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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links