Once an agricultural hub, Konya was best known as the home of Turkey’s whirling dervishes. Now it’s an economic powerhouse where skyscrapers have joined a horizon dominated for centuries by minarets.
The transformation came about largely thanks to a high-speed train across the Turkish prairie to Ankara, which cut travel time between the cities from more than 10 hours to just under two.
The rail link — conceived by the ruling AK Party (AKP) and completed in 2010 — opened the city, in the central Anatolia region, up to investment and development.
It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that Konya is Recep Tayyip Erdogan country: nearly 75% of voters living there cast ballots for the AKP in the November 2015 general election.
“Konya has developed only under the AKP regime,” says municipal worker Fadime Cicek. “Before them it was in a very bad shape. They gave us jobs. If it weren’t for them, we would be staying home as housewives. Now we earn money.”
“The state has given us everything, we are thankful to the state,” adds Cicek, who had planted tulips – in the shape of the Turkish flag — as part of a world record attempt.
“Tayyip [Erdogan] is the one and only. God save Tayyip.”
Young people attend the festive occasion to mark the tulip planting world record in Konya on Wednesday.
On Friday, they’re getting a visit from the man himself as he holds a rally ahead of a historic referendum on April 16.
The vote could see the country’s parliamentary system morph into a presidential one, essentially consolidating the powers of the government’s legislative bodies into one executive branch, with Erdogan at the helm. It could also allow him to stay in office until 2029 if he wins the next two elections.
Critics fear the proposed constitutional changes. But many of the country’s “Yes” voters say Erdogan is the only man for the job, and argue he should be allowed to get on with his reforms.
Life goes on as normal for many Konya residents ahead of Erdogan’s visit, but talk of the referendum is never far from the surface.
Four friends, three of them Hafiz — Muslims who have memorized the whole Quran — are hanging out listening to hip hop music and taking selfies days ahead of the ballot. They all say they are planning to vote “Yes” in the referendum.
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