The Anatolian Tigers — a new breed of pious businessmen who have risen from the grassroots to fire Turkey's economic and political transformation — are targeting an entry into the high-technology big league.
“We have tasted considerable international success in the areas of manufacturing and trade. Our next challenge is to develop an expertise in select areas such as computer software, pharmaceuticals and new energy,” says Sadan Yavuz, a finance specialist, with a Canadian higher education background.
Mr. Yavuz is one among several professionals with business exposure abroad in the ranks of the Anatolian Tigers who have achieved spectacular business success without sacrificing their core religious values.
Emerging out of Anatolia — Turkey's Asiatic part, long stereotyped as “backward” — these businessmen, mostly engaged in small and medium enterprises — have turned to their unique and inclusive version of Sufi Islam to achieve meteoric business success. A report by the European Stability Initiative has called the new Anatolian business class “Islamic Calvinists” because of the similarity of their work ethic and values with the mentality of the Calvinist Burghers, the pioneers of early capitalism in Europe.
The Anatolian Tigers have been deeply influenced by the writings of Said Nursi, who shepherded the Nur (light) movement in the region.
Nursi's advocacy of embracing Western science and technology as well as engagement with “competing paradigms”, has had a deep impact on his followers in Central Anatolia. In the tradition of Nursi, Fethullah Gulen has given a clear contemporary direction to the Anatolian middle class. The Gulen movement's message of inclusivity, inter-faith engagement, entrepreneurship, education and outreach has had a decisive influence in directing the entrepreneurial impulses of the Anatolian Tigers.
As they grew, benefiting initially from the early phase of globalisation initiated in the eighties under the stewardship of Turgut Ozal, a former Prime Minister and President, the Anatolian Tigers have become part of a new ecosystem that is steadily overwhelming Turkey's established order.
The Anatolian businessmen have ploughed their considerable resources to the cause of the Gulen movement, which, in step with its focus on education, has opened quality schools imparting modern education in more than 140 countries. The Gulen movement's well acknowledged educational contributions abroad, in turn, have helped soften the ground for the entry of Anatolian businesses in many of these countries. “There is no direct link but our association with the Gulen movement quite often helps to do business in new areas such as Africa, Central Asia and the Balkans,” says Fatih Kutlutas, another Anatolian Tiger. The top floors of many of the buildings affiliated with the Gulen movement usually have a few “guest rooms”, which travellers can usually access.
Organisations such as ISGED — a business-development establishment — and the 20,000-member TUSKON are also helping Turkish small and medium enterprises to break into markets abroad. Addressing a TUSKON gathering recently, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “These businessmen [affiliated to TUSKON] conquer hearts in five continents by conducting successful projects and contributing to education in these countries.”
With a fast developing support infrastructure, Anatolian businessmen are quietly confident of further success. “We aim to export $150 billion in 2012 and $500 billion by 2023,” says Mehmet Buyukeksi, president of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM).
The Anatolian Tigers and the Gulen movement have staunchly supported the Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Mr. Erdogan, and President Abdullah Gul, who hails from Kayseri, Central Anatolia's powerful industrial hub.
The triumvirate — the Anatolian Tigers, the Gulen Movement and the AKP — have been pioneers of a silent democratic revolution, which appears set to peacefully marginalise Turkey's military-led old guard.