US ally Turkey flirts with Mideast’s ‘bad boys’

The press for change spreading through the Middle East has inevitably put a focus on the lone democratic Muslim-majority country in the area: Turkey. Long a bastion of secular government, it has felt pressure to introduce democratic reforms as well as to confront the effects of a growing Islamic identity. With elections looming in June, traveled to Istanbul to learn further about the shifting face of this key country at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.

Editor’s note: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP won a third consecutive term with a strong majority in the June 2011 election.

ISTANBUL, Turkey — The fragrance of oranges mingles with the smell of tear gas in Sinem Yoruk’s memories of the night a mob rampaged through her neighborhood.

A gang of 50 men armed with iron bars, knives and pepper spray — and, bizarrely, frozen fruit — damaged seven art galleries and attacked guests as they chatted, drank and smoked in the street.

“There was broken glass everywhere — and lots of oranges,” Yoruk recalled.

The incident dominated Turkey’s newspapers for days. Many took it as the latest sign of growing intolerance toward Western values in the Muslim-majority country, which is both a meeting point of Europe and Asia and Islam and Christianity.

Yoruk, a 34-year-old gallery owner, is among those who saw something bigger at work in the Sept. 21 rampage, which sent five people to the hospital.

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