Turkey protests: Visiting Erdogan's heartland
- 14 June 2013
- From the section Europe
Some 400 miles (644km) east of Istanbul, in the heart of Anatolia, a huge industrial park rises from the dusty plains.
On the outskirts of the city of Kayseri, it is part of a manufacturing boom in regional Turkish cities, which has spread wealth and opportunity.
Ten years ago many of the factories here didn't exist.
Furniture is the biggest industry. Much of it is manufactured for export to Europe and - increasingly - to new markets in the east.
And the lion's share of local credit for this newfound prosperity is given to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Whether they like him or not people think he's a leader, a strong one," says Safak Cevici, the co-owner of the furniture company Sefes.
Ms Cevici says some things are far from perfect and the economy has stumbled a little recently, but 10 years under Mr Erdogan have transformed the way things work.
"He has given courage to the people to be more open with their religious beliefs, but also to do more investment."
"It is kind of a new identity," she argues, "of being religious and conservative, and yet also more open to do business."
Kayseri is a conservative place, and seven of the nine local MPs are from the prime minister's AK party.
But in the city centre, there is also a distinctly Turkish mix of the traditional and the modern.
A state-of-the-art tram line carries commuters alongside thick stone walls from the medieval Selcuk era; and you are just as likely to see a young woman wearing the latest Western fashions as the latest Islamic ones.
On the other hand, one man sitting at the tea garden in the municipal park complains that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find anywhere selling alcohol.
Even though, he claims, vast amounts are consumed behind closed doors.
An example, perhaps, of the public piety which some Turks find hard to stomach.
In one corner of the park a small defiant camp has been set up by maybe a couple of dozen people - mostly students.
They have pitched tents and hung banners from trees to express solidarity with the protests that have swept through Istanbul and other cities.
"We feel a little under pressure here," says one of the students, "it is hard for us."
In Kayseri, support for the protestors is a minority view.
"Tayyip Erdogan is absolutely right in the way he's dealing with this," Osman says as we sip tea.
"Everything the government does is for the good of our country."
Another man, Suleyman, says he's never actually voted for Erdogan but thinks the prime minister's party works really hard.
"Turkey has nothing to do with dictatorship," he says, referring to the complaints of some of the protestors. "Everyone can do what they like."
Half-an-hour out of town - in one of the thousands of small villages that dot Anatolia - a flock of sheep is being vaccinated.
The neighbours have come round to lend a hand - life in the rural heartland follows set routines, and traditions old and new.
Standing under a small grove of trees, with the snow-capped peak of Erciyes mountain looming in the distance, the protests in and around Taksim Square suddenly feel like they're a world away.
"We're always up on the mountains with the sheep," says Yuksel Erden, a local shepherd. "I sleep up there in my big woollen coat and I hear about these things on the radio."
He has his own complaints about tax and bureaucracy.
"But these problems, the protests, they have nothing to do with us, they don't affect us. We just watch them from a distance."
It is a reminder that this is a country of contrasts, and there are competing visions for its direction of travel.
In Kayseri, support for Mr Erdogan remains strong - though not unquestioning.
He has democratised the economy and reduced decisively the influence of the military in politics.
But he's also presided over a system that has imprisoned a record number of journalists and developed a reputation of intolerance for dissenting opinion.
He has changed this country over the past decade, and some people don't like it, or at least don't like his style.
But millions of Turks believe that overall it has been change for the better.