buses and attacked unveiled women in the street. On Friday night a historic Armenian church burned down in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul, and few Christians are likely to believe preliminary explanations about an accident.

Mr Bayraktar is, however, the model of a modern Turkish Islamist, a type better described as a Muslim democrat than the rider in a fundamentalist Apocalypse. He is a successful engineer, and his aides with their pocket telephones look markedly more professional than the often shabby municipal employees in overstaffed offices.

Still embedded in the woodwork above Mr Bayraktar's desk was the frowning death-mask of Kemal Ataturk, the relentlessly anti-religious general who founded Turkey's secular state 70 years ago on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Since the Welfare Party's victories, Islamist stalwarts have held showy motorcade processions past his mausoleum in the capital, Ankara.

'We do want people to respect our beliefs. But we do not intend to touch the beliefs of Christians, Jews or even atheists,' the mayor said.

The promise of cleaner air and better living conditions was the key to the Islamist victories in Istanbul, Ankara and a swath of big-city municipalities in Turkey last Sunday. Many or dinary people said they thought the Islamists were worth a try, as able-looking, honest ad ministrators who could succeed where the left-wing parties had failed.

Most foreign visitors know Beyoglu as 19th century Pera, with smart shops in a newly restored pedestrian precinct, ornate palaces and the Pera Palace Hotel, whose visitors arrived on the Orient Express. Behind this facade are crowded alleyways of sordid night-clubs, warrens of cheap brothels and grimy streets.

Mr Bayraktar said his votes came not only from ordinary people upset by such places, but also from rich businessmen worried that the area was dying.

'Why does everybody see us as some kind of threat?' asked a manufacturer of light fittings. 'We breathe the same air, pay the same taxes, do the same military service. We don't want (Islamic) sharia law.'

Suspicion of an Islamic agenda is strong, however, even though the only evidence of it is a stated desire to build a great mosque near the central Taksim square. At any rate, liquor and brothel licences and much else are still controlled by the state, and the governor, Hayri Kozakcioglu, has warned that he will not allow interference with tourists or the social fabric.

On the old Grande rue de Pera, women in headscarves are still rare. Newsstands display everything from Islamic tracts to porn imports from the US.

'Those people can't change anything here,' said a middle- aged prostitute, taking off her lace bra and dragging the Independent on Sunday correspondent off the special back street of legal brothels.

A BOMB exploded in Istanbul's covered bazaar yesterday, killing two tourists - a Tunisian woman and a Spanish man - and injuring at least 13 people, Anatolian news agency said. In the past 10 days, two similar explosions aimed at tourist areas have been claimed by a group linked to the Marxist rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Year 2 Teacher - Maternity cover

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Year 2 maternity cover, startin...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments