Over the past several years, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has often come under fire for stirring social fault lines and polarizing society. To give only a few examples, the AKP government has stubbornly maintained compulsory religious classes in schools despite a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights that they are discriminatory for teaching exclusively Sunni Islam and refused to formally recognize the Alevis’ cemevis (houses of prayer) as houses of worship. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), for its part, has long been criticized for disregarding the religious sensitivities of Sunni Muslims, who make up the overwhelming majority of Turkey’s population.
In the Mediterranean province of Antalya, Turkey’s main tourist hub, a CHP mayor is leading a pioneering initiative these days. Umit Uysal, elected mayor in March 2014 of Muratpasa, Antalya’s largest district, has introduced a multi-cultural, multi-religious approach to municipal services, unprecedented in Turkey.