Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rural-urban tensions among those fueling unrest in Turkey

The unrest in Turkey that started late last week is attracting lots of international attention, and a story over the week-end in the New York Times caught my eye for its nod to the role that tensions between rural and urban play in the current situation.  Tim Arango reports not only tensions between secular and religious, and among different classes, but also of how these divisions sometimes align with with the rural-urban divide.  The secular elite, are put off by many of the grand building projects the Erdogan administration has undertaken "on the grounds of bad taste, a view imbued with a sense of social elitism."  
For many, it has also created a sense of resentment and loss — for longtime residents, urban intellectuals and many members of the underclasses who are being pushed from their homes so that upscale housing complexes and shopping malls can be built.
Arango quotes a professor of international relations at Sabanci University, Ersin Kalaycioglu.
I was born and raised here, and there is nothing from my youth that I can connect to anymore in this city.  Istanbul is seen as a place where you earn a living, where you get rich. It is a gold rush.
Kalaycioglu further complained that the city had “been invaded by Anatolian peasants” who were “uncultured.”

Other passages from Arango's story that highlight the role of rural-urban tensions follow:
The swiftly changing physical landscape of Istanbul symbolizes the competing themes that undergird modern Turkey — Islam versus secularism, rural versus urban. 
* * * 
[Erdogan's] rule has also nurtured a pious capitalist class, whose members have moved in large numbers from rural Anatolia to cities like Istanbul, deepening class divisions.
While rural-urban tensions have featured in unrest (growing pains?) in various countries in recent years (read more here, here, here, here and here), one difference with the Turkish situation seems to be that the rural-to-urban migrants are getting rich.  In China and Thailand, this does not seem to be the case; in those countries, the newcomers to urban areas leave their rural homes just hoping to survive and perhaps put their children on a more secure economic footing, to get them access to better educational opportunities.  The migrants seem barely to survive, in part because they don't enjoy all of the privileges of established urbanites.  It is their struggle to survive that ignites the controversy, not, as in Turkey, that the newcomers are too prosperous and are seen as having too much influence.  

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