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For Devout Turks, 'Alternative' Tourist Resorts

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For Devout Turks, 'Alternative' Tourist Resorts


For Devout Turks, 'Alternative' Tourist Resorts

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The moderate Islamist political party of Turkey's prime minister is running for reelection on Sunday. So key support for the prime minister comes from a newly prosperous class of pious Turks in the country's heartlands.

And this next story shows us how a famously secular country may be changing; a domestic tourism industry has sprung up in Turkey to meet the needs of these conservative Muslims.

And NPR's Ivan Watson visited one of the Islamic tourist resorts.

IVAN WATSON: On a scorching summer afternoon at the Tulip Hotel, Turkish pop music is blaring, and guests are playing water polo in the pool, which overlooks the blue Mediterranean Sea.

(Soundbite of swimming pool)

WATSON: The only people in the pool, however, are men and boys. That's because at this hotel women get their own swimming pool. It's in a separate area, surrounded by high walls, far away from the prying eyes of men.

The segregated pools are a prerequisite for most of the guests here, says Ahmed Altinuglu(ph) and his wife. She wears sunglasses and what some people call a burqini - a plastic full-body swimsuit with a hood that covers everything but her face, feet and hands.

Mr. AHMET ALTINUGLU (Hotel Guest): (Turkish spoken)

WATSON: Our religion prohibits other men from seeing certain parts of women's bodies, Mr. Altinuglu says. At a separate women's pool, he adds, my wife can relax and wear a normal bathing suit.

The Tulip Hotel is what Turks call an alternative tourist resort. Mustafa Kemal Chantradhai(ph), the marketing director here, says the hotel recently converted to this format to cater to the country's increasingly prosperous class of observant Muslims.

Mr. MUSTAFA KEMAL CHANTRANDHAI (Marketing Director, Tulip Hotel): (Through translator) We saw a demand for this kind of hotel because religiously conservative people are an important new economic group in Turkey. That's why we decided to open this business.

WATSON: Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, but public displays of religiosity have long been frowned upon because the government and traditional ruling elite are strictly secular.

As a result, there were no resorts designed for observant Muslims until the late 1990s. Today there are nearly 30 resorts like the Tulip Hotel.

(Soundbite of buffet)

At the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet here, a sign reminds guests not to waste food because gluttony is evil. Families sit and eat together here much like anywhere else, except many of the women wear Islamic headscarves, and there is no alcohol available at the bar.

It's a dramatically different scene from the public beach in the nearby town of Alanya, where hordes of European and secular Turkish tourists party in bars and sunbathe topless in the sand.

(Soundbite of beach)

Mr. GOPIKEN CHETINARS(ph) (Hotel Guest): I'm a teetotaler. I don't smoke. I don't drink alcohol at all. I wouldn't, you know, like such things.

WATSON: Gopiken Chetinars is a university professor who brought his family to one of the 10 alternative hotels around Alanya. Because of a nationwide ban in Turkey on wearing Islamic headscarves in school, his daughter will enroll this fall at a university in Muslim Malaysia.

Like many of the other guests here, the Chetinars are proud supporters of moderate Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan and his AK Party.

Nigar Goksel, editor of Turkish Policy Quarterly, says four and a half years of AK Party rule have emboldened the country's rising class of religious Turks.

Ms. NIGAR GOKSEL (Editor, Turkish Policy Quarterly): So you see a new group of people who haven't cut their ties with the values that they were brought up with and the traditions that their parents had, yet have become empowered in terms of education and economy and with AKP also in terms of politics. They do not feel that they need to compromise in order to be accepted into mainstream society.

WATSON: The managers at the Tulip Hotel say most of their guests ended their vacations early this week so that they could go home to vote on Sunday. As for Turkey's fledgling Islamic tourism industry, the hotel managers predict it will stop growing because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will fall in the summer next year. During this month of fasting, many religious Turks consider swimming, even in segregated pools, un-Islamic.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Alanya, Turkey.

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