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Minarets and Yuppie Bars : Muslim Turkey Looking to the West for Its Future

December 22, 1987|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | Times Staff Writer

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Hafize Ozal, a strong-willed matriarch in her 80s, believes that Turkish women should obey strict Islamic dress codes. Zeynep Ozal, a young, urban Turkish woman, owns a chic boutique and is married to a drummer in a rock band.

The two women embody the national debate that accompanies breathtaking change today in an East-West land of ancient minarets and latter-day yuppie bars.

Between them--the son of a traditionalist mother, the father of an avant-garde daughter--stands Turgut Ozal, the rotund and determined prime minister of Turkey. He is a bridge pointing west, the direction in which the United States and its NATO allies have been trying to pull Turkey. Their interest is strategic: Turkey lives in a tough neighborhood. Its neighbors are the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece and Bulgaria.

Ozal, a 60-year-old economist who won reelection and a second term this month, believes that Turkey can become the only country in the world that is both Muslim and Western.

And he insists that a nation of 52 million, which straddles two continents, can be a full partner of Europe without sacrificing its distinct religious and cultural heritage. To a country at the refrigerator-and-TV stage of development, Ozal promises a house and a car for every family by century's end. Progress must come, he says, with all the Western trimmings: pluralistic politics, an unfettered press, free market economics and religious freedom.

Most Turks seem to agree with him, but critics chafe at Ozal's high-handed rule, while political liberalization and rapid economic modernization fuel national soul-searching.

"There is a general consensus that Turkey belongs to the West," observed Hasan Cemal, editor of the Social Democratic newspaper Cumhuriyet. But, as for whether Turkey is a European or an Asian country, "I couldn't say," Cemal confided.

"After gerrymandering and modifying the electoral system eight times in four years, Ozal got 36% of the vote and two-thirds of the seats in Parliament," he continued. "He has a monopoly of power for his second term, and that is always dangerous in Turkey."

Istanbul Symbolizes Dilemma

The duality of a country with a European nose and an Asian trunk is manifest in linchpin Istanbul, which spans both continents across the Bosporus and is Turkey's industrial, commercial and intellectual heart.

Istanbul was once known as Byzantium, then as Constantinople when it was the headquarters of the Roman Empire, then as the center of the 500-year Ottoman Empire. It took Istanbul 2,500 years to reach a population of 600,000, but since World War II, that population has multiplied 10 times, principally through internal migration. Today, Istanbul throbs with the thunder, verve and troubles of other new giants like Sao Paulo, Brazil and Mexico City.

In Istanbul, there are jobs--and disillusion--aplenty. The traffic is impossible, the water is polluted and the air, fouled by soft coal used for heating, is thick and smelly. Istanbul is a city where a Turkish exporter in a St. Laurent blazer negotiates in English over hotel coffee with a visiting Italian buyer dressed by Gucci. It is a place where nine riders in a stretch '56 Chevy taxi barely glance at the jaywalking antics of a dancing bear.

Istanbul's 502nd mayor since 1453 is a blue-eyed Muslim reformer named Bedrettin Dalan, a 46-year-old electrical engineer who turned politician four years ago and has since delighted many Istanbulis and outraged purists with a bulldozer rampage through slums and monuments choking the shores of the storied Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosporus. He has replaced them with parks.

'Wears Many Faces'

Dalan fingered polished black worry beads one recent winter afternoon as he boosted Istanbul while simultaneously quizzing a visitor about a strange American city called Las Vegas, where he was due to make a speech.

"Istanbul wears many faces," he said. "Coming from Europe, it looks Middle Eastern. But people who come from the Middle East think it is 100% European. We are a mosaic, but we think our future lies with Europe."

In the election that gave Ozal a new five-year mandate, parties supporting Turkey's formal application to join the European Communities won 87% of the vote.

Europe is less enthusiastic. A number of the European Communities' 12 current members note Turkey's economic backwardness. Its per capita income of $1,100 per year is far below European levels. They note that Turkey's roots seem most deeply embedded in Asia and the Middle East, and they blanch at Turkey's history of political instability and bouts of authoritarian rule accompanied by serious human rights abuses.

With the help of an American public relations firm, the Turks battle against the prison-state image depicted in the movie "Midnight Express." Left-right political violence claimed more than 5,000 lives in the late 1970s, and it was followed by free-swinging military intervention.

Military Coups

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