In a room adorned only with a portrait of Kemal Atatürk, Celal Yilmaz, head of the Alevi village of Kayaburun in eastern Turkey, listens carefully to a surprise request -- a town-hall meeting with a female parliamentary candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party.
“Even if you don’t agree with what she represents, come to the meeting to tell her this,” a Justice and Development Party (AKP) activist urges the muhtar.
Like most of the inhabitants of Kayaburun and other nearby villages, Yilmaz is an Alevi, a Muslim minority related to the Shiite branch of Islam that has long struggled with discrimination in this majority Sunni country.
Rather than the Islam-influenced AKP, Alevi villages, known for their strong communal identity, have traditionally given their votes to Atatürk’s Republican People’s Party, a group that stresses secular values and a common Turkish identity.
But now, as Turkey’s June 12 parliamentary elections draw near, the Justice and Development Party, after nine years in power, is trying to break with tradition and woo these forgotten villages with promises of asphalted roads, modern apartments and a tourist boom.
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Iason Athanasiadis is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist.